Gear Review: Vintage Audio M3D Skyline Mastering Equalizer

     Early on in my analog gear collecting days I came across the technicians at Revive Audio. They have modified each piece of gear in the studio that I haven't and are my go to for getting the best sound at the best price.

    Based out of Idaho, the folks there have also taken up making their own original designs and products under their Vintage Audio brand. I have had my eye on their Skyline M3D Mastering EQ for over a year now. There are literally no reviews or sound samples of this unit online at the time of me writing this, so on a leap of faith I put one in my rack earlier this week - so let me tell you about it, internet land.

 

    A quick look at the design and you can tell that this unit is based off of Cliff Maag's famous Maag EQ - particularly the EQ4M. The same fixed frequency points are used and the famous Air Band is here (instead called the Atmosphere Band) which can be moved to several shelf points between 5kHz and 40kHz.

    What's the difference between the Maag and the Skyline M3D - a lot - and on paper, the Skyline kills the MAag. First of all, the price. The Maag EQ4M costs nearly double what the Skyline does. Next off, while the Maag runs on +/- 18v rails, the Skyline boasts 22v rails powered with a custom built power supply. Read: more headroom. The guys there tell me the fundamental design is different as well, with the Skyline being a 6-way crossover that isolates each band to be EQ'd before summing as two stereo busses together at the outputs. Just running audio through the Skyline with no boosts or cuts results in a 3D width I've never encountered with a plugin. It's similar to what happens when you pan a stereo pair on a mixer to the sides and listen to the buss - but even wider. Everything has it's place in the stereo field after running through this unit. Lastly, while the EQ4m has detented pots, the Skyline allows for finer control with continuously variable boosts or cuts (boosts of 15dB and cuts of 5dB on each band) that are actually incredibly easy to recall, thanks to the unit's large, buttery-smooth knobs and clear markings.

     After only a few sessions with the Skyline I am starting to see this EQ totally differently from your typical parametric mastering equalizer. The limitation of the fixed frequency points here is the beauty of this piece. Neighboring bands have tons of overlap and each can be pushed hard without ever sounding harsh. I don't see the bands as frequency points, but more as sections of the audio: subs, lows, low mids, mids, high mids, and highs. This thing just works - it's hard to make it sound bad, and the atmosphere high-shelf adds a magical air and 3D width to a dark mix. Once you dial in each band and match your volume with the unit's input attenuator, hitting the true bypass reveals the narrow, lackluster sound you started with. This thing is a super wide, lush, warm EQ with loads of character. It's every bit as good as the Revive Audio website purports.

    If you're considering investing in a Maag EQ4m or even a EQ4 500 series-unit, do yourself a favor and also consider saving about 900 bucks per channel on an even better piece of kit. If you'd like to hear a track run through the Skyline M3D, you can head over to our homepage and try us out with one free analog master of a track of your choice.