Fly in some great attitude with this British stereo tube EQ
Review by Paul Vnuk Jr.
Thermionic Culture is a British manufacturer of tube-based (‘valve-based’ in UK parlance) audio processors. The company is perhaps best known for its Culture Vulture tube saturation box, which we reviewed last year in its limited 20th Anniversary edition, alongside the Universal Audio Powered Plugin version.
This month we’re looking at the latest Thermionic Culture device: The Kite, billed as a “Stereo Equalizer with Attitude.” Like all Thermionic wares, The Kite is an all-tube device.
The Kite is a 2U, 19″ rack mount box dressed in black. There are two versions available: stock with unbalanced outs, and one with transformer balanced outputs; I was sent the unbalanced version for review, which offers a clearer and more open low-end tonality.
The Kite is designed primarily for stereo master bus work; most of the controls alter both channels at once, the exceptions being the master outputs and the bypass controls. Most of the controls comprise softly detented pots and traditional toggle switches.
The Kite’s signal path starts on the left with a single stereo input gain knob (-6.5dB to +8dB) and a pair of true bypass toggle switches, one for each channel. On the right side, a pair of knobs and toggle switches provide -11dB to +1.5dB of trim, and -6dB pads. Even without any equalization engaged, driving signals through The Kite can add sweet harmonic excitement, richness, and sonic glue.
Past Featured Reviews
- DECEMBER 2019: Thermionic Culture ‘The Kite’ Stereo Equalizer
- NOVEMBER 2019: Arturia AudioFuse 8Pre
- OCTOBER 2019: Austrian Audio OC818 Multipattern Dual Output Condenser Microphone
- SEPTEMBER 2019: Dynaudio Core 59 High-End Professional Reference Monitor
- AUGUST 2019: Steinberg AXR4 Thunderbolt 2 Audio Interface
- JULY 2019: PSI Audio A17-M Studio Monitors
- JUNE 2019: Lynx Aurora (n)
- MAY 2019: Vanguard Audio Labs V4 and V44S
- APRIL 2019: Blue Ember
- MARCH 2019: Kii Audio THREE
- FEBRUARY 2019: Chandler Limited TG Microphone
- JANUARY 2019: ADAM Audio Studio Pro SP-5
The EQ section contains a minimal set of low and high shelving bands: Bass Lift at 70 or 140Hz, and Top Shelf at 1.2kHz and 0.7kHz. The Bass Lift curves are of the ‘varislope’ design—a proprietary Thermionic Culture innovation. The selected frequency acts as a standard +3dB shelving EQ up to a control setting of 6. Beyond that, the lower frequencies also increase, peaking at 30 and 20 Hz at max boost. In use, the Bass Lift thickens more than it punches, adding foundation and fullness rather than boom and thump. Overall, it’s very gentle—you have to crank it to 7-10 on the dial to feel its effect in an obvious way.
The Top Shelf is described as an up to +3dB presence boost at the selected frequency, and it does exactly what it says on the tin, offering upper-end clarity and definition.
Cut and Pass
The EQ section also includes a simple but effective three-position high pass filter, and a shelving-style bass cut control (1kHz and 400Hz, -3dB max).
Bass cut is more sonically obvious than its boosting counterpart; cut and boost are designed to overlap and work together to gently shape the bass and low mids.
The Air control on The Kite adds a beautiful, tube-dusted upper-end openness to your sound. It’s gentle and almost imperceptible when pushed to its full +5dB at 10kHz, peaking at 40kHz.
The final control on The Kite is Attitude. This is not an EQ, but a harmonic saturation circuit borrowed from the Thermionic Culture Fat Bustard II summing mixer. Attitude offers six settings, from 1 to Max, that add from 0.01% to 5% 2nd order harmonic distortion. As you turn the dial, it has the apparent effect of making everything louder, which to our ears makes everything sound better, and it does sound good. In practical use, if you compensate the output trim for the amount of Attitude you’re adding, it yields varied levels of harmonic saturation, up to a nicely perceptible valve breakup that just starts to tickle your signal.
The Kite’s Tail
On the stereo bus, The Kite is more subtle than you might expect from the makers of the Culture Vulture. You can push it hard into unmistakable top-end grit and thickness, but the beauty of The Kite is how all of its controls work together to enhance your sound with a myriad of blended color variations. As such, this is a box you need to mix your source sounds or full mix into at the start of a mix session, adjusting and tweaking as you go for the best results.
While a great mixing tool, and while sonically I could see its use in a mastering studio, the softly detented controls lack a touch of the precision that most of the mastering engineers I know seek with fully detented controls; a stepped mastering version is easy to imagine, should the market dictate.
Once again, Thermionic Culture proves they know their valves (you know, tubes) inside and out. The Kite is a fantastic stereo flavor-adding device with a boutique, all-British build quality—a great balance of thick, warm, open, and airy—all in one.
Price: $2799 unbalanced, $3299 balanced