Unlike previous NAMM episodes, the man behind Empirical Labs, Dave Derr, was not at the show to demo the creations of his fertile mind. That's unfortunate because Dave does killer demos which are part sales pitch and part master classes in great compression technique. I had been looking forward to getting his demo on the new Lil Freq equalizer.
Lil Freq is a parametric equalizer with many of the typical features you see on parametrics, but also a few you don't see. First of all, the unit has the Empirical Labs trademark large white knobs. You know, the ones you see in every magazine spread of high end studios, since apparently everyone has the Distressors or a Fatso in their racks these days. On the Lil Freq, these white knobs comprise an input level knob on the far left, and and output level knob on the far right. In between these are a bunch of smaller silver knobs for control of the gain, Q, and frequency center of each of the four bands of equalization. Each band is separately defeatable, or the entire channel can be bypassed by means of the "Bypass All" button.
The Lil Freq also features your typical low and high frequency shelving. However, a couple very nicely thought out features are the High Pass section and the de-esser. The High Pass has eight pre-selected frequencies that you can cycle through via button presses. On the acoustic guitar track that I was listening to, these steeply sloped filters made a dramatic difference. Empirical Labs claims the slope has a special shape that prevents thinning out of frequencies just above the cutoff frequency. The High Pass section has a dedicated bypass switch.
The de-esser is a "dynamic Eq section" on the Lil Freq. Basically, it's an eq with a threshold control similar to a compressor. I liked it, as you could nicely control the amount of eq depending on the program material. Similar in my mind to the function of the "warmth" feature on the fatso, but with more control.
The NAMM showroom floor is notoriously noisy, so hearing what gear sounds like is literally impossible. You can only get the roughest idea of the tone of a unit. That said, from what I could hear the Lil Freq sounded exceptionally smooth. I definitely want to hear this thing in a quiet room.
List price is $2,000 for one channel, and the unit is currently back ordered while Empirical ramps up production.