Tone controls and equalizers went out of fashion in the 1980s, and I've missed them ever since. Audiophiles in their search for ever greater sonic purity saw any deviation from "flat" frequency response heresy, but that's not always my goal, so I was thrilled to check out Schiit's Loki four-band equalizer. This ultra-compact component is priced at just $149, £140 or AU$299, and is the best audio "toy" I've played with in ages.
Loki is a tiny thing, just 5 by 3.5 by 1.25 inches (12.7 by 8.9 by 3.18 centimeters), with four knobs squeezed onto its front panel. The knobs from left to right control 20- and 400-Hertz, 2- and 8-kHz, and the toggle switch on the front right engages the equalization in the up position, and bypasses the EQ in the down position. With the knobs set to their 12 o'clock positions they are "flat." So it's easy to switch between flat and equalized sound.
The 20 Hz and 8 kHz knobs have +/- 12 dB of adjustment range; the 400 Hz and 2 kHz knobs have +/- 6 dB of adjustment. It's a bit of a tight squeeze to get my fingers in there to turn the center two knobs.
Loki is a fully analog device you hook up between a source -- such as a phono preamp, digital converter, radio or preamp -- and your receiver, integrated amp, headphone amp or power amp. Loki is a fully discrete, all-bipolar, symmetrical current-feedback design with no capacitors in the signal path. The rear panel has stereo RCA inputs and outputs. Loki is made in the US, and it's sold with a 2-year warranty.
Audiophiles' disdain for tone controls and equalizers notwithstanding, virtually every commercial recording you've ever heard was equalized during its mixing and mastering stages, so a little fiddling on your part might make sense. So don't be afraid to experiment with different settings to learn what EQ can do to the sound of your speakers, headphones and best of all, your music.
For example, those nasty and harsh latest recordings from Arcade Fire and the National were tamed by just nudging the 2- and 8-kHz controls down a bit. The 400 Hz and 2 kHz controls can be used to bring vocals forward or lower them in the sound mix. You can have a ball just experimenting with all four controls and learn how they change the sound of your speakers, headphones and music.
I found Loki particularly useful with headphones, where for example I could bump up the deep bass to add weight to the sound, and tame brightness by shelving down 8 kHz.
While a lot of audiophiles are biased against EQ or tone controls, most don't actually have ears-on experience with a great sounding EQ like the Loki. I hope Schiit incorporates the Loki design into a future preamp, but as it stands Loki is pretty darn cool, I really enjoyed using it. Gene, one of my old audio buddies bought a Loki a few months ago, and he absolutely loves it. Try it, you might like it.