Playback equalization for 78 rpm shellacs and early 33⅓ LPs
The audio on almost every phonograph record is not the same as that originally performed. For technical reasons the signal's frequencies need to be modified when cutting the disc. Playback equalization (EQ or de-emphasis) is necessary to restore the signal's original frequencies. Only thus can music lovers enjoy the original sound of the music performed long ago from their rare discs.
- You can set the sliders of any digital or analog graphic equalizer manually
- You can determine appropriate settings for any adjustable analog pre-amplifier.
Which EQ curve will be needed for a specific record label is answered:
In Filter Curve EQ or Graphic EQ, click on Presets & settings, then Import....
When phonograph records are made, the sound being recorded is deliberately distorted by reducing the volume of the low frequencies and increasing the volume of the high frequencies. This process, known as 'pre-emphasis', allows the low frequencies to be accommodated in the limitations of the record groove and reduces the effect of high frequency surface noise. If pre-emphasis was not carried out, the bass notes in the music would create a groove in the record that oscillated so wildly that the stylus could jump out of it on playback, and the treble notes would be drowned out by the surface noise of the stylus in the groove.
On playback, the pre-emphasis must be reversed in order to restore the original sound. This is known as 'de-emphasis' or equalization (EQ).
Modern vinyl records use a method of pre-emphasis and de-emphasis adopted by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in the 1950's, and the EQ curve used is known as the RIAA curve. However, before the RIAA curve was adopted, each record label used its own EQ curve for recording and, for these records (78rpm and early vinyl), the correct EQ curve must be used for playback.
Each EQ curve is a combination of two filter characteristics; a bass boost curve, defined by a 'Bass Turnover' (or 3dB) frequency, and a treble cut curve, defined by a '10 kHz Gain Roll-off' parameter, i.e. a defined level of treble cut at 10 kHz.
As an example, Figure 1 below shows the characteristic of the bass boost curve defined by a 500Hz Bass Turnover, and Figure 2 shows the characteristic of the treble cut curve defined by a 10 kHz Gain Roll-off of -13.7dB. These two curves, when combined, give the characteristic shown in Figure 3.\
Figure 1. Bass Boost curve: 3dB at 500 Hz
Figure 2. Treble Cut curve: -13.7 dB at 10 kHz
Figure 3. Combined Bass Boost and Treble Cut curve
The EQ curve may also include a Low Frequency Shelving filter, (although it is absent from the definition of most 78 rpm EQ curves). This addition reduces the effect of the bass boost at very low frequencies (typically 50 or 100 Hz) in order to attenuate low-frequency noise such as turntable rumble. Figure 4 shows the effect of a 50 Hz LF shelving filter being added to the curve in Figure 3. This is in fact the RIAA standard EQ curve.
Figure 4. Combined Bass Boost, Treble Cut and 50 Hz LF Shelving curve
Acoustically recorded (pre-electric) 78 rpm records have a completely different characteristic because they were cut with a different type of cutter (For more details see: Acoustic recordings). In some early EQ curves of electrically recorded shellacs, while there is a bass boost curve, there is no treble cut necessary – i.e. the 10 kHz gain roll-off is zero.
Note that in the combined EQ curve, the gains at the Bass Turnover frequency and at 10 kHz may be different from those specified by the parameters. This is not an error, but is due to fact that the gains of the bass boost and treble cut curves are simply added together.
Because 78 rpm EQ curves were non-standard and, in many cases, accurate records were not kept to show what EQ curves were used when recording 78s, there is a degree of uncertainty about what is the correct playback EQ for many record labels. The tables below have been obtained from websites which, in their turn, have compiled data from a number of sources and should prove reasonably accurate. However, the ear of the listener is the final arbiter - if it doesn't sound right, it isn't right!
According to NAB standards, the nominal speed of a 78 rpm record is precisely 78.26 rpm +/- 0.3% (for North America and other countries with an utility frequency of 60 Hz). According to British Standards Institution it is 77.92 rpm +/- 0.5% (for Britain, Europe and other countries with a mains frequency of 50 Hz).
Pre-equalization of most records – especially of shellacs – was always determined by the cutter head used and often by internal regulations of the record company. Both left quite some room for the recording engineer to make changes to improve the sound. Also if Graumann uses 250 Hz in playback of an EMI disc and Copeland votes for 300 Hz this is not a contradiction. Both mean the same EQ curve but have different opinions on what sounds best. This should encourage you to try both versions and take the one which sounds right to your ears.
Please do not worry about fractions of a dB! Still in the 1960s an accuracy of a curve of +/- 2 dB was considered to be standard. In the 1950s +/- 3 dB were a very fine result and nobody will ever know if recording engineers in the 1940s or 1930s applied their curves correctly (or if they applied them at all!) So the spread in pre-equalization during recording will outnumber any bias in playback equalization by far.
The most relevant EQ curves are presented in Table 1. All curves are described from the point of view of a playback or de-emphasis curve, where bass / low frequencies must be amplified / boosted and where treble / high frequencies must be attenuated / cut in order to achieve the original sound that had been recorded. The corresponding pre-emphasis curve used for cutting the master disk is inverse.
When comparing with lists provided by the manufacturers of equalizer pre-amps it should be considered that those may be misleading, as they might not quote the correct parameters of the curve but rather the next-best possible settings of these devices. For example the Conductart OWL 1 Sound Restoration Module – a renowned pre-amp of the 1980s – offered settings of flat/ 250/ 375/ 500/ 750/ 1000/ RIAA for turnover and flat/ 5/ 8.5/ 12/ 14/ 16/ RIAA for roll-off. Thus for the widely used standard “AES 400N-12” settings of 375 Hz and -12 dB were listed; for the “Bartok 629C-16” curve it was 750 Hz and -16 dB and for “LONDON LP 500C-10.5” it was 500 Hz and -8.5 dB. These recommendations were quoted or copied by other authors and three “new characteristics” had come to existence.
Table 1 gives the three parameters to characterize any EQ curve: the turnover frequency f1 for bass shelf, f2 for bass boost and f3 for treble cut (or alternatively the three corresponding time constants τ1, τ2 and τ3). These are the necessary conditions to compute and plot any EQ curve, determine the correct settings of a digital equalizer or to solder an electronic filter circuit.
The gain at two typical frequencies will give you a rough impression of what the curve does to the audio from the record. The frequencies are:
- 50 Hz, where usually the bass shelf becomes effective
- 10 kHz, because the treble curve is often indicated by roll-off at 10,000 Hz
The very descriptive “code” is a good tool to avoid misunderstanding when EQ curves come under various alias names (what they do too often).
- The first 3-digit number indicates the turnover frequency of bass boost (f2)
- The letter in the middle is N … (“None”) if no bass shelving is applied, or R … 20 dB (named R after RCA or RIAA) B … 18 dB A … 16 dB C … 14 dB (named C after Columbia LP curve) X … 12 dB
- The last number shows the reduction or roll-off of treble at 10 kHz and is always preceded by a minus sign. Please mind that this is only a code and that the exact value – after normalization to 0 dB at 1000 Hz – might be different.
This code can be used to find the correct settings of most equalizer pre-amps.
(Example: “RIAA 500R-13.7” means for the RIAA curve that bass must be boosted below 500 Hz, but no more than + 20 dB and that treble must be cut at 10,000 Hz to – 13.7 dB)
The geographic region and the time period are added to allow a qualified guess for the required EQ should a record label not be listed. In general, American recording curves were more deliberate in cutting bass and boosting treble. The British and Europeans tended to apply only the necessary minimum of bass attenuation and often no treble boost at all, that means they had a “flat” treble curve. Early pre-emphasis curves were simply built and rather soft. In the late years (after 1945) curves became highly sophisticated, with the third turnover frequency f1 added to manage the bass shelving and also with gain ranging from -20 dB to + 20dB.