Golden Master - Endorphin.es
by Ellison Wolf
When I first started recording and mixing music in one of my previous home studio incarnations [Tascam 388!] I didn’t use any EQ or compression. It wasn’t that what I got to [literal] tape was perfect and didn’t need it, it was because at the time I didn’t understand how to use either very well, and rather than mess with them, I took a purist approach and steered clear. It was akin to one of those “healthy eaters” you know who thinks they’re superior because they don’t eat any processed sugar, yet lives off of Diet Pepsi, sugar free chocolate, and bean and cheese burritos. Not so healthy. And my mixes? While charming and different, they lacked polish. Since then, I’ve gotten over the unnecessary fear of EQ and compression and my mixes have more space, impact, power, and dynamics. In the studio, unless you’re Steve Albini [I have my doubts, still], it’s pretty universal that you’re going to use EQ and compression to enhance your mixes, and this concept has long since expanded to include live acts as well. So why do so many of us lack either of these abilities in our extensively curated modular rigs? It doesn’t make sense.
Enter Endorphin.es’s Golden Master, a 96kHz 16 bit multi-band processor module designed exclusively for this purpose that has control over EQ, compression, and mid/side level adjustments; in essence a studio mastering module in 6 HP. The company touts this as a “game changer for everyone who performs live with a Eurorack synthesizer,” and they may be right, so let’s take a look at what we’ve got.
At the top half of the module, you have two Outputs, and then a row of colored LEDs to indicate mode and level. Sans the center LED, they are used as VU level meters with the inner pair of LEDs to indicate input signal, and the outer pair lighting up when clipping is happening. Also at the top half of the module is a small Input Gain trimmer, a Volume trimmer, and two Inputs with Input 1 being normalled to Input 2. There are also two input trimmers on the back of the module—one for each channel—if line level input levels are desired. Both the Input Gain and Volume trimmer are mostly set-and-forget, so it makes a lot of sense that these are smaller, yet still easily accessible on the front panel.
Golden Master has three different modes—three different things it does—as indicated by the color of the central LED: Red is EQ mode, blue is compression mode, and fuchsia [purple-ish] is mid/side stereo processing mode. A quick press of the button found at the bottom of the module cycles between the three modes, and this button also serves as a way to bypass the entire module by briefly holding it down and then releasing it. Hold the button again and it enables the previous settings. Also found at the bottom of the module is a CV in for Golden Master’s internal VCA. This resides last in the signal chain, and seems to be aimed at controlling the final overall output with a 0-+5V range, but it can be used for effect as well, by putting an LFO or random voltage in. When nothing is patched in then Golden Master is running at full speed, so there’s no need to source a constant +5V unless control over this is desired.
The main part of the module has three knobs; one each to correspond for low, middle, and high frequency adjustment, each with an accompanying light up push button that will turn on or off the compressor, as well as mute the chosen range of frequencies, something that is extremely handy in dialing in sounds. While in EQ mode, the knobs effectively have a center neutral position, so that turned clockwise past the center means boosting frequencies, and counterclockwise is subtracting. The crossover frequencies are at 300 Hz and 3 kHz, and it was interesting to me to see that so much of my normal patching resided in the middle frequencies. Actually, this part wasn’t so surprising, it was more of the fact of how little high end I had in so many of my patches that I made while testing this out. Something I’m keeping in mind when trying to devise well-balanced, full-sounding patches.
In the Red [compressor] mode, the knobs act as traditional 0-100 with adjustments available anywhere from mild to extreme compression. This is a brick-wall limiter with a 1.5 ms look ahead feature that is a pretty advanced type of compression if you’re used to 70s style optical or JFET compressors. The light up push button needs to be held for a second to turn on/off the compressor, and when the compressor is engaged it lights up brighter than the dull illumination displayed for when a band of frequencies is muted. In a dark, fast-paced live setting, this is easy to see, differentiate, and make adjustments to.
The third mode is where you can tweak the stereo imaging by adjusting each frequency band’s stereo spread. The further clockwise you turn from the knob’s center position, the more that you spread that band to the stereo field. It’s possible to use all three modes at the same time, and at first this is a bit confusing; but it’s actually pretty simple. Unless the module is being bypassed, the EQ is always on; however, depending on your settings, there may or may not be any EQ being adjusted, meaning that while in EQ mode if you have turned all three knobs to the center position, there will be no boosted or subtracted frequencies. The key is to make sure that you are in the correct mode [pay attention to the center LED!] so that when you adjust the knob, you’re adjusting what you frequency range you want, and what mode you want. I always started with EQ [BLUE], then I would hop on over to compression mode [RED], making sure to push and hold the corresponding button for a second, brightly illuminating that band’s compressor, and then make my adjustments. Turning the knob only affects the settings in the mode you’re in; if you have your high-end EQ adjusted fully clockwise, turning the high knob fully counterclockwise while in compressor mode will not change your EQ adjustments. This can definitely get a little tricky if you cycle through the modes and want to make minor tweaks in any of the modes after tweaking the others. It’s hard to remember exactly what band is in what position for each mode, but it’s also not really necessary. You just have to make an adjustment, and it will “break” the previous setting allowing for new adjustment.
When I got settled a bit with Golden Master it became what I’ve been missing: The ability to enhance and compress the bejeezus out of the bottom end while muting the tops all in one easy swoop is priceless, and muting the mids and lows to only have the highs exposed before bringing it all back is fun and dramatic; akin to a giant filter sweep with mass resonance. Golden Master is a rare combination of utility + killer performance module and you can even use it as a mute.
I do find it interesting to think about the specs and ranges that Endorphin.es holds the Golden Master to. While making it more convenient to tame the sound before it leaves your case, they’re also making decisions about the frequencies that maintain its boundaries, which may turn off some folks. For studio use would still do all my compression and EQ in the box, as well as any mid-side processing, but a lot of modular gigs don’t have a proper sound person, and for those types of gigs, this is an extremely helpful module that’s as necessary for live performance as power strips or Club Maté. It’s made my patches sound better, given me another route to add drama to my performances, and helped me get a much more polished and powerful sound, and thereby has found a permanent place at the end of my chain.
6 HP +12V: 135 mA -12V: 25 mA