Welcome to the ELAmentalsphere!
My dreambuild - for the hardcore techy & audiophiles - Time for some serious engineering and circuitry!
What you see before you is a Sphere 920 graphics EQ dual racked pair, customized decades ago by Jon Erickson of Helsing Audio, who has extensive experience with Electrodyne, Quad Eight, and Sphere equipment (also designed the Pacifica Mic Pre for A-Designs).. The unit itself is referred to as a Sphere Eclipse Equalizer. Information on audio production hardware this vintage and rare is not always an easy task to collect. I was lucky enough however to find a very skilled hand and educated/experienced mind to help with this, who also ended up being one of the most friendly, helpful, and resourceful people I have ever crossed paths with. We hit it off pretty quick.
This all started because I was conducting research (surprise!) on quality graphic EQs that would compliment the rest of the gear in my vocal tracking chain (and for other instruments - percussion, wind, strings). After being led back to the Gearslutz Forums again (currently undergoing a name-change to GearSpace), I eventually uncovered what would have been called a diamond in the ruff (and still is to the untrained eye) several years ago - Vintage Sphere graphic EQ's.
I know that these retro looking little things don't look like much, but they got it where it counts kid! The reason I was attracted to these particular EQs is simply because of what they can do to sound that goes through them. I spent many hours in forums and archives researching them and even found a few songs that were produced using them. People describe them as "special" and "magic", and I must say after hearing those songs that were run through Sphere equipment, it sure sounds like special-magic to me!
Click below to hear songs recorded on a Sphere console
Most (or maybe all) Sphere EQs come from Sphere consoles, which are by far even more rare than the EQs themselves. There were many Sphere console classes produced (and custom orders), but sadly many of them have been parted/scrapped. There are actually only about 60 (at most) of ALL the Sphere console types combined currently in existence on planet Earth.
This one looks crazy dope! I would love to record a song on this thing even if just once. I may even have to travel to Indiana just to have a chance to run my harmonics through it.
A few days earlier I had joined some audio FB groups in an attempt to source a Stellar CM-5 microphone from a local Portland company that disappeared (and for EQs as mentioned above), one of which was called Rare & Obscure Vintage Studio Gear. When I posted an ISO add there looking for a vintage Sphere 900 series graphics EQ, I received a ton of feedback and was also contacted by the guy who is helping me achieve this custom dreambuild - Danny Brown - who also happens to be a powerful authority with Sphere-tech, and super connected in the audio production/vintage-gear world (and specifically the Sphere-tech world).
Image Source Unknown
Dan being the scholar and gentleman he is, was politely quick to correct any misinformation I had in my add. Shortly after we struck up a conversation, and that is when he told me about his custom console channel (x2) that combined the majik of two vintage Sphere EQs and two vintage Sphere preamps for casting some seriously majikal music spells - both pulled from consoles. I had to keep myself from drooling while having a geargasm as he explained all the technical details of how it is constructed, and his extensive experience with building electronics (as well as building drag cars!!).
Image Source - one of Danny's builds
Instead of personally explaining the build-plans, I will let you read the quotes for yourself. They are slightly edited for grammar/applicability and I removed all my replies - so these are only quotes from Danny Brown.
Being led from one point to another very quickly with my EQ research to vintage Sphere tech, and then being contacted by someone who is likely one of the most qualified individuals on the planet for helping me pull off this build, feels like it was meant to be. As soon I heard about it - I knew it is meant to be, and meant for me. The MOST OPTIMAL EQ/PRE combo for my vocal style and mic type IMHO. The serendipitous fate of this scenario is still unfolding. Here are the gear-specs and quotes...
Dan Brown Sphere 'TOTAL ECLIPSE' Custom Console Channel
PLEASE HMU IF YOU HAVE ANY OF THIS!!
- 2x - Sphere 900 series Graphic EQ (910 or 920 preferred)
- 2x M1200 preamp
- 2x - SPA60
- Reichenbach transformers (1:1 or 1:2 preferred) or similar trannys
- compatible +/- 15V linear power supply
Started from looking for an EQ to complete my vocal tracking chain and trying to find a particular microphone (Stellar CM-5) from a local (Portland, OR) company that disappeared - on GS - FB Group - Rare & Obscure Vintage Studio Gear - PMs with Danny
Danny Brown -
Had 28 Sphere 920 EQs and 24 910s from 2 different consoles - sold 2001
Built 2 dual channel rack units with SPA 60s & M1200 mic pres using 4 of the 920 EQs
His good friend has 1 pair and he sold the other 6 years ago
He informed me that the Helsing "Sphere Eclipse" (pictured at the top of this article) are 920 EQs, and that this racked unit was known to have unbalanced inputs/outputs (although many people LOVE the unbalanced results so I am still considering leaving that be). The custom channel strip version Dave came up with "modernizes" these EQs to have balanced i/o by means of adding in the SPA60 and Reichenbach tranny on the output.
Sphere 920 EQ Pinouts (Integrated Circuit Blueprints)
Sphere M1200 Preamp Pinouts
Sphere 920 EQ - Detailed by Dave
"The 910 is a more stripped down version of the 920. The 920s have a few more frequencies available with the pushbuttons. The wheel is a selectable hi-pass that can be switched in and out. The wheel is fragile and they are usually flakey because of age. I put a jumper in the circuit that was a jump around this hi-pass because the wheel was bad. On some 920s that have the wheel have another function other than the hi-pass, but I forget what it did. It seems like the 920s with the wheel that DID NOT function as a hi-pass had a push button that functioned as a hi-pass. What you have to remember is that VERY FEW Spheres were ever built and the consoles could be custom ordered. I was told that the second Sphere that I had was the last Sphere console built. It was built for a post production house in New York City and it only had four mic pres. Sadly, no one wanted that console in 2001 and my friend couldn't store it any longer. It went to the metal recycling house after we pulled the modules. I never touched that console because it was on the east coast of the US and I live in Texas. I bought it and we stripped the modules out of it. Odd to think that no one cared about a Sphere in 2001, right? I did however, sell the console that I had since '77 for a fairly decent price in the summer of 2001. I had that console on the market for several years before a guy made an offer. Things change."
Vintage Gear Actually Worthy of the Hype
"The Spheres are actually worthy of the praise that they get. A lot of older equipment is stamped with the "vintage" name as if all older equipment was somehow magical and better. Because I have been messing with pro audio since the mid '70s I was able to experience the transition from older gear to newer stuff. A lot of older stuff was only "OK" and newer stuff came along which was much better. There are some classic pieces, but not all older stuff deserves the praise and prices it sometimes brings. I have seen so much gear that was once unfashionable (The Sphere stuff) become "Holy Grail". Some of it warrants the praise and a lot is pure hype."
The Danny Brown (DB) "Sphere TOTAL ECLIPSE Custom Console Channel"
"Installed pads and one was a 60 db pad which allowed the mic pre to be used with a line level signal (the Sphere consoles only had a resistor network for a pad). The SPA60 did not have a variable gain front end. I was able to build up the units that I had because I had enough left over parts after I sold the two consoles. Because my friend that retrieved and stored the "east coast" Sphere wanted a functional pair I told him that if he would fund the build by paying for the parts other than the Sphere pieces I would do the construction. We bought some 2 rack space chassis, pots that functioned in place of the linear fader and switches. Another friend owed me a small favor and he had lot's of vintage console parts, so he gave me four Reichenbach 2:1 transformers. Significant soldering skills are required for this build. I'll be honest and tell you that I regret selling my racked pair, but a guy offered me enough money..."
This publication will be updated with photos (if I receive them) of the 1st custom unit built in this way. The unit we are building will be extremely similar to the photos I may eventually post here.
"For the complete deal you need the Sphere mic pre and the EQ. With an output transformer added to an EQ and mic pre you end up with the equivalent of a console channel. The fader amp is on the EQ module, so with a 10K rotary pot in place of the 10K linear fader you have a complete channel."
Importance of the Preamp
"There were not many Sphere consoles built and so many people have gutted them that modules are hard to find. The beauty of the Sphere consoles was in the discreet mic pres and EQs with inductors and a discrete IC."
"Console pictured (will update with photo when I receive it) is my old Sphere (not the east coast one). The pic with the Yamaha 01V is how it looked when I last used it in 2000."
"I had a good friend that bought a vintage Neve in 1989 because he wanted a console that was like my Sphere. Neve 8068s and such had not become magic (pre that Nirvana record cut at Sound City). He had a sweet, refurbished Neve 8058, but he wanted my Sphere! The thing that made that not happen was the fact that Neves started to become holy grail stuff. Had it been ten years earlier we might have had an even swap type deal. He bought his 8058 for $25K in 1989! The Sphere has as much if not more head room AND the EQ is MUCH more versatile."
Did you know that the 1st Sphere console ever sold was to the White House?!
Photos (racks on racks) - David Kalmusky's room at Addiction Studios - Image Source Unknown
This custom project is going to take a LOT - massive energy, sourcing VERY rare hardware, and of course $$$$. If you can help fill the gap in any way with this project (ideally if you have one or two 920 EQs, M1200 pres, and/or a couple SPA60s) please lmk so we can come to terms on prices.
This vintage audio gear customization quest has brought me in contact with a ton of fascinating (and educational/useful) information, ushered some wonderful new humans into my life, enlightened me to specific-vintage "holy grail" audio production hardware that I never knew existed, has sparked in me a newfound passion for custom production gear made the right way with the right parts. I am beyond excited to eventually hear the uplifting-open ambiance that the rightly named Sphere will bring to myself and other performers in the ELAmental Underground studio for years to come.
Final Quotes from Danny
"If you are given a microphone it is because you need to be heard clearly by a large group of people. If you hear yourself in the sound system DO NOT SPEAK QUIETER! That is my job! I have over 40 years of experience with microphones, sound systems and how loud or soft they need to be with given audiences. Let me handle the sound level. SPEAK UP!!!!"
Gearslutz Forum Source 2007