Review: Tone Projects Hendyamps Michelangelo EQ

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Review: Tone Projects Hendyamps Michelangelo EQ

Tone Projects Hendyamps Michelangelo plugin
Words by Paul Blomfield

Tone Projects Hendyamps Michelangelo EQ | Tone Projects | RRP: $273.90 USD

The HendyAmps Michelangelo isn’t your run of the mill analog EQ. It is a sought-after, revered piece of all-tube hardware that combines broad-stroke EQ with saturation and tube colouring in a way that is musical, intuitive and right-brained. It’s one of those pieces of gear that you don’t need to be a technical genius to understand. After sitting down and dialling in some EQ moves for 5-10 minutes, it just starts to make sense. I don’t know how it does what it does, and I’m okay with that. The mystique is half the appeal.

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There are six dials on the front of the physical unit: Aggression (a.k.a. tube drive), Low, Mid, High, Air and Trim (a.k.a. output attenuation). The Low dial is accompanied by a switch that allows you to toggle between 80Hz and 150Hz. Aside from that, there are basically no frequency indicators on the controls; the only way to figure out what each dial does is to turn it and listen. 

Hendyamps Michelangelo EQ

So, who in their right mind would be ambitious enough to take a piece of physical hardware so notoriously musical and abstract in its functionality, and turn it into a plugin? Well, Tone Projects did. And they smashed it out of the park.

When it comes to plugins, I’m a simple man. I’m looking for three things:

  1. Reputation. I need to know that I’m investing in software which is widely regarded by industry professionals. If it’s modelled after real hardware, it needs to be faithful and accurate. I want to know the programmers and designers got as close as possible with the tech available today.
  2. Ease of use. How easy is it to install? Does it do what it says on the tin? Does it come with a big bank of intelligently labelled and categorised presets I can scroll through? Sometimes I have neither the patience nor the technical nous to spend hours tweaking and dialling to get what I want out of a plugin.
  3. Magic. You know what I’m talking about. It’s that je ne sais quoi. When you hear it, it’s like someone’s dialled up the tube drive on your insides, and you think to yourself (or maybe you scream out loud) “that’s it”. And you’re thankful you spent the money on the plugin, because the plugin does exactly what you wanted it to do, and all is right in the world.

Chris Henderson himself – owner of HendyAmps and designer of the Michalangelo hardware – says the Tone Projects plugin version of his tube EQ/harmonics generator unit is “an absolute masterpiece”. Notable Mastering Engineers such as Dave McNair, Maor Appelbaum and Jordan Shultz have also written glowing endorsements. That checks the reputation box!

Tone Projects HendyAmps Michelangelo

Not only is the plugin a beautifully faithful recreation of the hardware, but the inclusion of dozens of additional fine-tune controls for envelope shaping, drive and tube control (tastefully concealed beneath a “Show controls” button) make it more powerful than the hardware on which it is modelled. These supplementary controls bring Tone Projects’ interpretation of the Michelangelo much closer to modern digital EQ plugin territory, enabling precise control of bands and curves and even dynamic EQ programming.

Email registration, download, installation, licence key copy/pasting and opening an instance in Reaper took all of 5 minutes. Very simple, very painless. But the Michelangelo plugin gets bonus marks in the ease of use category with the inclusion of a ‘tooltips’ function, which made navigating and deciphering the controls an absolute dream. With tooltips toggled on, hovering over any control on the GUI brings up a clear, comprehensive description of its function, all the way down to tube-specific characteristics (e.g. the harder you push the tube aggression, the less impactful air control becomes). If you’re like me and you’re just dipping a toe into the world of analog tube-colouring EQs, turning this function on will provide valuable insight on the bits you might find intimidating. I was also pleasantly surprised by the ability to link the Trim knob to moves on the Aggression knob. If you hold ‘shift’ while moving the Aggression knob, the Trim will automatically respond, adjusting the output volume for you, allowing you to drive the ‘tube sound’ without changing your mix balance too overtly.

You’ll find the frequencies of each band reasonably accurate, though wider banded than digital EQs, with characterful and subtle sloping either side of the selected frequency. Sometimes the limitation of less options, i.e. a three band EQ, make it easier for us to shape and refine our sounds.

So, training wheels on, the next thing I did was dive into the presets, running a handful of instruments into the plugin (a combination of virtual, miced up and DI). The 128 presets are organised into 8 categories: Allround (which also includes five presets specifically centred around saturation characteristics), Bass, Drums (including five specifically for 808s), Guitar, Keys (three piano, five synth), Mix (including Mastering presets) and Vocal. You can also view the presets categorised by author, including some dialled in by Chris Henderson himself, which I thought was a very nice bonus. It’s not often you score presets dialled by the creator of a piece of hardware.

But the real magic happened when I threw my habitual workflow out the window by adding the Michaelangelo to the Master track, ignoring the presets and just moving the dials around until my project sounded good. It didn’t take long. The Aggression knob itself added a beautiful rich, tube saturation that made everything sound more meaningful and impactful. A couple of subtle moves on the EQ dials later, and I was convinced my project was ready for bouncing.

Writing this review, I was convinced I could conclude with something far less cliche than “you just have to try it for yourself”. But you know what? I’ve spent the entire week watching videos about this plugin, and in every single one of those videos, the presenter spends about 2 minutes introducing the product and then says something to the effect of “it will just make more sense if I show you, so you can hear it for yourself”. And they were all right.

Try, buy or keep reading about the Tone Projects Hendyamps Michelangelo EQ here.