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Calling HQ

How does Drawmer's new HQ work?

UK mainstay Drawmer has launched the HQ, a combination of monitor pre-amp, level controller and DAC at the highest end. How does it work?

The HQ uses Drawmer’s experience in both the analogue and digital domains,offering critical listening to a variety of analogue and digital input sources. In particular, the DAC creates accurate analogue referencemonitoring from digital sources.
“There are three components to the accurate evaluation of audio,” explains Drawmer sales director Ken Giles. “Audio professionals pay a great deal of attention to both the choice of microphone and speakers. However the third
component, the monitor pre-amp and analogue-to-digital conversion used to reference this material, is crucial and often overlooked. The Drawmer HQ is specifically designed to do that job – and to a highly accurate, precision-engineered standard.”
At first glance the HQ may appear to straddle both pro audio and high-end hi-fi, but from the range of monitor controllers available the HQ stands out as more than that: a preamplifier and a DAC, specifically. It has a phono input stage, for example, making vinyl reference easy, and in general places an overriding emphasis on quality.
“With D-A conversion there’s more than just specs,” adds head of R&D Peter Schillebeeckx. “You can hit all those numbers, as we do, but it can still not sound quite right. So a lot of listening went into this throughout the whole process.”
The aim was to create a single box to drive the main monitors in a listening environment, but also to provide access to a greater number of sources with simple, and indeed remote, control. There is USB for laptops, phonos for vinyl, balanced inputs for such devices as an analogue summing box, and a wide range of digital options followed by the aforementioned DAC. Both balanced and unbalanced loudspeaker outputs are provided. Schillebeeckx places special emphasis on the volume control itself, which arguably sets new standards for a function so basic that it often gets
taken for granted. “It’s probably the most complicated volume control ever devised,” he says. “To avoid the tracking issues of even the most expensive, laser-trimmed pots, and to avoid the fidelity issues of VCAs, you’re left with two options: the rotary switch, which has step limitations; or the relay bank. We’ve gone for a relay bank in 0.5dB steps on each channel, with good, high-tolerance resistor ladders.”
But that’s not all. To counter the disadvantage of relay ‘rattle’ as you move through the range, and to create the smoothness of a pot, Ivor Drawmer has created some ‘silent relay’ technology. There’s the click of the relay as you start to move the control, but then it switches to VCA for the travel. When you let go, another click tells you that the HQ has switched back to the relay bank. “So you get the smoothness of the VCA as you adjust,” says Schillebeeckx, “and the reassurance and accuracy of the relay as you stop. It’s a really nice feature.”