Compressors

Compressors are odd things. Some see them as a way of controlling levels, of preventing overloads and as a utility device for audio. Others see them as the ultimate tool for changing dynamics, for creating excitement and for their audible effect

I fall into camp #2. For me they are like temporal equalisers – a good compressor lets you change the dynamic shape of sound in a way that nothing else can

My Favourite Compressor list looks like this:

  1. UREI 1176
  2. UREI LA-2A
  3. dbx 160XT
  4. SSL 4000E Bus Compressor
  5. Valley People Dynamite

 

1. UREI 1176

Nothing sounds like an 1176 – it’s a one-off, a freak, an outlier – and that’s why it’s stood the test of time. For vocals and bass guitar, nothing betters it for a punchy, aggressive sound. Set it for a fairly slow attack, fastest release and 4:1 compression then just ramp up the input level till the vocal sits where you want it. A little tweak on the attack time, a hint of EQ and job done

2. UREI LA-2A

In some ways the polar opposite of the 1176, the LA-2A is a more laid-back device with markedly slower attack & release times. It’s amazing when just tickling a signal but also shines when driven hard. It’s a subtler device overall and more about final polish than pure attitude

3. dbx 160XT

If, like me, you must tweak attack & release times to suit tempo & dynamics then, in theory, the 160XT falls at the first hurdle. It has no attack or release controls, just threshold & ratio, and the only other option is an Over-Easy / Hard Knee switch. Fortunately for the 160XT, theory is dead wrong – it’s a hard-charging, attitude-loaded punk of a compressor that’s as subtle as a car crash. The 160XT won’t work in every situation but, every time it does, you’ll wonder how you lived without one

4. SSL 4000E Bus Compressor

The SSL 4000E came with a four-channel VCA compressor as standard across the Quad Bus output of the console. It’s a magic switch which, when pressed, opens up a whole new universe of sound. As heard on 95% of all hit records from 1985 to 2000, the SSL Bus Compressor is really rather good

5. Valley People Dynamite

As its name suggests, the Dynamite exists to smash things to pieces, violently and comprehensively. It’s capable of the most pumping, squashing compression you’ve ever heard but still manages to maintain fidelity while doing it. Designed by Paul Buff, the Dynamite has a raft of devious sidechain filters, keys, RMS / Peak switches & etc and can be used as a gate / expander. Occasionally a nightmare to setup, the Dynamite is nevertheless utterly brilliant

Honourable mentions

A few other compressors deserve an honourable mention for their notoriety, amazingness or sheer subtlety

  • Allison Research Gain Brain – more insane compression from Paul Buff
  • dbx 163X – filthy, dirty, nasty compression. I love it
  • Eventide Omnipressor – never heard one but I bet it’s great
  • SSL 4000E channel compressor – can be setup as the best de-esser I’ve ever heard
  • Orban 424A Gated Compressor Limiter – Mojo, mojo, mojo
  • UREI / JBL 7110 Compressor – punchy, adaptable, ballsy compressor from the Masters of the Compression Universe
  • Aphex Dominator – unusual, inaudible in operation, brilliant
  • SPL DynaMaxx 9735 – very, very clever, can be inaudible in operation, brilliant
  • Aphex Compellor – confusing, inaudible in operation, brilliant
  • Fairchild 670 – extraordinary mojo machine
  • Alesis 3630 – hard to get it in the sweet spot, but it’s quite a piece of kit for the money
  • dbx 160 (wooden box) – a true classic. The 160XT is a descendant and, IMHO, a better compressor
  • RNC Really Nice Compressor – clean, effective, cheap, brilliant
  • dbx 160SL – the flagship dbx is a powerhouse of super-clean compression

 

 

 

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