Compressors

Compressors for sale are listed here

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

After spending some time with the Empirical Labs Fatso and Distressor, my Favourite Compressor list has been revised to make a Top Ten

Compressor Top Ten

  1. UREI 1176
  2. UREI LA-2A
  3. dbx 160XT
  4. SSL 4000E Bus Compressor
  5. Fatso EL7X
  6. Distressor EL8X
  7. Valley People Dynamite
  8. Gain Brain
  9. dbx 163X
  10. FMR Really Nice Compressor

 

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. Empirical Labs Fatso EL7X

The Full Analogue Tape Simulator and Optimiser is a combined compressor / harmonic generator designer to warm up spikey digital sources. It’s fantastic

6. Empirical Labs Distressor EL8X Compressor

The best-selling Distressor combines traditional compression styles with super-modern controls & massive flexibility

7. 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. Always a nightmare to set up, the Dynamite is nevertheless utterly brilliant

8. Allison Research Gain Brain

More insane compression from Paul Buff. Loud, nasty & vicious

9. dbx 163X

Filthy, dirty, nasty compression with loads of vibe. I love it

10. FMR RNC Really Nice Compressor

Clean, cheap, effective, brilliant

Honourable mentions

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

  • SSL 4000E channel compressor – can be setup to be the best de-esser you’ll ever hear
  • Orban 424A Gated Compressor Limiter – Mojo, mojo, mojo. Smooth & tasty like honey
  • 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 subtle, 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
  • dbx 160SL – the flagship dbx is a powerhouse of super-clean compression
  • Valley People 610 stereo compressor – rare, wonderful, super-fast compressor. Wish I’d kept the one I sold!

 

Chorus Pedals

Chorus pedals – how can you not love them? They’re so raw, so unpolished, so direct, so easy to fiddle with…

I love using chorus pedals when mixing as they sit the sound in a different perspective to that created by a plugin or a polished, hi-tech piece of outboard gear. I have a decent collection of chorus pedals (see chorus pedals in my shop), and have owned quite a few more, but some stand out more than others

My All Time Top Five Chorus / Flanger / Phaser list:

  1. Boss Chorus CE-1
  2. Roland Dimension D
  3. Eventide Flanger
  4. AMS Flanger
  5. Yamaha SPX90 Symphonic

 

1. Boss CE-1

What makes the CE-1 sit at the top of the list? It’s not because it’s a swirly, deep, flangey chorus, because it’s not. It’s subtle, smooth, refined and rather special. It adds depth and subtle movement, so it’s superb for widening keyboard pads and giving depth to a mix. It does all this without any downsides at all – it’s quiet (or quite enough), it’s mains-powered so no batteries to worry about, and it’s absolutely incapable of sounding bad

2. Roland Dimension D

The Dim D sits in a class of its own at the top of the rack-mounted chorus tree. It’s super-simple with four settings, each of which seems to be perfect, but one is always slightly more perfect than the rest. Again, it’s not a deep, swirly device, but it does a great job of adding subtle movement and widening sounds

3. Eventide Flanger

Eventide is one of my favourite manufacturers. They haven’t made a bad piece of gear since they started in New York in 1971 . The Eventide Flanger, and it’s sister, the Phaser, are old-school rack devices which will do deep, resonant flanging, subtle movement and anything in between. My favourite trick is to feed the whole mix though it, slowly cross-fade with the original mix and switch back on a downbeat. Sounds great on headphones, sounds great on the radio

4. AMS Flanger

If you could imagine a slightly more British, slightly more buttoned-down version of the Eventide, you’d get something like the AMS. Great audio quality, very smooth in operation, great controls with more finesse than the Eventide, the AMS is a killer flanger

5. Yamaha SPX90 Symphonic

When you trawl through factory presets on outboard gear it’s rare to find a sound that jumps out at you that also works in a track. Symphonic is one of the few. Unlike the other chorus / flangers in my list, Symphonic is the only one from a digital device with presets. All the others predate the digital era and use analogue, bucket-brigade delay lines. The SPX90 may be digital, but someone at Yamaha engineering spent time creating a killer flanger which someone else from marketing named Symphonic. Whatever – it’s great

Honourable mentions

A few other Chorus pedals & rackmount devices stand out:

MXR Phase 90 pedal – fabulous stomp-box phaser

Any MXR Flanger – I haven’t found a bad one yet

Any Electro-Harmonix Chorus or Flanger – I haven’t found a bad one yet

Yamaha Rev 7 – Symphonic, just like the SPX90

The final word – Marshall Time Modulator

There’s one more device that would sit on top of the pile if it could be described as a Flanger. It will do Flanging, but I don’t really think of it as one. Maybe my mistake

The Marshall Time Modulator is possibly the weirdest, most wonderful piece of outboard gear ever devised. Most engineers I know steer clear of it but I have to say I love it