Airfield Audio Liminator 2 Compressor ReviewHAND-MADE OPTO GAIN REDUCER WITH SOWTER AND JENSEN TRANSFORMER CHOICES 3/01/2011 4:00 AM Eastern
David Miller’s Toronto, Canada–based Airfield Audio specializes in updates, upgrades and recaps of a wide range of vintage analog gear and consoles from Neve, Drawmer, UREI, Gates and even Dolby 363 SR modules. He also hand-makes the Liminator Series of mono and 2-channel compressors. The Liminator 2 (reviewed here) is a stereo opto attenuator compressor featuring completely variable threshold and output gain; 5-step attack, release and ratio controls (1.5 to 20); and a three-way switch that takes you through bypass (relay), T2 (Sowter Transformer) and T1 (Jensen Transformer) options. Other features include analog meters switchable between input, output and gain reduction; +4/+14dBu meter level switch; and a Link switch.
Popping the top unveils the ample power supply that sports a beefy toroidal transformer and Carnhill output transformers. It also shows that the switches and pots are high-grade and hand-tested within tight tolerances, evidenced by their specs penned in Sharpie on their backs. The circuit board is made with 3-ounce copper, and all connections use silver solder; you can tell this box received a lot of love from start to finish.
LIKE A TANK
Out of the box, you can’t help but notice that the Liminator 2 is built for the long haul. Its military styling, solid build, chicken head knobs and vintage analog meters beg you to start tweaking, which is exactly what I did. I got this box just prior to a voice-over I had to record for Mix’s Mackie Webcast (available at mixonline .com). As I knew this was going out over the Web, I needed all the help I could get to produce a great-sounding track prior to the squeeze that was going to happen once it was married to video and streamed. I used an SE Electronics RNR1 ribbon mic powered by a Mackie Onyx 1640i preamp and patched one channel of the Liminator 2 across the insert. I set the threshold all the way down, set a lazy attack and release, and chose T1 (Jensen), and the results were startling. I was getting more than -10 dB of reduction at the peak, but there was no pumping, little noise and the tone was delicious.
Next I used it on a lead vocal on different sessions with different mics. In one session, preamps were from a C24 Pro Tools controller powering an SE Electronics Voodoo 2 active ribbon mic; in the other, I used the RNR1 powered by an SSL 4000 Series preamp. This particular vocalist is one I often work with. He’s very talented, but his tone is always a challenge in that he offers a lot of midrange that can be grating if the signal chain is too revealing. I like to “color him down” using different dynamic mics and compressors rather than trying to solve the problem with EQ, which is a rabbit hole of phase shift. In both sessions, the Liminator 2 provided just the crush and tonal shaping I needed to tame this track down and sit it nicely in the mix.
I next used the compressor across sax overdubs, high transient drum submixes and my stereo bus mix, all with great results. I tend to like a more hands-off compressor across the entire mix, but I found that the Liminator 2 can go from severely crushed to barely there with the flip of a few switches and fine adjustments. The ability to jump between the Jensen and Sowter makes this box incredibly versatile and subtle in its range. In regards to the transformers, the sound shift is difficult to verbally quantify, but it is palpable and lovely to have as an option.
The Liminator 2 is at the top of the boutique compressor heap. It offers plenty of personality, flattering most everything it touches and giving the user many ways to add clean color to the signal path. I used it across a range of applications, but my personal favorite is what it does to the human voice. Even at better than -10 dB of reduction at the peak, as long as you are careful to avoid pumping, it sets the vocal up nicely in the mix and minimizes the need for a lot of riding. Tonally, the harder I hit it, the better it sounded, imparting a silky richness that is difficult to produce in the digital realm. I purposely used it across a range of preamps from very good to average and it dressed them all up deftly, making the total output sound better than the sum of its parts. If you’re into “that analog” sound provided by quality Class-A circuitry, the Liminator 2 needs to be on your must-hear list.
Kevin Becka is Mix’s technical editor.