VACUUM TUBE DUAL COMPRESSOR PREAMPLIFIERA collaboration between Ivor Drawmer and Fletcher at Mercenary Audio, the 1969 Dual Compressor Mercenary Edition is a "desert island" piece of audio gear. Actually, you can survive just fine with the original Drawmer 1960 that the 1969 is based on, as the 1960 has proven itself in many studios worldwide and is part of the sound of many recording artists who love its character. The 1969 might be the start of a trend of "boutique" versions of well-known studio products that are offered in alternate versions to reflect the specifications and preferences of audio industry personalities.
Like the 1960, the 1969 is a dual-channel compressor with two mic preamps and a single, tube-based instrument auxiliary input. The unit occupies two rackspaces and is housed in a road-tough, steel cabinet. All rotary and toggle switches have a solid action, and the two VU meters are backlit by yellow LEDs - no bulbs to change. Bypass switching is done by silver contact relays for reliable operation. The "Fletcherized" sections, the mic preamp and compressor, are easily identified on the front panel with yellow silk-screening lettering replacing the standard Drawmer white. As with the 1960, the 1969's instrument input is available to either channel - or even to both channels at the same time for some interesting parallel processing possibilities.
FEATURES, FUNCTIONSThe aux input section is a tube-based (12AX7/ECC83A), guitar/bass preamp with familiar guitar amp controls and operation. In fact, this section is voiced as a typical guitar amp with the ability to create immediate overdrive effects. The 11/44-inch front panel jack has an input impedance of 2.2 megaohms and up to 30 dB of gain in low gain mode and up to 40 dB of gain in the high gain switch position. An EQ switch adds a simple high/low shelving equalizer that also works like a guitar amp - boost only - up to +15 dB at 40 Hz and +18 dB at 16 kHz. A Norm/Bright switch adds a 10dB boost in a broad shape centered at 2 kHz. This section is unchanged from the original 1960 unit.
A big change in the 1969 is the dual mic preamp section. The two identical microphone preamps for Channels 1 and 2 use Burr-Brown INA 103 op amp chips, and total mic gain has been increased to 66 dB. There is no mic input transformer: Drawmer chose to make the input high-impedance with little or no loading effect on any low-impedance microphone. Mic gain is now set using a detented rotary switch in 6dB steps with a clip LED indicating preamp overload.
Like the 1960, the 1969 has both line level and XLR inputs on the rear panel with four-position rotary switches selecting the source (line, mic, mic with phantom or aux) that is routed to the compressor. In addition to the source selector, there is a newly added phase flip switch with LED indicator. The 1969 also retained the original highpass filter ahead of the compressor, switchable to 50 Hz, 100 Hz or Off.
The 1960 used a tube stage at the front of the compressor, while the 1969 does not. The 1969 retained the J-FET (Field Effect Transistor) gain reduction circuit that operates faster than an opto-isolator. The compressor uses a 12AX7 tube makeup gain amplifier where you can add, with the Output Gain control, up to 20 dB of additional gain. There is no ratio control as the compressor operates on the soft knee principle where the onset of compression is progressive. The 1960 had three preset attack setting choices and six release times available. The 1969 expands attack times to six choices: 2, 9, 15, 25, 30 and 50 ms. Release times come in three fixed times (100, 500 ms and 1 second) and three program-dependent choices - 200 ms to 2 sec, 500 ms to 5 sec and 1 to 10 seconds - all program-dependent and automatic. Fletcher used the Fairchild 670's time constant values as a starting point and then tweaked here and there to his own preferences.
The outputs of Channels 1 and 2 are monitored on two regular VU meters with a switch to check output level or amount of gain reduction. A three-position output switch selects normal compressor output, hard-wired bypass and sidechain listen. Drawmer provides full sidechain access (for connecting an external equalizer for vocal stressing or de-essing) and an insert path for each channel for the 1969. A set of rear panel jacks for an outboard EQ or other device provides a +4dBm send out of the highpass filter just before the compressor and a -10dBv return directly back into the compressor. The lower -10dBv return level offers new possibilities for connecting semi-pro gear, stomp boxes, etc. There are no front panel provisions for bypassing the rear panel sidechain/insert connections, so any connections you make will remain in-circuit.
In addition to stereo line or mic processing, the 1969 is capable of dual processing with, say, Channel 1 compressing a line level tape track, while Channel 2 works on a separate microphone input. Linked for stereo operation, Channel 1's compressor controls serve as stereo master for both channels. There are two link modes: regular stereo link and Big mode. Big mode is the same as stereo but adds a highpass filter in the sidechain path to prevent low frequencies below 100 Hz from affecting the rest of the program. This lets the operator use more compression on an overall mix with less pumping action caused by the kick and/or bass instrument.
IN THE STUDIOThe 1969's microphone preamps proved to be better than a lot of recording consoles - even some with discrete mic amps. There is plenty of gain and no noise. Although I like the resettable feature, the 6dB gain increment steps are fairly coarse, and there is no fine-adjust control, although you can set the recording level at the output controls.
Using the instrument preamp, I liked the 1969 for direct guitar best, with keyboards a close second. The gain control provides as much "hair" as you like on whatever you plug into the unit. I wish there was a level input control just ahead of the compressor input to get more level into the compressor. The only way to get more level to the compressor is to wind up the gain control in the preamp section, causing more overdrive. After I got the right amount of distortion at the preamp stage and turned the compressor threshold lower to get my desired gain reduction, I had to make up a lot of gain with the output control to drive my 24-bit Pro Tools I/O.
When compressing an overall stereo mix, I liked the sound of the 1969. It is smooth and clean - even when heavily squashing the sound. The Big switch is the greatest for keeping bass-heavy mixes loud without bass pumping. I found I used a little more compression than I would normally and loved it. Under bigger gain reduction settings, the different attack and release settings become much more important, and I experimented to arrive at the right ones based on the music.
At $2,950 MSRP, the Drawmer 1969 is a versatile recording tool with an especially good stereo compressor you'll use every day.
Dist. in the U.S. by Transamerica Audio, 4760 W. Dewey #133, Las Vegas, NV 89118; 702/365-5155; www.transaudiogroup.com.