Although we live in a world dominated by digital audio workstations, hardware releases for the front and back end have been strong of late, especially in the a la carte category. In this collection, we round up a selection of compressors, EQs and channel strips, in both rackmount and 500 Series formats, that have debuted beginning around the 2013 AES Convention. Note that the channel strips usually include a preamp. The products covered here include solid-state and tube processors, which gives you a range of flavors from which to choose.
ART Pro VLA II
The ProVLA II is a tube-driven Vactrol-based compressor/leveling amplifier designed for tracking, mixing, mastering, and dynamic control of live sound sources and broadcast audio. Instead of using VCAs to handle level detection, the Pro VLA II uses an opto-electronic circuit coupled with a 12AT7 vacuum tube in the gain stage. Its transformerless design offers exceptional signal integrity with extremely low noise and low distortion. The ProVLA II is a soft-knee leveling amplifier by design. Backlit analog VU meters display input and output levels while 10-segment LEDs display gain reduction.
Black Box Analog Design HG-2
The Black Box Analog Design HG-2 is a line-level stereo unit designed to add saturation, harmonics, natural compression, increased RMS and enhancement during mixing and mastering. The HG-2 uses Cinemag input transformers to feed two paths: The main signal path travels through a 6U8A pentode tube stage that then drives into the triode stage that follows, to achieve results ranging from subtle harmonics to full saturation. The input transformer also feeds a parallel signal path that uses a set of 12AX7 tubes, voiced specifically for harmonics and saturation.
Crane Song Falcon
Crane Song’s Falcon 500 Series compressor features three attack time and three release time settings, hard and soft knee choices for compression or limiting, two different audio path sounds, and wet-dry mixing for parallel compression. When linked, the master unit controls all functions on the slave except for wet-dry and make up gain. The linked system is capable of doing 5.1 surround sound. The Falcon’s front panel has controls for attack and release speeds, compression and limiting, gain and threshold, and compression coloration, plus a backlit VU meter.
Dangerous Music’s Dangerous Compressor (reviewed in Mix’s November 2014 issue) is a dual-mono/stereo compressor for tracking, mixing and mastering designed by Chris Muth. Its Smart Dynamics feature employs two independent slopes in the detection circuit. One stage of the detector controls the average level, while the other handles only rapid transients. By default, the unit is set to Auto Attack/Release mode. Engaging the Manual Attack/Release button allows the manual use of the attack and release knobs. Dual-Mono mode has two completely independent paths, while Stereo Mode may be applied to stereo instruments, stems or complete mixes.
Drawmer 1973 Compressor
Drawmer (distributed in the U.S. by TransAudio Group) introduced the 1973 3-band FET Stereo Compressor in September 2014. The all-analog Drawmer 1973’s features include three independent compressor sections with two variable-frequency 6dB/octave crossovers to separate them into low, middle and high-frequency compression sections. Each section contains familiar threshold, gain, attack and release controls, along with gain-reduction metering. Moreover, each section can be independently muted or bypassed for straightforward setup and monitoring. The low section possesses a Big switch for enhanced low-end, whereas the high section possesses an Air switch for enhanced high-end.
Kush Audio Tweaker
Introduced at the October 2014 AES, the Kush Audio Tweaker is a discrete, single-channel, 19-inch rackmount VCA compressor with Variable Drive, designed to emulate the sound of transistor-based compressors of the 1970s. The unit’s Sidechain Shaper changes the sound and behavior of the sidechain circuit, from highpass filters to complex multi-shelving filters, with an additional Contour control. A Curve knob controls the knee and ratio at once, starting from a 2:1 soft-knee ratio to 30:1 hard limiting. The attack ranges from 10 microseconds to 70 ms to allow extreme transient control or transparent attack.
SSL Stereo Bus Compressor
The SSL Stereo Bus Compressor 500 Series format module, which occupies two X-Rack slots, delivers the center section compressor from SSL’s 1980s G-Series analog consoles. It features six ratio settings ranging from 1.5:1 to 20:1, five release settings and an Auto Release function. It further offers SSL’s ultra-high-bandwidth, ultra-low-noise SuperAnalogue circuit design, with classic Threshold, Attack, Ratio, Release, and Make Up controls. True stereo sidechain input is accompanied by a “link” feature, which enables multiple modules to be combined for surround processing.
AnaMod Realios A9052 EQ
Originally designed for the Olympic Studios console by Dick Swettenham with guidance from engineer Keith Grant, this equalizer provides high and low shelving bands, two midrange/low frequency bands of equalization, and a two-position highpass filter. The equalization points chosen provide instant control over musical timbre. An addition to the original three-transistor makeup gain stage is a Class-A transistor output stage. Also included is a step-down input transformer and step-up output transformer, which provides 6dB greater headroom than the 500 Series voltage rails would normally allow.
Bettermaker EQ 232P, EQ542
The EQ232P combines a passive EQ with parametric filters, offering an analog signal path along with 399 available cells for user presets that are recallable with one touch. Users can save settings in the EQ’s internal memory as well as in a DAW with user-defined automation. It has an A/B comparison function supported by AU, VST, and RTAS (32- and 64-bit). EQ 232P features 10 filters (five on each channel), including two highpass filters and four parametric filters with wide frequency ranges, and two Pultec sections, in which shelf filters are offered in combined, matched stereo. The Bettermaker EQ542 is the parametric EQ section of the EQ 232P in a 500 Series format.
CraneSong Insigna 500 EQ
Insigna is a tube equalizer in a 500 Series package using a dual triode circuit with a 12AX7 tube. It has three bands and filters, as well as 24dB/octave highpass and lowpass filters, each with seven frequencies. The top and bottom band are shelving each with eight frequencies. The midrange band is peaking with eight frequencies. The three bands work by using buffered RC circuits in the negative feedback path around the tube amplifiers. Insigna further features a dual-triode circuit with buffered RC circuits in the negative feedback path around the 12AX7-based tube amplifiers.
Electrodyne 2511 EQ
The Electrodyne 2511 is a classic 2-band discrete transistor reciprocal active inductor equalizer using 1969-1970 design technology. Electrodyne’s original designer makes the 2511’s custom inductors and output transformer to strict factory manufacturing tolerances as small as 2% to allow consistent EQ performance and repeatability from channel to channel. It promises smooth performance and EQ response from minimum to maximum gain at all frequencies to provide unusually broad sonic and tonal options not experienced since the 1970s.
Kush Clariphonic 500
The Clariphonic 500 Series Module offers a mastering grade signal path and brings the midrange into focus, designed with six parallel signal paths that produce a form of additive-only high frequency equalization, and are said to produce an air, clarity, and presence previously found only in old, expensive analog equalizers. Two high-shelf filters are blended in parallel on each channel, with six carefully selected corner frequencies. The filters give you control over the midrange, presence, and air bands. The front panel has switches for selecting Silk, Shimmer, Sheen, Presence, Open and Lift, and knobs for Clarity and Focus.
Lightning Boy Audio Flux Bender Equalizer
The Flux Bender is a passive stereo EQ made with ultra-transparent sounding paper in oil capacitors, cryogenic NOS 12AT7 vacuum tubes, matched pair of cryo-treated NOS 6X4 tubes, a pair of NE-2 tubes, and hand wired point to point with silver plated wire. The Flux Bender uses Sowter input transformers, Jensen interstage transformers and custom designed Cinemag output transformers and inductors. It also includes a Lightning Boy “Juice Box” external power supply with power tether included for ultra low noise operation, high quality Alps and PEC pots, plus Alps rotary switches and heavy duty toggle switches.
Rupert Neve Designs Neve 551 EQ
The 551 features three bands of EQ and a custom-tapped inductor EQ, along with custom-wound inductors, transformers and Class-A gain blocks. The LF band can be used as either a shelf or a peak filter. The 551’s inductor midrange band can sweeten vocals and instruments while bringing them forward in a mix, and its proportional “Q” response makes it well suited for minimizing problematic frequencies. The high frequency band blends inductor circuitry with capacitor-based topologies. The highpass filter is a 12dB/octave design with a fixed 80Hz frequency, and can be used in tandem with the low frequency EQ.
Phoenix Audio Nice DI/500
This Class-A discrete unit is an API 500 Series compatible direct input channel and EQ tilt control processor, with a custom wound transformer, for use on guitar, keyboard and all line-level sources. The DI has a 10-meg input load, which promises the ability to capture all frequencies and reproduce a full sounding tone. It has a DI input, through and a switch to accept balanced line-level. The unit’s 3-way tilt control has tilt points at 800Hz, 1.2kHz and 2.2kHz. A sweepable tone control makes the Tilt EQ either darker or brighter, and will affect both the low and high frequencies.
The EQP-1A3, a reissue of the Pultec EQP-1A, is a single-channel, 2-band tube-based equalizer with switchable frequency selection and variable bandwidth. The 2-band design offers flexible high-shelving and low-shelving control, but because the boost and attenuate controls work independently, the company says that users can use an old trick to add thump to the bass region while also notching a bit above the cutoff point by boosting and attenuating at the same time. The high-shelf is said to function in a similar manner as the EQP-1A, except that with the EQP-1A3, users can set separate ranges for the boost and attenuation.
Trident Series 80B-500
This module was designed in the U.S. and built in the UK, where the original Trident Series 80 consoles were designed and built. The Series 80B 500 Series EQ incorporates a classic 4-band equalizer that is identical to the one employed in the Trident Series 80 console. The 80B is a single slot 4-band EQ with frequency-switchable highpass and lowpass shelving bands combined with sweeping low and high-midrange bands and a fixed 12dB/octave, 50Hz highpass filter. Each band features a -/+ 15dB gain. The 80B is described as offering an especially large overlap between bands.
APHEX Project 500 Channel Strip
The Project 500 features a Class-A preamp, an optical compressor, a 2-band, overlapping EQ and a Jensen JT-11DL nickel output-balancing transformer. The optical compressor uses a proprietary optical element designed to be as fast as possible. Gain reduction can be adjusted from 2:1 up to 6:1. The compressor can also be turned on/off with the lighted Comp button, and can be placed before or after the EQ with the lighted Post button. It has two bands of semi-parametric EQ. The Lo Freq can be adjusted between 20Hz and 2kHz, while the Hi Freq can be adjusted between 200 and 20k Hz.
Daking Pro Audio 500RS
The Daking 500 RS is not a channel strip in one box, but rather, it is a package of 500 Series units that are marketed as a recording channel. It is offered as a complete 2-channel recording system comprising a separate Class-A mic pre (Daking Mic Pre 500), VCA compressor (Daking Comp 500) and inductor EQ (Daking EQ 500) per channel. The six 500 Series modules come preinstalled and preconfigured in an included API 500-6B Lunchbox. Also included is a custom DB-25 jumper cable for chaining the outputs from the preamps into the inputs of the compressors and so forth.
The 32cs provides one channel of the Harrison 32 Series console in a single rackspace. The filter section provides separate on/off switches for the highpass and lowpass filters. The filters use the wide overlapping ranges that were pioneered by Harrison in the 32-Series consoles. The highpass filter features a switch for Harrison’s “Bump” feature, which provides a resonant boost above the selected frequency. The EQ section provides four bands with widely overlapping frequency ranges. The “Low” and “High” controls default to shelving, but can be individually switched to a bell curve. In “Bell” mode, all four bands provide a proportional-Q design that imparts a wide bandwidth when making small adjustments, and a narrower bandwidth as gain is added.
The CORE analog channel strip comprises a mic preamplifier, compressor, equalizer, and limiter. The compressor section offers Manley’s ELOP technology. The compressor is placed before the mic preamp and uses a 3:1 ratio, with continuously variable Attack, Release, and Threshold controls, and a Silent Bypass switch. The CORE also has a fast-attack FET brickwall limiter with continuously variable Threshold and Release controls. The unit’s equalizer gives you low and high Baxandall shelves (80 Hz and 12 kHz) with ± 12dB range, and a sweep-able midrange bell EQ, 100 to 1k Hz, or 1 to 10k Hz with ±10dB range.
PreSonus RC_500 Channel Strip
The RC 500 channel strip combines a low-distortion, high-gain, solid-state Class-A preamplifier with custom-designed FET (Field-Effect Transistor) compressor and semi-parametric EQ circuitry. Controls include fully variable attack (0.5 to 10 ms), release (30 to 500 ms), and threshold (-25 to +20 dBu), as well as hardware bypass. Ratio is fixed at 3:1. The 3-band semi-parametric EQ combines isolated filters and optimized, per-band Q to provide subtler signal shaping without harsh artifacts. All bands have Gain (±16 dB) and Frequency controls, with overlapping frequency ranges between the midrange and high bands and fixed Q (0.5). The low and high bands are switchable between shelving and peak. Both the Compressor and EQ sections feature a relay bypass.