DryBell Unit67 Review
Croatia’s masterful tone tailors use the Urei 1176 compressor and Dallas Rangemaster as inspiration for a super-flexible sound-sculpting machine.
Squier J. Mascis Jazzmaster and Fender Jazz Bass through ‘68 Fender Bassman recorded via Apogee Duet and Rode NT2A
The rhythm guitar is recorded with a Vox UL730-style preamp pedal with Unit67 range, eq. and sustain controls all at noon. Boost is at about 30%. Lead guitar features no extra overdrive and starts with identical Unit67 settings—adding progressively more range, boost, sustain and high-band EQ until boost is ultimately at 75%, range at maximum, high EQ at about 70% and sustain at 70%. Bass is recorded with same levels at rhythm guitar.
Pretty, transparent compression that excites overall tone without excessive coloration. Very intuitive to use. Great range in all controls.
Fixed attack, release, and compression ratio settings diminish flexibility to some extent.
Ease of Use:
As capable and mission-specific as modern stompboxes are these days, it’s easy to lapse into quixotic quests to replicate sounds from records. It’s also easy to forget that many of those sounds were crafted with very basic guitar/amp setups and big assists from outboard studio gear.
To some extent, the Unit67, from Croatia’s DryBell, is built to address this simple truth. It’s a compound boost/compressor/EQ inspired by the Urei 1176—a gold-standard staple of outboard studio racks—and the Dallas Rangemaster, a treble booster that more than a few legends counted as the one pedal worthy of otherwise pedal-free rigs. There’s also a very nice booster, an effective 2-band EQ, and simple but useful EQ-bypass and input-level switches. That’s simple enough to sound pedestrian—even ordinary. But the Unit67 is, in fact, powerful enough to be the centerpiece of a very streamlined and flexible rig.
A Sound Concept
If you’re of a certain aesthetic alignment, the Unit67’s component parts probably sound like a no-brainer recipe. And these days, it’s not exactly unusual for a board to feature a Rangemaster clone and a vintage studio-style compressor. But while there are pedals that use the Urei 1176 circuit as inspiration (Origin’s superb Cali76 line comes to mind.) and an increasing number of fair-to-excellent Rangemaster clones, I can’t recall those circuits being combined—at least in the highly integrated way they are in the Unit67. And integrated is the operative term here. These are not just separate circuits stuffed together in a single enclosure that simply cascades one effect into another. The Unit67’s component parts function as a fluid, interactive, and cohesive whole.
The Unit67’s utilitarian bent is reflected in the relatively simple control layout. The boost knob is the biggest and most prominently placed, which is smart because you’ll likely fine-tune your tone with the compression and EQ controls and adjust the overall level and saturation on the fly. Knobs for range (the Rangemaster-inspired part of the EQ section), low and high frequency controls, and the sustain dial (which is essentially a wet/dry blend for the fixed parallel compression section) are tiny but sturdy. They turn with a firm resistance that ensures settings stay fixed from night to night. This is a good thing, given the considerable range, sensitivity, and interactivity of each of these controls. Two additional toggle switches provide options to boost the input signal (convenient when moving from instruments of varied output) and to bypass the EQ section.
Primed for Performance
It’s tempting to look at the Unit67 and wonder what a few less expensive pedals might do as well. But the Unit67 is much more than the sum of its parts, and the intuitive, adaptive way it functions in performance underscores the thought that went into achieving its more functional whole.
Skeptics will question the extent to which the compressor section truly emulates an 1176. Needless to say, a compact $289 stompbox will not completely replicate the functionality, componentry, or sound quality of an outboard compressor that costs thousands. But DryBell didn’t try to emulate every last function and control of the 1176 as much as it used the Urei’s transparency and utility as benchmarks. And while the circuit topology and FET-based design are certainly 1176-derived, the more important similarities are in the forgiving, nuanced way that the Unit67 affects your signal and how it feels to use the effect: Intuitive, responsive, and capable of subtle shading and more drastic transformations.
Attack, release, and ratio are fixed, so as far as compressors go, it’s not exactly the most versatile. But as anyone that has used a real outboard 1176 in the studio can tell you, it’s pretty easy to find a relatively unobtrusive setting and let the unit do its magic while making subtle adjustments. Using the Unit67 to massage a guitar tone is a very similar process.
Another similarity between the Unit67 and the 1176 is the careful way it walks the line between transparency and coloration. The 1176 became legend in large part because it’s transparent, fast, and less prone to the blunted, pumping dynamics you encounter in cheap compressors—even at super-squished levels. The Unit67 shares these attributes, too—adding oxygen, depth, dimension, and breadth to a basic guitar/amp while exciting and animating harmonics and other subtle tone shadings that your basic rig might typically just hint at. You rarely feel like you’re sacrificing picking dynamics for extra sustain. And the fixed attack and release of the compression are voiced so carefully that I almost never missed them. The boost control has great range and sensitivity. And though it will give a big amp a major kick in the pants and coax warm, low-gain growl at higher settings, the way it enables you to boost a given EQ and compression setting without adding significant coloration is very impressive—especially given the considerable heat and presence you can add with the range control.
If you like lots of control over your compressor, the DryBell’s limited control set may compel you to look elsewhere. But the real power and elegance of the Unit67 is in how seamlessly and forgivingly its component parts work together—particularly in performance and studio situations where changing backlines and room dynamics challenge what you thought you knew about your rig. In scenarios like these, where economy of effort and pedal count can make life and music-making much simpler, the Unit67 is sweet medicine. And while $289 bucks isn’t pocket change, the power, flexibility, and compact convenience of this thoughtfully voiced stompbox make that sum a very fair price.