Epic settings for industry-standard compressors.
Welcome to the second installment of the Recording Dojo. If you missed last month's column, I encourage you to go read it for a deeper understanding of my devised acronym: TKARR. Now, tighten up your belts. The dojo is open.
I will break down four classic compressors and give you basic settings to try on your audio that should inspire you to experiment and refine. That's right: experiment! Don't be scared.
In part one, I explained the five “party" parameters of compression: threshold, knee, attack, ratio, and release (TKARR). Basically, that's the order of how audio is processed inside any compressor, regardless if it's a plug-in or analog. While there are hundreds of compressors (and ever-multiplying variants), not all of them allow the user to adjust all five parameters, which contributes to the confusion about compression. Let's put that knowledge to work by examining some classic, industry-standard compressors and their user controls (GUIs).
But first, I want to address a question posed by some of the blue belts: “What's the difference between a compressor and a limiter?" Ratio. Anything higher than a 10:1 ratio is traditionally classified as a limiter by audio sensei worldwide. Simple.
So, up first is the most minimal of the group: the Teletronix LA-2A. Tube-based, this unit sounds great on just about everything … especially bass, acoustic guitars, and vocals. Notice that all five TKARR elements are deftly summed into one knob labeled Peak Reduction. Everything is fixed except switching between compressor or limiter mode—and you now know what that means! Try putting this device on limit mode, crank the Peak Reduction knob until that electric bass starts to feel solid, strong, and keeps the bottom end in check.
Arguably one of the most widely used compressors of all time is the Universal Audio 1176, and there have been many versions throughout the years. Introduced in 1967 as the first solid-state, true-peak limiter, the two most emulated and popular versions are the “blue stripe" (revisions A and AB) and the “blackface" (revision E).
With this unit, you'll notice that you have control over attack and release (1 = slowest, 7 = fastest), ratio (four choices), and threshold (cleverly disguised as Input), but no knee. These compressors have extremely fast attack times and can scalp a massive snare drum hit to a tiny pop. One classic trick is to push (or shift+select) the 20:1 ratio knob and the 4:1 ratio knob (aka the “all" button). Put this on your drum bus and bam—instant epic rock 'n' roll drums. For guitars and vocals: attack 3-4, release 6-7. Season to taste.
Often regarded as the holy grail of compressors, the Fairchild 670 (stereo) and 660 (mono) are loaded with transformers and glorious tubes (20 for the 670). A Fairchild sounds great on everything and is widely emulated by many manufacturers: Waves, IK Multimedia, and Universal Audio to name a few. Because of the temperamental nature of the analog units, I prefer to use plug-ins most of the time, especially for mixing. The Fairchild circuit design is very complex, so don't let the deceptively simple faceplate (GUI) fool you—even though only one element of TKARR, threshold, is listed. For example, the time constant knob combines attack and release into six set positions. Attack times range from .02 ms to .08 ms, and the release times get longer as you move from 1 to 6. Try this: Put a 670 on your main mix bus, set time constant to 2, crank the input gain, and adjust the threshold until you get 3 dB of compression—and hear how your mix starts to glue together.
The classic API 2500 has huge flexibility and even boasts a stepped, adjustable knee function.
Finally, let's look at another classic that has all five elements: the API 2500. This compressor has huge flexibility and even boasts a stepped, adjustable knee function. The API has a huge, punchy sound and has been a go-to compressor for decades. Put it on your master bus or use it on distorted guitars, electric bass, and drums. I also like it on vintage drum machines and vintage synths of all kinds. Try this on your favorite lead synth patch: Set the knee to hard, set the type to new, ratio to 4:1, release to 0.2, and adjust the threshold and attack to taste. You should get some nice added punch!
Experimenting with these suggestions should keep you busy at least until next month!
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Flare is a dual-function pedal with a tube-like booster and a 1970s-style ring modulator effect that can be played separately or together.
Flare’s ring modulator is based on the iconic tone of the original Dan Armstrong Green Ringer. This vintage classic was made famous by Frank Zappa who loved the unusual modulations created by generating a harmonic octave over notes. Messiah’s version offers two control knobs: a “Sparkle” tone attenuator and output Level control. Its taupe-gold body, purple and green knobs and stick-figure rock ’n’ roller holding up a flame convey an appropriately rockin’70s vibe.
In a unique twist, Messiah’s Flare pairs the ringer with a warm tube-style boost instead of a fuzz. Flare feeds the booster into the ringer for an extra punch, while preserving the Green Ringerspirit. The ringer side also turns any fuzz into an octafuzz, and it has the ability to quiet signal background noise fed through it.
The booster side features a single Boost knob to control the MOSFET circuit, making it very tube-amp-friendly with a warm, organic boost and gain of up to 32dB.
The pedal is a distinct improvement over the 1970s pedal that inspired it. “Most ringer pedals don’t track well,” Tom Hejda, owner of Messiah Guitars. “The player can’t rely on repeating the same effect even with the most consistently played notes. We carefully matched the components, so our ringer follows your every move, producing that slightly dirty octave you expect on demand.”
Messiah developed this vintage octave pedal with flexible features so that people who love that messy, dirty Zappa-esque sound can get there with ease but there’s also something for those who have not fallen in love with fuzz or the Green Ringer alone. Flare offers an array of sonic options while retaining simplicity in the controls.
Each Flair Pedal Includes:
- 3 control knobs: Boost, Sparkle, and Level
- Two effects – Ring Modulator and Boost – can be used together or separately
- Space-saving top side jacks
- Durable, cast aluminum alloy 125B enclosure with fun artwork
- Easy to see, illuminated True-bypass foot switch
- Standard 9V pedal power input
Flare Pedal Demo
Messiah Guitars pedals are designed with an explorative player in mind. Like their custom guitars and amplifiers, Messiah’s pedals are hand-crafted in Los Angeles for a long life with guaranteed quality.
Flare retails for $199.00 and can be purchased directly at Messiah Guitars or you can hear it in person at Impulse Music Co. in Canyon Country, CA.
For more information, please visit messiahguitars.com.
This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal.
If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and QUACKS like a duck, then it must be a duck. That's how we came up with the name for our new envelope filter. This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal. Trevor explains how this is possible in the launch video, as well as gives a demo on Le Canard’s operation.
The attack control determines how quickly the filter responds to the envelope, and the decay sets how quickly the filter releases afterward. The range controls which frequency spectrum the filter does its magic on. Add to this relay-based full-bypass switching with failsafe, and you've got one crazy little quacky beast. It is so expressive that you'll want to give up on your rocker-wah forever.
The MayFly Le Canard envelope filter features:
- Super fast responding envelope follower. Touch it and it jumps!
- Range control to dial in the character of the filter
- Attack control to control how fast the filter moves on that first touch
- Release control to control how slowly the filter slides back to baseline
- Full bypass using relays with Fail SafeTM (automatically switches to bypass if the pedal loses power)
- Cast aluminum enclosure with groovy artwork
- MSRP $149 USD ($199 CAD)
Introducing the MayFly Le Canard Envelope Filter
All MayFly pedals are hand-made in Canada.
For more information, please visit mayflyaudio.com.
Outlaw Effects introduces their next generation of NOMAD rechargeable battery-powered pedal boards.
Available in two sizes, NOMAD ISO is a compact, versatile tool that offers the convenience of a fully powered board plus the additional freedom of not having to plug into an outlet. NOMAD ISO is ideal for stages with limited outlet availability, quick changeovers, busking outdoors, temporary rehearsal locations, and more.
NOMAD ISO builds upon the legacy of the ultra-convenient and reliable NOMAD rechargeable pedalboard line originally launched in 2018. The brand new NOMAD ISO editions feature eight isolated outputs (1 x 9V DC, and 1 switchable 9V/12V DC) for even more versatility and clean, quiet power. With an integrated lithium-ion battery pack boasting 12800mAh capacity, NOMAD ISO can fuel a wide array of pedals, and will last over 10 hours* on a single charge.
Each NOMAD ISO pedal board includes adhesive hook & loop pedal-mounting tape, eight (8) standard DC connector cables, and one (1) reverse polarity DC cable, giving you everything you need to build your ultimate "off-the-grid" rig. A rugged, road-ready padded gig bag with shoulder strap is also included, to safely protect your gear while you're on the move.
NOMAD ISO S
NOMAD ISO S: MSRP $309 / MAP: $249
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 5 ¼"
NOMAD ISO M
NOMAD ISO M: MSRP $349 / MAP $279
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 11"
More info: https://www.outlawguitareffects.com.