Revisiting—and expanding—an underappreciated vintage compression flavor yields inspiring results.
A beautiful introduction to Orange Squeezer compression voices. Low noise floor. Smart expanded functionality.
A touch expensive if you’re an occasional or light-duty compression user.
DryBell Module 4
I didn’t know much about compressors when I got curious about the Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer. But I read an interview with Mike Campbell about his work on Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer,” and there, among the ingredients for his magic tone recipe (along with an Ampeg Jet and that Broadcaster), he listed an Orange Squeezer. I knew there was something haunting and magical about Campbell’s intro and solos on that song, and if an Orange Squeezer was the way, well, then, one day I would have one too. That never happened. I bought a Dyna Comp instead, and then dropped the idea of using a compressor for a long time.
DryBell’s Module 4 is a vastly expanded and more flexible take on the original Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer. In my explorations of the pedal, I found a lot of tones that sounded and felt a lot like Campbell’s “Boys of Summer” lines. It’s clear, punchy, squishy, and even a bit pure in the way it retains a guitar’s personality. But with the significantly expanded functionality that DryBell offers in the Module 4, which include vintage Squeezer and full frequency modes, there’s much more to discover.
Semi-Silent Squeezing Sensations
It’s easy to hear why Campbell embraced the Orange Squeezer. There’s a just-right cross between retaining a guitar’s voice and adding sustain with a bit of dirt and push. And, at least as far as the studio is concerned, there may have been another incentive: the Squeezer, in relative terms, is not too noisy. Adoption by other known studio hounds seems to confirm this. Skunk Baxter used one. So, say some, did Tommy Tedesco. And according to a few experts (or myth-makers), Mark Knopfler might have used one on “Sultans of Swing.” DryBell clearly went to some lengths to replicate, and perhaps improve, on this low noise floor. Next to a few old-reliable OTA- and VCA-based compressors, the Module 4 is comparatively free of hiss, even at advanced make-up gain settings.
Set at DryBell’s suggested settings for best replicating a real Orange Squeezer (small dots mark these positions on the enclosure, a really cool and tasteful touch), the Module 4 yields compression that will feel pretty different if you’ve done long hours with a Ross-style or Boss compressor. It’s clicky and even bright, with pretty quick attack and a slightly slower release time. When you use it, you definitely feel like an effect is at work. And in Squeezer mode in particular, the Module 4 is not transparent—apart from the parts of it that are. You can still hear the guitar’s essence loud and clear. And the relatively low noise floor means transients sound out a lot more clearly. It’s also very responsive to pick attack, which is not common in most comps. For an effect that’s so bold, it’s pretty organic. It makes your ears perk up too. (Again, the Squeezer was a hit with session dogs. I, for one, am getting the hint.)
As you deviate from classic Squeezer settings, the orange mode remains compelling. Advancing the treble away from the prescribed classic Squeezer formula makes the Module 4 feel paradoxically snappy with a cool squishy attack. (Think in terms of biting into a candy with the chocolate on the inside and the delicious inner goo as a shell, and you’ll get the idea). It’s perfect for punky funk stuff. Humbuckers also benefit from the smooth leading edge and snappy core of notes. They sound smooth and responsive to a light touch, providing nice range within limited dynamics—illustrating another way the Module 4 manages to have it both ways.
While not the main attraction, the full-spectrum setting might be what sells a lot of potential customers on the Module 4. Like the orange mode, it deals in cool dualities: snappy and saggy, bright and contoured. But the full-spectrum side feels electrically alive. Slow attack and fast release settings, and the nice range in the tone control, make the Module 4 feel like it’s adding a little dynamite to most tube amps. It also sounds awesome with fuzz if you keep a close eye on the Module 4’s tone, preamp, and output settings, which, by the way, add lots of tone-shaping flexibility.
An Orange Squeezer-inspired compressor is a distinctly different flavor of dynamic control. If simply imitated, that shade of compression might not be for everyone, but the Module 4’s expanded functionality stretches the boundaries of what a Squeezer can be in very cool ways. If you prefer primitive compressors with few controls (and what sane player doesn’t), you should not fear the Module 4’s extra dials. They are easy to use and offer real tone-crafting power. Better still they modify an engaging, often striking basic voice that can be practical and transformative in many musical situations.
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.
A tone shaper that includes a boost, Rangemaster-like mid control, and an 1176-style compressor.
Krapina, Croatia (November 16, 2018) -- DryBell is pleased to announce their latest product: Unit67.
The Unit67 is a fully analog device that has a highly versatile EQ set including a Rangemaster-like mid control, a boost, and an 1176-style compressor all in one extremely practical compact guitar pedal. It is a versatile multi-functional tone shaping tool which will improve almost every tone to the next, harmonically rich level. Also, you can experience a feel like you’re playing through loud or overdriven amp but on lower volume. Amazing!
The Range (Master) control will help you cut through the mix and will enrich your tone with the glorious sparkle often associated with the old classic Rangemaster. In situations when you’re using darker toned amps or guitar pickups, “The Range” will always add a harmonically rich sparkle to your tone.
Combined with a touch of sustain and boosted just enough to give you that tone, “The Range” will give some serious bite to your sound which is another way to push you through the mix while playing lead.
It features 3 different type of effects combined together:
- Boost - The gain of the boost stage is 22,4dB (with the EQ turned off)
- Compressor – The low noise FET compressor stage is inspired by the legendary UREI 1176 studio compressor
- EQ - The EQ section contains 3 controls: range, low, and high
Standard power supply: 9-18V, 100mA
DryBell Unit67 is available for $289.
Watch the company's video demo:
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