Your comments are a great help. I have a 176 and have been thinking about replacing it with a few other pieces ( AM660 and a Shadow Hills Optograph ). Sometimes I truly love the 176 and at other times it doesn't seem to work for me. But, I fully admit the problem is probably my not operating it correctly. I just did a vocal session with the input at 20 and the output at 90 ( 4:1 - attack at 40, release at 70, no Interstage ). The idea being I wouldn't push the compression too much and then use the output for make-up gain. All was well until the loud parts of the song and it started to sound over-driven. Looking back I think I should have used a higher input - say 30 - and a lower output. Even though my AD converters never went into the red - the sound was definitely like tubes being overdriven.
I had been told in the past to set the output of my mic-pre's at an ideal level and then back down by about 3 db. Then using the output of my compressor to make up the gain. This seems to work well with an 1176 - but, is this the right way to use the Retro 176?
As you can tell, I am no great engineer.