Originally Posted by MONKEYBEACH
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.
I think you'll become a better engineer the more you trust your ears instead of dials... we all suffer from watching the knobs and the meters at times; we've all thought we adjusted something on a blank channel once or twice too! =)
But I would definitely not part with the 176 based on one mistake that you made with it. *And I'd certainly not try and replace it with an Anamod 660 for vocal tracking specifically, but that's just me. I just sent my AM660 back for that very reason: 1) it wasn't quite as 3D as my Bloo LA2A, 2) it DID sound very good on acoustic and electric bass (and drum rooms), but on vocal tracking specifically, the lack of head room (due to voltage limitations of the 500 series) made it very difficult for me to get a matched level against my Daking FET and/or Bloo LA2A, and 3) it has no make-up gain, true to the Fairchild 660 design, which left me with gain structures that, no matter how many varied settings I attempted, were always 25% less than what I could get out of my other compressors.
I so badly wanted to keep the AM660 because I did like the sound, but when it came down to it... having the LA2A sound better on vocals (and sounding more 3D) and having problems with clipping no matter what setting I tried (while also having less output) made up my mind for me. I wasn't going to keep a 1300 dollar compressor that has a more-similar-than-not coloration to the Bloo while not being able to use it on vocals.
As for your mis-operation of the Retro 176, perhaps this will help you: what I'm learning to trust more than the controls and meters themselves is 1) the sound and 2) the visual waveforms being created by what's being recorded. With vocal compression specifically, you can always hear when vocals are becoming squashed (not typically what one wants), and you can tell visually when your waveforms end up looking more like a big BLOCK than actual "waves" with rising and falling lines. Conversely, you can also tell (via audible clipping) when something's not setup right, and you can generally see when the waveforms aren't really being affected (compressed) enough as well.
Typically, a vocal compressor is right when you A/B the sound and the waveforms between the dry and compressed signal to find that with the compressor engaged, the transients and peaks are being brought down "just a bit" to a "medium-bit" (if it's ok to use loose terminology here). And if it sounds better in the song by hitting the compressor a little harder than not, then push the input hotter and turn down your output. A good compressor can always do this to a degree without sounding obvious or squashed. There's always that line between "just enough" and "too much," but you will find that line the more you play with compression - especially with vocals, which are almost always the most tricky.
No matter how expensive or cheap a compressor is, good engineering is always more valuable, as we'd all agree. =) *And I'll add that if you were truly a bad engineer, you wouldn't even have recognized the problem: but you DID. And now you know a bit more of how to become a better engineer with compression *which is certainly still my goal as well!
Cheers and best of luck, brother - Brad