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I'm ready for a vari-mu compressor. Which one? Dynamics Processors (HW)
Old 29th December 2015
  #1
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andychamp's Avatar
I'm ready for a vari-mu compressor. Which one?

Now that I'm pretty familiar with most basic compression types (FET, VCA, opto), I want to start working with vari-mu compression.
So far, I'm aware of products by Manley, Pendulum, Retro, Rockruepel, Lisson Grove and Chandler.

I'm looking for something versatile, discreet/"invisible"/smooth when working lightly, with a distinct personality when grabbing harder.
Intended uses are pop/rock tracking (vocals, bass, guitars, drum overheads), submix glue and sound manipulation (synthlines, machine beats, etc.).
2 channels are not a necessity, yet, but provisions for future stereo operation would be nice.
Resale value is a consideration, in case it absolutely doesn't work for me, so I'd rather avoid too obscure brands.
Price bracket 3-4K$ tops (so: no ADL or Fairchild)

Any informed opinions or suggestion?
Old 29th December 2015
  #2
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matucha's Avatar
You forgot about Thermionic Phoenix, Handcrafted Labs, IGS Tubecore, Gyraf ... (and Knif is probably out of your budget).

I know only Manley (unfortunatelly) which is great on invisible/smooth and maybe medium agressive. You can punish it, but it won't do anything drastic (in a nice way) imo. The more you push the input gain the brighter it gets (more harmonic distortion), it's sort of a tone knob in a subtle way.
For the apps you mentioned it works great on all of them, perhaps on the drumachines it can be a bit too subtle... though it depends on what you aim for. I know people who say they don't hear it working at all most of the time. To me it's a mastering compressor mostly.
Old 29th December 2015
  #3
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shortstory's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by andychamp View Post
Now that I'm pretty familiar with most basic compression types (FET, VCA, opto), I want to start working with vari-mu compression.
So far, I'm aware of products by Manley, Pendulum, Retro, Rockruepel, Lisson Grove and Chandler.

I'm looking for something versatile, discreet/"invisible"/smooth when working lightly, with a distinct personality when grabbing harder.
Intended uses are pop/rock tracking (vocals, bass, guitars, drum overheads), submix glue and sound manipulation (synthlines, machine beats, etc.).
2 channels are not a necessity, yet, but provisions for future stereo operation would be nice.
Resale value is a consideration, in case it absolutely doesn't work for me, so I'd rather avoid too obscure brands.
Price bracket 3-4K$ tops (so: no ADL or Fairchild)

Any informed opinions or suggestion?
Based on your criteria which I've bolded I'd recommend looking at a Fearn V-7
Old 29th December 2015
  #4
Lisson Grove
Old 29th December 2015
  #5
Gear Maniac
 
kikin's Avatar
Manley on vocals, Oh's and 2bus operations. In all of those cases it works very smooth and pleasing...
Old 29th December 2015
  #6
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dights's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by andychamp View Post
Now that I'm pretty familiar with most basic compression types (FET, VCA, opto), I want to start working with vari-mu compression.
So far, I'm aware of products by Manley, Pendulum, Retro, Rockruepel, Lisson Grove and Chandler.

I'm looking for something versatile, discreet/"invisible"/smooth when working lightly, with a distinct personality when grabbing harder.
Intended uses are pop/rock tracking (vocals, bass, guitars, drum overheads), submix glue and sound manipulation (synthlines, machine beats, etc.).
2 channels are not a necessity, yet, but provisions for future stereo operation would be nice.
Resale value is a consideration, in case it absolutely doesn't work for me, so I'd rather avoid too obscure brands.
Price bracket 3-4K$ tops (so: no ADL or Fairchild)

Any informed opinions or suggestion?
I think in that in that price bracket you should be selecting a good few of those units and trying them out to see which one works for you. A good dealer should help you out here.

After much debate I went for the Retro 176, which really is a special and yet versatile compressor. I chose that because I was looking for a character valve-based mono compressor mainly for vocal duties. It really excels as a vocal mix compressor, and is one of the best I've used for sung vocals, but it's also great for bass, guitars and other sources. It'll add tone on the way in when pushed, and you can switch in the interstage transformer.

To be honest it depends what applications you need the compressor for, how important having a stereo unit is, and what you already have covered in your setup...
Old 29th December 2015
  #7
TRW
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You can also add the Locomotive 14B and Highland BG-2 to your list. Oh and also the STA-Level.

And the cheapo Dizengoff D864 federal copy that seems to have trouble exploding onto the market at the mo.

The rockruepel is a beast but not goopy tubey - fast, tight & snappy but with a big tube image.

The gyraf is beautifully rich. They did a mono one in a small half rack box that was super cute/rare.

The locomotive seems to be like an open 176 type vibe and the build quality & price ratio is very good.

The highland is a modified Altec/RCA BA6A monster and seems to be hugely weighty sounding but not heard one in real life yet.

The phoenix is natural with some fatness & punch when pushed. A nice modern varimu.

Not sure but the HG15 mono variant seems to be brighter/leaner to me, anyone else experience the same? I prefer the stereo phoenix.

The STA-Level is super vibey and has a big footprint. Nice for bass or vocal, a specialist use once or twice kinda box.

The 176, 14B, BG-2 seem more versatile, as does the Chandler and the Lisson Grove.

I love my Ruepel but I do have a hankering for a mono Gyraf or thicker vari-mu along side for vocal/bass duty.

-T
Old 30th December 2015
  #8
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ghostwriter's Avatar
Manley Vari-Mu, Retro 176 and Sta-Level are all excellent.
Old 30th December 2015
  #9
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We have a Gyraf GX here since six years and and it still makes me smile when using it.
Old 31st December 2015
  #10
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KevWind's Avatar
I ended up with the IGS Tubecore 3U Mastering Edition and will not be selling it.
Vocals ,acoustic guitar and especially the 2 Bus
Old 31st December 2015
  #11
The Pendulum ES8 and 6386 are both great, though I think they might not be what most people imagine in a vari mu.

I haven't used everything that's been mentioned, of the ones that have, I'd go with the Phoenix.

The VacRac is one to consider.
Old 2nd January 2016
  #12
Gear Maniac
 
M.o.T.s's Avatar
 

I'd say the Retro 176 and the QES Labs Variable Gm.

Those were my picks from the Hardware Compressor Limiter shootout thread.

Wide stereo image and solid as a rock sounding mixbus.

Check them here:
176
Vari-Gm
Old 2nd January 2016
  #13
Gear Nut
 

it's a pretty long and fancy list with so many good stuff , maybe be narrow it down with what you can easily listen or test in switzerland, testing yourself is important in this price range
i'm very happy with my phoenix and retro 176 , they make me smile everyday.
Old 2nd January 2016
  #14
Lives for gear
Yeh it's a taste thing of course. I had a Manley years ago, then moved and didn't.. Ended up missing it and buying another one cos I knew nothing does Manley Vari mu and if that's your taste and colour there's probably no substitute.
Great for smoothing a vocal last in the comp chain.. Limit mode on drums can be really good too.. Not to replace anything faster of course. And naturally great on a mix bus or in the hands of the mastering engineer. I think pretty reasonably priced as well.
Old 2nd January 2016
  #15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike Caffrey View Post
The Pendulum ES8 and 6386 are both great, though I think they might not be what most people imagine in a vari mu.
mike, can you please expand on this a bit? i was considering an es8, so i am very interested in your experience. thamks.
Old 2nd January 2016
  #16
Im no expert but having listened to a fair few demos around gearslutz particularly on this thread - for me the clear winner has to be the Retro 176 (x2)...pretty amazing enhancement...
Old 2nd January 2016
  #17
Gear Head
 
sminaie's Avatar
 

I am a fan of theHCL Varis!! If you know someone with one, take a listen
Old 4th January 2016
  #18
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DougS's Avatar
 

I just got the new Chandler RS124. Really like it.
Old 4th January 2016
  #19
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gyraf's Avatar
 



..this one is both two channels and/or stereo, including everything in between...

Jakob E.
Old 4th January 2016
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SWAN808 View Post
Im no expert but having listened to a fair few demos around gearslutz particularly on this thread - for me the clear winner has to be the Retro 176 (x2)...pretty amazing enhancement...
Do they make a stereo version of the Retro 176 ?
Thanks
Regards
Sergio
Old 4th January 2016
  #21
Gear Addict
Having heard the Retro 176 & Lisson Grove AR-1 yesterday, the Lisson Grove is a total vibe box - a great sounding unit. The 176 isn't as coloured and is potentially more versatile.

If I was to pick one, based on already owning an 1176 & Distressor, I'd go for the Lisson Grove - weighty transformer/tube sound and it's incredibly smooth.

On the other hand, I've used a TC Phoenix across the mixbus for a recent EP and it is a fantastic sounding unit too.
Old 4th January 2016
  #22
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DougS's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by sergioelectro View Post
Do they make a stereo version of the Retro 176 ?
No, I don't believe so.
Old 4th January 2016
  #23
Drool


Magic Death Eye

Not 100% shure it's a variable mu design but it uses 8 tubes for 1 ch so I guess it is...

Anyone familiar with these ?
Old 4th January 2016
  #24
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antichef's Avatar
I haven't used most of the recommendations but concur on a pair of Retro 176s. You can stereo link them if needed but there's not a stereo version.
Old 4th January 2016
  #25
Quote:
Originally Posted by wildplum View Post
mike, can you please expand on this a bit? i was considering an es8, so i am very interested in your experience. thamks.

What I imagine most people want in a vari mu is a super thick tone. Something where no matter what you put in it comes out fat, round, warm, vintage.

The ES-8 doesn't alter the tone that drastically. Tubes can be very hifi sounding, and that's what the ES-8 is good for.

I'm not sure where most people use it, but I'm guessing it's the stereo mix or for mastering. Then you can get the vari mu movement, without trashing the mix.

Guitar bus is another place I've heard of people using it.

I could see using it on drums if you're not smashing them. For smashing there are better options.


I'd look in to the OCL2 too. I think the audio path is very similar, but the movement is opto rather than vari mu and I think that's more what people expect.


If you're looking for something to radically change the tone, look into diode bridge compressors - Ltd 2, TG-1 33609.


As part of your shopping process, consider calling Greg at Pendulum. He's a great source of information and can probably help you get a really good idea which is the best choice.

My favorite way to use the ES-8 is to use two Quartet IIs and use the RMS mode, which the regular ES-8 doesn't have, though I'm sure it can be added.
Old 4th January 2016
  #26
Gear Maniac
 
Petermix's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cozmik Prod. View Post
Drool


Magic Death Eye

Not 100% shure it's a variable mu design but it uses 8 tubes for 1 ch so I guess it is...

Anyone familiar with these ?
Woah... where did you find that? Can't find any info on this...
Old 5th January 2016
  #27
I got mentioned on here somewhere last week...

Magic Death Eye

Mysterious stuff, it's the most beautyfull thing I've seen so far, I bet it sounds stellar !
Old 5th January 2016
  #28
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There are a wide range a great vari-mu compressors. I happen to like the Manley Vari-mu even over another favorite the 176. It ins't as sexy as some of the more recent flavors of the month but try it on acoustic sources and you'll understand why its been a studio staple for years. I've actually started using it for tracking and I even sometimes pick it over my old favorite the LA2a. It adds richness while providing very natural sounding compression. it can also be great on the two bus especially when used in combination with a fast transparent comp. I happen to like the SCL1 for that purpose.

The bottom line you can pick up a built like a tank Manley Vari-mu for just under 3k used. Try to get one with the Tbar mod because I find it really enhances the unit's versatility especially at more extreme settings.
Old 5th January 2016
  #29
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andychamp's Avatar
After checking out some of the recommendations in the thread and watching lots of demos online, I wonder if what I'm looking for can be had from one single unit.

For submixes, bass, vocals and guitars, I mainly want something for smoothly levelling and adding density, even upwards of 7 or more dB GR, to seat the tracks firmly in the mix without sounding squashed.
I like the attack of a fast opto or even an 1176, the release should be slower than the FET, but with a nicer "swing-back" than an opto.
So far, what I heard of the Retro 176 sounded closest to what I have in mind.

For drums, I'd really like a Beatles-y squash: pillowy, rubbery, bouncy, with a grabby attack that still doesn't choke the drum.
Strangely, diode-style compression to me sounds closer to that ideal, than vari-mu.
I wonder if the 176 can do this, too?

Generally, I prefer to compress single tracks and submixes, rather than the whole mix, the results sound livelier to me.
I mostly EQ before the compressor.
Clean or (nice) color are both ok, I'm more interested in a certain compression behaviour.
Old 5th January 2016
  #30
Quote:
Originally Posted by andychamp View Post
After checking out some of the recommendations in the thread and watching lots of demos online, I wonder if what I'm looking for can be had from one single unit.

For submixes, bass, vocals and guitars, I mainly want something for smoothly levelling and adding density, even upwards of 7 or more dB GR, to seat the tracks firmly in the mix without sounding squashed.
I like the attack of a fast opto or even an 1176, the release should be slower than the FET, but with a nicer "swing-back" than an opto.
So far, what I heard of the Retro 176 sounded closest to what I have in mind.

For drums, I'd really like a Beatles-y squash: pillowy, rubbery, bouncy, with a grabby attack that still doesn't choke the drum.
Strangely, diode-style compression to me sounds closer to that ideal, than vari-mu.
I wonder if the 176 can do this, too?

Generally, I prefer to compress single tracks and submixes, rather than the whole mix, the results sound livelier to me.
I mostly EQ before the compressor.
Clean or (nice) color are both ok, I'm more interested in a certain compression behaviour.
For part of an old Tape Op article I sought out a bunch of opinions on what the dynamic range would be before it's too wide for a compressor to sound good.

Most people didn't really understand the question, but those who did thought 3dB or so was good, 6dB was about the limit.

Take a fader and ride it up and down by 6dB, it really doesn't ever sound good.

The reality is, you're probably wanting the sound of far less than 7dB.


Here's another thing to try in your decision making process.

Take a track you want to compress, or a subgroup - if it's a subgroup, print it.

Now duplicate that track and send it to the sidechain of the original.


At this point, it will be no different than compressing the original track without the duplication.


Now, you can edit the track or compress/limit before it hits the sidechain.


For instance, if you have a typical rock beat, with snare on 2/4 and a single kick on 1, but two 8th note kicks on 3, try cutting out second 8th note so that it doesn't retrigger the compressor. That will allow you to have a longer release and still be open by the next snare hit.

You can also put a peak limiter on this track, which will make your compression time based rather than time and dynamic based.

Now if you have your compression set right for the verse and the part gets louder in the chorus, you don't get a chorus that's too squashed.


Once you start thinking that way, it really changes what you want in a compressor. Something with a variable knee may be really important.

Finding analog compressors with "sidechain" inputs, which are really "key inputs" is a bit harder than you think.
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