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2020 Vari-Mu with a strong character
Old 9th June 2020
  #1
2020 Vari-Mu with a strong character

Hi sluts! Sorry for a longish post, hope someone can help me here.

Let's start by saying that I already have a Knif Pure-Mu and 2 x Retro 176. Pure-Mu lives in my 2bus, Retros seem to be stuck on Leadvoc and Bass, have been for years now. I love all these comps but am now searching for something a little bit different.

So I'm not trying to start another "what is the all time best vari-mu" thread here. Instead, I'm trying to find a suitable comp with suitable mods for a certain tone and have questions the "audio dealers" in most cases wont or can't answer.

Unfortunately I can't go out and rent these machines for a test even though I of course know it's the only way to really know...Then again, there are people on this board who use these...So what do I have to loose, let's try.

Many years ago I had a chance to test Thermionic Phoenix...I loved the tone, round transients, fat and glued "dollar sound". Guitars, WOW, drums WOW... My favorite mastering engineer (who masters my mixes quite often) has a Manley Vari-Mu...Although not the same, I find similarities in the tone... Although I really love my Knif Pure-Mu, I can't get it to do the things I'm describing here. Retro's might do the trick but I need them elsewhere and a stereo unit would be much easier to recall and match etc.

I would mostly use this comp for acoustic guitars, drum overheads, drum parallel (if it's magic enough) and occassionally but not very often on 2buss (for the whole mix to have this round and slowish "glue character".

Please help me to make a decission or point me to a right direction.

Questions:
- THERMIONIC BUILD QUALITY
15-20 years ago when I started I thought all the big manufacturers are fine it's just a little bit better or worse...Then I had to let my beloved Portico modules (4ch 512 pre and 2ch 5033) go because they all had issues with power supplies (this was with the older versions, I'm blind and the old units have buttons which you can fine adjust by hand without seeing since you feel what the settings are).... I also had issues with everything Chandler except TG2s, all the germaniums (had preamps, EQs and comps) had serious problems with build quality...Seemed like every time I bought a pair, one unit was fine and the other was not, details for this are a subject of another thread in another time. So I decided I'm not gonna buy crap quality even though it sounds fantastic...SO to the topic...If I buy a Phoenix, what's the feeling...Will it last 10+ years of daily use or will it crap out in a few years?

- MANLEY MODS
OK, Manley...There are lots of mods out there...MS mod, T-Bar mod, HPF mod..... In all the threads here there are people telling they like or dislike these but there's not too much valuable info on the reasons why. So if I want to do acoustic guitars, drums and occasional 2bus duties with this silky round slow sound, what would be the best mod combination, T-Bar or not? Is the T-Bar mod something we have to decide these days or is it something all the new units have?

What else? IGS, Wes Audio, Tegeler, Handcrafted Labs? What are the best tone Vari-Mus of 2020 and why?

Thanks a lot!

-- Mikko
Old 9th June 2020
  #2
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bgood's Avatar
I just received the Highland Dynamics BG2 and it bout makes me sh^t my damn self every time I run something through it... it’s gorgeous
Old 9th June 2020
  #3
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vernier's Avatar
2020 ?
Old 9th June 2020
  #4
OK but it's a mono unit right?
What are you using it for? If I was about to replace my Retro's, I would instantly be more interested... Of course I might be wrong but I don't know if these are what I'm looking for... Can you tell me more, this "everything through it is like magic" sounds nice but doesn't really give any valuable info, no offence. That's also why I started a new thread instead of reading the old ones where people mainly lke or dislike :D.

-- M
Old 9th June 2020
  #5
Deleted a2500d9
Guest
I bought a TC Pheonix SB recently. Build quality is good, no complaints. My understanding is that Thermionic has sorted the build quality a few years ago so if you are buying new or buying used (manufactured within the past 3 years) you will be fine. That said I haven’t used it for 10 years so cannot comment on its longevity.

I have been looking at the BG2 (thanks @ bgood )
Don’t know a whole lot about them, but the BG1 is stereo.

All this said you already have 2 VERY NICE Vari-mu’s between the retro and knif so good luck to you.

D.
Old 10th June 2020
  #6
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Ben F's Avatar
I'd go the TC Pheonix as I find it has a more versatile sound over the Manley. Or bite the bullet and go for a Fairman TMC or Unfairchild which is the ultimate. Once you have the Knif, it takes the next price bracket to really get a better sound.
Old 10th June 2020
  #7
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tengu's Avatar
Handcrafted Labs Islander.

I've had both the Varis and the Islander and the latter vibes in the way you are hoping.
Old 10th June 2020
  #8
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b0se's Avatar
Search for the mastering compressor comparison thread. Loads of vari mus in there, including the ones you speak of. Great resource.

Pomchild or QES GM would be at the top of my list. Vacuvox sounds amazing too but is serious money.

I'd go for a Varis over the Phoenix or Manley, more flexible with FF/FB, SC, dual mono and pentode/triode saturation circuits etc.

Edit: hadn't seen the Islander, looks like it might be spot on.
Old 10th June 2020
  #9
Quote:
Originally Posted by vernier View Post
2020 ?
Nowadays .
Old 10th June 2020
  #10
Quote:
Originally Posted by darkDNA View Post
I bought a TC Pheonix SB recently. Build quality is good, no complaints. My understanding is that Thermionic has sorted the build quality a few years ago so if you are buying new or buying used (manufactured within the past 3 years) you will be fine. That said I haven’t used it for 10 years so cannot comment on its longevity.

I have been looking at the BG2 (thanks @ bgood )
Don’t know a whole lot about them, but the BG1 is stereo.

All this said you already have 2 VERY NICE Vari-mu’s between the retro and knif so good luck to you.

D.
Thanks a LOT, THIS I call valuable information...This is the reason I keep following Gearslutz. I really like the character of Phoenix and of the two units I mentioned it's the one I've tested myself...The only thing that's been putting me off are the many "horror stories" about Thermionic build quality. Nice, this by itself might be the final answer for me .

-- M
Old 10th June 2020
  #11
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ben F View Post
I'd go the TC Pheonix as I find it has a more versatile sound over the Manley. Or bite the bullet and go for a Fairman TMC or Unfairchild which is the ultimate. Once you have the Knif, it takes the next price bracket to really get a better sound.
Thanks.
Yes. Unfairchild is something I keep dreaming of...But honestly I might not need it since I'm looking for a particular tone and I don't have a need to find a better comp than the Knif, just different. Well OK, just fooling myself...Of course I would have use for Unfairchild but even though I have good gear, I'm not a money man by any means so every investment has to have a good reason and has to be planned carefully. In master bus (at least now) I like the idea of having a VCA comp with character and a Vari-Mu (Knif) that's very clean...Works for me! for acoustic guitar, overheads and "soft vintage drum sounds" Phoenix/Manley is the route I think will get me closest to (or exactly) what I'm looking for.

Although all of these are Vari-Mus for me comparing Knif and Phoenix (or Manley) is like comparing A-Design Nail to SSL G or DBX Comp, both VCA comps but the first excels in reduction without audible changes, the others in changing (adding to the) sound.

-- M
Old 10th June 2020
  #12
Thanks everybody for your answers...Would be cool to get some more...

I've read most of the Vari-Mu threads here and in Mastering forum...But the problem is, there people use their super compressors only in the master bus and discuss about which is best for that and why...

I will definitely check out Handcrafted Labs stuff...Anyone owning a Varis or Islander care to smash some drums and ac guitars through their units so that I (and all the others) could hear the character?

-- M
Old 10th June 2020
  #13
Pom's Fairchild is the best I've heard.
Old 10th June 2020
  #14
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cheu78's Avatar
Have Thermionic really fixed their build quality issues and their very well known L R unequalities and such?
I’m quite wary with such a company, although their stuff sound very good indeed.

Might look into a Highland Dynamic BG1..



Cheu
Old 10th June 2020
  #15
Quote:
Originally Posted by b0se View Post
Search for the mastering compressor comparison thread. Loads of vari mus in there, including the ones you speak of. Great resource.

Pomchild or QES GM would be at the top of my list. Vacuvox sounds amazing too but is serious money.

I'd go for a Varis over the Phoenix or Manley, more flexible with FF/FB, SC, dual mono and pentode/triode saturation circuits etc.

Edit: hadn't seen the Islander, looks like it might be spot on.
That last QES took forever to sell on Reverb. Is it because the designer died or they look so ugly?

I bet a Varis doesn’t sound better than a Phoenix which whooped the Rockruepel I had on trial.
Old 10th June 2020
  #16
The pair of Amtec 099’s I have are seriously good and versatile as hell.
Old 10th June 2020
  #17
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cheu78's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul_G View Post
The pair of Amtec 099’s I have are seriously good and versatile as hell.
Nice pieces indeed!!
Very well made..

Not inexpensive if needed for stereo use, but they’re well made and a clever design, also a very clean construction..
Despite their relatively high price (which is not so high when comparing to a Farichild 660 or other similar pieces) I wonder why there’s no more talk about these (and also their 852 varimu, which is also quite interesting)..
I’d get something like this way before any other “revered” pieces on GS..



Cheu
Old 11th June 2020
  #18
Lives for gear
 

I have a Thermionic Culture Phoenix Mastering compressor and it's brilliant. Sounds incredible, used most days. My only gripe is the quality/feel of the output knobs. The rest of the controls on the unit are all very solid but the output ones take some attention to ensure they're matched, despite being stepped.
Old 11th June 2020
  #19
Thanks again for everybody...
What would be your first Vari-Mu pick for drums? Like I said, I will not use this very often on 2bus, mostly drums (OHs, rooms, whole kit) and acoustics... I have a clean Knif that brings out details like nothing else I've tried...Now I want something that has that vintage fat "dollar" character for drums and acoustics... Retro 176s are close to what I'm looking for but can't quite afford another pair and the ones I have have their "main tasks" already .

Listening to demos, I feel that HCL Islander and TC Phoenix could both do the job, I'm sure there are many others as well.

Would you guys owning HCL Varis suggest it for drum tasks, is it "dirty enough" for rock drums, I know it does cleaner things very well??

-- Mikko
Old 11th June 2020
  #20
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b0se's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul_G View Post
That last QES took forever to sell on Reverb. Is it because the designer died or they look so ugly?

I bet a Varis doesn’t sound better than a Phoenix which whooped the Rockruepel I had on trial.
Yeah it took some time to sell, I was tempted a few times but skipped it due to Val passing.

Still using the Rockruepel limit.one?
Old 11th June 2020
  #21
Lives for gear
 

The Phoenix is definitely more of a 'hi-fi' unit. I find it gels low end and low mids brilliantly but I wouldn't call it fat.

If I wanted fat and characterful, I'd probably be looking at something like a pair of Lisson Grove AR-1 or Chandler RS-124
Old 11th June 2020
  #22
Quote:
Originally Posted by ollieneedham View Post
The Phoenix is definitely more of a 'hi-fi' unit. I find it gels low end and low mids brilliantly but I wouldn't call it fat.

If I wanted fat and characterful, I'd probably be looking at something like a pair of Lisson Grove AR-1 or Chandler RS-124
The Phoenix seems much punchier than all the EMI type clones. I have the RS-124 and they're lovely for vocals.
Old 11th June 2020
  #23
Quote:
Originally Posted by b0se View Post
Yeah it took some time to sell, I was tempted a few times but skipped it due to Val passing.

Still using the Rockruepel limit.one?
Yes love the limit.one, that, the Dangerous and the MAS save any need for ITB mastering. Plus my usual array of compressors and eqs get it Hot, Hot, Hot!
Old 11th June 2020
  #24
Quote:
Originally Posted by mherrane View Post
Thanks again for everybody...
What would be your first Vari-Mu pick for drums? Like I said, I will not use this very often on 2bus, mostly drums (OHs, rooms, whole kit) and acoustics... I have a clean Knif that brings out details like nothing else I've tried...Now I want something that has that vintage fat "dollar" character for drums and acoustics... Retro 176s are close to what I'm looking for but can't quite afford another pair and the ones I have have their "main tasks" already .

Listening to demos, I feel that HCL Islander and TC Phoenix could both do the job, I'm sure there are many others as well.

Would you guys owning HCL Varis suggest it for drum tasks, is it "dirty enough" for rock drums, I know it does cleaner things very well??

-- Mikko
I'd get a Compex or a Neve style for drums rather than a Vari Mu is you're already using Mus's.
Old 11th June 2020
  #25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul_G View Post
I'd get a Compex or a Neve style for drums rather than a Vari Mu is you're already using Mus's.
Well...I have the VCA snap and glue for drum bus covered already...Also a stereo FET if I want that character. I'm not familiar with Compex but I know Neve stuff and would definitely look for one if I was searching for a "main drum bus compå"
I'm planning to use VCA+Vari-Mu in drum buss or Mu in a parallel bus.
Also want to experiment with Mu in Overheads and drum rooms...But I need a Mu that's on the dirtier and more "audible" side. My system is quite complicated and is subject for a different thread... Let's just say now that I need a character piece that among audible compression introduces some harmonic distortion to the signal to have 60s-70s kinda fat and distorted vibe. HCL Islander feels more and more suitable at least in paper

I try to find a sound example of the tone that I mean and post it here .

-- M
Old 11th June 2020
  #26
Gear Nut
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by mherrane View Post
Well...I have the VCA snap and glue for drum bus covered already...Also a stereo FET if I want that character. I'm not familiar with Compex but I know Neve stuff and would definitely look for one if I was searching for a "main drum bus compå"
I'm planning to use VCA+Vari-Mu in drum buss or Mu in a parallel bus.
Also want to experiment with Mu in Overheads and drum rooms...But I need a Mu that's on the dirtier and more "audible" side. My system is quite complicated and is subject for a different thread... Let's just say now that I need a character piece that among audible compression introduces some harmonic distortion to the signal to have 60s-70s kinda fat and distorted vibe. HCL Islander feels more and more suitable at least in paper

I try to find a sound example of the tone that I mean and post it here .

-- M
Check out the Highland Dynamics BG1! It’s very flexible and can get as dirty as you like. It is great on Drums too, from gentle enhancement and glue up to saturated and distorted drums. You can achieve 4 different flavors of saturation/distortion with the feedback and impedance settings.
Old 11th June 2020
  #27
Quote:
Originally Posted by mherrane View Post
Well...I have the VCA snap and glue for drum bus covered already...Also a stereo FET if I want that character. I'm not familiar with Compex but I know Neve stuff and would definitely look for one if I was searching for a "main drum bus compå"
I'm planning to use VCA+Vari-Mu in drum buss or Mu in a parallel bus.
Also want to experiment with Mu in Overheads and drum rooms...But I need a Mu that's on the dirtier and more "audible" side. My system is quite complicated and is subject for a different thread... Let's just say now that I need a character piece that among audible compression introduces some harmonic distortion to the signal to have 60s-70s kinda fat and distorted vibe. HCL Islander feels more and more suitable at least in paper

I try to find a sound example of the tone that I mean and post it here .

-- M
Have you got a Black Box HG-2? That is so good for eating transients.
The Silver Bullet is super solid too.
Old 11th June 2020
  #28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul_G View Post
Have you got a Black Box HG-2? That is so good for eating transients.
The Silver Bullet is super solid too.
No but I do have Overstayer Saturator and MAS and UBK Fatso that I occassionally use as a distortion box. Also some Aurora Audio preamps I can overdrive to get some fat distortion.

Thanks for the tip, I'm sure these are great tools and there might come a time for checking these out as well but here besides distortion I also need the MU compression characteristics.

On suggestions form here, Highland and HCL units seem to be the most interesting by now. My "audio dealer" wants to sell me a Manley since he has straight relations to the factory and in the beginning I really wanted a Manley but I've now found more interesting sutff on the way, haha .


-- M
Old 12th June 2020
  #29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul_G View Post
Pom's Fairchild is the best I've heard.
you might want to check out the vacuvox's. they are quite expensive, but sound expensive. never tried a pom.
Old 12th June 2020
  #30
Quote:
Originally Posted by petemin View Post
you might want to check out the vacuvox's. they are quite expensive, but sound expensive. never tried a pom.
I've heard them, same league. Great sound.
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