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Best cheap compressors (hardware) in 2019?
Old 9th November 2018
  #1
Gear Nut
 

Best cheap compressors (hardware) in 2019?

Hi all!!

I have a project studio with some quality gear (nice mic pres, mics and conversion) but until now I've mostly compressed in the box.
I am thinking in the near future of getting a decent old desk (Allen and Heath, Souncraft Ghost, Crest..) and an array of compressors as I'd like to shift towards a more live or partially live recording workflow instead of overdubs.
Working faster, and mostly help musicians crafting music that sounds more real/alive, is the goal.
(also less plugins/less mousing more knob turning)
Basically moving towards a more hybrid system, using the daw like a tape machine/editing tool.

A few years ago you had to go second hand to find decent dynamic processors for cheap.
But now with all the classics clone frenzy it looks like the game has changed.
Is it better to go for things like Klark Teknik, Warm Audio or Stam???
Where I am I can get KT76s for under 160€ new and KT2As for 240 which sounds too good to be true.
I've never heard them yet (a part from the KT76)
I am aware they won't sound exactly like the real deal... (especially the vintage oned)
I don't want them to make my material sound harsh either.
Or should I look for older but proven midrange pieces? (dbx..drawmer)
So...what to buy to bring lots of compressors to my studio without breaking the bank :-)
I am also open to api 500 format comps..but it's not a necessity spacewise.
It should not be more that 500/piece average as I need to invest in a lot more already with the desk, cabling...patchbay.
I'm also open to vintage gear..even though it's generally above that price range.
Thanks a million in advance for your insight!

Last edited by Niconic; 11th November 2018 at 09:59 AM..
Old 9th November 2018
  #2
Gear Nut
 

Oops...wrote 2019 in the title...I guess we're almost there ;-)
Old 9th November 2018
  #3
Lives for gear
 
matt pinchin's Avatar
I have a kt 76 on order for £181. All the reviews are very positive so im hoping it lives to the hype.
I usually compress ITB using mostly waves compressors or 1176 emus in protools.
Old 9th November 2018
  #4
Check out AudioScape if you haven't yet, great gear and great communication/customer support
Old 9th November 2018
  #5
Gear Nut
 

I still think the RNC is great for the money.
Old 9th November 2018
  #6
Gear Maniac
 

@ shaka

The RNLA is also pretty dope.
Old 9th November 2018
  #7
Gear Nut
 

Yep RNC have been around for a while, they seem to be a good choice transparent compression.
Never heard of Soundscape, impressive looking clones and great choice thanks..would love to hear what they sound like.
Old 9th November 2018
  #8
Gear Nut
 

Looks like DIY builds are a good option too, as long as they're prebuilt kits.
Looking at Sound Skulptor CP76, seems like a pretty cool piece for the price!

Last edited by Niconic; 9th November 2018 at 09:39 PM..
Old 9th November 2018
  #9
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mamm7215's Avatar
Bang for buck this year I'd have to say it's the Klark stuff. I have the 76, 2A and 2 EQPs and they hang with my Foote and Elysia stuff.
Old 9th November 2018
  #10
Here for the gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Niconic View Post
Yep RNC have been around for a while, they seem to be a good choice transparent compression.
Never heard of Soundscape, impressive looking clones and great choice thanks..would love to hear what they sound like.
I like realhomerecording's demo of the RNC. Inspired me to get it
Old 9th November 2018
  #11
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BIG BUDDHA's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Niconic View Post
Hi all!!


Or should I look for older but proven midrange pieces? (dbx..drawmer)
some midd range stuff is ok.

Drawmer 221s and 241s (the old ones are great) transparent and fast.

Art VLA is an option, i use them on keys mainly.

and DBX if you like the sound. (mainly drums for me)

some of the Joe Meek opticals are worthy of a look.

i still have an old focusrite comp, that has too many buttons, but i keep it because it has a bass enhance button that works well.

best to get specific pieces for specific applications. then you will keep them.

Buddha
Attached Thumbnails
Best cheap compressors (hardware) in 2019?-outboard-analogue.jpg  
Old 9th November 2018
  #12
Gear Maniac
 

I definitely applaud going hybrid, if that is the approach you want to take, but keep in mind that it's an expensive undertaking. It's not hard to spend a whole bunch of cash for not much real world improvement in sound/work flow, especially when buying up a lot of cheap gear.

I almost want to say you'll do yourself more of a favor by keeping much of your compression ITB and having a few key outboard pieces for a few key aspects of your workflow, rather than having a lot of cheap clones OTB.

I've worked in several hybrid rooms and built a couple of hybrid rigs myself. Here's what I've come up with over the years. Take this in the spirit that it's given and of course, YMMV.

Vocals and bass guitar are two of the more wildly dynamic instruments we record. To that end, I like to track both with a little compression and plan to add a little more in the mix. Therefore, I tend to plan for outboard pieces here.

I like to mix into a bus compressor, so I definitely want something to strap across the 2 mix.

I typically like to employ bus compression on drums, so I'll plan to have another 2 channel comp for this purpose.

I'll usually want a little compression on kick and snare going to tape - not much, just some. I try to make sure the comp I'm going to use for the drum bus in the mix will also serve this purpose.

Ditto with overheads and the mix bus comp.

Most everything else, I'll compress in the DAW.

That's 4 pieces of outboard instead of a lot. Focusing on those few key pieces also means you can afford to spend more per piece. You can more easily afford pieces you'll want to keep.

Just food for thought.
Old 9th November 2018
  #13
Gear Maniac
 

@ BIG BUDDAH - that's a beautiful room, dude.
Old 9th November 2018
  #14
Gear Nut
 

Thanks for a very detailed and informative answer. I was thinking of buying 2/4 good pieces (non clones) and maybe 8 cheaper ones for less critical applications... a couple of nice eq outboard and use the desk eq for the rest.My bank account wont let me go completely without plugins anyway :-)
I heard a few clones that beat plugins to my ears...of the 1176 type. The other type of clones i've only heard online demos...so I don't know how the new LA2LA cheap clones compare to plugins...they seem pretty far from the real deal. The 1176 sounded pretty good though, significantly better than the waves plugin iteration which sounded lifeless in comparison, with the same amount of compression.
I have never been totally convinced with compression plugins ... and a few I really liked got discontinued ! (Abbey Road RS124 and TG)
I would love to have the Chandler hardware version or a Retro 176 ...that's not cheap though but surely worthwhile investment.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Mag J View Post
I definitely applaud going hybrid, if that is the approach you want to take, but keep in mind that it's an expensive undertaking. It's not hard to spend a whole bunch of cash for not much real world improvement in sound/work flow, especially when buying up a lot of cheap gear.

I almost want to say you'll do yourself more of a favor by keeping much of your compression ITB and having a few key outboard pieces for a few key aspects of your workflow, rather than having a lot of cheap clones OTB.

I've worked in several hybrid rooms and built a couple of hybrid rigs myself. Here's what I've come up with over the years. Take this in the spirit that it's given and of course, YMMV.

Vocals and bass guitar are two of the more wildly dynamic instruments we record. To that end, I like to track both with a little compression and plan to add a little more in the mix. Therefore, I tend to plan for outboard pieces here.

I like to mix into a bus compressor, so I definitely want something to strap across the 2 mix.

I typically like to employ bus compression on drums, so I'll plan to have another 2 channel comp for this purpose.

I'll usually want a little compression on kick and snare going to tape - not much, just some. I try to make sure the comp I'm going to use for the drum bus in the mix will also serve this purpose.

Ditto with overheads and the mix bus comp.

Most everything else, I'll compress in the DAW.

That's 4 pieces of outboard instead of a lot. Focusing on those few key pieces also means you can afford to spend more per piece. You can more easily afford pieces you'll want to keep.

Just food for thought.

Last edited by Niconic; 9th November 2018 at 11:54 PM..
Old 9th November 2018
  #15
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BIG BUDDHA's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mag J View Post
@ BIG BUDDAH - that's a beautiful room, dude.
thanks. since that shot i got a set of Genelecs 1032a to replace those little yamahas. much better now....

Buddha
Old 10th November 2018
  #16
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jdier's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Niconic View Post
I am thinking in the near future of getting a decent old desk... and an array of compressors as I'd like to shift towards a more live or partially live recording workflow
I have the Stam 4000 and SA2A. Could not imagine liking anything any more than these two units.

For a 1176 type I built a Hairball kit. Again, I love this unit.

I have not used the actual units these are based on, so I am not sure if they are as good, same, different, better... but they all sound great. My little time listening to a Warm comp has me very glad I went the route I did.

Other great units are the FMR RNC and RNLA and also the compressors from Daking. All super affordable and sound great.
Old 10th November 2018
  #17
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jdier's Avatar
 

Oh, and get that patch bay as soon as you can. Really a game changer.
Old 10th November 2018
  #18
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by mamm7215 View Post
Bang for buck this year I'd have to say it's the Klark stuff. I have the 76, 2A and 2 EQPs and they hang with my Foote and Elysia stuff.
This is real world user advice, and I would give it some weight.
As software comps get better, I don’t find that many low and mid budget hardware comps beat them.
The Klark and Warm comps are clones of some extraordinary vintage comps. They might be keepers.
I have a Manley Vari-Mu and three Revive modified comps that still give me something beyond average compression. I’ve sold more than I’ve kept. You can feel good for a bit by filling a rack with a bunch of low-mid comps. I did. But a year later I realized that I wasn’t nearly as excited about using them as I was by acquiring and racking them.
Old 10th November 2018
  #19
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mamm7215's Avatar
Good point. I went through this same thing a few years ago after being disappointed with quite a few low-mid end pieces. I also have a real Vari-mu and the UA version is similar but that’s it to me though mine doesn’t have the T-bar mod but does have the HPSC. Real Vari-mu every time. The Klark 2A is interchangeable with my UA LA2A mkii collection though the settings need to be tweaked to match and is also dependent on the model of plug used. I compared mostly to the silver. A bit to the grey. I track vocals through a tube condenser mic>N72>2A>76>Apollo. Sometimes I use the Unison on the Apollo but my starter is typically the 1st scenario.
Old 10th November 2018
  #20
Gear Maniac
 

Bushman and I are of the same mind here.

Software comps have certainly come a long, long way. The most recent versions of the UAD Analog Classics are well close enough to the originals to be getting on with, not to mention that you can run several instances of them.

You might have noticed that the tasks I mentioned for owning outboard comps are tasks not easily done ITB - either stuff I want to compress to tape or bus comps (you can't really strap a comp across the 2 mix in your DAW when you're mixing OTB, for example).

To be fair, though, I don't tend to use a lot of compression, if I can get away with it. Bass guitar is maybe the lone exception. Most everywhere else, I'm aiming for not more than a couple dB. On the mix bus, I really want just enough to stick everything together. Ditto for the drums bus. On OH's I just want to smoothe out spikes a little. And I tend to be super subtle with kick and snare.

Compressors are more about solutions to problems for me and less about color and magic. I find ITB options to be almost as effective and far less expensive than outboard.

And again, if you aren't planning to buy 8 or more budget boxes, then you can afford to spend more on your 2-4 main pieces. If you plan your, say, 4 stellar pieces correctly, then you can also get a fair amout of versatility to boot.

Like I said, it's something to think about.
Old 10th November 2018
  #21
Here for the gear
 

Hey RNC users: do you experience a significant noise floor when you use this compressor? Mine is pretty stinkin noticeable.

Acoustic guitar > SM57 > RNP > RNC > Apogee Quartet > LPX.

It’s even unpleasantly present when I use my 414 in the same chain. Does this sound fishy to you all? Hopefully so- I want to do what I need to to unlock the legendary quality of this box!
Old 10th November 2018
  #22
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by stephenhero6 View Post
Hey RNC users: do you experience a significant noise floor when you use this compressor? Mine is pretty stinkin noticeable.

Acoustic guitar > SM57 > RNP > RNC > Apogee Quartet > LPX.

It’s even unpleasantly present when I use my 414 in the same chain. Does this sound fishy to you all? Hopefully so- I want to do what I need to to unlock the legendary quality of this box!
You may have unusual radio interference in your area (transmission lines or TV/radio broadcast antennas) or some unfiltered hash riding on your AC lines. One of the quirks of the RNC products is that they are not balanced devices, and thus are more prone than balanced devices to pick up much more of such interference. That doesn’t necessarily explain the 414 noise problem, but it could be some version of the same basic problems.
Old 10th November 2018
  #23
Here for the gear
 

Thanks Bushman. I have an ART PRO VLA II that is much quieter so I don’t know if that’s the issue?? I don’t love the sonic results the VLA II gives me- even on the lowest settings I can only seem to get sounds that seem overly compressed- and so I’m tinkering with the RNC.
Old 10th November 2018
  #24
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by stephenhero6 View Post
Thanks Bushman. I have an ART PRO VLA II that is much quieter so I don’t know if that’s the issue?? I don’t love the sonic results the VLA II gives me- even on the lowest settings I can only seem to get sounds that seem overly compressed- and so I’m tinkering with the RNC.
I had exactly the same opinion of the VLAII in terms of how the compression sounds. I had Revive modify it. It still isn’t quite my favorite compressor, but it is very useable and has a unique signature.
But it does have balanced ins and outs, which would make it resistant to the kinds of noise I referred to in my previous post.
So, even if the VLA spec’d noisier than the RNC, it would actually be much quieter in a high interference environment than the unbalanced RNC.
Old 10th November 2018
  #25
your version of cheap seems like the KT are a good buy.
having the 1176 and LA2A types would be good....maybe a fast solid state RNC or something too.
I agree with the work flow thing, thats the only excuse I can really give for my hardware these days.
Theres a workflow,vibe of shooting straight into the daw so fast, no plugs until mixing.
But as a low level hobbyist, the realtime plugins with only 2 engines/2 inputs really does just fine and in that world the SaveAs settings the multiple tracks can be done later etc...

the other reason for outboard is just GAS fun...
Old 10th November 2018
  #26
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jdier's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by stephenhero6 View Post
Hey RNC users: do you experience a significant noise floor when you use this compressor? Mine is pretty stinkin noticeable.

Acoustic guitar > SM57 > RNP > RNC > Apogee Quartet > LPX.

It’s even unpleasantly present when I use my 414 in the same chain. Does this sound fishy to you all? Hopefully so- I want to do what I need to to unlock the legendary quality of this box!
Do you run it with a Y cable in/out to the insert point on the RNP?

If you do, there should be no noise. I would call Mark at FMR and ask him about it.
Old 10th November 2018
  #27
Gear Nut
 
soulone82's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mag J View Post
It's not hard to spend a whole bunch of cash for not much real world improvement in sound/work flow, especially when buying up a lot of cheap gear.
The same goes for plug-ins.
Old 10th November 2018
  #28
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Brian M. Boykin's Avatar
I chose many moons ago to stay OTB so keep in mind I do not have any experience with plugin comps. I have found Symetrix, Ashly, and DBX stock comps to be usable as long as you don’t try for more than 4 or so DB of compression. If you have them modded then that changes. I have 2 Klark Teknik DN504’s I track with behind Symetrix SX202’s. Two of which I had Jim Williams mod and I couldn’t be happier with them. Nice clean transparent pre’s. The KT’s are transparent as well and will be going off to Jim to complete my recording chain. If your not gonna mod yourself or have some of these comps modded then you may be disappointed. Here’s a list of what I have:
(2) KT DN504’s
(2) Ashly SC 55’s (blueface)
(2) Ashly SC 50’s (1 blue, 1 black)
-both modded by me
(2) DBX 163x
-both modes by me
(1) Symetrix 522 (Revive modded)
-Valley People VCA
(1) Symetrix 525 (Revive modded)
-Valley People VCA
(1) Symetrix 501 (stock Valley VCA)
(2) Symetrix 501 (stock DBX VCA)
(2) DBX 166 (older colored knobs/stock)
(1) Aphex 651 (Jim Williams mod)
- absolute vocal crusher
- stupid to not have one or more
(1) Ashly CL50
(1) Ashly CL52

I use all these in every mix. Either on the inserts of individual input modules or stereo on a group for NY compression. I’m finishing up my Soundcraft 400b with a recap and new op amps and a power supply. Then I’m gonna start building Hairball comps and maybe some of the JLM comps. If you go 500 series the sky is the limit and the kits are a little more reasonable. The rest of the comps I have that are not modded will be modded by me or someone else. I wish I could estimate how much money and time I’ve invested but I don’t really know.

Here’s some food for thought though:

All the comps listed are 30 to 40 years old and completely usable. Even more so after they’ve been modded. How many plugins that you have now will you still be using in the same amount of time. And I’m not making a case or arguing which is better, just saying a good outboard comp can last a lifetime, plugins change with technology. Choose wisely. Read what can be done to make them better. Can you buy them cheap, pay to have them modded and come away with a nice compressor? My experience has been YES. And now that I have a bunch of good clean “general purpose” comps I’m gonna start building classic clones. Here’s a pic of my set up.

Brian

PS: I have other EQ’s I’ve found useful as well as some preamps for instruments. All modded or scheduled to be modded.
Attached Thumbnails
Best cheap compressors (hardware) in 2019?-8bda9677-a30a-4832-9da5-807182693d0f.jpg  
Old 10th November 2018
  #29
Lives for gear
 

I think your plan is stupid.

For less money you can have compression ITB including total recall, lookahead, better sound quality, less conversion. Hardware has no - zero, nada - points on the plus side. Raises your electricity bill, you need just another wall outlet, you have to dust the thingie, it can break, and so on and on...

Hardware usage is just plain stupid.

Oh, come on... you prefer the sound of hardware? Thats nothing what a halfway good shrink couldnt free you from, free you from that delusion.
Old 10th November 2018
  #30
Lives for gear
Brian,
Thanks for the picture. Six or seven graphic EQs? That’s another analog option that is somewhat out of fashion (so I shouldn’t admit I have one).
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