I recently became the caretaker of a beautiful UA 175B. It has really captured my imagination. I'd love to know your favorite uses for them and/or places you DON'T find yourself using them. Or even... where did it surprise you?
Not many girls love their compressors like I love my Universal Audio 175B. The first time I saw one was at Hollywood Sound Recorders in the early 90's, in a studio with a sweet API console and racks of this old gear that seemed a bit crusty. I had been using blackface Urie 1176s up to that point, along with UA LA-3As, Teletronix LA-2As for the most important compression jobs, but was intrigued by this brownish-looking ancient thing with big bakelite knobs. I tried it on a vocal recording and whooosh, my life was changed. It evened out the voice beautifully and had a soft, warm character. It was not as crisp and fast as my 1176, but brought forward details in the voice that had been hidden.
So I set out to find one to buy. It was not easy to find an engineer willing to let go of their treasure, so I had to pay a lot for my first 175B - $1700. That was a lot of dough to spend on a compressor in the early 90's, but I had to do it.
I've experimented extensively with the 175B's uses, finding it works especially well on acoustic guitar, bass and drum room. But with vocals, it is the best. It is soft and light when you need just a touch of control, but when you hit it hard it really digs in without getting edgy. Over time I've found my favorite vocal chain which includes both a UA 175B and a UA or Urie 1176 in sequence (see diagram below). I'll use the lighter, softer touch of the 175B, and the harder limiting of the 1176 to create a vocal recording that is warm, colorful and detailed; with a little edge to help the voice poke through a thick backing track.
If you are on a hunt for these compressors today, you'll pay a pretty penny through traditional sources. And when you get one, they are finicky to maintain. I have two, and usually one of them has an issue of some sort. But it is worth the bother. A great alternative is the Retro 176 limiting amplifier, which is being made today by Phil Moore of Retro: