Positive Grid Pro Series Compressor by joe_04_04
Plugin: Pro Series
Developer: Positive Grid
Formats: AU/VST/RTAS/AAX - Win/Mac, 32/64-bit
Price: 199 USD
Demo: Demo Available
Website: Positive Grid
The Scope: Positive Grid, makers of the ever-popular Bias guitar amp emulation software, have released their first batch of pro mixing plugins, the Pro Series compressors, containing emulations of a FET, a tube, and an optical compressor.
Sound Quality - 4/5: The Pro Series compressors, as a bundle, has a large variety of tonal options to offer the user. Aside from the obvious differences each unit has to offer, the unique compression curves and compression artifacts that are inherent to each emulation design, some units offer more tonal options, such as multiple options for tube choice, transformer choice, and capacitor choice, which all have a direct effect on the tone of the signal coming out of the unit. Here are my quick and to the point breakdowns of each one, along with some notes I have about each unit:
The FET Compressor (Top Center Compressor): The FET compressor is probably my most favorite unit out of all three. It is dead simple to use, but still offers some flexibility, and the results are quite pleasing. The user interface isn’t cluttered in any way, which makes navigating a breeze. It is sort of a “set and forget” type of compressor, where you don’t think too much of the settings, dialing it in naturally and moving on. For the most part, the FET compressor seems to be add very little color to the original source signal, even while attempting to illicit any color by driving the input, I couldn’t get it to impart much. This leads me to believe that the FET compressor is a great choice for clean elements that need clean compression. I used it on melodic lead vocals and acoustic guitar and achieved fantastic results.While the sonic characteristics of each unit are actually quite pleasing, I only marked down the Pro Series compressors a point in this category because I had a few instances of loud pops that occurred while switching some of the tube choices in and out. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a huge deal and it is something I’ve seen witnessed many times in the past with various other plugin developers, but it can be bit unsettling when they occur while tweaking the compression on a source. I’m fairly certain this something that will be hammered out after a few releases addressing current bugs, as the conversations I’ve had with the support team have been extremely positive. The support team is extremely kind and handles customers well, which should be taken into consideration whenever you purchase a piece of software.
The Optical Compressor (Bottom Left Compressor): The Optical compressor is another fascinating piece. It seems to be the “brightest” compressor of the three. The more I crank the gain on it and “drive” it, the brighter the source signal seems to get, even with the bias all the way down. I ended up testing this compressor on a bass guitar that was too dark and didn’t have any clarity in the string attack. The source immediately brightened up. Another interesting aspect of the optical compressor is it’s dual stage release. Having two stages of release can be handy on sources, like bass, that have a ton of transient heavy peaks, followed by long, drawn out sustained tails. Setting the faster release to recover quickly after the transient and the second release to recover more slowly for the tail of the note can lead to very transparent sounding compression. The optical compressor also has a handful of options when choosing the different analog components for the input tube stage and the various capacitors.
The Tube Compressor (Bottom Right Compressor): The tube compressor is interesting piece. It seems to be the unit that offers the most amount of “crunch” and saturation out of all three. When driven hard, the signal will begin to break up and crackle, as you would expect from driving any tube gear. This can be quite enjoyable when applied carefully. Pushing it more can be nice for a dramatic effect. When running more aggressive hip-hop vocals through this unit, I tend to crank the input gain and back off the output gain, just to the point where the peaks and transients of the vocals are going into the saturation realm. This is a technique I use quite a bit, but it works very nicely with the tube compressor, as it gives the vocal performance a bit more power, and the illusion that the vocalist is driving the signal chain a bit too hard. The bias knob is also great for when a source need to be brightened up. The Tube compressor also has a large variety of choices with tubes, capacitors, and transformers, which all add small tonal shifts in the sources, some adding brightness, others darkening up the image.
Ease of Use - 3/5: All three of the Pro Series compressors have intuitive and well-planned layouts / graphical user interfaces. I have no problems maneuvering them, as they are pretty dead simple to use (which is a huge positive in my book). I find it hard to enjoy plugins that are overly-convoluted, the Pro Series are most certainly not in this category. My biggest issue with the Pro Series compressors is that they are a bit difficult to use at times. The graphical user interface layouts are totally fine. In fact, the layouts are great. My issue is that some of the knobs are a bit “squirrely” and move a bit faster than I would like them to, which makes it hard to dial in fine details. Normally, this wouldn’t be a huge deal because you can usually use a modifier key (command+click or even sometimes, shift+click) to obtain fine resolution control over the parameters, but the Pro Series compressors are also lacking any modifier key support in Pro Tools (I can’t comment on this for other digital audio workstations, as I’m strictly in Pro Tools). If Positive Grid could implement the standard modifier key support that seems to be a convention with a vast majority of other plugins (Command+Click = fine resolution control, option+click = parameter resets to default position, control+option+command click = open enable/disable automation dialogue box), then I think the knobs being a bit “squirrely” would be easier to deal with. Outside of this issue, I think all of the plugins have a very easy, intuitive workflow that makes them easy to use and obtain results fairly fast.
Features - 5/5: The feature sets are well-packed between the three separate units. Each unit has most of the compression settings you would normally expect to see on a compression plugin: attack, release, ratio, threshold, etcetera, but some of the units offer additional parameters that give separate the Pro Series from standard compression plugins. For instance, the Optical compressor has dual stage release that is governed by two separate release parameters. Carefully mixing the two can allow your compression to return most of the way after a fast transient peak, but then start to slow down as it approaches unity gain. On both the Optical and Tube compressor, you have multiple choices for input and output transformers, capacitors, and other analogue components. Each one will have its own tone and cause its own unique forms of saturation and distortion. It’s best to just give each one a quick A/B and see what is working and what is not working for a particular source. Sometimes, I find myself turning the tube stages off all together in order to keep the signal clean, but other times, I engage them and crank the source. I find it interesting that Positive Grid has chosen to allow users to swap these things in and out. Tons of companies are creating plugins that have tube-like qualities, but Positive Grid is giving the users multiple choices to choose from, which is a pretty unique spin on the idea.
Bang for Buck - 5/5: At $200 USD, I think the Pro Series compressors are set at a reasonable price. When you consider the fact that you are purchasing three separate compressors, the price begins to make sense - each compressor ends up costing roughly 66 dollars a piece, which is a rather normal price in the current audio plugin market these days. I believe the pricing is appropriate.
*At this current time (date of publication - March 22nd, 2016) the Pro Series compressors are currently on sale for 99 USD, which is a great introductory price, though I’m uncertain how long this offer will last.
Verdict: Overall, the Positive Grid Pro Series compressors are interesting units to say the least. They offer a large variety of tonal flavors of compression and definitely do not sound “digital” at all in any way. While I don’t own any of the outboard pieces that the Pro Series aims to emulate, making it impossible to verify how closely they sound to the originals, I would say they definitely have a very analogue-like sound, and more accurately, an analog-like response to the source the material. Outside of a few hiccups related to small bugs here and there, I think the Pro Series compressors definitely have a place in the mix arsenal. I’m sure Positive Grid will continue to hammer out the few standing issues, as the customer support has been great, leading me to the belief that they care about the longevity of their product. All three compressors have their own unique set of qualities that make each one desirable for one reason or another, but I think my favorite of them all is the FET compressor, because of the simplicity of its design and because of its very sterile sound. Positive Grid is offering a demo on this bundle, so you can check it out and see how they work for you.