Manley Labs Elop+ by Glenn Bucci
Manley Labs ELOP+ stereo limiter/compressor
The original Manley ELOP was released in 1994 and was a 2 channel optic limiter which had a set ratio of 10.1. It was able to be used in stereo mode and had a hp filter for added flexibility. This same ELOP limiter is in the Manley Voxbox which I use on countless recordings to control dynamics on vocal tracks. It has a rich sound that adds a nice character to tracks.
The new Manley ELOP+ is a new design that uses the same high voltage power supply as the Manley Core and Manley Force. Lately Manley has been coming out with new high quality products that use newer designs that don’t require as many hours to manufacture. As a result, there is reduced costs which helps them to be more affordable to studio owners. The ELOP+ cost $2,250 which is less than the original ELOP. This is a very smart strategy for Manley Labs in 2016. With a lot of hardware clones coming out, and many improved plug in emulations of hardware gear, they wisely went to the drawing board to provide more affordable quality gear, while still maintaining the same quality, customer service, and support they always provide.
Like the original ELOP , this unit has the same 10.1 (ratio) limiter, however it also has a 3.1 (ratio) compressor by a push of a button. This makes the unit more flexible as the 10.1 ratio is generally too high for 2 bus mixes. The 3.1 ratio is more gentle, and is able to be used effectively on multiple sources. There is a link/stereo function that when engaged applies the same amount of gain reduction to both the left and right channels. This is an important feature to prevent image shifting from occurring. I found the markings on the unit to allow easy matching of the output levels between both channels. The large VU meters provide gain reduction or the output which you don't have to be so close to read.
Inside the ELOP+ are high quality parts, great soldering, a precision-CNC-milled faceplate, and of course beautiful tubes which help create the Manley sound. The knobs are very solid and smooth in use. The Hp filter is factory set at 80 Hz which I found very effective in preventing the compressor to react too much due to low frequencies. You are able to changed the frequency of the hp filter to 150 Hz by changing the internal HPSC filter if you so desire,
The manual is very detailed and clear on explaining how to use the unit. It provides information on the different types of limiters and VCA designs. Manley took a step further and provided 5 “tricks” on using the unit including using one channel to duck the other.
When you first start up the unit, there is a slow self start which helps prolong the life of the tubes. It is an auto mute for about 30 seconds. During this time the lights on the meters flash as it gently starts the unit. Once completely on, the lights on the VU meters stay on.
The first test I performed with the ELOP+ was on a vocal take with the limiter setting. Compared to the original ELOP, it is not as thick sounding at gentle reductions of -2db. The ELOP+ provides a gentler character which allows the top end of a vocal to breathe It does not remove the top end like many other limiters. The attack is 15 ms and the release is at 200 ms. The compressor setting uses a 3.1 ratio which I tried on acoustic and bass guitars. The result with reductions of put to -3db is a gentle smooth character which put an analog finish to tracks. It was able to maintain the top end of the original track while controlling the transients in a gentle way. It is able to effectively remove pointy guitars amps, while adding a gentle smoothness to the signal. The attack on the compressor setting is 75 ms and the release is at 200 ms. When you increase the reduction to -6db, you get a little more character. You can apply the make up gain to the same level prior to adding compression or even hotter. The bypass button is a round button that has a solid feel and works well when you want to check how the unit is affecting the signal.
The ELOP+ is able to smooth the signal, and sound part of the original signal instead of layering on top of the signal like plug ins do. By using the HP filter, it bypasses frequencies below 80Hz so you can dig a littler deeper without the low end causing it to react as much. Most plug ins and even some hardware optic compressors can dull the top end or add a thicker sound to it. While this may be good for some situations, I found the more gentler character of the ELOP+ to be more useful on situations. If you want a little more thickness, start reducing the signal from 4db and up and increase the make up gain. I found the attack speed to be very effective. It reacts to subtle dynamic changes in a good way.
It can effectively control dynamics without you hearing it compress. However at the same time, it adds a gentle color (smoothness) to the track. The attack is a medium response, while the release is fast and smooth while not pumping. The open sound and retained high frequency response is an amazing feat. This unit will not provide a punchy attack like an UA 1176, or API 2500, but then again it's not meant to do that.
The EOP+ compressor setting shines on an bass and acoustic guitar. What makes this unit stand out from many other compressors is its ability to smooth the transients without getting in the way. It is able to add a gentle smoothness while still maintaining the sound of the guitar. On many optic compressors they can grab the transients to abruptly and not provide the sound you want.
On a mix buss, it is open and smooth while adding some nice glue.
It is not as colored as the original ELOP but more noticeable than cleaner optic compressors like the Pendulum OCL-2.
Though this unit is useful, with a set attack and release, you will find at times it may not a flexible as you need it especially at the mastering stage. This is one reason why Manley Labs came out with the new Vari Nu limiter/compressor which has variable attack and release controls.
If your looking for a limiter/compressor that can sweeten tracks and add some gentle smoothness, I suggest giving this unit a try. It was a sad day when I had to box up this unit and send it back to Manley Labs as it will be missed in my studio.
A limiter with a 10:1 ratio with an attack speed of 15 ms and release of 200 ms.
A compressor with a 3:1 ratio with an attack speed of 75 ms and release of 200 ms.
All-tube audio path uses 5751 and 6922 dual triodes
Balanced Manley IRON® transformer-coupled XLR Inputs
XLR impedance-balanced outputs
BYPASS switches and AUTOMUTE with warm-up delay
Large illuminated VU meters read Gain Reduction or Output levels
Side-Chain High-Pass Filter
Universal internal power supply operates worldwide 90-250V~AC 50/60Hz
Dynamic range is 118db
Total harmonic distortion is at 0.004% THD+N