WesAudio _MIMAS by Arthur Stone
_MIMAS is a FET compressor in 500-series format from Wes Audio; the analogue signal path with digital control means it can be controlled and recalled from a device connected by USB on the front panel or USB/Ethernet via the ng500-series rack _TITAN, in addition to the usual front-panel controls. High-quality build and components. Single mono channel; can be paired/linked. A software plug-in duplicates front panel controls plus extra functions such as presets.
_MIMAS sounds awesome. A sonic 'Aha' moment: now that's why 1176-style FET compression is so revered.
What is FET?
FET is a 'field-effect transistor' – an electronic component which has 3 terminals: source, gate, and drain. In simple terms: as the source signal enters, the conductivity of it's path to the drain (exit) is regulated by the gate (which is voltage-controlled). Wiki: “The conductivity of the channel is a function of the potential applied across the gate and source terminals.”
As the schematic shows, the _MIMAS has a feedback design – the side-chain source is tapped post the operating amplifier – the same as the original 1176.
The 1176 is a fast compressor (it reacts to the source quickly despite the side-chain source being post amp). Attack is between 20 and 800 microseconds; A microsecond is1/1000000th of a second. Super-fast.
The _MIMAS is also 20-800 milliseconds attack time; Release time is in milliseconds (1/1000th of a second): 50 to 1100 milliseconds.
The ratios are the same: 4:1, 8:1, 12:1, and 20:1 with the 20:1 ratio effectively limiting the signal whilst 4, 8, and 12, compress it. The amount of compression and limiting is further affected by the threshold (Input control).
In addition to the signal flow/control characteristics shared by 1176 and _MIMAS, they both have input and output transformers.
In comparison to what I think an 1176 should sound like (and do) – based on zero experience with an actual 1176 (apart from my trusty Warm 76 and a handful of plug-ins) – this exceeds my expectations, it sounds better than anything I've heard/used for tight, punchy, grabby, compression. An 1176 plus.
Fifty years on, since the original 1176 design by UREI, Wes have brought a classic up-to-date, and into the future a bit.
Fully digitally controlled analogue circuit,
– +24dBu of headroom,
–*Digital recall can be achieved by connecting unit directly through front panel mini USB socket, or using it inside _TITAN chassis,
– Dedicated stereo plug-in to manage two devices at the same time,
– Digital sidechain*– it is possible to send any track from your DAW as side chain signal to the compressor – It is enough to configure side chain feature in connected*plug-in,
– 4 *touch sensitive encoders (allow to record automation of all parameters to DAW in real time),
– True bypass,
– Selectable VU(in/out)/GR meter (Switch can be accessed on the plug-in),
– Free software and firmware upgrades.
Wes Audio also make the Beta76 rack unit compressor which is stand-alone with digital connectivity but offers many of the same features as the _MIMAS.
On delivery I was up-and-running in 10 mins, never having used a 500-series or Wes gear previously. The units were pre-installed in a _TITAN rack (and installation is very straightforward).
The first thing I noticed was the weight of the small-form external power-supply for the _TITAN 10-slot 500-series rack. Very re-assuring. I immediately knew we were dealing with pro gear. It had that feel. The build quality of the 500-series _MIMAS unit did not disappoint at all and the experience was as good as the Sound Devices 7-series although designed for studio rather than the field. Great design; top-quality components.
The solid metal control dials feel high quality, as do the buttons; the dials are knobbly touch-sensitive rotary encoders and a ring of LED's lights to denote position. The ring LED's can operate in Normal mode with clockwise direction showing level or Single Mode with a single LED denoting position. The white fascia works well in good light. The LED lights can be quite bright in a dark room (making the faceplate legends difficult to read); an option to dim these (as on the SD7-series) would be good.
Although, in general, any racked device can be plumbed in and utilised in many studio roles, the design and facilities on the _MIMAS and all the Wes gear positively encourages this. It's no hassle to change the role of a unit with a few clicks. The _MIMAS (and _TITAN) is a perfect example of a new generation of gear designed and built with integration to other devices in mind, and again this increases the utility and ease-of-use that racked gear and a patchbay alone cannot provide.
_MIMAS also connects to the digital workflow: all the front-panel controls can be used as rotary touch-sensitive encoders to record automation in the DAW. Another feature is a digital side-chain from the DAW to the _MIMAS.
The _MIMAS is fun to use musically. I was gobsmacked at it's effectiveness (as a compressor/limiting amplifier) and it's tone. Stunningly good. I checked a few mixes: DAW (stems) > iZ RADAR digital-to-analogue, summed externally in a DAV Electronics passive mixbus > BAE preamp (make-up gain) and then two paired_MIMAS (stereo-linked) on the 2-bus followed by the _HYPERION EQ and _DIONE SSL-style VCA compressor. Plenty of headroom, no noise, and no issues matching level (or impedance) with other gear.
The _MIMAS brings the music and soundstage to life in an incredible way. Definitely a 'make it sound better' device that doesn't impart too much of it's own character or dynamic pressure. It seems to sculpt away unwanted sound and tidy up the internal balances of sources.
On mono duties, bass and electro-acoustic guitar, even with audio peaks, the _MIMAS remained invisible as requested although pushing the bass with a fast release emphasized the growl and subtle distortion. It got me thinking I heard an LA2A/3/4-type sound too...especially when loosely compressing. Compared to my hardware clone 1176 (and some VST's) the _MIMAS self-noise is negligible and the sweet character (that is present in all the Wes gear I've heard) shines through. If needed, it can sound a lot politer than what I recognise as a bright, gritty 1176 sound – but it can be gritty and super-grabby too if pushed.
All-Buttons-In Mode added grit to DI'd electric guitar (Tele) and I think this would be a great mode for drums and drum bus, maybe in parallel. It didn't sound or feel as if the _MIMAS was weak in any way.
So, I think, sonically, the _MIMAS offers more than being a clone or facsimile of a famous levelling amplifier. It does that superbly but it also has more flexibility as a compressor than the 1176 label alone.
In Saturation Mode, the main input dial controls all function; the compressor circuit and all other controls are disengaged (apart from Bypass). Saturation mode is turned on by holding the Ratio button (or Drive on the plug-in) for more than 1 sec.
The saturation occurs through gain staging, transformer saturation and FET 2nd harmonic distortion. The output is automatically matched to input level so it is possible to additionally drive the circuit from an external gain stage. The circuit is also level-matched to Bypass.
I didn't really explore Saturation Mode in depth; I tried it and what impressed me, apart from the sound, was the range of control. Although it's just one dial control it seems to cover a lot of sonic ground (with different emphasis depending on source and source level) from invisible and subtle thickening to a noticeable, pleasant thickening of harmonic content. Low-level saturation. Great for a vocal or lead guitar or electric bass, drums, mix...anything really.
Wes Audio have wisely used the valuable components to great advantage with this dual-purpose of the unit – FET compressor+ and tonebox. This functionality also follows the original 1176 design whereby turning the Attack off switched the unit into line amp mode although the _MIMAS offers more colour.
Above and Beyond:
In addition to authentic 'old-school' FET circuitry and control the _MIMAS also provides high-pass side-chain filter at 60, 90 and 150 Hz. A DAW track or external input can be used for the (digital) side-chain source too.
The filter doesn't directly affect the audio; it just acts on the side-chain signal so the effect is indirect. This is very useful and increases control exponentially: apart from the usual advantage of preventing the bass from triggering the threshold it also enables deeper manipulation of the mid and high frequencies that the 1176 is famous for. Like a dynamic tilt EQ that can differentiate sources in a mix or polish the character of single sources.
The A/B comparison button is made possible by the digital control of the analogue circuit; it is a very useful feature, as is the Bypass button (which is 'true bypass' with the source passes direct from in to out without passing through any of the _MIMAS circuitry.
The _MIMAS hardware can also receive firmware updates.
The _MIMAS Software:
The software interface runs as a VST/AAX/AU plug-in on a DAW track. It has an eye-candy design and colour; a hyperreal version of the hardware faceplate (with additional windows/functions). In use, it worked perfectly with no noticeable latency or glitches/freezes.
There is a mono version of the plug-in (to control one hardware unit) and a stereo version (for paired units).
Some hardware functions are only controllable in software. The hardware meter can be set to show either: input or output VU, or gain reduction. Whereas the hardware has 2 fast-switchable presets, the plug-in has 3; these presets are instantly (seamlessly) available whereas the unlimited presets need to be recalled (slightly less quick). There is an additional GCon BlackBox plug-in which can be installed into a DAW session to more easily manage multiple plug-ins.
Recording and transmitting MIDI data is possible; all the major analogue controls can be automated from a track in a DAW session. Just hit record and tweak.
The Next Generation: ng500:
In addition to standard 500-series rack compatibility, the _MIMAS is 'Next Generation' capable offering digital integration (preset recall/management) between DAW and hardware via the ng500 rack – in this case the TITAN 10-slot rack from Wes Audio.
GCon protocol, developed by Wes Audio, is used for communication and the _TITAN can use a direct USB connection or a LAN network via Ethernet. GCon is an 'open system' and Wes offer a comprehensive, free, developer kit.
The _MIMAS is compatible with around 90% of non-ng500 racks; check the manual and website for specifics as the unit or host rack can be easily adapted if necessary.
Other ng-capable modules include: _PROMETHEUS Passive EQ, _CALYPSO Interface. _DIONE Bus Compressor, and _HYPERION Parametric EQ (which is reviewed here).
The _TITAN rack will be reviewed separately so please check that out for further into about ng500.
Undoubtedly the _MIMAS is the finest compressor I've tested at my modest home studio; IMO it deserves direct comparison with the very best high-end gear.
The digital/software integration is well-engineered and implemented, and it offers some of the advantages of the DAW world such as presets and automation. Solid analogue audio with digital convenience.
Sound quality 5/5: Exceptional audio quality. Improves the source or mix naturally enhancing presence, distinguishing sources and adding euphonious air in-between. The Saturation mode is well-judged.
Ease-of-use 5/5: Good balance between (the many) features and control. Clear visual feedback and metering. Small initial learning curve (if you have the 1176 basics) but still enough nuance to provide a longer 'discovery period.' The interaction of the controls allows for lots of tweaking and the settings can be saved as a digital preset.
Features 5/5: Excellent feature set...above and beyond the usual 1176 capability.
Bang-for-Buck 5/5: It just sounds awesome and is very well built so great value for money.
Credits and Links:
Photos courtesy of Wes Audio; additional images by Arthur Stone.
Mimas photo by NASA Mimas. Public Domain.