United Plugins Royal Compressor by Arthur Stone
In Music We Trust: The Royal Compressor is a plug-in emulation of a hardware vari-mu compressor. The original vari-mu's were amongst the first hardware compressors, using multiple tubes/valves, and a electronic-engineering concept still used by high-end gear designers today despite the challenges of production: noise, heat, and cost.
UnitedPlugIns: Described as: “a federation of small independent developing teams” UnitedPlugIns is an institution and shopfront; the three founding developers are: JMG Sound, FireSonic, and SounDevice Digital (who created the Royal Compressor reviewed here). UnitedPlugIns acknowledge MeldaProduction who have assisted in the licensing (which was super quick and smooth for me); in this way we see the advantages of independent developers combining to take advantage of the emergent properties of collaboration.
SounDevice Digital, who's lead designer is Boris Carloff, a Gearslut no less, have modelled the Royal Compressor after a classic British compressor used to record The Beatles and other famous artists.
Other releases available from UnitedPlugins include the FireCobra by FireSonic reviewed by Sound Guy here: also, the Hyperspace from JMG Sound (reviewed here by Sound Guy), which is currently being reviewed. In addition a range of MeldaProduction audio tool plug-ins are available for a modest cost - so well worth checking out.
Price: 129 Euros (approx. conversion USD $145 and UK £119
- simulation of vari-mu compression circuitry
- same parameters/control interface as hardware
- 3 circuit types, each with a different attack
- an adjustable Saturator which mimics valve saturation
- CPU-friendly (confirmed during review) whilst operating at - internal sample rate
- -free authentication with license file (confirmed)
- scalable, attractive GUI
- 15-day unlimited trial and you even get a free 'broken' version
- preset creation and librarian
64-bit audio processing: sample rates above 192 kHz possible.
Input: 0-24 dB of input gain
Model: A, B or C: A/ fastest, cleanest – C/ most colourful, slowest.
Recovery: compression release time (positions 1-6/fast to slow) with looong red dot Hold.Saturation: random noise algorithm simulates valve distortion; real-life level at 100%
Meter: lovely meter showing gain reduction – very reactive.
AutoGain: auto control of output volume depending on input
Power: by-passes plug-in
Output Attenuator: controls output volume
In Use: A little can go a long way in terms of compression: it's very easy to get clearly audible compression. Beautiful, heavy, pillowy compression. The key to success is timing; the compressor needs to groove with the track. The A/B/C knob selects between 3 circuits each with different attack times. There's also a saturator control, and an automatic gain control
Another option is to lower the input gain and raise the output level: this pushes into the threshold less and offers a less compressed, cleaner sound.
Surprisingly, for a compressor with so much apparent mojo, when A/B'ed with the plug-in bypassed, the Royal Compressor is actually quite subtle but the portion of the sound affected is psychoacoustically-pleasing. Exquisitely-modelled vari-mu bliss.
Something interesting happens when starting a project with the Royal Compressor on mixbus; it provides a pillowy ceiling that can be sonically 'pushed into' when tracking and later mixing. It's a bit like learning a new balancing skill, trying to stay in a sweet spot of balance, and in this sweet spot one is rewarded with a real sense of connection with the vibrancy of the instrument or source. The source appears alongside and distinct from the other sources. That sense of definition adds to the realism.
That realism didn't always work on tracks composed and mixed using other compressors; my experience is that the Royal Compressor is more project-specific and perhaps something to use from the start.
An example is piano; the realism of a sampled grand piano isn't always matched by the controller keyboard capability; during tracking, the Royal Compressor not only made the piano sound great but also seemed to make it more playable. It was much harder to make the piano sound bad.
In many ways, if the user can overcome the limited working parameters, this is the perfect tone box, even if it's not the compressor for every occasion.
Audio examples: I thought about providing dry/wet samples but it's just as easy to download the free-trial and try it for yourself; in addition there's some demos on the UnitedPlugins website: https://unitedplugins.com/RoyalCompressor/
Another point about wet/dry level-matched audio tests is that they don't really capture the mojo of the compressor and it's effect on the tracking and mixing process especially when used liberally.
The first example is a quick mix/track with the Royal Compressor on everything: Reason DAW Bass Drum/Snare/Hi-hat/Drum Bus plus live electric bass and Tele guitar (both into Amplitube); I added a Moog Subphatty disco drone, and a Shure SM58 vocal. The interface is a Focusrite Saffire. The lyrics inspired by the Gearslutz UFO thread...
The second example, heavily-layered and compressed, is made in RADAR Studio in a Reason DAW session. Sampled drums/Uhe Bazille bass/Korg MonoPoly pad/Arturia Solina/Moog Airplane fx. Royal Compressor on everything. Loads of 'em. Then some electro-acoustic guitar on top; rhythm and solo track. Summed OTB from RADAR>Dav mix amp>Elysia Xpressor>Sound Devices 702 AD>Reason DAW/Ozone Maximizer. Then mp3 in SoundForge.
I was interested in how the soundstage would hold up, and if overuse of the Royal would meld all the instruments together. What do you think?
Overall I'm hearing a bright, articulate sound with a nice air that expands the soundstage; the Royal Compressor is kinda regal, for sure.
Conclusion: A colourful, characterful compressor that is a joy to use. Didn't sound flat or 2D. I think there's an educational aspect to using the Royal Compressor: input and output levels and timing variables weigh heavily on the outcome and the user needs to 'work with it' rather than being able to make it do exactly as you want. The Royal Compressor sounds and behaves like a real hardware unit.
There is a classic, almost subconsciously-familiar sound, and this makes the learning curve worth it.
Sound quality: 5/5 Clear and colourful. Adds definition. Psychoacoustically-pleasing. Easy to overuse. Up there with the best of them IMO.
Ease of use: 5/5 Bit of a learning curve if one isn't used to this type of classic compressor with slightly different control parameters – but it's not like hard work or anything! I was going to give a 4/5 in this category but I can't criticise SounDevice Digital for producing a device that sounds and behaves too much like hardware.
Features: 5/5 All the original user features of a classic vari-mu compressor with some of the digital advantages: patches/presets/automation/etc.
Bang-for-buck: 5/5 Personally I like to have a few plug-ins that I can rely on to produce superb sound. This is one of them. OK maybe it doesn't suit every track or mix but when the source and occasion is right, then something magic can happen. The free-trial is a no-brainer plus you get to keep the limited version if the modest price is out of reach.
Credits and Links:
Video discussing the manufacture of vari-mu compressors and hardware in general.
Images used courtesy of United PlugIns; additional images by Arthur Stone.