Nekotronics SL4000 MK2 Compressor by christianmurphy
Quite simply, an absolute no brainer purchase.
Nekotronics aren't the first to create a G series stereo compressor clone and they certainly won't be the last, but they're definitely up there with the best when you look at the whole package.
A bit of background: Nekotronics are a Manchester based audio repairer/restorer/builder. The owner (and to my understanding the sole individual behind it) Gray is super helpful and I made the purchase through the Facebook page. They have been making this compressor for a while and have recently brought in the "MK2". As of today the website is a touch out of date, so I'm not sure how much choice there will be in terms of customising it, or if Nekotronics now just do the one fully loaded MK2 model. To be honest, at this price I would say there is really no reason to reduce the feature set!
As mentioned above, the MK2 model is effectively the fully loaded version on the website, plus more HPF, ratio, release and attack options, along with a wet/dry mix control. Yep, you read that correctly. The MK2 has a fantastic set of features.
For those unfamiliar with the G comp features i'll start along the front of the unit. On the left most side you have the gain reduction meter, pleasantly lit with bright white LED's. Next up is the threshold control, followed by Ratio with fixed settings of 1.5, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10:1.
The third knob is attack in mS, featuring no less than 12 settings (.05, .1, .3, .6, 1, 3, 5, 8, 10, 15, 20 & 30).
After attack comes release (S) with a good range of options. .1, .3, .6, .9, 1.2, Auto and SMASH!!). The smash is a new feature, presumably brought in now the unit has a wet/dry mix - but we'll get to that.
Following on you'll find the high pass filter. This is of course the high pass for the side chain signal, not the outgoing audio. Quite simply, if you have an audio source with lots of low frequency kicking in the comp too early you can engage the HPF on the side chain so it ignores the audio below the selected frequency. If you've ever used a G comp flavour comp on the mix bus of something with plenty of heavy low end you can sometimes struggle to dial things in properly. I used the HPF setting immediately and found it super useful. Along with the "off" setting you have 4 HPF options (60hz, 90hz, 130hz, 200hz) and the EXT option for using an external side chain input, available as a 1/4" jack on the rear of the unit.
The penultimate knob sets your makeup gain, and after this is a wet/dry mix knob (DREAMY).
The four buttons at the right most side of the unit select comp, turbo, iron and power (all on or off, pleasantly backlit when engaged). The compression on/off and power are self explanatory, but for those unaware the centre two buttons do the following:
TURBO: As standard G series comps sum L&R to mono for the side chain (the signal that triggers the compression). The Turbo button duplicates the side chain making it stereo. Effectively your L/R comps function independently based on their respective side chain input. In terms of functionality, all I can say is it's great on some sources and not on others. I haven't spent enough time with the unit to give any hard and fast rules for when it's better or worse. It's certainly useful and I have already had it engaged on some tracks.
IRON: Short answer - Iron engages transformers on the out. As of this review Nekotronics have a choice of Neve Carnhill or Edcor. I got the Carnhills and once again, some sources they're great and add a richness/thickness to the low end, other sources it's not needed. Gray's info to me was the Edcors are more coloured in the midrange. A really tough choice without listening but I've found the Iron to sound great when needed, and if I don't need it then the source material just doesn't need the extra flavour.
The back of the unit is a no frills affair - L/R XLR ins and outs, 1/4" external side chain input and IEC. FYI Nekotronics send the unit with an IEC which is much appreciated!
In terms of customisation you can pick knob and button colour. A nice touch! I went for all blue.
The general build quality is top notch. Solid, just the right feeling of weightiness that you expect from decent kit. The SIFAM knobs click with a reassuring solid feel and the threshold/makeup/mix have a consistent, healthy feel to them. Nothing to report here other than lovely quality.
It looks like an SSL G comp clone... To me it's ideal, I love it. I guess this really depends if you like the look of a g series comp.
The metal housing is top quality, the buttons/knobs/meter all look the part and the black text looks of excellent quality.
This is of course the most subjective topic, but to me it sounds fantastic. I'd just finished a project of 17 tracks, 10 of which I had been notified were going to be put on vinyl. The tracks were modern pop/pop-rock with plenty of wide synth bass sounds and quite a bit going on down there. It was a quick turn around job so sub 280ish got mono'd up and I pulled off any hefty limiting etc. Lots of the "flavour" of these tracks came from the mix bus which was also doubling as a pseudo master bus (no external mastering on this project). The process of getting it vinyl ready definitely pulled some of the feel out and I decided to fire the Neko at it to see what it could do. I was A/B'in against the Waves SSL G-Master bus comp (which can be had for around £30, worth keeping in mind).
Without reeling off tonnes of examples of how it was better, the short answer is it added depth and made the waves equivalent feel a bit more "plasticky". This can probably be (in part) attributed to the fact the Neko has the wet/dry mix knob option and a wider range of settings. The Turbo mod definitely helped keep/add some dynamic feel on certain tracks, and the iron (transformers) being engaged on some records done exactly what it's meant to do.
On some tracks the difference was negligible. I was hard pressed to hear too much of a difference, but that's because the tracks didn't need much in the first place. On the tracks where the mix bus was really 'doing something' to the sound, the Neko was the clear winner. The Turbo and Iron mods are definite standouts in terms of reason for getting the hardware, along with the overall sense of depth and character you get.
Basically, it sounds like a hardware G comp. I've not really pushed it for anything other than mix bus duties yet, but I imagine with the SMASH!!, mix knob and enhanced settings it will be an incredibly useful tool. It handles transients in a much more pleasant way to the plug-in alternative. You'll probably catch me using one channel for mono sources with all those settings available.
Value for money:
TLDR - If the Neko is about on budget, get it.
The MK2 cost me £800 + £21P&P. The £21 is money extremely well spent, it was packed in a huge box with an insane amount of bubble wrap. Ideal!
In terms of value for money, I can't really deduct points. The feature set is massive, the quality & sound is great and it won't break the bank. I guess the closest competitor would be the Warm Audio Bus Comp. I was very tempted by it, as I have the 1176 clone from them and really like it. HOWEVER... The WA76 doesn't quite have the same absolutely solid feel (although the 1176 in general has a different feeling of solid-ness to a g comp). The pot's are a touch scratchy when adjusting. I like it (WA76), a lot - especially for the money, but the feel coupled with the mixed reviews of the build quality of the Warm pushed me towards the Neko. Once I found out the new feature set of the MK2 for the modest price increase it confirmed it for me.
It's worth mentioning Warm are a marketing machine. They would have sold way more units, and people are generally only inclined to post when they have an issue, so naturally you'd find more 'problem' posts about the warm.
Remember, the Neko has the Turbo mod AND the mix knob (I used this on nearly every track in that project FYI, but it was a specific case).
I freaked out when I couldn't get hold of Gray around the expected delivery date. Like most businesses he shuts down over the festive period (quite rightfully), but when dealing with a small business over facebook it can be a bit nerve racking. He explained this and sent pics of the unit (which was due for the last few tests and then being posted out). Gray was super quick in responding outside of that period. I would have thought nothing of the short shutdown if I was buying from one of the big suppliers. I guess my only (very small) criticism is if there was a post on the FB or website stating the close down period I wouldn't have had any doubt.
5/5. Top unit, top company, top sound. Buy one. Or two.