API Audio 527 by Tone Laborer
The Automated Processes Inc. 527 Compressor arrived. Right out of the box sealed with genuine API strapping tape, the unit impresses with a solid heft to the fully enclosed module. Houston, we have survived shipping.
The threshold, attack, release, ratio and output knobs are continuously variable with approximately 30 step detents around the dials. Ergonomics are tight, as per 500 series regulations. If the reading glasses are on and there’s a flashlight handy, I can read the markings.
No less than 5 toggles line the left side of the unit. These are for Meter, Link, Type, Knee, and Thrust circuit. The toggles tease, and make resistance futile against giving them a flip of the thumb, to be met with a definitive “click”. It passes the fondle test.
If that wasn’t enough, API also packed in a 10-segment LED dual purpose meter, an Over LED and a Bypass button that illuminates when “in”. All of this taking up exactly one space of 500 series real estate.
The appearance police have only one whine; API used a smaller font for the model number. There’s plenty of room in that corner for the standard sized font, which would have kept appearances uniform with other API gear. WT? It is a small, but curious thing.
I went straight for the thrust. On a swampy roots rock mono drum buss I had tracked with a simple 3 mic Kik, Sn and OH. The drums weren’t sitting as well as I thought they could, the performance was up and down and an uneven hi hat seemed to detract from, rather than add to the groove.
I guess it should be expected with the 2500 heritage, but the 527 performed nicely here.
I settled into new mode, hard knee, thrust, ratio about 2 clicks past 6:1.
The first LED is marked 1.5 dB gain reduction, the 2nd marked 4dB. We were bouncing between those with occasional hits higher.
I had tried evening out this track with my other compressors, but none of them handled it with the fidelity and finesse of the API. The sound opened up, details sprang out and came alive. There was no dulling of the highs and with some careful adjustment of attack and release, the hat had been tamed into a much more musical beast.
Whoa. This was a whole different performance. Fast, forward, and alive, to use my favorite Joe Chicarelli quote. So far, so good. These themes of opening the sound up, bringing details forward, and compressing in a unique way relative to my other tools, would play out again and again as I used the 527 over the next few months.
It quickly becomes apparent there are a wide variety of settings in this diminutive box. As such, there is some learning curve / experimenting needed due to the highly interactive nature of the controls.
The main choice is between old and new modes. Or feed back and feed forward, in design terms. This is not quite as easy as flipping the toggle because usually the threshold needs to be tweaked differently in the two modes. To my ears, old mode offers a natural sounding squish and a slower action than new mode, with some settings taking on an almost opto-like spongy quality. But again, it’s dependant on how you’ve set the thing up. New mode is more in the VCA vein. It can bring more obvious, quicker compression, adding density and tone. But likewise, with gentle ratios, knee and threshold, more transparent compression can be had. In general, I've been drawn towards old mode / soft knee and new mode / hard knee. Versatile, variable, interactive--cool.
The ratio knob is the sexiest, most responsive little bastard ratio knob I think I‘ve ever encountered, and ain't she a looker? Stay down in the 2:1 to 3:1 range and compression stays relatively transparent, lovely, open, and musical. Move into the 6:1 and higher ratios and the auto gain kicks in, things get dense, details step forward, and a couple more tablespoons of mojo get poured in.
The auto make up gain/output also behaves in a unique way. In essence, the Output works backwards to the traditional make up gain found on most compressors. It serves as a fine tune control for the auto make up gain. Usually a couple of notches +/- either way from unity does the job. Of course, no one’s stopping you from decreasing the output and moshing things into oblivion if you wish.
The last toggle is the Thrust circuit, APIs proprietary side chain filter based on the legendary API 2500. This filter reacts in a very different way then the one in a Chameleon Labs 7720. Only having one unit I haven’t had a chance to try them for buss duties, but I highly doubt they would disappoint. On bass and drums, the beneficial effects of the filter seem to come out more as you dig into the compressor a bit. I’ve still got some thrusting to do; I have a feeling the best is yet to come.
A hard or soft knee option and Attack and Release knobs in a concentric design round out the features. Attack times range from 1ms to 25ms. Release times, marked in seconds, range from .3 to 3 seconds. I found setting both controls between 10:00 and 12:00 to be a forgiving, unobtrusive starting point, in spite of the relatively fast attack time.
The overall sound of the 527 is….hard to put into words for one thing, and dependent on settings for another. But that won’t stop me from throwing out a list of adjectives for you to sort out. Clean, dense, crisp, forward, present, transparent, not transparent, detailed, musical, seductive, pleasing, API- ish.
I have a few other compressors in my small collection. One I reach for often is the Purple Action, a killer little tone machine. The 527, a totally different animal, makes a great complement to the Action. The Action brings more color, more 1176 style grit and grab. More splat. More distortion, if desired. The API is more open, HiFi, flexible, capable of being much more transparent and more versatile by a good stretch.
I’ve used the 527 on during the course of a few months now with 512c, 1272s and Classic VP26 preamps. Bass, vocals, fiddle, drums, acoustic guitars, keys, harmonica, ukulele--the API delivered on all counts. Plenty of headroom keeps things clean. The sonic integrity remains firmly intact, no dulling of the highs, just dynamic control, in whatever manner you’ve conjured up. Sources come subtly forward. It’s easy to get that “jumping out of the speakers” effect in a clear mix. For delicate sources, the 527 handles them transparently and beautifully and sits them up proudly in the mix. On electric guitars, the 527 could certainly get the job done, but I'm still partial to the spank and grit of the Purple. Tomorrow’s session could be different. Bass could be a tough call. Both these boxes can produce two tone-oozing sounds to choose from on a well played bass track.
On vocals, in particular, the API really shines. In fact, I’ve come to love the sound of this thing on vocals. Old mode, soft knee delivers a sexy, “sounds like a record” opto like squish to the vocal I find very flattering, without sounding too compressed and without the dulling of something like my old Pro VLA. The vocal sits nicely forward in the mix. The added details brought forward contribute to a greater 3 D illusion. Very, very sweet.
It didn’t take long to throw caution to the wind and begin tracking through this compressor. I can say in the last few months, there hasn’t been one instance where I’ve regretted doing so.
Despite my analytic AE babble above, it’s actually rather hard to get a BAD sound out of this compressor. It’s quick and easy to dial up something that sounds sweet, with a healthy dose of API mojo thrown in for good measure. I would go so far as to say it’s a forgiving piece for the novice with at least a rudimentary knowledge of compression. It could easily make him look like he knows a lot more than he actually does, as quality gear tends to do.
Pros will find plenty of options to try out, and will be well rewarded with a superb sounding and flexible tool which could seamlessly find its way into just about any session.
To say a 2nd linked unit would be useful for stereo apps, or just to have two to independently toss around the mix or tracking session, would be stating the obvious, though a Lunch Box mod is needed for stereo linking.
And at around $850, well, you can spend a lot more than that on a quality compressor. And this one can handle just about anything you can throw at it. Highly recommended for 500 series aficionados only! Check one out if you get the opportunity.