Slate Pro Audio Dragon by travisbrown
I recently picked up a Slate Pro Audio Dragon compressor, relinquishing my beloved 1176LN. After reading numerous positive reviews, I had a chance to try one out and found that it did all that my 1176LN did, plus some of my favourite flavours from Distressors and the like.
What first attracted me to the Dragon, aside form the positive sonic reviews, was the mix knob. I am a big proponent of parallel compression as a means to create punch sound without sacrificing dynamic range. A mix knob just makes everything easier rather than setting up a separate buss and sends.
When I first patched it in on some vocals, and then again on bass, I was surprised how transparent it was. I actually had to start A/Bing the bypass to make sure it was doing something. My typical means of getting noticeable compression is to turn it up too much, then back off. Took me a bit to get this pumping.
Compression amount is controlled by input level, a la 1176 style. No threshold knob. The range is controlled by a positive-stop pot that ranges from 2:1 up to 20:1 if you want to do heavy limiting. True to its 1176 inspiration, the squash toggle engages the "producer" mode - i.e. all four ratio buttons in. Something that makes this a little more versatile is the Squash works on any ratio where the 1176 really was locked into 20:1 when in this mode. I found that this mode worked well on drum room mics for that aggressive punch in modern drum mixes, and also slightly mixed in on bass. For those concerned about the lack of a continuous control for ratio, for those times when you really want 3:1, there is a trick where when the Dragon is used in mono, the link toggle will divide the selected ratio by half.
Another feature not found on the venerable 1176 is the hi-pass filter. This allows only allow signal above a selected range to trigger the compression circuit, and then it only compressed the hi-pass material. very useful for smoothing out the top end of a drum mix, or even a vocal mix where the upper voices have much stronger projection than bass voices. Really I think this is to stop pumping from kick drums, bass guitar, lowed thumps, etc. In some respects it gives you a tiny bit of the versatility of a multi band compressor.
Where the Dragon really starts to diverge from its UA roots and approach the more specialty compressors is in the tone switches. The collection of sheen, bite, vintage, and boom toggles add colour to the signal and make the Dragon a very versatile shaping tool. Even when compression is zeroed out, these tone shaping tools will still affect the signal so the Dragon can still be used as a colour box.
Finally, the Dragon allows you to engage three saturation modes. This seems to be correlated to the output level so takes some monkeying around to get the sound and the desired output level right. But, it does what it says by thickening up the sound.
I'm planning to get another sometime soon so I can use on mix and drum bus. Right now it is my go-to compressor on bass, vocals, piano, and even acoustic guitar sometimes. It's also become part of my live bass rig for the rare times I still play.
- Built like a tank. I truly appreciate well engineered and well-assembled gear, and the Slate Dragon is both. Chassis screws are properly countersunk and straight, edges are ground neatly, knurled control knobs are hefty and feel good when handling. Compare this to the UA fare where the assembly is much more utilitarian.
- Clean, clean, clean signal path. Super transparent compression if you want it, with options to colour the sound
- Really good value for the money when compared to other compressors in the range. It outperforms its price point.
- I'm not a huge fan of the screened design. It's unique and well-wrought; however, it makes it a little harder to take seriously as a serious piece of gear. I'm used to it now, but when others survey my rack, I sometimes have to convince them that it's a pro piece of gear.
- The toggle switches aren't marked for on/off position, with the exception of the one under the mix knob. Sometimes when I'm setting up on the fly while other program material is playing, I can't remember which way is engaged so I have to solo the track and flick back and forth to make sure things are engaged.
- I'd like if all the control knobs were detented. It would likely make the Dragon a more serious contender for mastering applications if one were able to confidently match settings on a stereo pair or be able to recall exactly.