DBX 266XL by Enlightened Hand
DBX is a recognized brand name in dynamics processing and some of it's units are world class, high end, it-doesn't-get-any-better type affairs. But DBX also has another aspect to it's game and that's catering to the live installation crowd or the lower budget studio crowd. The 266XL fits in with more of the latter.
As a two channel stereo or dual mono compressor/expander/gate the 266xl has the facilities to make it seem perfectly useable for basic dynamics control or reduction in unwanted noise artifacts from certain mic-ed sources. I have only used it in it's compressor capacity. With that said it has all of the basic controls expected of a traditional, full featured compressor on it's front panel with threshold, ratio, attack, release and output gain. There is also an "over easy" switch to change the compression from hard knee to soft knee, as well as a bypass button and an "auto" button that automatically configures the attack and release based on the signal entering the circuit. You can also stereo link both channels to the first set of controls by engaging the "stereo couple" button.
There has been much disparaging commentary around audio forums about the sound of the 266xl and I must say that I think it's very out of context. This unit is what I would consider aggressive. It's almost always aggressive unless you use it very gently and even then the compression is somewhat obvious. That might be off putting to many people but I find that it's a strangely appealing character to have in a sonic arsenal. My main uses for the 266xl have been for creating an aggressive vocal take or for making a bass guitar that is too smooth a little rougher. In that respect it's a wonderful unit.
It's NOT a clean compressor. It's also not a smooth compressor, nor is it the type of unit that can thicken or make a signal sound sweeter just by passing through it. So whenever somebody comes into use with a 266xl they would do well to know that it's kind of a one trick pony. You need aggression, dirt and maybe a little gritty sound the 266 is perfect. If you want general purpose compression, you could use it, but you might start to get upset with the way your tracks all had more edge than they needed. With the 266 there is no hiding the compression beyond very gentle settings. It's going to let you know it's working and that's a good thing when you want it. But it's not the deal when you don't.
Do I recommend it? Well that's a tough question for me. On the one hand it was one of my first pieces of gear so I really learned how it gets on with compression in many different instances. I also happened upon what it's good for. So I definitely don't hate it. And I think it has a place as a kind of secret weapon for certain sounds. It's also really well built and after years of service I've had not a single problem with it at all. It does have it's niggles in use like the fact that you can't turn it off without unplugging it, however that's a small complaint.
Recommending the 266xl would only come with the caveat that it's only good if you want to make it known that you're doing something to the dynamics of the signal and if you like how that something sounds. In the right moment I do. I know that seems a bit like damning with faint praise. But really it's not. It's just that I want people to know that for roughly $150 (US) this unit has use and charm, even if it's limited to certain endeavors in it's appeal.
**Just as an amendment to the features of this unit it DOES have side chain input for both channels.