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Thermionic Culture - The Phoenix (original)

Thermionic Culture The Phoenix SB

4.55 4.55 out of 5, based on 4 Reviews

Vari-Mu all Valve Stereo Compressor

19th March 2012

Thermionic Culture The Phoenix SB by sigmatibet

  • Sound Quality 5 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 4 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 4 out of 5
  • Overall: 4.5
Thermionic Culture - The Phoenix (original)

The Phoenix is a stereo "Vari-Mu" Compressor, whose design is all-valve.
The look of this box is stunning. Huge, black, with two big vu meters and a large power toggle switch with a green bulb that give an old fashioned feeling.
The layout is very simple: You have 2 separate, linkable Channels with Gain, Attack, Release, Thershold. There is no Ratio control because being a Vari-Mu Compressor, the amount of compression is due to the amount of signal you feed in. Then you have a bypass switch per channel and two Output Knobs to trim the Output signal.
On the back panel you get 2 XLR in and 2 XLR out.
I also installed the sidechain mod (now it is standard) that is a must have in order to mix masters on it (it is a 2 stages hipass filter that lets you run bass frequencies free avoiding compression pumping on mixes).
Working with The Phoenix is very simple once you understand how a vari-mu behaves. It is clearly a slow compressor but I was surprisingly able to use it in extreme contexts with lots of transients with optimal results.
The Phoenix is all about the Sound: it is big, creamy and musical. I use it on everything I do. I mixdown and master with it but I also track or simply pass my stems thru it to bring my tracks back to life. I absolutely can't do without this perfect tool for my studio.
The Phoenix loves almost every musical genre. I use it in Pop, Electronic and Rock productions with always stunning results.

20th April 2014

Thermionic Culture The Phoenix SB by Toni-P

  • Sound Quality 5 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 4 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 4 out of 5
  • Overall: 4.5
Thermionic Culture - The Phoenix (original)

Thermionic Culture is known for it's big tube sound units. The Phoenix SB is another one of those units that stays in your rack forever.

Let’s briefly go into the functions this has.

Gain – The input gain let’s you decide how much of the original signal you would like to run into the Thermionic Culture Phoenix.

Since it’s an all valve signal chain, it lets you decide how hard you want to hit the tube on the way in. Very handy for getting some nice distortion going on.

Attack – How fast do you want the compressor to react to your signal? The attack times range from 0.004s to 0.12s

Release – How fast do you want the compressor to stop compressing?
The release times range from 0.04s to 2.4s

Threshold – When do you want the compressor to start working?

Sidechain bass cut – One the best features the Thermionic Culture Phoenix SB has is this! The ability to compress all frequencies except the bass. This causes for a really big ballsy sound. Through out the frequency spectrum you create a nice glue, and in the low end it just stays nice and big, and the added distortion the unit has is fantastic.
There are 3 settings on the Sidechain cut knob

Flat – Sidechain is bypassed
150 Hz – Everything above 150 Hz gets compressed
300 Hz – Everything above 300 Hz get compressed

It’s worth noting that as the Phoenix has a true stereo
link, it is possible to set the sidechain control in a
different position on each channel. The result will be
an average of the two settings when in link mode. So if
channel 1 has a sidechain control set at 150Hz and
channel 2 has a sidechain control set at 300Hz,, the
overall sidechain response will be a high pass filter at

Output trim – Here you can either add some extra gain to the output, or lower it. If you hit it hard you can create some nice additional tube distortion, and potentially hit the next piece of equipment with some extra gain, or you keep it at a low/medium level if you want to level match what went in in the first place.

Now lets listen to the some of the sound samples.

Original file

Going through the phoenix while bypassed

Input haldway turned up

Input all the way up

My final setting

You can clearly hear the beautiful distortion this unit adds to the sound in the non-processed version, and clearly hear that even in total input smash mode the Thermionic Culture Phoenix SB is still doing a wonderful job.

To sum it all up, the Thermionic Culture Phoenix SB is an amazing sounding unit that will work anything that needs a big sound and a ballsy low end. Drum groups, full mixes, stacks of back vocals, you name it!


  • Easy to use
  • Build like a tank
  • Only takes up 2U
  • Difficult to mess up no matter what setting you go for

  • Optional ratios would have been nice
  • Not the cheapest compressor on the market
  • Difficult not to keep after testing

Attached Files

original.mp3 (621.8 KB, 3829 views)

no processing.mp3 (621.8 KB, 3600 views)

input halfway.mp3 (621.8 KB, 3619 views)

total smash.mp3 (621.8 KB, 3672 views)

proper.mp3 (621.8 KB, 3721 views)

26th January 2015

Thermionic Culture The Phoenix SB by ensagen

  • Sound Quality 5 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 4 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 5 out of 5
  • Overall: 4.75
Thermionic Culture - The Phoenix (original)

First of all guys sorry for my English since this is not my native language! I studied music, I had my masters’ degree in sound engineering but I never involved in any professional project since 2003 except recording the best guys of my country during the masters program. Now I work as an airline pilot who has a recording studio for just my own songs.
I have this compressor for quite a while now and I guess the honeymoon is over so I can be objective and ready to write a review. As you all know it’s not in the family of gear that you would think “ok, let me buy and try and see how it goes” due to its price tag.
To begin with, this is not a transparent gear intended only for dynamic control. I believe that the build philosophy behind it was to impart a definite signature and character to sound. Well, this aim is achieved 100%. It just gives an immediate weight and high end sheen to whatever you pass through it even without engaging the compressor. For sure you can avoid its weight by keeping input very low and output real high but I wouldn’t recommend you to buy it if that’s what you want, just buy an SSL or an API 2500 and you’d be more happy.
The minimum attack time is 4ms that may make you think that it’s not fast enough. It is more than enough for drums, for acoustic guitar, for bass and for electric guitar. You may go with a 1176 style compressor with vocals but in my case I completely changed my plans of buying a 1176 style comp after hearing this one. Just waste of money!
One thing why I like this compressor is because you can push the amp inside and create a very modern, very elegant kind of distortion besides the dynamic controlling. A thing that may shock you is the distortion ability of this device. I read that people try passing signals through the standby mode and having some THD. Before buying it I was thinking that this is something like added dirt…. No!!!!!!! This can start from an inaudible distortion to an overdrive pedal where you think “heyyyy more than this is just going to be bizarre”. In my case I tried chaining the output of 1st channel to the input of the second channel anddddd to use it in standby mode for THD. The result was inexplicable; I never experienced such a high quality of distortion that adds zero noise but just THD that makes you think to donate all your distortion/overdrive pedals to a charity organization! I also tried to use this gear in chained mode for normal compression where I usually use the first channel for heavier compression with 150hz side chain and the second channel for faster compression in 300hz side chain. The result is more added attitude with a better dynamic control but again with almost inaudible rise of noise floor which is incredible!
I never heard such a punch and such warmth for program material. It has the ability to glue things together and gives an inexplicable thermionic affect that you are used to hear only from old records. I was stuck with the idea that 4ms isn’t enough for processing drums but it turned out that it performed way better than my api 2500 on drums.
One thing I really like with Thermionic Culture gear is that they use side vents plus back vents in their gear so you can just place their gear below of any gear or on top of each other without needing to keep an empty slot between them.
I read so many complains about Thermionic Culture gear on gearslutz before buying this compressor and to say the truth I was a bit worried about it since I live in a place where I don’t have any access to a maintenance service. I was thinking to write to these guys to check the compressor before sending it to me but I once more understood that my worries were just nonsense since they check every device before sending and deliver you the check results as a report.

  • 1
21st January 2016

Thermionic Culture The Phoenix SB by risingson8

  • Sound Quality 5 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 4 out of 5
  • Overall: 4.75
Thermionic Culture - The Phoenix (original)

well guys,its my second hi end compressor,i must say this unit is a beast, it can be used at almost all applications ,on vox ,guitars,bass,certain busses and mix bus, i prefer to use it on mix bus , well its my first and only vari mu unit so i cant compare it with other vari mu compressors ,the only bummer of this unit is price i was lucky to bought it for 2500$ which is steal for this unit,

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