So this compressor is not very subtle, although it does offer an "over easy" option that automatically adjusts the gain reduction for a smoother response.
But that lack of subtlety is what I like about it, and based on the unit's popularity I'm not alone. It's also a great value at around $400 new, and they're not hard to find used (I got mine on eBay for $250). It's a powerful compressor and when it really gets pumping it imparts a lot of aggressive character for sources like kick drums, bass guitar, drum machines and loud vocals. Basically if you are trying for the bass sound on the first Public Image Ltd. album, this is a good comp to achieve that super-heavy, goopy, clamped-down kind of tone. And given the price, this is a great first piece of "real" outboard to start experimenting with compression as a beginner or aspiring professional.
Features-wise, this is pretty basic: threshold, compression ratio, and output gain knobs, with an "over easy" option that basically works as an automatic comp that's more sensitive to your input signal. There's also a bank of lights on the right side that is extremely helpful as a visual queue for helping to dial in the right amount of compression. The unit is super solid and fits in a 1U rack space.
A couple things worth noting: this unit is one channel only, so it won't work as a stereo bus. I have an RNC RNLA for that. And it doesn't really work as a brick wall limiter. Finally, the character of the comp is so aggressive that I rarely use it for tracking, except on vocals on the "over easy" option. Mostly I use it as an insert for bass, kick and occasionally snare, and for those applications it rocks pretty hard.
The 160A is by far one of the best and most used compressors around. For me it is the "Go To" compressor in a mix session for kick and snare. I also use it during tracking sessions on vocals and bass very often.
I currently own one 160A and one 160X. To me the 160A is the exact same as the classic 160x, minus the fact that the newer 160A has and additional xlr input and output as opposed to only having the 1/4 inch on the older 160X.
I highly recommend this compressor both for the seasoned pro (although they probably already know and / or have some) and for the new budding engineer. These compressors have been one of the best buys of my audio life. I am always looking for more of these puppies!
The specs are as follows:
Connector:1/4" TRS and XLR, Floating Balanced; XLR: Pin 2 hot Phone: Tip Hot
Maximum Level:+24dBu, Balanced or Unabalanced (Absolute)
I have a pair of 160A s that I use for stereo processing, by enabling the slave link, or as single channel inserts on their own for individual instruments.
While they might not be as feature laden as say a Distressor, I do think they sound great and have a very cool distinctive character.
With just seven function controls on the front and the long LED meters they are incredibly easy to use, and can be set easily to be more or less aggressive on your source material.
If I were to buy more hardware compressors I would probably go for something with a few more advanced features, but these would still have a solid place in my rack, as the utility and sound they provide will quite likely always be of use.