Inward Connections The Brute by guitar4982
The Inward Connections "The Brute" Optical Limiter for 500 series power racks is one handy module. I've had it for about a year now, have used it on a variety of sources, and I love it.
Sound Quality - 5/5
Firstly, the sound of the gain reduction. The attack is medium/slow and the release is fast. This equates to about 7db of totally transparent gain reduction. It's absolutely perfect for vocal tracking.
After the 7db mark, things start to get really interesting. The attack time is set perfectly for vocals. It really allows aggressive phrases to stay aggressive whilst levelling them out. In mixing, pushing this thing beyond transparent can make a vocal sound very pleasing and energetic. It would be great for rap.
It took me a while to understand the benefit of really hitting the gain reduction hard (more than 15db of GR) on this compressor. At first I thought it sounded a bit over squashed, but in the context of the right mix the Brute really delivers in adding bigness to vocals when pushed.
I found kick drum and bass guitar to also be great through this. It adds a subtle, focused compression to bass, and you can really go to town on kick drum, getting a wide variety of sounds. On both sources, the 250hz HPF switch is incredibly useful (more below).
So despite its simple appearance, The Brute is not a one trick pony.
Secondly, the circuit itself has a sound. It's subtle, but I'd call the sound of this unit "sparkly", "punchy" and very wam. Pushing the output stage of this compressor imparts warmth and punch, especially in the lower frequencies. It focuses them and just makes everything sound a little more "glamorous".
You can push the output stage of this unit into distortion, which is not recommended (except for kick drum, which on one experimental electronic type song I found quite useful), but overall I'd say that whilst you wouldn't buy this compressor for the sound of the circuit alone it's an added bonus that you WILL use to your advantage very often when it's there at your disposal and it has never gotten in my way.
Ease of Use - 5/5.
Drummer proof. Need I say more - and I'm a drummer! : ) Everything about this piece is useful and self explanatory. AND the knobs are stepped, which makes for easy recall.
Also, the VU meter I found to be nice and quick, and all the switches are very well labelled and laid out on the front.
Features - 5/5
For an optical compressor it does have a couple of very handy features - namely a high pass filter set at a very musical 250hz that causes the GR to only be activated by frequencies above 250hz. I leave it switched in almost permanently, it really adds bigness to vocals and turns the compressor into almost a tone shaper.
I don't own two of these units, but the stereo link switch would be handy if I did and is a nice addition.
The bypass switch is not true bypass, so the unit will still impart a very subtle colour with signal running through without the compressor engaged, but if you don't want the sound of the circuit just take it out of your signal path, but it's great to have the option there if you want it.
The GR/Output switch changes the VU meter from GR to output, very handy, especially if you're trying to push the output of this unit for maximum colour (read: punch) before distortion.
The Gain Reduction and Output Level knobs are stepped as mentioned above, and they really are fool proof for tracking. Set conservatively and you'll never overcook a vocal again. I certainly haven't since I bought this.
Bang for Buck - 5/5
I bought this compressor for $800. Although it's not the cheapest compressor, it is of the highest quality and has a lot of added value that I think actually makes this great bang for buck.
This is not the magical compressor that takes my tracks into the stratosphere. I had a hardware UREI 1176 that did that, but what I find with those sorts of units is that they're not great for everything.
The Brute on the other hand, IS great for everything. It sounds gorgeous and has many tricks up its sleeve. It has also opened up my "in the box" options considerably. When I let this do the heavy lifting, my compressor plugins don't crap out as quickly and I can take greater advantage of their tonal options too.
So in summary, The Brute is a perfect insurance policy for tracking vocals and very transparent, but can be pushed for some great dramatic compression if you want and has a punchy, classy sounding circuit that stands up to any high end gear out there.
The Brute is a workhorse that gets used on every record I make and I wouldn't trade mine for anything!