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Question - Compressors for those of us doing analog on a budget
Old 26th November 2020
  #1
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🎧 15 years
Question - Compressors for those of us doing analog on a budget

Hey Everyone,

I was hoping some of you may be able to help me out. Basically, I've been doing more and more mixing on my (DDA) console and I just finished a complete refurb of my Otari MX-5050 mkiii 8 track. I also still am using PT Ultimate through the console as well.

The issue I'm having is I'm using less and less plugins but I'm finding I still need a little compression on things. For a while I had a Warm Audio WA-76 and the WA Buss Compressor but honestly they weren't really what I was going for so I sold them.

Over the past year I've picked up 6 DBX 163x compressors and did the power supply/Op Amp mods on them and for drums and bass they're really nice.

I also have a Behringer MDX-1000 and MDX-1200 that I bought for about $40 each that I want to recap (through hole on these!).

My question is this - when I was in studios in the 1990s I don't remember having racks of LA-2As, 1176s, etc.... I remember there being maybe a DBX 160 (VU model) and maybe some other DBX, Symetrix, Aphex type of stuff. I'm sure some places did have the racks of all the UA, Neve, etc... stuff.

Basically, I have a 32 channel console. I don't need 32 channels of compression and the 163x is great for what it is but I was wondering what the other nicer options people were using back then that wouldn't break the bank.

Any suggestions?
Old 26th November 2020
  #2
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Brent Hahn's Avatar
 
1 Review written
🎧 15 years
If it's gain-management type compression you're after (not "color"), I'd get a lunchbox and some dbx 560a's.
Old 26th November 2020
  #3
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Drumsound's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
The RNC is still a super useful piece. Its fast as hell and can do some really fun things, or you can treat it 'normally' for things like vocal leveling.
Old 26th November 2020 | Show parent
  #4
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noah330's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
If it's gain-management type compression you're after (not "color"), I'd get a lunchbox and some dbx 560a's.
I've seen those but I just haven't used much of the newer DBX stuff. How does it hold up? The way things are now I've already got all of the color that I need.

Basically, I seem to see things that I know are really nice but just aren't feasible in my budget or things that are really cheap. That's why I started trying to remember what I would see years ago (Symetrix, DBX, Ashley, Drawmer, etc...).

I'll read up on the 560s. Thanks!
Old 26th November 2020
  #5
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bkbirge's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Symetrix 501 was probably the one you remember, was a staple on bass. The Aphex Expressors were a big hit around that era too. Lots of dbx 160s, valley people gain brains/dynamites, UA1176 (they were dirt cheap then), La4a (the La3a was already at vintage prices), 1178, etc. Many you can still get for reasonable prices.

The racks and racks of outboard gear weren't as common as you'd think. I remember one studio that had like 3 outboard compressors and a 224xl and that was about it, but they had a killer grand piano and a good mic locker. I was also working at higher end places that had better gear but they didn't always have a lot of it either, same era one place had a single La2a, a GML 8900, a couple 1176 rev f, and several gain brains that I still love, and we did full orchestras there. Of course didn't hurt that the console was a giant API.

If I remember right Compellors and Waves l2s were in fashion for awhile then. Basically if you want an early 90's mid-level pro studio on a budget you can do it pretty easily I'd say, minus the tape machines and giant console.

The more established freelancers always seemed to carry around SSL bus comps or Neve 33609 when they travelled. An old boss carted his Fairchild 670 and 175b around but even then he was an anomaly, tube stuff was almost never seen outside of an occasional La2a and Pultec. That stuff was always expensive.

Gear-wise we are so spoiled for choice these days, at every budget level.
Old 26th November 2020
  #6
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standup's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
I haven’t used them personally, but look at Aphex Expressor, Dominator, compellor models. Fairly old. But they were always reputed to be pretty good and pretty transparent.

I have a Symetrix 501, and I bet that’s in the same ballpark as the DBX you already have. But you can find them cheap, fwiw.

And consider the LA2A type things. Very different from the 1176/type thing you tried.
Old 26th November 2020 | Show parent
  #7
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Brent Hahn's Avatar
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by noah330 View Post
I've seen those but I just haven't used much of the newer DBX stuff. How does it hold up?
To my ear they're pretty such the same as the 160x, xt and a, all of which I own. The only thing you can't do with them, unlike those others, is strapped-stereo.
Old 26th November 2020
  #8
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If you don't like the WA76 and buscomp I'm afraid there will be a lot of low(er) end things you will not be liking as well...


500-series and/or DIY spring to mind. CAPI, SoundSkulptor, DIYRE, Hairball, ... loads of options out there that will give you a lot of bang for your buck.


Herwig
Old 26th November 2020 | Show parent
  #9
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Second that. Also lots of good 500 series compressors available on the used market for relatively little money. I just saw a used Elysia Xpressor 500 series stereo compressor go for €520.-
Old 26th November 2020 | Show parent
  #10
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aphex, bss, dbx, drawmer, klark, rane, symmetrix etc. - all the gear that was used in live sound; can especially recommend the klark dn 5xx series and dbx 160's and stay clear of behringer!
Old 26th November 2020
  #11
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zukan's Avatar
 
If you can find a TL Audio C2021 you'll be surprised at how good it is. A hidden gem.
Old 26th November 2020 | Show parent
  #12
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noah330's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by bkbirge View Post

The racks and racks of outboard gear weren't as common as you'd think. I remember one studio that had like 3 outboard compressors and a 224xl and that was about it, but they had a killer grand piano and a good mic locker. I was also working at higher end places that had better gear but they didn't always have a lot of it either, same era one place had a single La2a, a GML 8900, a couple 1176 rev f, and several gain brains that I still love, and we did full orchestras there. Of course didn't hurt that the console was a giant API.

If I remember right Compellors and Waves l2s were in fashion for awhile then. Basically if you want an early 90's mid-level pro studio on a budget you can do it pretty easily I'd say, minus the tape machines and giant console.

The more established freelancers always seemed to carry around SSL bus comps or Neve 33609 when they travelled. An old boss carted his Fairchild 670 and 175b around but even then he was an anomaly, tube stuff was almost never seen outside of an occasional La2a and Pultec. That stuff was always expensive.

Gear-wise we are so spoiled for choice these days, at every budget level.
This is how I remember a lot of places as well. Like I said, one early place I would record (or hang around while others recorded) had an MCI console and 16 track (maybe Otari) along with a couple 160s.

I’m finding with the better pres I have and my console I don’t want a ton more compression on anything aside from where it’s something just to even a part out.

Appreciate all the suggestions.

Not sure if anyone remembers it but Musician mag used to run a two page spread “home studios of the stars” I have to see if I have a few issues of that lying around.
Old 26th November 2020
  #13
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James Lehmann's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
You could do a lot worse than read through this thread: 'Cheaper' compressors you like as much as expensive compressors. Hardware only.

FWIW my own rack of 'analog compressors on a budget' comprises:
  • Drawmer DL241
  • Drawmer DL441
  • Aphex 240
  • dbx160A
  • FMR RNC
  • FMR RNLA
  • FMR PBC-6A
  • Warm Audio WA-76
I'm a seasoned Reverb scavenger so all of these were used purchases adding up to +/- $1400 in total for 14 channels of outboard compression - or 14 channels of compression @ $100 per channel, to put it another way. (I did buy the WA-76 new though.)

Obviously all these different compressors bring different things to the table in terms of sound and how you'd use them in a mix, but I would put the Drawmers at the top of the list in terms of value for money, considering what they go for these days, ie mostly if you need a professionally-featured compressor that er... just compresses without adding or taking away anything from the sound.
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Old 26th November 2020
  #14
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🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by noah330 View Post
but I was wondering what the other nicer options people were using back then that wouldn't break the bank.
not a "back then" item, but I got to play with an ART Pro-VLA recently and thought it sounded very good for the money.
Old 26th November 2020
  #15
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weave's Avatar
 
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🎧 5 years
At the moment I am using:

FMR RNC
FMR RNLA
DBX 163X times two
Old 27th November 2020
  #16
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Drumsound's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
not a "back then" item, but I got to play with an ART Pro-VLA recently and thought it sounded very good for the money.
I've had mine since "back then" and still find it useful.
Old 28th November 2020
  #17
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There is a gazillion DBX 160 a/x-models dumped from rental/pa/touring if you look in the right places. They can be had for next to nothing and is truely one of the few comos that can be used in pretty much everything.
Old 28th November 2020 | Show parent
  #18
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Brent Hahn's Avatar
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Enarht View Post
There is a gazillion DBX 160 a/x-models dumped from rental/pa/touring if you look in the right places. They can be had for next to nothing and is truely one of the few comos that can be used in pretty much everything.
Just make sure the metering works right. That's what dies first with those.
Old 28th November 2020
  #19
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M.S.P.'s Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
People will doubt this suggestion because of who makes it, but the Alesis Microlimiter is great for smashing audio.
Old 28th November 2020 | Show parent
  #20
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by DeadPoet View Post
500-series and/or DIY spring to mind. CAPI, SoundSkulptor, DIYRE, Hairball, ... loads of options out there that will give you a lot of bang for your buck.
The OLA5 is a very very nice unit. At the Black Friday discount of $100 off, it's insane. Not difficult to put together either, provided you've got a bit of experience.
Old 28th November 2020 | Show parent
  #21
Gear Addict
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by noah330 View Post
I've seen those but I just haven't used much of the newer DBX stuff. How does it hold up? The way things are now I've already got all of the color that I need.

Basically, I seem to see things that I know are really nice but just aren't feasible in my budget or things that are really cheap. That's why I started trying to remember what I would see years ago (Symetrix, DBX, Ashley, Drawmer, etc...).

I'll read up on the 560s. Thanks!
I used to have a pair of 560's they're very transparent. Get the job done. My only complaints were the lights on the module its self were way too bright to where you can't see the levels clearly. The sound was "bright" it can really make the highs stand out.
Old 28th November 2020
  #22
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1 Review written
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In LA there were two parts to the 70s-80s studio use of compressors. From 74 to 78 I worked at a major independent studio that had ONE LA2a in the rack that was almost never used. Outboard compressors (a very few) were sometimes brought in for mixing, but not for tracking.
Then I worked at a studio complex that eventually put SSL boards in every room. A compressor on every channel and the buss comp if you wanted it. That’s a whole different world.
Part of the answer for you is that the compressor type or how many were used was all over the place, but the engineers and producers were working in rooms where they could hear everything, and the best of them had immaculate taste about using or not using compression and how much was enough.
That said, if you don’t like the Warm Buss Comp or their 1176 clone, you probably don’t favor quick and clean compression. Get your hands on the Warm LA2A clone and see if you like that as a type. That is syrupy in a good way, not clinical. I don’t like the stock ART VLA, and I finally had mine modded to get them to do more of the classic Opto comp thing.
Old 28th November 2020 | Show parent
  #23
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by M.S.P. View Post
People will doubt this suggestion because of who makes it, but the Alesis Microlimiter is great for smashing audio.
No doubts from me. I love it. It's killer as a parallel drum bus.
Old 28th November 2020 | Show parent
  #24
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RightOnRome's Avatar
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
If it's gain-management type compression you're after (not "color"), I'd get a lunchbox and some dbx 560a's.
or a used ACP88
Old 28th November 2020
  #25
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🎧 10 years
I'm not doing much analog mixing right now, but I've got many of the same pieces mentioned in this thread, some of which I acquired using a Craigslist app with keyword phrases that would immediately trigger push notifications when a new piece went for sale. I like having a mix of different flavors to choose from, and ended up with:

-DBX 160x (2)
-DBX 160a
-DBX 163x (2)
-Aphex Expressor w/ Jim Williams mod
-ART Pro VLA II w/ tubes from Bowie (much preferred w/ NOS tubes)
-FMR RNC (2)
-Drawmer DL241
-LA Audio TCX20

I don't have much info on the last piece, but I really like the TCX20 on drums - hard to find any info, bought it as part of a monster rack full of gear, and it turned out to be a little gem. I also have an un-modded Expressor and VLA II with stock tubes but much prefer the modded ones.
Old 28th November 2020
  #26
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Bang for the buck Analog comp?.....you’d have a hard time avoiding the ART PRO VLA2.........still can’t believe how affordable it is and it can certainly hang it’s hat with the big boys.
Old 28th November 2020
  #27
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monkeyxx's Avatar
 
18 Reviews written
🎧 10 years
For a good stretch there I was using

Symetrix 501 (grey face)
DBX 160X
ART Pro VLA II
RNC / RNC / RNLA

Got a lot of great mixes out of those, in a way I miss it, maybe nostalgia. I can just see myself rack mixing again and then have the same urge to go back in the box.

Lately I held on to my MDX-2100 Composer (through hole) modded, and there's a dbx 166A that I recently sold that could have stayed.

If you get into 500 series it might be worth looking at Lindell and Midas and dbx 500 units, sometimes they are pretty inexpensive and can be good. Maybe some DIYRE Colour modules as well.
Old 28th November 2020
  #28
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noah330's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Some great information here and I thank everyone for contributing thus far.

I thought maybe I should explain what I'm doing right now and maybe get some suggestions.

I'm running about 16-24 tracks out of ProTools into my console and I'm returning the tape outs to a stereo aux track. Basically, I think of my PT system as a multitrack tape machine and then that aux track as my mixdown deck.

Sometimes I track through the console (it's a DDA 32 channel) but usually I'll track through my preamps direct into PT. I have an API A2D (basically 2 312s), a Presonus ADL-600 (very nice despite the brand name) and a UA 610 (the old mono rack one). My mics are pretty good as well as my instruments.

Once my sources are tracked I'll use a little bit of plugin compression and I'll usually use a HP filter on vocals, guitars, etc.... Once I commit all of that stuff and get things sounding the way I want them to I'll send everything out to its own channel on the console to eq and mix. At this point I generally am not looking to add a ton of compression as an effect, but sometimes I just want to even out a bass or maybe glue some guitars together a little better.

I've also been printing my reverb/delays in the box before everything goes to the console and lining it up later, which isn't ideal but I'm saving for a better Lexicon style hardware reverb (probably a 300). I do have a plate reverb that I built as well as a Fender Reverb (good for guitars). I'm willing to budget more for a higher end hardware reverb because I think it will do more for me than a little bit of compression here and there. Plus, getting the reverb running through the console would make things a lot easier. Part of me has considered getting an LXP-1 or something to hold me over.

If I had my choice I would buy a UA LA-2A and be done with it because that's usually what I use on lead vocals. I'm hesitant to go with the KT or WA at this point because the WA stuff I had didn't really do it for me and at this point I would probably be more comfortable buying an LA-610 or maybe an Audio Scape LA-2A.

Any insight or suggestions welcome. I think there are probably a lot of other people doing something similar so it may help them as well.

The majority of the music I record is less processed/get the sound at the source and have the instruments sound like they sound. I'll use a little comp on kick and snare (the 163x that I modded do a nice job on that) and I don't really crush things or try for special effects.
Old 28th November 2020
  #29
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subspace's Avatar
 
3 Reviews written
🎧 15 years
Only compressors I've had since the '90s are my pair of 160XTs and, yeah, they handled everything back then.

The Pro VLA II is actually useful for a toob unit, though the KT-2A has displaced it on a lot of things now.

Have the 1176-KT as well, all of them good, inexpensive options.

Added a 500 rack with pairs of 560As and FC526s, looking at the OLA5 right now. Can't seem to resist bargains on capable compressors...
Old 28th November 2020 | Show parent
  #30
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1 Review written
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by RightOnRome View Post
or a used ACP88
Yes! I had forgotten all about the ACP88. I sold mine because: a.) I went more in the box and didn’t think I’d need eight analog comps and b.) the myriad little knobs were driving my nearsighted self crazy (I’d tried every rack and lighting position I could think of).
Notice that neither reason involves any criticism of how the unit sounds or works.
These are dirt cheap per channel if you can find them, and are built to last.
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