DBX 160 We have 4 of these easy to use all-rounders, acquired new in 1980. Attack and release times are fixed: you set the threshold and degree of compression then lie-back and think of England! It will either sound brilliant or useless, but most often the former. Slight lack of deep bass, compared to a Urei or a 165, and the bottom end will “pump” at high ratios. If you look inside the box, you’ll find a ‘black’ DBX VCA. These early package VCA’s have the crunchy-munchy sound we like and are certainly not Hi-Fi. Use for: kick, snare, percussion, room ambience, anything radical.
DBX 165 Based on the 160, with (optional) variable attack/release and an additional peak limiter. Better for bass than a 160 because of it’s warmer sound. Whatever you may hear to the contrary, this box is not the same as a 160 in ‘fixed’ mode. It just don’t sound the same. Be careful not to drive them too hard: the overload sound isn’t sweet. Use for: bass guitar and synth.
Teletronix LA2A Why do we return to these venerable silver boxes again and again? Can we define the magic? Does God exist? This box was originally devised to protect AM radio transmitter valves. There was a need to broadcast as loud as possible in order to beat the competition, without blowing tubes that cost thousands of dollars each. The LA2A is a two-knob box: nice and simple – gain and compression. When set right, and passing audio it likes, this is a killer machine. It doesn’t like its input too hot, and the slow-ish (optical) attack sometimes causes the first syllable to jump out. The character is quite highly flavoured, so it might be best to save it for post rather than pre-processing (i.e. be careful recording ‘to tape’ with it.) Comes into it’s own with a dry, up-front vocal or a pumping bass line.
Urie 1178 Stereo version of the classic 1176 compressor-limiter. Purists may proclaim the superiority of the original ‘black fronted’ mono 1176, but our two 1178’s are the most sturdy, reliable workhorses at Eastcote. These are truly magnificent compressors allowing precise, natural sounding control of level without excessive colouration: great for voice or drum overheads. The sound is clean, clear and bright. I have modified ours to include a ‘hard-wired’ in/out switch that helps when setting up levels.
Valley People Dynamite Hippy dippy name, but even hip-er sound. If you want it over the top, this is the box. This compression is not for nancy-boys or the faint hearted: it’s compression that sucks your ears out, pumpin’ and thumpin’ all the way to the bank. And a well kept secret, at least this side of the pond. Eastcote has two pairs, one of which is housed in the original half-u cream plastic box. Also useful in expansion mode, with which you may clean up noisy tracks, headphone-spill etc.
Distressor A relatively recent American confection, billed as a substitute for or imitator of many of the classics of yester-year. Ignore the bull, and you’ll find a useful workhorse compressor that is flexible and sounds pretty good. Originally designed for squashing drum ambience (according to the blurb) it does this well but also sounds good on guitars or anything recorded with a Shure 57! It won’t make my list of all time favourites but I don’t regret it’s purchase and it does get used regularly.
Joe Meek Well, this box is a queer colour (sic) and has some strange attributes, including a bottom-linked release time. Well, fancy that! Actually, I discovered it’s brilliant when used on Japanese violin virtuosos. And not at all bad for BV’s. The top end is nicely silky, but the frequency-dependant release time is confusing when the input is bass heavy. Why do modern British manufacturers use such cheap components? I have had to replace both pots and switches.
Tubessence Mic-Pre I bought this one 2nd hand, liked the sound-for-money ratio but thought it might be improved with a transformer front-end. So I hung onto it a pair of Jenson M16’s and wow! Bang for bucks! Hit me with your rhythm stick! Very nearly as good as the J Hardy/Jenson pre’s in our desk, just a fraction less width. This mic-pre teams nicely with our Royer ribbon mics for a crossed figure-of-eight pair, a wonderfully natural sounding stereo image for string/drum ambience or grand piano. Yummy!
Summit Mic Pre Butch Vig’s choice, or so we are told. While every young guitarist was practising Nirvana licks in 1992, aspiring engineers were saving up for Summits and Fender Bassmans to copy the master. Yep, a ‘421 on the kick is sure brought to life by a Summit, but beware: the sound is very coloured. Krunchy, kind of Hershey bar rather than Lindt 70% cocoa. The DI input in the front is useful for Bass or guitar, and the overload facility on the line input can add some nice character and grit to help digest an otherwise bland sound source.
Pultec EQP 1A3 Yes! The real thing! I bought these off P Mcartney and wouldn’t part with them for 10 times what I paid. The best investment I ever made. Oh my god, those transformers, do they hurt! These two even make your mix sound better just inserted with the eq switched out! This is not magic, nor is it rocket science, just big-hearted soft iron saturation coupled with a bit of tube gain. Silk at the top, liquid gold down below. Definitely the best equaliser ever made.
Tube-tech LA2B A recent purchase, we wanted a stereo tube compressor that would cope with a wide range of signals including stereo mix. This is a simple, minimal signal path opto design that behaves very musically, sounding natural on gentle settings but capable of being quite aggressive if provoked. It grows on you: we now like it on Rhodes Piano, guitars and vocals.
Lexicon PCM 41 Ahhh! Shhh! PB’s very special secret! One of the first digital delays, the ’41’s algorithms invigorate your biorhythms with strange and bizarre distortions, just as Venus did to Tannhauser with the most amazing movements of the underside of her arm…. Heavy bass distortion, elastic bongos, twanging bongs on the end of your nose: anything’s possible. Rare in the UK, the 41 is better known in the ‘States. Aficionados will know that the ’42 is no substitute.
Massenburg 5 Band Parametric EQ Now here’s one for the control freaks: ½ a dB at 3.3k, sir ? You’ve got it. Totally transparent, you can safely put this box across anything without altering the timbre. More like a mastering EQ, in fact; not at all funky but clean and brutally efficient.
Manley EQ Manley bought the Pultec patents: this equaliser is claimed to be a clone of the original with some useful extra frequencies. Excellent though they are, most can tell the difference; caused, I strongly suspect, by the Pultec’s transformers. Good for high-end, ‘wet-look’ gloss. I also like the mid-range frequencies, an area usually neglected by the boom-and-tiz generation.