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Working with "modeled" vintage compressor/limiter plug-ins

From: Foundations of Audio: Compression and Dynamic Processing

Video: Working with "modeled" vintage compressor/limiter plug-ins

The old is new again, at least as far as compressors go. In the last decade, it seems a year hasn't passed that some company hasn't introduced a new and improved plug-in model of a vintage compressor. Aside from the company simply needing new products to sell, computers have also gotten much faster over the years, so the models could be more CPU-intensive and thus recreate every detail of the original with more precision. The good news is that new vintage model dynamics processors have never sounded more like their analog counterparts.

Working with "modeled" vintage compressor/limiter plug-ins

The old is new again, at least as far as compressors go. In the last decade, it seems a year hasn't passed that some company hasn't introduced a new and improved plug-in model of a vintage compressor. Aside from the company simply needing new products to sell, computers have also gotten much faster over the years, so the models could be more CPU-intensive and thus recreate every detail of the original with more precision. The good news is that new vintage model dynamics processors have never sounded more like their analog counterparts.

I'm going to show you how to use two the most common vintage-modeled compression plug-ins: the Universal Audio 1176 and the Teletronix LA-2A. There are at least five companies that I can think of at the top of my head that have modeled these classics into plug-ins. And some will not feature the exact same name, due to licensing reasons, but as soon as you see the interface, you will definitely recognize the similarities. Here, I am using the Waves CLA compressors as an example of the UA 1176 and LA-2A. The 1176 is a classic example of a FET, or Field Effect Transistor, compressor.

These circuits were originally designed to emulate tubes, but achieve a completely unique sound all the round. FET compressors are extremely fast, clean, and reliable, and sound good on almost any kind of signal material. The 1176 itself has a very bright and present quality to it, almost like using an EQ. It can really bring out the presence on anything you use it on, especially vocals. The 1176 features a fixed threshold, so to control it's gain reduction, you must drive the threshold with the input control. Once you've achieved the desired amount of gain reduction, you can use the output control to return the output to a reasonable level.

Watch and listen, as I adjust the input to drive the threshold and use the output to make up any gain reduction. (music playing) The attack and release controls on the 1176 can be especially confusing because they are not marked by millisecond time values, but simple numbers one through seven, with seven being the fastest setting and one being the slowest.

This confuses many people because intuitively you think that a larger number would be slower when you are used to measuring in actual milliseconds. The 1176's attack time is extremely fast. A setting of one is still only around 800 microseconds, while a setting of seven is virtually instant, 20 microseconds. The Release time sits over a much wider range of 50 to 1200 milliseconds, so you can't really visualize the two in the same way. The 1176 features selectable ratio controls plus an All buttons in control that introduces a radically different compression curve, perfect for heavy compression, that you really have to play with and hear to appreciate.

Take a listen. (music playing) Introduced the mid-1960s, the Teletronix LA-2A is a famous electro-optical compressor that uses an electro- luminescent panel, basically a small light and a photo optic sensor, to apply gain reduction.

As the signal's amplitude increases, the light panel gets brighter and the photo- optic sensor reacts to this by applying more gain reduction to the signal. Because of the inherent lagginess in this design, this type of compressor tends to work more on the average level than the peaks, making it perfect for less attack-driven instruments like bass, vocals, guitar, and submixes. As an added benefit, the tube make up gain can be used to excite additional harmonics that help fatten up the signal, helping push low- and subfrequency content into the more audible low mid band, making this compressor sound great on bass instruments.

Sometimes, I like to use the LA-2A without any gain reduction just to tap into the tube gain stage. The LA-2A is super simple to use and a great example of the knob minimalism of classic analog gear. Simply increase the peak reduction control until the desired amount of gain reduction is achieved. Then use the gain control to make up any lost level or drive the compressor's tube amplifier. Listen as I adjust the peak reduction and gain. (music playing) Unlike the input gain control on the 1176, the gain control on the LA-2A does not affect the compression, so it can be used stand-alone if you'd like, to simply drive the tube amplifier and grab some extra harmonic distortion and warm up the signal.

The limit-compress switch changes the characteristics of the compressor's transfer occur. When in the compressed position, the curve is more gentle and presents a low-compression ratio. A higher compression ratio results when the switch is set to the limit position. No matter what models of these classics you happen to have access to, I'm sure you will find them just as indispensable as engineers have found their analog counterparts for decades.

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This video is part of

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  1. 4m 56s
    1. Welcome
      1m 49s
    2. What you should know before watching this course
      32s
    3. Using the exercise files
      53s
    4. Using the "Get in the Mix" Pro Tools and Logic Pro session files
      1m 42s
  2. 13m 47s
    1. What is amplitude?
      1m 51s
    2. Measuring amplitude
      1m 57s
    3. What is dynamic range?
      4m 8s
    4. What are dynamics processors?
      3m 36s
    5. Hardware and software dynamics processors
      2m 15s
  3. 38m 40s
    1. Introducing compressors
      1m 45s
    2. Understanding threshold
      1m 29s
    3. Utilizing compression ratios
      3m 0s
    4. Understanding makeup gain and gain reduction
      3m 13s
    5. Understanding attack and release
      2m 12s
    6. Applying attack and release
      5m 22s
    7. Demystifying compression controls: soft knee vs. hard knee
      2m 43s
    8. Get in the Mix: Using compression to even out a vocal performance
      4m 55s
    9. Get in the Mix: Using compression to add punch and sustain to drums
      4m 39s
    10. Intelligently using compression presets
      3m 6s
    11. Recording with compression: Why or why not?
      2m 53s
    12. Recording with compression: How to do it
      3m 23s
  4. 18m 50s
    1. Introducing limiters
      1m 59s
    2. Types of limiters
      4m 17s
    3. Get in the Mix: Maximizing mix loudness with brickwall limiters
      5m 58s
    4. Solving common mix problems with limiters
      2m 58s
    5. Using layered dynamics processing
      3m 38s
  5. 26m 49s
    1. Understanding and using de-essers
      3m 46s
    2. Get in the Mix: De-essing a vocal track
      3m 30s
    3. Understanding and using gates
      4m 41s
    4. Understanding and using expanders
      1m 35s
    5. Get in the Mix: Gating a drum track
      3m 18s
    6. Understanding and using multi-band compressors/limiters
      3m 31s
    7. Controlling frequency content with multi-band compressors
      3m 3s
    8. Understanding and using transient shapers
      3m 25s
  6. 36m 38s
    1. Effectively using side-chain inputs
      2m 6s
    2. Using side chains creatively
      5m 4s
    3. Keying gates and compressors (and/or ducking)
      4m 12s
    4. Managing gain staging and headroom and fixing over-compressed tracks
      3m 20s
    5. Compression first or EQ first?
      2m 56s
    6. Understanding mix bus compression
      3m 26s
    7. Get in the Mix: Using mix bus compression
      2m 47s
    8. Get in the Mix: Working with parallel compression
      3m 46s
    9. Working with "modeled" vintage compressor/limiter plug-ins
      5m 57s
    10. Building healthy compression/limiting habits
      3m 4s
  7. 14s
    1. Goodbye
      14s
  8. 5m 51s
    1. A session with Brian Lee White
      5m 51s

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