As my mixing has progressed over the years I have found my mixes started to translate a lot better with some master bus or parallel compression, or both.
Not to say my mixes were bad before, but I realised after a while that the mix is often as important as all the sweating you can do to your rough mix. I was an avid user of SSL style compressors and I loved the smack of the sound of them, but this was always a software version.
To be honest, for a long time, I made the mistake of putting a L1/L2 compressor on the master bus and left it at that. To get a really nice, punchy upfront and radio-friendly sound, you can’t do better than a SSL style or Neve compressor on the master to stick it all together.
I’d been looking for a SSL style bus compressor for a while, and had been looking into a number of outboard compressors to put on my mix bus, but had been generally turned off by the price being about the $1500-2000 mark and the fact I would have to print my mixes back in. I have always been a big supporter of the waves plugins and had purchased the SSL bundle for the same purpose about 3 years ago.
Before using the Waves SSL bundle, I used the original Avid Impact plugin but this was discontinued when Pro Tools went to 64 bit. I generally like to put a VCA style compressor on my mix bus for glue type duties, it tends to stick everything together nicely, I had for quite sometime used a McDSP AC1 analogue channel for some analogue warmth (essentially doing some harmonic distortion) alongside this but nothing really compares to going outside the box.
I also realised that the tape style emulators do have a nice sound but tend to smear the mix a bit and make it a bit well, tape sounding.
So, after many years of using this system and being quite happy, I couldn’t resist looking into the hardware options and seeing what was about.
The Solid State Logic brand stuff is not cheap and I have heard from several sources they vary in quality depending on the model and the vintage. They have a propriety X-logic series, the original series, a one rack unit version, and of course the new and ever popular API 500 series style.
There are several single rack unit devices around but I have wanted to get into 500 series for ages, it’s a really nice way to get a broad range of really nice studio channel devices at a reasonable price.
I knew I would get into 500 series at some point, and for me it makes a lot of high end quality in a really accessible format. The list of wants grows and grows but I’ve got my eyes on the clariphonics, the Maag and a few others.
There is so much new equipment in this format, it’s very easy to get lost drooling for EQ’s Compressors and Pre-amps. I like the idea of a small format device that doesn’t cost the earth and serves a purpose in a studio that is always downsizing rather than growing.
The explosion of this format is similar to what has happened with Eurorack modular synth stuff, it gives you great flexibility and enables studios to differentiate and create their specific sound.
In the SSL style compressor (500 series) marketplace alone there are several options with things like the SMART C1, The Dramastic Obsidian, the BC1 and more recently the DIONE.
I was surveying the reviews and prices of these devices for several months and really liked the up and coming companies putting resources in to cheaper alternatives. The c1 is probably the top of the tier and competitive to SSL itself, but the others are pretty similar in price. There is an excellent comparison of the different units around on an episode of Produce Like a Pro here:
The unit I decided to get was the Wes Audio Dione. It was not for the fact that it was cheapest, not because it sounded way better than the others. No, actually these style of compressors actually sound quite similar and really only differ slightly in features like side chain input, mix knob, THD and a few other things.
I bought this one because of the story behind it and the people who made it by hand. Wes Audio are a small company out of Szczecin, Poland, they have about 4 people working on these and other outboard analog modules, all built by hand.
Perhaps one of the best features is the fact that you can control this device via USB as a plug-in. In other words, it’s the best of both worlds. You see if you do decide to go outboard one of the pet hates is the need to store settings or write them down somewhere, so if you do need to make changes to a mix you can re-create it easily.
The best feature with the DIONE is the plug-in runs as a dummy controller and re-set your device when you open up the session, voila’ total recall! The device is punchy as hell and in A/B tests with software versions it left them for dead.
I do have to print my mixes in real time now but for the sake of a few minutes and the sonic quality it imparts its all worth it.
Now if I could just get some money together for a master bus EQ…