Compressors are in that overlapping area of the venn diagram of sound design between practical engineering and musical effect; a compressor’s primary function is to control the dynamics of a signal, but the myriad ways in which a compressor can be made to keep that signal under control can have huge implications on the character of the sound on its way out. A realistic sounding emulation of classic analogue compression, where level attenuation is achieved with valve, VCA, and transistor circuits and thus adds character and warmth to sounds, has been the holy grail of software emulation for some time. Have Native Instruments found it in the Vintage Compressors bundle?
Vintage Compressors is a bundle of three separate plugins, each running inside NI’s Guitar Rig hosting architecture (which, given the number of distinctly non guitar focused effects it’s been host to lately, we suspect may well receive some brand refreshing before too long). Modelled in collaboration with Softube after classic analogue compressors, one of the first things you’ll notice about the three – VC 160, VC 76 and VC 2A (virtualisations of the DBX 160, Urei 1176, and Telectronix LA-2A, respectively) – is that their interfaces are very clean.
one of the advantages of analogue equipment is the opportunity to avoid getting bogged down into decimalised number crunching and tweaking ad nauseum; the impetus to use your ears not your eyes to control the devices is further propelled by the VU meters
That’s not to say they’re spartan, though, as aesthetically they’re definitely very eye pleasing, refined looking units, but one of the advantages of analogue equipment is the opportunity to avoid getting bogged down into decimalised number crunching and tweaking ad nauseum; the impetus to use your ears not your eyes to control the devices is further propelled by the VU meters on the units. The VC 2A simply has a compress/limit switch, gain stage and a compression (measured by percentage rather than ratio) stage, the VC 160 adds an adjustable threshold, and the VC 76 has adjustable attack and release as well. That’s not all though, as rather than follow the original designs to a, in some respects, impotent tee the bods at Softube and NI have wisely endowed their new toys with side chain capabilities – in the case of the VC 2A and 160, with an additional low cut.
So, the Vintage Compressors collection is designed to be a go to suite for helping your audio come through the mix and give it character with minimal fuss. Let’s have a look at how each sound in turn…
The VC 2A is a very simple unit based on electro-optical tube technology, and the compression is fairly transparent with quite mild attack and release characteristics that do get tighter as sound pressure increases. Because it’s so simple to use – just figure out how much peak reduction you can get away with for the sound you’re trying to achieve and tweak input to match, it’s tempting to try it on just about everything, just to see how it sounds. Pushing the input level (being careful to dip the channel mixer in our DAW) allowed us to make crisper sounding drums purr and round out, but in general the VC 2A’s strength lies in smoothing out signals without sounding forced – so it’s great for vocals and miked acoustic instruments.
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