Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Recording FAQ: J. From PA asks,

I just acquired a near-mint pair of dbx 165's. I have heard they sound a lot like the Urei 1176. How are they similar or different? Also, the Urei comps, 1176, 1178, LA-3, LA-4, etc, all seem like different versions of the same thing. Am I right about that?

Hey J,

Are those 165's or 165A's? The "A" goes for about $150 more typically. The only reason is that the "A" has the peak-stop limiter which nobody uses anyway (ugly clipping). The non-A does not have that, but who cares?

There are many differences between the Urei comps. The LA-types, LA-2A, LA-3A and LA-4 are opto (optical) comps. They have a electro-optical attenuator in there that creates the compression. The 1176, 1176LN and the 1178 are non-opto FET comps. So, they are a completely different circuit principle, and have far more parametric control (attack, release, ratio). For one thing, an 1176 is much faster than any LA. The LA's have a softer knee and a smoother dynamic response, so they are great for tracking things like vocals, but they sort of do one thing really well. The 1176 is far more versatile and controllable, so you can use it on a lot of things. In my opnion, the best REISSUE 1176LN is the Purple Audio MC77, which we sell for $1640, and it sounds more like the original blackface LN from the mid 1960s than the UA reissue. "LN" stands for "Less Noise" BTW. The silver ones are less expensive and less desirable than the black, because the black ones have a UTC output transformer that people love the sound of. When they went to the silver-face later on, they went to (as I recall but I might be wrong) an op-amp for the output, which changed the sound. They still sound good, but most engineers prefer the black ones.

I know and love the dbx's well, and in my whole 24-year career, I've found that any serious studio has both dbx and Urei comps because they are both good for different applications. The only dbx that might get used on a vocal WOULD be the 165, and if set correctly CAN be used on many sources. (The "auto" attack/release on there is your friend!) However, the dbx comp uses a VCA (voltage controlled amplifier) for dynamic control, yet ANOTHER circuit principle. dbx stands for David Blackmer Electronics, and David Blackmer revolutionized audio by inventing the VCA back in 1970(?). So the dbx's are great, but they sound very different than any Urei. They shine on drums and percussion, and are what gives you the famous snare-crack and kick-drum pop or punch. In general, though, a VCA comp tends to be harder-sounding than other types.

You can certainly get away with a lot with those 165's, but a nice pair of optos, LA-4s, or my personal desert-island comp, the LA-3A, is gonna give you a whole 'nother flavor.

Any questions? I can be reached at Sonic, 802-365-9190 or drew@soniccircus.com

More info on VCAs

More info on Urei 1176 and LA-2A

More on opto compression

Photo: THE famous blackface 1176LN, a studio standard for 40 years.

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