I’m busy this week finishing up my first ever article for Future Music magazine – it’s been an interesting challenge adapting my writing style to the constraints of the printed page – plus, having to try and live up to the article’s title of “The Ultimate Guide To Compression” ! (Swallows nervously)
Some of the research I’ve done has been fascinating, though – and the video above is one of the most interesting discoveries I’ve made.
One of the big debates in compression is – do you use them for character, or control ? And the answer is of course – both.
But “character” has two aspects to it – one is the different quality that any compressed signal has compared to the clean original, and the other is to do with the “signature sound” of classic hardware compressors – determined by the specifics of the compressor’s design.
In pursuit of these characteristics, software plugins constantly battle against each other for the most faithful reproduction of classic models like the Urei 1176, LA-2A and Fairchild 670, with their wealth of valve, transistor and optical variants.
One name is often mentioned as “king of the crop” – Universal Audio – who offer a staggering range of emulated analogue models, and are used by big names like Michael Brauer, who mixes album for bands like Coldplay and John Mayer, amongst many others.
The catch is that you need dedicated hardware to run the UAD plugins, and it adds quite a premium to the price – although it also removes processing load from the host computer, so certainly has major advantages.
During a conversation on Twitter recently though, several people recommended the Stillwell Rocket compressor to me, which I hadn’t come across before.
This plugin is much more affordable, especially if you don’t already own UAD hardware – and the demo is free and unrestricted ! I downloaded it and had a play, but I don’t have any UAD hardware myself yet, so couldn’t do any direct comparisons.
Today though, I found the video above, and I think you’ll agree, the results are pretty impressive. Going head-to-head with the UAD plugin version of the classic 1176 compressor (which UAD now make the hardware version of) the Rocket really holds it’s own. There are minor discrepancies at some points, but I’m pretty sure a little more tweaking would resolve these – especially if you allowed yourself to use a little EQ.
Take a look, and judge for yourself.
So is the Stillwell Rocket a valid alternative to the UAD 1176 ?
One thing that I notice are the very different controls on the Rocket – if you’re used to something like the 1176 plugin already, they’ll take a bit of getting used to. And, one of the nice things about the UAD plugin is that pushing the input hard automatically produces those awesome overdriven qualities in the sound, whereas on the Rocket they have to be dialled-in by hand using the “impetus” control. (For the technically minded, the impetus dial increases harmonic distortion.)
On the one hand it’s nice to have such fine control about how overdriven you want the compressor to sound, but on the other I can’t help feeling that an important reason we keep going back to these classic units is their simplicity of operation. There are plenty of other clean compressor plugins out there, after all.
What’s really impressive to me though is how close the Rocket does get to the 1176LN sound – especially using it’s own equivalent of the 1176’s legendary “all-button” ratio setting. If you long for that classic overdriven 1176 sound but can’t stretch to the UAD hardware right now and don’t mind a little tweaking, then on the evidence of this video, the Stillwell Rocket is definitely worth a gander.
What are your favourite “classic” emulating plugins ?