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June 2017 Giveaway

Empirical Labs Fatso Jr. Review

Does anybody remember the first Boston record? The one that, until Hootie and the Blowfish’s Cracked Rear View was released, was the best selling debut album in history? Remember that hyper-engineered Boston analog sound? (Guitarist/producer Tom Scholz was an MIT graduate; apparently he knew what he was doing!) Does anyone miss that sound???

I do. I love the flexibility of digital recording systems, and I acknowledge that they are here to stay. And no matter what anybody tells you, de-fragmenting a hard drive and dealing with the occasional Mac crash is a lot less time-consuming and frustrating than calibrating a 24-track analog tape machine or a Dolby encoding/decoding system. However, I have yet to hear a digital system that sounds particularly musical out of the box.

Enter the Fatso. No, it’s not cheap, but in terms of relative value it’s one of the best buys out there today. If it only did the analog tape compression/saturation thing pretty well it would be worth the price, but this unit is really more like a pro “Swiss Army knife” compressor that’s actually good at everything it does.

The Fatso is all about subtlety. It probably won’t blow you away on first listen; you have to spend some time with it, tune your ears with A/B tests, etc. Repeated use draws your attention away from “where’s the wow factor?” and towards an appreciation of the smoothing out of the mids & highs. Most importantly, the warming effect is logarithmic (and you can hear this), so it’s not the same thing as simply cutting highs with EQ. Also (and this is really really important), the compressor presets are absolutely killer; 1176, 160, and bus/general program compression all sound phenomenal – definitely not afterthoughts even though the manufacturer kind of markets it as such.

Intuitive, simple controls cater to the preferences of those who dislike complex programming schemes and steep learning curves (e.g. to make it sound good, fiddle with the knobs until it sounds good!). Deeper level control is possible, though, for those who want to experiment with tweaky stuff. The user interface is designed to steer you away from extreme settings; this helps to avoid allowing the unit to “run away” with you and committing to a mix that you’ll regret in two weeks.

And, because the processor can be strapped across the stereo bus, monitoring of analog warmth is possible in real time! This wasn’t even possible with analog tape systems where tape saturation could only be monitored on playback; having dedicated hardware alleviates taxing DSP power in computer for analog warmth plug-ins. With a patchbay, the Fatso can quickly and easily be routed to any number of stereo destinations (monitoring, mixdown, mastering, etc.).

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