How today’s compressor manufacturers are covering a classic.
The quintessential FET compressor. It gave us the dramamine-inducing meter dance of the “all-button mode.” It’s the mysterious signal processing device labeled as a leveling amplifier, but esteemed for its strange power as an equalizer. You’ve heard it countless times in countless songs without realizing it, while you were wondering how the lead vocal sounded so present and forward but still so nicely seated in the mix. You’ve heard fingerpicked acoustic guitars maintain their airy top and quick transients, while managing to still resonate with warmth and earthiness. You’ve heard basses lock in with kick drums and kick you in the chest as though the two instruments were glued together.
Bill Putnam’s original compressor design used FET (short for Field Effect Transistor) circuits in a unique way. FETs are high-impedance circuits, similar to VCAs, and were developed as alternatives to tube circuits. The beauty of a properly implemented FET layout is that it’s capable of appreciable sonic character, like tube circuits, but is able to respond to transients much quicker than an opto circuit. Further, the design allowed all four compression ratios to be engaged at once, a trick commonly known as all-button mode. This created a smashing, delightfully distorted “plateau” compression. These are the reasons why the original 1176 remains such a hit today. Now, this design is available from a few different manufacturers and is even available as a plug-in for your DAW. Let’s take a look at the hardware options:
The heir to the bloodline. Universal Audio is one of three companies Bill Putnam Sr. founded (the other two being Urei and Studio Electronics), and their current 1176LN is considered the modern standard in 1176 design. It’s based on the Rev D/E versions of the original 1176 (serial numbers 1239–2611), which are the earliest and truest versions of the original to incorporate Brad Plunkett’s noise-reduction circuitry, as well as 110/220-volt power switching. The 1176LN is built in-house by UA in Santa Cruz, California. Known for reliability and consistency, this compressor is a faithful re-creation of the original. Since precision manufacturing is more…well….precise these days, it’s fair to say that the original 1176 has some sonic variance. The 1176LN sounds like one of the best examples, and it should. After all, quite a few of the great originals are owned by UA. As far as modern models go, the 1176LN is really the gold standard.
The modern classic. Founded by Andrew Roberts in 1997, Purple Audio’s first product was the MC76, an earlier version of the current MC77. MC77s are made in-house by Purple Audio at their facility in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. Designed to be a faithful re-creation of the original 1176D/E, Purple Audio sources modern components and keenly monitors values to match up with the original 1176. The MC77 is often described as a little more hi-fi than the 1176LN, as well as slightly faster at grabbing transients. Purple Audio has also made a point to build the MC77 to be tough and roadworthy, with incredibly high-quality switches and pots and a toroidal power transformer. From a utility aspect, these qualities make the MC77 the top choice for many engineers and producers.
good budget alternative. Warm Audio is a relatively new manufacturer dedicated to bringing historic gear designs and classic tone options with a lower cost of entry. The WA76 does just that, combining US-sourced components, including Cinemag transformers and Tantalum capacitors, with Chinese manufacturing. Instead of cheaping out on components, Warm Audio has made the I/O complement of the WA76 a bit more spartan than other units. Unlike the MC77, the WA76 has no stereo linking provisions, loop send/return, or internal power supply. However, the WA76 engages the all-button mode in a cool way. It’s easy to disengage all four compression ratios. Why is this cool? You can pass through the analog circuitry of the WA76 and enjoy the coloration of the unit without compressing. Some say the WA76 sounds a little “thicker” than the others. This sound quality and low price point make this unit the choice for some.
A studio compressor from a live sound legend. Klark Teknik is very well known in live sound circles for their legendary signal processing. Now a part of Music Group (Behringer’s brand conglomerate), KT is able to share and use technology with Music Group sister brands. They also benefit from large-scale overseas manufacturing. The result? The 1176-KT with Midas transformers. Similar to the WA76, the 1176-KT is lacking a stereo link function or send/return, though it does feature an internal power supply. Surprisingly, it’s still the lightest in weight of the group, likely due to the modern transformers and comparatively thin chassis design. The non-stepped knobs on the 1176-KT feel very smooth, with just enough resistance to stay put. The 1176-KT can be described as quite bright compared to the 1176LN, though its more aggressive ratios above 4:1 still produce some very vibey sounds. It’s definitely a great way to figure out if 1176-style FET compression is what your studio needs without breaking the bank.
It’s obvious that the 1176 design has established itself as a permanent fixture in recording, and we’ll all want this sound in some stage of our productions for years to come. Whether it’s a prized original, faithful reissue, budget performer, or software emulation, that sound’s not going away anytime soon. Want to talk about one of these models in more depth? Give your Sweetwater Sales Engineer a call at 1-800-222-4700, and we’ll be happy to discuss it with you.