My first 2-bus chain... need help

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AK Audio
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My first 2-bus chain... need help

Post by AK Audio » Tue Apr 12, 2011 2:16 pm

I?m basically looking for a stereo chain of analog EQ and compression. Being my first quality (I have an AudioArts 4100, Art Pro VLA, dbx 166 & 160A) outboard processors I?ll need it to be somewhat flexible in usability. Likewise, I hope to eventually add some additional flavors, so I?d rather not limit myself to something too vanilla.

My general philosophy on audio equipment:
Because projects I tend to work on are fairly niche-specific I don?t mind gear that has a specific ?vibe? or sound. I also don?t mind relying on stuff that does one thing very well. But perhaps most importantly, I like simple. I guess I need limitations in order to really get inspired. Last of all, I?m on an amateur?s budget so many ?must-have? pieces of gear are simply out of my reach. With those requirements in mind here are the following pieces of gear I have in mind:

Dangerous BAX ? What I dig about this unit is the simplicity of design and (according to reviews) it?s a relatively flexible character piece that?s great for 2-bus tracking, mixing, and mastering. It also happens to be the most affordable of the units I?m interested in.

Thermionic Culture Pullet ? This is an intriguing unit implementing both active & passive designs. It?s a bit more complicated, but not over-the-top. While it may be a bit more limited in function (I think it may be most applicable for tracking) but still usable for mixing purposes. It?s also comparable in price to the Bax.

API 5500 ? It seems like everyone has something good to say about this eq. Frankly, I'd love to own one and I feel like it could be good on a number of sources or for a variety of genres.

Daking FET III ? I?m relying heavily on industry reviews for this unit considering no one I know owns one but the results seem to be overwhelmingly positive. I love the philosophy behind Daking?s designs and I think this is likely the best option for my setup. It also has the additional (and helpful) feature of functioning as two independent channels for tracking purposes.

API 2500 ? I know of several mastering facilities that use this compressor, but I hear it?s amazing for tracking/mixing. Like the Daking its capable of imparting serious character, but is also quite flexible. My main hesitation is that it would be a bit heavy-handed pulling double duty ? tracking drums (overheads for example) then using it for 2-bus. Because I already have API preamps and I may purchase the 5500 eq I think an API compressor may be a bit overkill.

If anyone has experience with these particular units, or has been in a similar boat, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

And just for reference - I also frequently have access to a studio with dbx 160A's, Art VLA II, Distressor's, and an original LA2A for tracking. I've got some quality mic's (BLUE, OktavaMod, Neumann, AKG, etc.) preamps (API, UA, Focusrite, Chandler), and good conversion (Apogee Rosetta). These are definitely the weak links in my chain at the moment. I tend to record music in the vein of Wilco, Jayhawks, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, etc. Sometimes a bit more on the rock or folk side, but nothing too far from that general sound.

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Post by kslight » Tue Apr 12, 2011 4:26 pm

Have you considered the Chandler Germanium Tone Control for EQ (you'd need a pair)? Definitely colorful and flexible for tracking and mixing. I've got a pair and a Chandler Zener Limiter as my 2 buss at the moment...

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Post by Snarl 12/8 » Tue Apr 12, 2011 4:32 pm

I have no experience with high-end anything, but if I were you I'd get started on my 500 style lunchbox. Especially if you're looking to expand "flavors" down the road.

I've also heard great things about some of the DIY compressor projects that are out there. I'm a total tight-wad with zero budget for my audio obsession, so I'm always fantasizing about DIY stuff and occasionally do it. There's DIY 500 kits as well.
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Post by Wainwright » Tue Apr 12, 2011 9:48 pm

The API 2500 is a killer buss compressor. Go to comp for heavy / doomy stuff but thats just me.
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Post by ChrisNW » Wed Apr 13, 2011 9:33 am

I recently acquired an API 5500 and 2500 from a member of the board here. They now makeup the primary analog processing in my budget-conscious mastering suite. So far, very impressed. I'm only starting to explore their usefulness in tracking situations.
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Post by ott0bot » Wed Apr 13, 2011 12:28 pm

Those API eq's rule. There is local sale for $1500 here and I'm trying to scrape together the cash. The bus compressors are cool too. Although, they are not as versitile as some units since they can't be used dual mono. Still...they sound awesome.

If you purchasing these items new......for the price I can't help but steer towards the 500 series stuff like snarl suggested. You could get lunchbox and a set of API EQ's around the same price of the single API 5500 new, or you could get something else like the Great River Harrison EQ's for a little less cash...and still have space for expansion. Then you could get a set of 500 series comps and be set. Mercenary usually have a $50 off per module if you buy the rack at the same time.

If your not interested in 500 series and you are looking for more budget concious choices fot 2 bus compressors I have a few recomendations:

A pair of Summit TLA-50's. These guys do everything well. Quick, slow, aggressive or transparent. A linked pair of these guys sound fantastic on the 2-bus, but they also excel on bass and other individual instruments. I used them during tracking and 90% of the time on the mix bus for some light compression. Still in need of a decent hardware EQ, but I've been using the URS Neve EQ lately, and liking it.

Drawmer 1968. sweet on drums and guitars, and great on mixes. They are a do everything comp as well. Really versitile.


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Post by weatherbox » Wed Apr 13, 2011 7:35 pm

Nice thing about the 5500 over the 500 module versions is the range switch. 2db increments might be too much now and again over the full mix.

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Post by AK Audio » Wed Apr 13, 2011 10:55 pm

Thanks for all of the great feedback. I love the idea of the 500 series, but right now my rig is mobile and I do a lot of transporting my gear so it has to fit in my SKB racks. I know I didn't explain this earlier, but that's part of the appeal of this gear - it all fits in a 1U or 2U space.

The other aspect is that I like the idea of actual stereo units (stereo-link), not two identical pieces of mono gear - this isn't a deal breaker, just a consideration.

That's an excellent point about the 5500's "range" switch - thanks for pointing that out! Sounds like the API's are fan favorites, which makes sense considering they're studio staples. Just wondering if anyone has experience with any of the other stuff?

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Post by AK Audio » Thu Apr 14, 2011 9:29 am

Concerning the 2500 - Has anyone used it much for tracking? Or more specifically, have you used it for tracking then again on the 2-buss or mix-buss with the same material?

If I get this unit that's likely what will happen: a lot of tracking with the comp (usually with a lighter touch) on OH's/ guitars/ whatever, then running them through the 2500 again on buss.

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Post by joninc » Thu Apr 14, 2011 9:45 am

check out the UBK fatso - a LOT more versatility than the 2500 and tons of mojo.
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Post by infiniteposse » Sat Apr 16, 2011 9:47 am

AK Audio wrote:Concerning the 2500 - Has anyone used it much for tracking? Or more specifically, have you used it for tracking then again on the 2-buss or mix-buss with the same material?

If I get this unit that's likely what will happen: a lot of tracking with the comp (usually with a lighter touch) on OH's/ guitars/ whatever, then running them through the 2500 again on buss.
I just purchased a 2500 for 2-buss and it lives there at the moment. The results when mixing have been excellent, although I'll add the caveat that my idea of "good" compression at mix time is minimal compression that's fairly subtle, maybe -2db or thereabouts.

Much of what I like about the API is the extra set of transformers my program runs through.

Re: your concerns about using a 2500 for compression for tracking and again at mix time, I'd say it would be a non-issue assuming you're getting the sounds you want at each stage. I personally track using very minimal or no compression with the exception of vocals and bass. I still shoot for fairly low ratios unless I'm going for an effect. If you smash the crud out of the signal once and then a second time at mix then, yes, I think you'll be unhappy with the results. I think subtle use for coloration and control when tracking and then again at mix shouldn't be a problem.

I've got a lot of API in my chain, 6 API flavored pre's and the 2500, and I just think about it as though it's a console. I don't think anyone working on a API or Neve console 30 years ago concerned themselves about "am I using too much API"? They just used the tools in front of them and got the work done. If it's a sound you like, it's on.

Congrats on the upgrades. Sounds like you're heading in a good direction.

Good luck.
??It doesn't matter if you can play a scale. It doesn't matter if your technique is good. If you have feelings that you want to get out through music, that's what matters.? Neil Young

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Post by Jim Williams » Sun Apr 17, 2011 8:24 am

If you want that early Dylan sound, skip the compressors on the 2 mix. Yea, I know I sound like a broken Dylan record, but if you read what he says about today's production fashion, he's not with you on any level.

Back in the day when I cut laquers, we didn't get squashed nor compressed masters. They left that to us, the mastering guys. They needed us to determine the correct levels to laquers. Compression was used very lightly, mostly as a limiter function to prevent overcuts.

If you want that traditional relaxed quality those 1960's records have, lay off the compression and leave that to mastering, like they did.

Or, squash away and sound like everyone else today. If you want to stand out, use dynamics, it will scare people.
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Post by AK Audio » Mon Apr 18, 2011 2:38 pm

Jim, thanks for the advice. I've read quite a bit about Dylan and his views on modern production - I think I have a "less is more" approach to recording in general. I'm by no means a fan of squashing, which is why I haven't invested in a major compressor until now. I'm pretty delicate with anything really simplistic or "purist" and try to never rely solely on compression for controlling the dynamics... and there should be dynamic range.

In an age where manufacturers are all trying to make their gear stand out, I'm just cautious about painting myself into a corner with a particular flavor. While I'm happy to commit to a certain sound, it will need to be versatile enough to work with varying styles. As the bands I work with do range in style, size, sound, etc. I'll need equipment that can handle it. Then again, the span of genres I'm referring to is somewhat narrow compared to most engineers. What I won't be recording is electronica, pop-rock, hip-hop, etc.

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Post by joel hamilton » Mon Apr 18, 2011 7:02 pm

Owning a quality EQ and compressor does not mean you EQ and compress the hell out of everything you do. The idea that a little EQ on your 2mix and whatever amount of compression you think works for the task/song/artist/you/life/music/enjoyment is the perfect amount.
There is nothing inherently evil about either technique, nor does having a compressor make you a flavor of the week ding dong when you dig into it a little.

The fact that you are probably not tracking to a format/machine with inherent compression characteristics, nor are you mixing to a machine like that, means that a little something to ease the leading edge off of the acoustic guitar or snare drum is probably a really good idea.
"dynamics" gets tossed around a lot as a sort of [gag...cough, barf] "purist" [shudder] term... the real meaning gets cloudy at best.

If you want a leading edge transient on a sn drum that sounds musical, you may need to look into something that dances with that snare drum if you are not printing to a 15 ips 2" 16 track, or tape at all.
That doesnt mean the ratio has to be insane, nor does it mean that it even has to be inserted directly on the snare channel at all... but having something with an attack time that is sort of pushing back a bit at all the "pokey" pointillistic sounds that seem to want to happen in the digital realm left unchecked, can really add a little more "heft" to the mix without getting rid of more than 2 or 3 db across the ENTIRE dynamic range available to you.
That means that you can have something just pulling back the whole time on a song, but its at 1.5:1... that means it takes a HALF a db to overcome the gentle shove that the device is imparting. The band can still move around just fine with that sort of resistance to the pokey noises they seem to be making... everyone starts moving together. The air in the room starts to feel like a consonant part of the presentation.....

ANyway... I need to stop ranting.
I love the chandler curve bender on the mix, a lot of the time.
That Drawmer thing is pretty great that was referenced above. Whatever you get: learn to use it. Thats gonna make more of a difference than what it is.

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Post by chris harris » Tue Apr 19, 2011 6:04 am

Thanks for that, Joel.

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