Are 'vintage' type compressors relevant in today's music?

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jellotree
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Are 'vintage' type compressors relevant in today's music?

Post by jellotree » Wed Feb 22, 2012 6:42 pm

Everywhere I go, I hear "vintage" this and "warmth" that and "classic" that...Every plugin maker seems to be emulating the greats of yesteryear.

But things are completely different now - tracking/mixing-wise.

Is this really just a marketing ploy to sell units?

I have much yet to learn about recording and mixing, and correct me if I'm wrong, but traditionally you may have used compression in tracking vocals partly to control the levels going onto tape.

Today there is so much headroom going in digitally, and you can simply tweak the vocal track by razoring sections and bringing those levels up (or down) to have a consistent balanced track volume wise.

At this point you could compress the track to smooth and perhaps 'color' it. But using one of the classic emulations (say the La-2A) at this point, is not how it was used traditionally. (or it may have been used after tracking, but it would have been used during tracking also - maybe a bit more aggresively)

Does anyone care to share their insights on the use of the "classic" emulations. Are they still relevant today? Can't we do better with our current technolgy?

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Re: Are 'vintage' type compressors relevant in today's music

Post by rhythm ranch » Wed Feb 22, 2012 7:27 pm

jellotree wrote:Can't we do better with our current technolgy?
No, we can do it differently with our current technology.

I also enjoy the visceral experience of adjusting a real knob on a piece of hardware to just... there, not a quantum approximation of "there."

Software is great at some stuff and I love it. Hardware is great at other stuff and I love it. Just have to decide which tool is right in which circumstance.

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Post by goose134 » Wed Feb 22, 2012 8:57 pm

I haven't worked with a lot of vintage equipment, but it seems like current technology does better (or at least as good) as the old stuff in certain areas. I would argue, for example, that some reverb plug ins (especially convolution reverbs) do as well as the old school. Compressors are tricky. There is a certain alchemy that occurs when you run a signal through gizmos a certain way. I think that VST compressors do well, but certain classics are always going to shine out. My humble opinion.


It's funny this came up now. My electronics buddy is finishing up his model of the STA level compressor. I asked him how much it would cost to build a LA-2A and he thinks it can be done for under a grand. I'm anxious to hear how the STA level sounds. Got some stuff in the spring I'll be able to try it on.
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Re: Are 'vintage' type compressors relevant in today's music

Post by Nick Sevilla » Wed Feb 22, 2012 9:05 pm

jellotree wrote:Everywhere I go, I hear "vintage" this and "warmth" that and "classic" that...Every plugin maker seems to be emulating the greats of yesteryear.
Because they sound wonderful. And they are extremely expensive and rare. Easier to copy a good unit, and sell loads of that as software. Do you have $17,000 USD for one mono Fairchild compressor? Did not think so...
jellotree wrote:But things are completely different now - tracking/mixing-wise.
Nope. I still use good musicians in front of good mics and preamps. The recording device I use, Pro Tools HD has now been around for 10+ years, so it is not "new" by any stretch.
jellotree wrote:Is this really just a marketing ploy to sell units?
Yes and No. Yes if the company has shoddy products. No if the company has great products. have you used any of the UA products? They are also from the original company that mad the LA2A and the 1176 compressors. The son of the inventor of these two devices, Bill Putnam, heads the company now.
jellotree wrote:I have much yet to learn about recording and mixing, and correct me if I'm wrong, but traditionally you may have used compression in tracking vocals partly to control the levels going onto tape.
Traditionally I would use whatever I needed to in order to get the right sound. Sometimes it could be a compressor, sometimes nothing at all.
jellotree wrote:Today there is so much headroom going in digitally, and you can simply tweak the vocal track by razoring sections and bringing those levels up (or down) to have a consistent balanced track volume wise.
But, it does not have the same sound unless you use the right hardware on the way in. Plug Ins are really really good now, but they still cannot beat the real deal.
jellotree wrote:At this point you could compress the track to smooth and perhaps 'color' it. But using one of the classic emulations (say the La-2A) at this point, is not how it was used traditionally. (or it may have been used after tracking, but it would have been used during tracking also - maybe a bit more aggresively)
Back in the day, there were no plug ins. Well, I lie, there were, you would plug one into the patchbay, and set it to get your sound. Then an assistant would make your "preset" on a sheet of paper. Very traditional. When I did use a compressor during tracking, I would use it more sparingly IF I knew there would be more compression during mixdown. But, sometimes it was just the right thing to do, to compress something aggressively. It just depended on what was needed for the song and the production.
jellotree wrote:Does anyone care to share their insights on the use of the "classic" emulations. Are they still relevant today? Can't we do better with our current technolgy?
I use the Waves emulations a lot, they do a good job. As far as what is being "relevant" today, is it the hardware or the plug ins? Your question is vague.
Our current technology is doing just fine. WHen used correctly, that is.

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Re: Are 'vintage' type compressors relevant in today's music

Post by chris harris » Wed Feb 22, 2012 9:40 pm

jellotree wrote:I have much yet to learn about recording and mixing

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Post by Cyan421 » Thu Feb 23, 2012 1:02 am

I think its very interesting that music in general has gotten more distorted with digital recording. We think a little bit of noise on everything sounds good, cause that is what everything used to sound like. In 1972 no one said "this record sounds too clean" But that did happen in the 90's and now were coming back to everything slightly distorted by plugins.

Same thing is happening in amateur photography. Look at instagram.
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Post by emrr » Thu Feb 23, 2012 9:47 am

There are a lot of sounds that simply don't exist in modern equipment or emulations.
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Post by Jeff White » Thu Feb 23, 2012 10:36 am

I love recording TODAY with all of these amazing tools from the 1950's up to present to play with. I inserted a modified/recapped dbx 160x into my vocal chain last night. I don't feel that I can get that kind of vibe with a plug-in. I use software ALL OF THE TIME but sometimes the magic is in the hardware.

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Post by Mane1234 » Thu Feb 23, 2012 5:45 pm

It's all good man.....Use whatever you can get your hands on and learn everything about it and how to manipulate it with your sounds. Use it til it falls apart then go buy something else. There's always going to be industry buzz words tossed around. If it sounds right to you and your client then you did your job.
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Post by Professor » Thu Feb 23, 2012 6:19 pm

Good heavens, this is one of those posts that could end up with people (especially me) writing replies that take up the whole screen and pages upon pages of them.
And that's great!! But I'll try to contain myself... at least for now.

I agree that the terms you see thrown around like "warmth" "classic" and "vintage" are indeed marketing terms used to sell more gear... to a point. I mean, all soft drink manufacturers will say, "crisp" and "refreshing" as well, and really who is to say? The bigger point here is exactly what you are recognizing (and you deserve to be commended for this): that they add coloration to the sound.
Now if the manufacturer said of their hardware or software items, "we add distortion" or "we make unfaithful recordings" then it would take a lot more explaining. Instead we use fun terms for the coloration of sound that nobody can really agree on. Ask a dozen people what it means to sound "warm" and you'll get about 20 different answers.

Now as for the compressors, well crap, I could say a lot about compressors. I did already, it takes up like 80 pages of the book (minor bit of shameless self-promotion) including about 10-12 pages just on the 1176 plug-in. You are absolutely correct that original point of any compressor is to be an automatic volume control. And yes, in a software system or even an automated console, you can automate the output level of a track to get a perfectly controlled vocal track. But the reality of the outboard gear that attempted to control levels in the analog domain is that the process of controlling that level brought with it all sorts of artifacts. Some of those artifacts sound "pleasing" and others don't.
The bigger thing to learn is that they just simply sound. They sound the way they sound, and sometimes that sound can be pleasing. The sounds you get may work for one instrument, or voice, or microphone, or mix, or whatever, and they might be completely wrong for something else. It's up to the engineer (this means you) to decide.

Now as for the modern convenience of plug-ins versus the analog "real thing" I do have an opinion on that. And I'll promise it is not related to the book - it's actually quite practical. Basically I figure that if the plug-in, or program within your multi-effects processor gets you 95% of the sound of the original... then really, are you working at a level where you need more authenticity than that? Isn't the whole point just to get a good sound? So I don't tend to chase after racks and racks full of vintage gear. I love the fact that one $500 plug-in purchase can cover dozens of tracks simultaneously while a $5,000 hardware purchase might only cover 1 channel... with no recall, automation, or other capabilities. For me that's a pretty straightforward cost-benefit analysis. But as always, your mileage may vary.

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Post by leigh » Fri Feb 24, 2012 11:20 pm

Professor wrote:You are absolutely correct that original point of any compressor is to be an automatic volume control. And yes, in a software system or even an automated console, you can automate the output level of a track to get a perfectly controlled vocal track. But the reality of the outboard gear that attempted to control levels in the analog domain is that the process of controlling that level brought with it all sorts of artifacts. Some of those artifacts sound "pleasing" and others don't.
Agreed. Turning volume up and down is why compressors were invented. And then over a few decades of use and abuse by pop engineers, those compression artifacts developed into a vocabulary for modern music. So when someone like the OP here asks if "vintage" sounds are still relevant, the answer is hell yes, because whether you know it or not, that's part of the vocabulary of pop you grew up hearing. It's part of the canon now. Shakespeare is no longer at the vanguard of English literature, but he still gets quoted all the time.

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Post by vvv » Sat Feb 25, 2012 12:31 am

I just obtained a 1176 clone a cuppla weeks ago.

I've never had a real 1176, but this really has a older kinda vibe to it that I'm loving.

You plug in (I've been using a 421 into a Summit 2BA 221) and it feels/sounds, eh, right. I have other compressors I use (RNC, Meek, etc.), but this is the shite.

I've been strapping a 20 y.o. 166X on my bass sometimes, as well as a 163X, altho' sometimes I'll use a VLA2.

But really, for me, it's more about hardware than not. When I use a software compressor, it's to tweak and smooth levels, etc. The hardware is for that plus vibe.

Cost-wise I've not spent more than US$150 on any of many compressors, except the 1176 (US$400 +).
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Post by Marc Alan Goodman » Tue Mar 06, 2012 1:41 pm

A lot of good points in this thread, especially Prof's about making the best with what you've got.

Here's the thing a lot of people seem to overlook: recording engineers deal mostly in electricity, not sound. The band makes the sound, we move the mics around, and the mics turn it in to electricity. Then we manipulate that electricity so that eventually people can turn it back in to sound at home.

When you try to manipulate electricity you end up with side effects in the audio band, such as noise, dynamic frequency variations, phase shifts and so on. Over years of recording those side effects have developed a worldwide sense of nostalgia for what's now called the vintage sound. It's what everything we grew up listening to sounds like, and we've grown to like it.

Originally digital compressors and the like were designed to do the job they claim to do (compress), with no thought given to the side effects people have grown to love. Since then software designers have spent a lot of time trying to emulate them. The problem is that they're extremely complicated, and dependent on things such as the input signal itself, power from the wall, aging components, etc.

Personally I don't think they've nailed it yet with compressors. That's not to say that there aren't digital compressors that can do the job, and that sound fantastic in their own right, just that they don't do what big old pieces of analog outboard do, and people are very attached to that sound. I imagine that over the next few decades (actually it's pretty clear to me that it's already happening) people are going to grow more attached to the sound of digital audio manipulation and it will become less and less of an issue.

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Post by themagicmanmdt » Thu Mar 08, 2012 2:33 pm

i think the benefits of reality (ie, hardware units) aren't as apparent when we're dealing with a digital source.

when we've got a digital source, and the plugins are operating at a float bit rate above the program (ie, 32 bit plugins and a 24bit file), although it IS noticable, I believe the Prof's 95% comment is accurate for MOST plugins. some, however, don't sound nearly as good as the originals - but that's a development issue.

if you're comparing plugs (or digital emulation) in A/B comparison with an analog source (either from tape or monitoring straight from the mics on the board), THEN, in comparison with running analog outboard... the difference is clear. i describe going into digital as 'the loss of the hologram' - it hasn't gotten past that yet, unfortunately.


i think it somehow comes down to keeping audio out of the digital realm as much as possible. plus, if it's already 'in the box', i'd probably prefer keeping it in the box and using a plug then going through another D/A and A/D conversion pair just for compression... bah!
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Post by fossiltooth » Fri Mar 09, 2012 7:20 pm

Marc Alan Goodman wrote:A lot of good points in this thread, especially Prof's about making the best with what you've got.

Here's the thing a lot of people seem to overlook: recording engineers deal mostly in electricity, not sound. The band makes the sound, we move the mics around, and the mics turn it in to electricity. Then we manipulate that electricity so that eventually people can turn it back in to sound at home.

When you try to manipulate electricity you end up with side effects in the audio band, such as noise, dynamic frequency variations, phase shifts and so on. Over years of recording those side effects have developed a worldwide sense of nostalgia for what's now called the vintage sound. It's what everything we grew up listening to sounds like, and we've grown to like it.

Originally digital compressors and the like were designed to do the job they claim to do (compress), with no thought given to the side effects people have grown to love. Since then software designers have spent a lot of time trying to emulate them. The problem is that they're extremely complicated, and dependent on things such as the input signal itself, power from the wall, aging components, etc.

Personally I don't think they've nailed it yet with compressors. That's not to say that there aren't digital compressors that can do the job, and that sound fantastic in their own right, just that they don't do what big old pieces of analog outboard do, and people are very attached to that sound. I imagine that over the next few decades (actually it's pretty clear to me that it's already happening) people are going to grow more attached to the sound of digital audio manipulation and it will become less and less of an issue.
Plus a million on the things that Marc just said.

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