Black Rooster Audio: VLA FET Compressor: Everyone Should Have A FET In Their Arsenal

VLA-FET - VINTAGE FET LEVELING AMPLIFIER by Black Rooster Audio

If I were to recommend one compressor to every music enthusiast to get once they’ve exhausted their stock compressor, it would be the 1176. It works nicely on just about everything you throw at it from drums and bass to vocals and SFX.

The 1176 has a long reputation for providing recordings with a lot of punch and personality. Engineers like Chris Lord Alge utilize it on pretty much every mix he’s worked on, and it’s graced some of the most well-known songs in the world by recording artists such; as Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin, and many more.

 

Classic-1176-FET-Compressor

Analog processors tend to be expensive and upkeep can be pricy as well. Today, a number of software companies provide more affordable emulations of the 1176.

  • Native Instruments: VC76
  • Waves: CLA-76
  • IK Multimedia: Black 76
  • Slate Digital: FG76

 

That’s just a small handful and of course and all are good. Even UAD has its own official software version(s) of their 1176.

Having said that, there are different schools of thought on software emulations. Some who transitioned from hardware don’t miss it or think that one or two (insert vintage compressor) emulators are sufficient.

Do keep in mind that no company emulates exactly the same; hence, they all have a different sound and may simulate several 1176 iterations. Not to mention, the hardware units that were being pulled off the bench back in the day weren’t perfect replicas.

Then you have people like myself who are fascinated by how tools and music have developed. As technology advances so do the possibilities of what can be achieved with sound. So when the question “How many 1176 emulations do we need?” comes up in conversation, my answer is “HUNDREDS!!!!”

Kidding of course, but you get where I’m coming from, hopefully.

Having said that, the VLA-FET from Black Rooster Audio is the emulation I’ve been fixated on recently.

VLA-FET Compressor: Vintage Sound…Modern Options

VLA-FET Compressor

This FET emulation was inspired by the LN Rev F, which combines Lundahl transformers and an input stage op-amp similar to the LA-4A to recreate the sound of the era. In addition to the standard settings, Black Rooster Audio enhanced the device with some modern features that allow you to fine-tune the compression.

VLA-FET Compressor: Take A Listen

 

Feature’s To Pay Attention To

Auto-Fast: Adjust the release time ‘dynamically’, based on the input signal.

Mix Knob: Ideally suited for mixing dry and wet processes

Attack: Adjusts the attack time from 20 microseconds to 0.8ms.

Release: Adjusts the release time from 50ms to 1.1s.

SHCP: Adjusts the side-chain high-pass filter

 

British Mode: The Beatles Sound

FET compressors are popular because they are fast and good at squashing transients. Over the years, they’ve become a favored dynamic processor for parallel compression. You may combine your dry and compressed signals using parallel compression to acquire the body and edge of over-compression while retaining the transients.

British Mode is accomplished by enabling the ‘All Button’ which increases distortion resulting in a gritty in-your-face sound that people love and have used for decades on

  • Drums
  • Vocals
  • Room Mics
  • Etc

 

VLA-FET Compressor British Mode

‘All Mode’ aka British Mode Engaged

 

Try the British (Brit) Mode on your basslines, synthesizers, foley, and field recordings and listen to how the upper harmonics alter them; the possibilities are endless.

Adding Punch To Drums & Percussive Instruments

As previously mentioned, many mixing engineers enjoy utilizing the 1176 to pulverize drums, I love them for adding punch to my sounds.

Before we continue, let me give you my definition of what punch is. Punch is a mix of the knock from the transient along with some of that mid-range/low mid-range umpf. It’s a combination of knock and beef, that’s what “punch” means to me. Others may perceive punchy as the tighter sound a kick or snare makes when the attack’s volume is increased and the decay is shortened by a transient designer.

When I say ‘punch,’ I’m referring to my definition.

A decent place to start when adding punch to your drums is to set your attack between 12 and 2 o’clock and your release between the middle and the quickest setting. Start with the quickest release time and work your way back until the sound is where you want it.

One thing to keep in mind about the 1176 is that its original technology is from the 1960s. Fast “then” is not the same as some of the more current software compressors. The transient for example, even when the compressor’s attack is set to fast, the transient still slips through a bit. In other words, it’s not an exact 0 attack like you would find on a compressor with a “look ahead” option.

Classic Dr. Pepper Setting

When I was pursuing my music degree, I had an instructor that would dedicate weeks at a time to specific compressor types. While discussing the 1176, he said “always start off with the Doctor’s Setting. It’s kind of a joke but serious enough that it appeared in our final example.

This configuration, which is as follows, was designed to quickly dial in something that sounds good.

 

Dr Pepper Compressor Setting

Classic Dr. Pepper Setting Roughly Set

 

  • Attack = 10 o’clock
  • Release = 2 o’clock
  • Ratio = 4 (4:1).

 

Then alter the input and output settings to suit the needs of the source material or your personal taste.

It’s called the Dr. Pepper Setting because it was inspired by an old Dr. Pepper advertisement that encouraged consumption at 10 o’clock, 2 o’clock, and 4 o’clock.

Adding Beautiful FET Color & Saturation Without Compression

I recall being shocked when I first realized this since, although I’ve always liked the FET’s coloring, there have been occasions when I preferred not to compress my sound. By adjusting the VLA-FET Compressor to a 1:1 ratio, this is accomplished.

When the input/output settings are set to 1:1, no compression is taking place. From this point, you may change the input/output while running your audio source through the compressor’s circuits to obtain the appropriate level.

 

Black Rooster Audio Compressor FET

1:1 Ratio Means No Compression

 

Essentially, using it only as a leveling/amplifying tool.

This technique works well on drums, basslines, and practically anything else. There are some cases where I’ll place the FET as the first device in my mastering chain to regulate the total input being fed into the rest of the chain.

Conclusions

FET compressors can be a little confusing when approached creatively. I hope these tips give you some direction and reduce the learning curve. Regardless of compressor style, you must play with a compressor on source audio while changing its settings/button combinations to fully comprehend it.

As a result, you will be forced to develop your ears and distinguish between what the emulator actually does and what you assume it is doing based on your experiences with other compressor types.

 

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About Author: Greg Savage is a music composer/sound designer and music business mentor with 20+ years of experience. For information on the music business and mentoring please visit https://www.diymusicbiz.com/

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