Miles Showell reviews the Analoguetube AT-101 Tube Compressor

Miles Showell reviews the Analoguetube AT-101 Tube Compressor

26th March 2019
Analoguetube is a London-based company started by technical engineer Simon Saywood. Having painstakingly stripped and re-built an original Fairchild 670 compressor, Simon investigated the possibilities of producing new units to closely model the original design. Sources of components were found which met or exceeded the original specification. The biggest problem facing the production of new units was finding a decent source for 6386 triode tubes. For a long time there has been a slow decline in the world-wide availability of NOS (New Old Stock) 6386 tubes. Enter JJ Electronics, a company based in The Slovak Republic. With Simon’s help, JJ Electronics were able to successfully reverse engineer the triodes and re-start production. This effort from JJ Electronics and Analoguetube has paid dividends as there is now a ready source of shiny brand-new tubes to fit into anything using the 6386-tube type. Having sourced the parts each unit is hand built, this takes around 80 hours to complete.

The most important question is how does the unit sound? Once it was warmed up the time had come to put it through its paces. Within a few bars of the first track I had a huge smile on my face. This was good! I decided to act mean and deliberately try and trip it up by putting some very fast transient and aggressive dance music through it (reasoning that nothing like this would have existed in the latter part of the 1950s from where this design hails). My plan failed spectacularly, what came out the other side sounded huge and eminently musical. All the transients were intact but the AT-101 had glued the mix together and squeezed the low end very gently which rounded it out beautifully and gave the kick a solid thump but without causing the mix to pump. I sent a version of the track to the re-mixer who had supplied it and he asked me how I had managed to master the stems when all he had supplied was the stereo mix!
Next, a change of musical styles, a female singer songwriter and a largely acoustic track. A little adjustment to the time constant settings and a play with the input and threshold levels and once again I was in business. The AT-101 just did something magical to the vocal. The singer in question has an amazing instrument full of colour. The post AT-101 processed mix gave her track a gorgeous character. Even more richness and colour in her vocal while the band also seemed to be smiling more while they played.
I could go on giving countless examples where the compressed version sounded “nicer” than the un-processed original, but this might get a little boring. In short, almost everything I throw at the AT-101 comes back sounding better having gone through it, regardless of musical styles or genres. Just because you can set it to full-on, slammed “Rock ‘n’ Roll” mode does not mean you cannot also gently squeeze the slightly too wide dynamic range of that problematical crossover classical or movie soundtrack recording. If you really want to go crazy with the compression, this unit can handle a huge amount of limiting seemingly without introducing crushing or excessive distortion and other unwanted artefacts.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, it can be as subtle as you want. This versatility is key for me. Obviously, buying one involved a serious personal investment on my part, however these are not cheaply built in a far-flung factory but are an esoteric handmade labour of love. Ultimately, I am serious about my work and therefore the mastered files I generate deserve to be the very best they can be. It is my own personal secret weapon. There is only one problem, stopping myself putting it on everything, it really is that good.

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