Drawmer Compressor

Drawmer 1960 Vacuum Tube Compressor

Most valve compressors carry a heavy price premium, but Drawmer's revamped 1960 combines realistic pricing and classic performance with high quality mic inputs and a versatile instrument preamp. PAUL WHITE appreciates the sound of the '60s.

Ever since the first compressor was built, it has been evident that compressors do more than simply keep a check on signal levels they make a significant contribution to the overall sound, by adding subtle colorations and enhancements. It seems ironic that in this age of digital purity, there should be more interest than ever in older valve compressor designs that are outperformed, on paper at least, by cheaper, solid-state designs. But old compressors are hard to find, expensive to service and often rather noisier than we'd like them to be, which is why a number of companies have set about designing new products based on the old valve technology.

Drawmer's original 1960 compressor has been around for a few years but has just been given a face lift and has gained one or two new facilities into the bargain. Essentially it is a dual-channel, soft-knee compressor, though it also includes two low noise mic preamps with phantom powering and an auxiliary instrument input with 2-band EQ Though valve amplification is used extensively in the design of the 1960, there is also a great deal of solid state circuitry, which accounts for the excellent noise performance of the unit compared with older designs that use only valves.

Housed in a conventional 2U package, the 1960 is surprisingly heavy; it follows conventional Drawmer styling except that the metering is handled by VUs with nicely yellowed dials, as a concession to valve tradition. The compressor controls are arranged one channel above the other, with the exception of the Aux input, which is mono and resides at the left hand side of the front panel. All the main audio conr1ections are on balanced XLRs, with further jacks provided for side-chain access and insert points. Side-chain access is in the form of a ,stereo jack wired ring send, tip-return, while the signal inserts come after the input amplifiers but before the compressor. These are again wired as ring send, tip-return, and two sets of sockets are provided to accommodate either -1 OdBv or +4dBu operating levels.

Power is via a standard IEC socket; the mains voltage may be changed from 240v to 120v by removing a plate on the rear panel and operating the recessed selector switch there is no way this switch can be moved accidentally, which is reassuring. The mains fuses are also located at the rear, with the ratings clearly screened on the panel. The Controls: The various Input sections are located towards the left hand side of the front panel. The mono Aux input may be routed to either compressor channel-or indeed both-and accepts line or instrument level signals (via the Low/High input sensitivity switch and Gain control), it has a basic treble/bass equalisation system based on the passive systems used in classic valve guitar amplifiers, and an EQ bypass switch. A further switch selects between Flat or Bright voicing, the latter being useful when the 1960 is used as a guitar preamplifier. This 'Bright' voicing appears to put a peak in the 1960's response at around 2kHz, which gives the sound more presence. One useful characteristic of the Aux input is that it may be deliberately overdriven to add character to guitar or keyboard sounds-indeed, several guitarists of world renown are using 1 960s as part of their rack systems.

The low-noise mic amps are very straightforward, with no pad switches, but they are fitted with clip LEDs and may be used with or without phantom power (selectable independently for each channel using the Source switches in the compressor section). The sensitive input circuitry is solid-state to maintain a good noise performance. but valve amplification stages later in the circuit conspire to give the mic inputs a warm detailed sound. The Compressor: The input to each compressor is determined by the source switch, which can be set to Aux, Line, Mic or Mic 48v, the latter being the phantom power setting, which is indicated by a red status LED. A new addition to the 1960 is a high-pass filter, which may be switched out or set to either 50Hz or 100Hz.

With modern compressors, we've become used to fully variable controls, but the 1960 tips another nod in the direction of its ancestors by having switched attack and release times. The Threshold is fully variable over the range -24dB to Infinity, but the Attack control offers the simpler choice of Fast, Medium or Slow. There are six release time settings, the last two being automatic, and the final control is the ubiquitous make-up Gain which covers the range -20 to +20dB. The metering may be switched to show the output level or the degree of gain reduction taking place. As metering is via VUs, short peaks will not register correctly, but it can be argued that VUs correspond more closely to what the user actually hears.

In addition to the Normal or Bypass modes, the 1960 may also be switched to Side Chain listen, so enabling the engineer to evaluate the effect of any equalisation or other processing connected to the side-chain insert point. Below the Power toggle switch is a Stereo Link switch, which actually averages the control settings of the two channels and forces both channels to operate in unison. For predictable operation, it is advisable to ensure that both sets of channel controls have the same settings. In Use: Despite the use of valves, the 1960 is a quiet unit and sounds very clean, despite the fact that we all know that some of this apparent clarity is caused by subtle valve colorations. Certainly, when heavy compression is used, the side-effects tend to be more flattering than problematic, and even complete mixes fare well, with no undue loss of HF detail.

As a vocal compressor, the 1960 is again warm and flattering but still very detailed, and the fact that there are inbuilt mic amps means that a signal can be recorded to tape without being routed through an entire mixing console, if required. By the same token, the 1960 is ideal for live recording, where it may be used for direct-to-stereo recording without the need for a separate mixer or mic preamp.

The Aux input is quite a revelation, and provides a convenient way of treating the output from a guitar or other instrument, guitar preamplifier or speaker simulator to add both colour and compression. In this respect, the EQ and the Bright switch provide plenty of tonal variation, while the overdrive characteristics of the Aux preamp make even solid-state guitar preamps sound rather more valve-like. The instrument input is, I feel, an undervalued feature of the 1960; the EQ and Bright frequencies have been chosen for the greatest versatility and I can easily see why the 1960 is a favourite with professional guitarists. The auxiliary input impedance of l OOK is theoretically on the low side for use with non-active pickups, but in practice, it appears to work very well. Even so, I can't see why it wasn't made higher as far as I can tell, it only involves changing the value of the input shunt resistor. For use with guitars, something between 500k and 1 M would have been more suitable. The aux input valve stage has been designed to saturate in quite a pleasing manner so it is useful for creating overdriven guitar sounds or for adding a touch of dirt to keyboards. Of course, if this is to be recorded directly into the desk, then a speaker simulator placed after the 1960 would be a good idea. Conclusion: On the face of it, the 1960 might appear an expensive luxury for the private studio, but with the increasing awareness of sound quality that came with DAT and low cost digital multitrack, it is actually very appealing.

Aside from its obvious uses as a rather nice compressor, the dual mic amps make it a very practical location recording tool, while the Aux amplifier can be used to do some very creative tone shaping, especially if you're a guitar or bass player. It may also be argued that some of the tonal advantages of a valve microphone can be imparted to a conventional studio microphone for a fraction of the cost of the real thing.

While it is impossible to be definitive about something as personal as valve coloration, I feel the 1960 succeeds in recreating that flattering vintage compressor sound which has more of an effect on the sound of a mix or vocal than you might imagine. And importantly, it does this without the noise and reliability penalties of all-valve designs.

While the simple attack and release options might initially seem limiting, in reality they offer all the variety necessary, with the added bonus of perfect repeatability In all applications, the Auto release settings work well, and in situations where the programme dynamics are unpredictable, such as when processing complete mixes or recording live, they are a real bonus.

If you just need a basic compressor to go with your Portastudio, then the 1960 is most certainly overkill, but as soon as you move up to open-reel 8 or 1 6-track, or to one of the new digital multitrack formats, then it starts to look like a very serious proposition. Considering that for the price you're getting a comprehensive audio toolkit, including an excellent compressor, a couple of really good mic amps and an instrument preamplifier, all with the warmth and character of valves, the 1960 starts to look less of a luxury and more of a bargain.

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