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1997, PreSonus Audio Electronics, Incorporated. All rights reserved. Updated by J-Luck 2004
PreSonus Limited Warranty
PreSonus Audio Electronics Inc. warrants this product to be free of defects in material and workmanship for a period of one year from the date of original retail purchase. This warranty is enforceable only by the original retail purchaser. To be protected by this warranty, the purchaser must complete and return the enclosed warranty card within 14 days of purchase. During the warranty period PreSonus shall, at its sole and absolute option, either repair or replace, free of charge, any product that proves to be defective on inspection by PreSonus or its authorized service representative. To obtain warranty service, the purchaser must first call or write PreSonus at the address and telephone number printed below to obtain a Return Authorization Number and instructions of where to return the unit for service. All inquiries must be accompanied by a description of the problem. All authorized returns must be sent to the PreSonus repair facility postage prepaid, insured and properly packaged. PreSonus reserves the right to update any unit returned for repair. PreSonus reserves the right to change or improve the design of the product at any time without prior notice. This warranty does not cover claims for damage due to abuse, neglect, alteration or attempted repair by unauthorized personnel, and is limited to failures arising during normal use that are due to defects in material or workmanship in the product. Any implied warranties, including implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose, are limited in duration to the length of this limited warranty. Some states do not allow limitations on how long an implied warranty lasts, so the above limitation may not apply to you. In no event will PreSonus be liable for incidental, consequential or other damages resulting from the breach of any express or implied warranty, including , among other things, damage to property, damage based on inconvenience or on loss of use of the product, and, to the extent permitted by law, damages for personal injury. Some states do not allow the exclusion of limitation of incidental or consequential damages, so the above limitation or exclusion may not apply to you. This warranty gives you specific legal rights, and you may also have other rights which vary form state to state. This warranty only applies to products sold and used in the United States of America. For warranty information in all other countries please refer to your local distributor.
PreSonus Audio Electronics, Inc. 501 Government St. Baton Rouge, LA 70802 (504) 344-7887
1997, PreSonus Audio Electronics, Incorporated. All rights reserved.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Overview A Word about Compression 1.1 Introduction 1.2 Features 2. Controls & Connections 2.1 Front Panel Basic Layout 2.2 Back Panel Basic Layout 2.3 Presets 3. Basic Setup & Operation 3.1 Quick Start 3.2 Basic Connections 3.3 Basic Operating Procedures 4. Technical 4.1 Specifications
A Word about Compression. Punch, apparent loudness, presence. just three of many terms used to describe the effects of compression/limiting. Compression and limiting are forms of dynamic range (volume) control. Audio signals have very wide peak to average signal level ratios (sometimes referred to as dynamic range which is the difference between the loudest level and the softest level). The peak signal can cause overload in the audio recording or reproduction chain resulting in signal distortion. A compressor/limiter is a type of amplifier in which gain is dependent on the signal level passing through it. You can set the maximum level a compressor/limiter allows to pass through, thereby causing automatic gain reduction above some predetermined signal level or threshold. Compression refers basically to the ability to reduce the output level of an audio signal by a fixed ratio relative to the input. It is useful for lowering the dynamic range of an instrument or vocal, making it easier to record without distorting the recorder. It also assists in the mixing process by reducing the amount of level changes needed for a particular instrument. Take, for example, a vocalist who moves around in front of the microphone while performing, thus making the output level vary up and down unnaturally. A compressor can be applied to the
signal to help correct this recording problem by reducing the louder passages enough to be compatible with the overall performance. How severely the compressor reduces the signal is determined by the compression ratio and compression threshold. A ratio of 2: 1 or less is considered mild compression, reducing the output by two for signals greater than the compression threshold. Ratios above 10:1 are considered hard limiting. Limiting refers to the point at which the signal is restrained from going any louder at the output. The level of input signal at which the output is reduced is determined by the compression threshold. As the compression threshold is lowered, more and more of the input signal is compressed (assuming a nominal input signal level). Care must be taken not to over compress a signal. Too much compression destroys the acoustical dynamic response of a performance. (Over compression, however, is used by some engineers as an effect, and with killer results!) Compressor/limiters are commonly used for many audio applications. A kick drum can get lost in a wall of electric guitars. No matter how much level is increased, the kick drum stays lost in the mud. Add a touch of compression and tighten up that kick drum sound allowing it to punch through without having to crank the level way up. A vocal performance usually has a wide dynamic range. Transients (the very loudest portion of the signal) can be far outside the average level of the vocal signal. It is extremely difficult to ride the level with a console fader. A compressor/limiter automatically controls gain without altering the subtleties of the performance. A solo guitar can seem to be masked by the rhythm guitars. Compression can make your lead soar above the track without shoving the fader through the roof. Bass guitar can be difficult to record. A consistent level with good attack can be achieved with proper compression. Your bass doesnt have to be washed out in the low end of the mix. Let the compressor/limiter give your bass the punch it needs to drive the bottom of the track.
Thank you for purchasing the PreSonus Blue Max smart compressor/limiter with presets. Your Blue Max was designed with you, the end user in mind. As far as we know, it is the only compressor in the world with built-in compression presets. The presets were created not only to assist in setting up the compressor but to offer you the experience of professional engineers in using compression. If this is your first compressor, you will instantly gain valuable insight into what can be a confusing experience. The experienced user will gain a few tricks of the trade usually kept in the arsenal of professional engineers. This dynamics processor was built with state of the art components to deliver crystal clear compression for an infinite period of time. We believe the Blue Max to be an exceptional sounding unit at an exceptional price. We hope you agree. Feel free to contact us at 1-800750-0323 anytime for any reason. We value your comments and suggestions. Please pay close attention to how you connect your Blue Max to your system. Improper grounding is the most common cause of noise problems in both live and studio applications. We suggest you look at the connection diagrams which are part of this manual to insure optimum operation.
The following is a summary of the features of the Blue Max:
PRESETS. There are 15 studio proven settings for voice, percussion, fretted
instruments, keyboards, stereo processing and effects.
VARIABLE INPUT CONTROL. In addition to normal stereo inputs the input control allows low signal levels such as direct output of electric guitars and basses to be increased to optimum levels. MANUAL MODE. Full operator control of ratio, attack and release is offered in manual mode. STEREO INPUTS/OUTPUTS. inch unbalanced stereo inputs (left side mono) and inch unbalanced stereo outputs (left side mono) for stereo recording and mix down use. FULL METERING. Full metering for input and output levels are available as well as separate meters for gain reduction.
VARIABLE OUTPUT. Output control allows gain changes from - 20dB to +20dB.
SIDECHAIN INSERT. Sidechain insert allows the Blue Max to be used for special processing applications such as de-essing and ducking. +4dBu OR -10dBV OPERATION. Internal operating levels are switchable from +4dBu to -10db V for system matching requirements. INTERNAL POWER SUPPLY. No Wall Wart!
2. CONTROLS & CONNECTIONS
2.1 FRONT PANEL BASIC LAYOUT
The front panel on the Blue Max is divided into three sections. These are:
Fifteen detented preset positions and Manual select.
The Presets for the Blue Max are controlled by this sixteen position rotary encoder. As the encoder is rotated, parameters are digitally switched, simultaneously controlling attack, release, ratio and threshold. 2. Controls: & Meters Input
The Input control adjusts the gain on the input amplifiers for both channels. Amplification gain varies widely from -20dB to +40dB. The large range is necessary to amplify instruments such as guitar. Thus the input stage to the Blue Max is actually a pre-amp. Note: The input control is always active, even in manual mode. Ratio
Ratio sets the compression slope. This is defined as the output level versus the input level. For example, if you have the ratio set to 2:1, any signal levels above the threshold (note: threshold is a preset parameter in the Blue Max) will be compressed at a compression ration
of 2:1. This simply means that for every 1dB of level increase into the compressor, the output will only increase 1/2dB, thus producing a compression gain reduction of 0.5dB. As you increase the ratio, the compressor gradually becomes a limiter. A limiter is defined as a processor that limits the level of a signal to the compression threshold. For example, if you have the ratio set to 20: 1, input set at 0dB, the output of the Blue Max will be limited to the
internal threshold of the compressor, which is set to 10dB in manual mode.
Note: The ratio control is only active in manual mode. Attack and Release
Attack sets the speed at which the compressor acts on the input signal. A slow attack time (fully clockwise) allows the beginning envelope of a signal (commonly referred to as the initial transient) to pass through the compressor uncompressed, whereas a fast attack time (fully counter-clockwise) immediately subjects the signal to the ratio and threshold settings of the compressor. Release sets the length of time the compressor takes to return the gain reduction back to zero (no gain reduction). Very short release times can produce a very choppy or jittery sound, especially in low frequency instruments such as a bass guitar. Very long release times can result in an over compressed sound, sometimes referred to as squashing the sound. All ranges of release can be useful at different times however and you should experiment to become familiar with the different sound possibilities. Note: The Attack and Release controls are only active in Manual mode.
Input / Output Meter
The Input/Output meter shows the signal level being processed by the Blue Max. Input refers to the signal level being processed by the Blue Max before processing. Output refers to the signal level after processing. 0dB on the meter is referenced to the +4/-10 switch on the rear of the unit. In +4 mode, 0dB = +4dBu. In -10 mode, 0dB = -l0dBV.
Gain Reduction Meter
The Gain Reduction meter indicates the amount of gain being reduced by the compressor in dB.
3. Output & Pushbuttons Output Level Control
The Output control is used to set the desired output of the Blue Max. It is sometimes referred to as gain makeup control. This term is derived from the fact that as the compressor lowers the output level during gain reduction, the overall signal level is lowered, requiring the user to makeup the gain thereby restoring the original signal level.
Input / Output Meter Select
This button selects the function of the Input/Output meter. Pushed in, the meter gives you the level of the input signal. Pushed out, the meter gives you the level of the signal after compression; the output level.
The Process button is similar to a bypass button except that the signal is still effected by the Input of the Blue Max. Pushed in, the Blue Max is processing the signal (compressing). Pushed out, the Blue Max is no longer compressing the signal; however the input gain setting remains active.
BACK PANEL LAYOUT
The input jack accepts unbalanced tip-sleeve connectors. The input can handle up to +24dBu unbalanced levels. The left input is a dedicated mono input.
The output jack accepts unbalanced tip-sleeve connectors. The output will deliver up to +24dBu in signal level unbalanced. The left output is a dedicated mono output.
The sidechain jack on each channel interrupts the signal that the compressor is using to determine the amount of gain reduction to apply. When no connector is inserted into this jack, the input signal goes directly to the compressors control circuitry. When a connector is inserted into this jack, the signal path is broken. If you have inserted a tip-ring-sleeve connector, the input signal is sent back out of the Blue Max via the tip of the connector. This signal can then be processed by an equalizer for example to reduce sibilance (de-essing) in a vocal track. The signal is then returned to the unit via the sleeve of the connector.
The signal sent to the sleeve could be that of a narrator or vocalist. In this application, the audio that you are passing through the compressor will automatically duck when the narrator speaks or vocalist sings.
This switch adjusts the internal operating level of your Blue Max when it is connected to line level (0dB = -10dBV) gear. With the switch in the -10 position, the signal is raised internally so that it is processed at the lower noise floor of your Blue Maxs internal circuitry. The signal level is lowered on the way out to match up with your line level gears input. When the switch is in the +4 position, the signal is not changed since this matches the internal operating level of your Blue Max. This function may also be useful in creating special effects with the compressor and gate of the channel by overcompressing.
1 SOFT - Easy compression. A low ratio setting for ballads allowing a wider dynamic range. Good for live use. This setting lets the vocal sit in the track. Threshold -8.2dB Ratio 1.8:1 Attack 0.002mS Release 38mS
2 MEDIUM - More limiting than preset 1 for a narrower dynamic range. It moves the vocal more up front in the mix. Threshold -3.3dB Ratio 2.8:1 Attack 0.002mS Release 38mS
3 SCREAMER - For loud vocals. Fairly hard compression for a vocalist who is on and off the microphone a lot. It puts the voice in your face. Threshold -1.1dB Ratio 3.8:1 Attack 0.002mS Release 38mS
Percussion 1 SNARE/KICK - Allows the first transient through and compresses the rest of the signal
giving a hard snap up front with a longer release. Threshold -2.1dB Ratio 3.5:1 Attack 78mS Release 300mS
2 L/R (Stereo) OVERHEAD - A low ratio and threshold gives a fat contour to even out the
sound from overhead drum mics. Low end is increased and the overall sound is more present and less ambient. More boom less room. Threshold -13.7dB Ratio 1.3:1 Attack 27mS Release 128mS
1 ELECTRIC BASS - A fast attack and slow release to tighten up the electric bass and give you control for more consistent level. Threshold -4.4dB Ratio 2.6:1 Attack 45.7mS Release 189mS
2 ACOUSTIC GUITAR - This setting accentuates the attack of the acoustic guitar and helps maintain an even signal level keeping the acoustic guitar from disappearing in the track. Threshold -6.3dB Ratio 3.4:1 Attack 188mS Release 400mS
3 ELECTRIC GUITAR - A setting for crunch electric rhythm guitar. A slow attack helps get the electric rhythm guitar up close and personal and gives punch to your crunch. Threshold -0.1dB Ratio 2.4:1 Attack 26mS Release 194mS
1 PIANO - A special setting for an even level. Designed to help even up the top and bottom of an acoustic piano. Helps the left hand be heard with the right hand. Threshold -10.8dB Ratio 1.9:1 Attack 108mS Release 112mS
2 SYNTH - Fast attack and release for synthesizer horn stabs and for bass lines played on a synthesizer. Threshold Ratio Attack Release -11.9dB 1.8:1 0.002mS 85mS 3 ORCHESTRAL - Use this setting for string pads and other types of synthesized orchestra parts. It will decrease the overall dynamic range for easier placement in the mix. Threshold -3.3dB Ratio 2.5:1 Attack 1.8mS Release 50mS
1 STEREO LIMITER - Just as the name implies. A hard limiter setting (brick wall) ideal for controlling level to the 2 track mixdown deck or stereo output. Threshold -5.5dB Ratio 7.1:1 Attack 0.001mS Release 98mS
2 CONTOUR - A contoured setting for use on the stereo output to fatten up the mix. Threshold -13.4dB Ratio 1.2:1 Attack 0.002mS Release 182mS
Effects 1 SQUEEZE - Dynamic compression for solo work, especially electric guitar. It gives you
that glassy tele/strat sound. A true classic. Threshold -4.6dB Ratio 2.4:1 Attack 7.2mS Release 93mS
2 PUMP - Make the Blue Max pump up the prime. A setting for making the compressor pump in a desirable way. This effect is good for snare drum to increase the length of the transient by bringing the signal up after the initial spike. Very contemporary. Threshold 0dB Ratio 1.9:1 Attack 1mS Release 0.001mS
3. BASIC SETUP & OPERATION
3.1 QUICK START
1. Connect your Blue Max using one of the diagrams below. 2. Select either +4 or -10 operating level. (Reminder: +4 is for pro levels such as consoles, -10 is for consumer levels or instruments) 3. Select your preset. (Refer to the preset descriptions above. Remember that the Ratio, Attack and Release knobs are only active in Manual mode.) 4. Push the Process button in. 5. Turn the Input knob all the way to -20 (counter-clockwise). 6. Set the Output knob on 0. 7. Slowly turn the Input knob up (clockwise) until the Gain Reduction meters begin to move. Continue to rotate the Input knob until the Gain Reduction meters read between -5 and -7. 8. Adjust the Output knob to the desired output level. You should now have a very natural sounding compressed signal. Of course you should experiment with the settings to suit your taste.
Inserting into your mixers insert point.
Note: If you dont get any signal flow at first, try swapping the input and output connections.
Connecting your instrument, mixer or tape machine.
Connecting for de-essing or spectral processing.
Connecting for stereo operation.
3.3 BASIC OPERATING PROCEDURES
Setting Compression Amount
Your Blue Max was designed with a fixed threshold mode of operation. This differs from other compressors in the fact that there is no threshold control. This offers the unique ability to immediately hear the sometimes subtle differences between presets which each have unique threshold settings. In setting the compression amount, always begin with the Input control all the way counter-clockwise (-20dB), and slowly increase the input until the Gain Reduction meters begin to register the compression activity. The more you crank up the Input the more compression your signal will experience. Always pay close attention to the best judge of your sound, your ear. You should also frequently remove the compression from the signal using the Process button to listen to the changes in your sound. In modem recording practice, it is customary to adjust the Output control such that the Input and Output level are of equal amounts according to the Input/Output meter. This gives you an equal level output so that you can switch processing in and out to compare difference.
Your Blue Max was designed with a high gain mono input to act as a preamp for instruments such as guitar and bass. Of course, you can also connect your keyboards, etc. in this mode. Note: It is very important not to rely on the high input gain of the Blue Max to boost the level of a signal too low to record or amplify, other than that of instruments such as guitar and bass. Be sure that you are sending the Blue Max at least a moderate level before setting the compression. In this manner you avoid unnecessary input amplifier noise.
Your Blue Max is operating in a linked stereo mode at all times. In this mode, both signals are used to create the gain reduction amount. This insures proper stereo imaging in stereo compression applications. The stereo presets were optimized for two basic settings; however all of the presets will work in stereo mode.
With the Preset selector set in the Manual position, you have complete control over the compression settings. In this mode, the threshold is fixed to 10dB. Therefore, you should follow the same setup procedure as in the preset operating modes. Remember that if the Ratio control is set to 1:1 (fully counter-clockwise), the compressor is basically off. A good place to start is with a 2:1 compression setting and Attack and Release in the 12 oclock positions. You may also want to start with one of the preset settings as described above.
SPECIFICATIONS Number of Channels Dynamic Range Signal to Noise Ratio Headroom. Frequency Response Crosstalk Compression Ratio Compressor Attack Time Compressor Release Time Input Impedance, Left/Mono Input Impedance, Right Output Impedance THD + Noise Input Gain Output Gain Compressor Metering Sidechain Output Impedance Sidechain Input Impedance Internal Operating Level Input Range Input Connectors Output Connectors Sidechain Connector Power Supply Power Requirements Weight Size 2 > 115dB >95dB + 24dBu 10Hz to 50kHz >82db @ 10kHz 1:1 to 20:1 0.0ImS to 100mS 10mS to 500mS 100kOhms 10kOhms 51 Ohms <0.03% 20dB to +40dB 20dB to +20dB Input/Output Level, Gain Reduction 51 Ohms 10kOhms +4dBu = 0dB +4dBu or -10dBV, Switchable , Tip Sleeve , Tip Sleeve , Tip Ring Sleeve Internal, Linear Supply 120V AC or 240V AC, 10W 8lbs. 8X1.72X5
Product Reviews Electronic Musician, August 1997 BlueMAX
By Brian Knave The personal-studio revolution put exquisite audio tools into the hands of the masses, but it did not manage to wipe out the inequity of the Haves and Have-Nots. Large commercial studios can still afford the sexy, high-end gear that home recordists can only dream about ("Same as it ever was," to borrow a line from David Byrne.) But how much improvement in audio quality are those rich acquisition budgets buying the pampered pros? For example, does the sound of a $ 4,000 signal processor outstrip the sound of a $400 unit by such a huge margin that the expensive model automatically elevates source signals to a pinnacle of undeniable brilliance? Well, we just have to know how much audio magic lies within those costly toys. In June of 1997 EM ("Rich Man Poor Man"), we pitted high-end microphone preamps against inexpensive models to see exactly what the pricey boxes delivered in relation to preamps we could all afford. Now, we're sliding six solid state, stereo compressors under our microscope for a similar price versus performance comparison. For the inexpensive category, we looked at three models costing less than $ 300 each: the Aphex 108, the dbx266A, and the PreSonus BlueMAX. The opulent units chosen were the Avalon AD2044 ($4,200), the dbx160S ($2,495), and the Focusrite Red ($3,995). Is there even a prayer that the affordable boxes can sound decent compared to the tonal sophistication of such moneyed majesty? Should you simply toss your masters into the nearest trash bin until you can afford to spend four grand on a real compressor? Sit tight, gang: all will be revealed as we toss the diamonds in with the cubic zirconia, shake things up, and see which sparklers really shine. THE ARENA To test the units, I focused on five instruments: electric fretless bass, acoustic guitar, vocals, kick drum, and snare drum. I recorded each instrument flat (without EQ) through a Mackie 8-Bus console to one track on an ADAT XT and cloned the performances to tracks three through eight. For vocals and acoustic guitar, I used a
PreSonus Audio Electronics | 7257 Florida Blvd, Baton Rouge, LA 70806 T 225.216.7887 F 225.926.8347 | www.presonus.com
Neumann U 87; for kick drum an AKG D 112: and for the snare drum, an Earthworks, TC-40K for brush work and a Shure SM57 for sticks. I recorded the bass guitar direct via a Countryman DI box. I set up the tests so I could patch each compressor into a separate channel insert and hear the units side by side, in real time, processing the same signal. Of course, I also made use of each compressor's bypass switch to compare processed and unprocessed signals. In addition, I listened to each compressor with some tracks--primarily fiddle, funky Stratocaster, and fretted bass--from a sample disc provided by PreSonus. For these monaural instrument tests, I tried a number of settings with each unit, including mild, moderate, and extreme compression ratios: different attach and release times; and varying thresholds. Naturally, I had to spend a good bit of time fiddling around with each compressor to find the best-sounding setting for each instrument. It was rarely a matter of simply applying the same setting to each unit. It was also important to hear how each compressor performed in the stereo-link mode while processing a complete mix. For this application, I dug up a few DATs that featured full band mixes as well as a few simpler mixes consisting only of guitar and vocal. For this part of the tests, I kept compression ratios low, between 1.5:1 and 2:1 (which is where they'd likely be in a typical mastering application) and sought to find the most transparent settings. Of course, I was curious to see how well the limiting worked on the units that offered it. MEET THE AFFORDABLES You know these babies. You've met them in home studios and seen them on the shelves of your local music store. Perhaps you even own one. At under $300, these units are attainable wonder boxes that can improve the sound of your tracks. But can they make a pro engineer proud, or are the marginal sounding opiates for the personal studio masses? Let's look now at these value priced compressors from Aphex, dbx, and PreSonus and assess each units strengths and weaknesses. PreSonus BlueMAX Unlike the other test units, all of which are dual-mono compressors with two sets of independent controls, the PreSonus BlueMAX "Smart Compressor" provides only on set of controls for both channels. This keeps the unit small ( less than one-half rack space ) but means that the two channels cannot be set independently. A newcomer on the market, the BlueMAX is unique in offering fifteen preset compressor settings: three each for vocals, keyboards, and fretted instruments and two each for percussion, effects and stereo programs. Used with the presets, this unit is a no-brainer. There's also a manual setting, which activates the control knobs for input, ratio, attack, release, and output the input knob ranges from -20 to +40 dB and the output from -20 to + 20 dB. Ratio is variable from 1:1 to 20:1, attack from 0.01 to 100 ms, and release from 10 to 500 ms. Two 8-segment LEDs provide metering for gain reduction and input/output (switchable). A Process in/out switch
provides bypass. The BlueMAX is an easy to grok unit with a bright blue faceplate and clearly marked controls. Considering its small size, its feature set is fairly comprehensive, with the only obvious omission being a threshold control. For manual operation, the threshold is fixed at -10 dB (a good place for it!) whereas threshold settings vary on the presets. The unit's rear panel has unbalanced 1/4-inch inputs and outputs, a single 1/4-inch sidechain connector, an operating-level switch (+4 dBu or 10dBv ), and an on/off switch. The power supply is internal and the power cord detachable. Bang for the Buck. This little box has a surprisingly big sound. Of the three low-end units, it was the one that handled bass guitar signals most gracefully, providing both smooth compression and a warm, reasonably fat sound. Accordingly, it proved excellent for kick drum, too, tightening the sound without adding boom, and accentuating just the right part of the thud. I also liked on vocals, where it provided a good natural tonality with plenty of presence. The only complaint here is that , on sudden vocal peaks, it would clench up a bit and sound somewhat edgy. Possibly, though, were there a dedicated threshold control, I would have been able to dial up a setting that better accommodated those peaks. The BlueMAX was also the most natural sounding of the low-end compressors on acoustic guitar; in fact, in terms of naturalness, it gave the high-end units a run for their money. It also sounded very natural on the fiddle: not as warm and thick as the Aphex and not so bright as the dbx 266A. On electric rhythm guitar, where naturalness of tone isn't necessarily the point, the BlueMAX provided a bit less body than the Aphex unit. Still, though, it sounded quite good. Snare drum was the only instrument I tested that didn't seem a perfect compliment for the BlueMAX. To my ear, the BlueMAX overly stressed the thud factor in the backbeats, accentuating the stick hit and de-emphasizing the "wetness" that I like so much in a snare sound. On the brush beats, the sound was slightly muffled. I also tried many of the presets on the BlueMAX and found that, in many instances, they offered compression characteristics I wasn't able to duplicate with the manual controls-- probably due to built-in variations in threshold, attack, and release settings. (the manual lists all the preset parameters, which is helpful) At any rate the BlueMAX's presets are definitely "value added" and not mere marketing hype: for each instrument I tested, at least one preset was nicely suited to the application (which, of course, is the idea). However, most of the time, I still preferred the sounds I got from dialing up my own parameters. The BlueMAX also did a fine job in stereo applications. The sound was slightly darker than the other two units and possibly punchier in the low mids, but these are hairline distinctions. SHOW ME THE MONEY
Bottom-line time: does spending ten times as much money buy ten times as much compressor? Put that way, of course, the answer is no. Then again, if the equation were that simple, people would never buy a Mercedes rather than a Nissan, or Dom Perignon rather than Cooks. So let's look more closely. So what do you get for spending ten times as much money? Well, generally, you can rest assured that no corners were cut in terms of components, design, and assembly. That engenders some major peace of mind in terms of reliability, durability, and user confidence. Sonically, the high-end units are almost always more transparent and pleasant sounding as well as cleaner and quieter. With the exception of the dbx 160S, they are more forgiving, as well. In addition, the high-end units were able to produce decent audio at extreme settings. This was not the case with the less expensive boxes, which were more likely to crash and burn at the far fringes of processing. The inexpensive compressors also charted less-than-audiophile results on vocals and bass. The distinctions were subtle, but to my ear, the low-end units imparted more of an electronic sound to the vocal tracks. As for bass guitar, evidently all that low-end energy is often simply too much for the cheaper boxes to handle well. However, the expensive compressors were not clearly superior at handling all source sounds and applications. Certain instances arose where a low-end box performed as well as a high-end one. For example, the Aphex 108 was almost as transparent sounding as the dbx 160S, as well: the BlueMAX on kick drum and the 266A on snare. These are "feel good" victories for the affordables. So unlimited headroom on a Gold Card can certainly buy gorgeous audio for many applications--especially those timbre-critical tweaks for vocals. But you don't have to feel like subpar audio is a fact of life if you are restricted to budget boxes. Just use your imagination, your ears, and the technical knowledge you gain in these very pages, and even those affordable compressors can produce delightful sounds. And if you do make a transcendent recording with inexpensive gear, the bragging rights go on for about 25 years. This article was originally published in the August 1997 issue of Electronic Musician magazine, a product of Primedia Business Magazines and Media, and is reprinted with the permission of its publisher. All rights reserved.
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