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Ever wonder what exactly a VCA compressor does? VCA stands for "Voltage Controlled Amplifier." The funny thing is that it's not usually an amplifier, but an attenuator, meaning that it turns the signal down when it's fed a certain control voltage. In simple terms, that's how the gain reduction takes place in a VCA compressor; a control signal which you dial in using the different front panel controls like Threshold, Attack, Ratio and Release, tell the VCA circuit in the compressor when to start turning the signal down, how fast to do it, how much to do it, and how long it should take for the signal volume to return to normal.
This type of design is usually favored for mix buss applications, since it's a design that allows for a lot of control, a wide range of different response times, and can be made to react very quickly if desired. This gives you all the power you need to create cohesion and punch in your mixes, regardless of the type of song, the tempo, how loud the drums may be, and all that business. If you are going to have one single mix buss compressor that needs to cover a lot of different ground, then a stereo VCA compressor is a smart choice.
We talked with long-time engineer and Vintage King’s Director of Business Development Ryan McGuire about some of his favorite VCA compressors and what it is about each one that makes them so special in the studio setting.
Overstayer Stereo Voltage Control:
At a reasonable price point, this is one of the most highly regarded VCA compressors on the market. Designed and built by audio genius Jeff Turzo, a man responsible for countless high-end custom gear building projects for top producers. Now you can have one of his "secret weapon" designs at an accessible price point, but with no sacrifice in audio quality.
A masterpiece of VCA-based audio artwork. Hand-made in Germany with a complete "cut-no-corners" philosophy, this is as good as it gets in terms of transparency, detail, refinement and musicality. A proprietary discrete VCA module powers this gentle giant. No audio is in danger of obliteration in the presence of this machine; it only makes everything sound better.
Smart Research C2:
The classic English-style VCA buss compressor that you have heard on hundreds of hit records. Inspired by the Oxford, England originators of this compressor style, it brings its own set of tricks to the party with its super punchy and crazy "Crush" feature and more adjustability than the originals.
Smart Research C1LA:
500 Series saves space, and in this case, money! Get the classic Smart style VCA compression with a few more features even, but in the 500 series format to save space and weight if you are on the go.
SSL G-Series Stereo Compressor:
The newest rendition of a long legacy involving the best VCA compressor designs this planet has ever seen. SSL was at the forefront of VCA technology with it's highly sought after FX G384 from the 1990's and now that same design has evolved into its modern studio mainstay.
Want instant rock 'n' roll? This is as close to rock 'n' roll in a box as your stereo mix will ever see. Tight, punchy, warm and in your face. The API sound never fails to excite and this is no exception. Try the "thrust" circuit on your drum mix and thank us later.
Shadow Hills Dual Vandergraph:
A simplified and more accessible version of the Mastering Compressor's VCA section. Saves space in the 500 series and gets you a taste of what the big boy can do without having to sell your car!
Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor:
The grand master of VCA compressors. This beast is two compressors in one! A stereo optical compressor followed by a discrete stereo VCA compressor so that you can truly tackle any task from recording any source to making your mix buss snap with this single machine. Many people think it's tube-based, but it's all Class A/B discrete solid state with hand built circuitry of the highest grade. Use the three switchable output transformer options to adjust the units color from clean (Nickel), to Neve-like (Iron), to API-Like (Steel). The ultimate desert island compressor as there is nothing it cannot do well.
Dramastic Obsidian Stereo Compressor:
Classic Oxford, England style VCA compressor but with a decidedly more organic sound to it. The secret weapon of a handful of rock mixers we know, it gives you air, punch and presence, but has a little more chilled out and natural sonic character than the originals. A very charismatic combination.
Dramastic Obsidian 500:
There is no sonic difference between the 19" rack version and this 500 series version! Literally none. You don't hear that said often do you?
Not only a mastering engineer's dream, but it's amazing on the mix buss when transparency is important. You can lay into this machine super heavy and it doesn't give much up, just a smooth buttery dynamic envelope with minimal artifacts and coloration.