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First Listen: A Review Of The Rupert Neve Designs 535 Diode Bridge Compressor

Prior to the start of AES week, Rupert Neve Designs announced that they would be releasing a brand new compressor. The 535 Diode Bridge Compressor is comparable to the classic 2254, but comes in a 500 series size module and includes some new features.

I’ll admit it. I was a little skeptical at first. I’ve always thought so highly of the 2254, as it has been one of my favorite compressors on just about every source for years. From the first source I ran through the Rupert Neve Designs 535, I was completely sold. I couldn’t believe how good this little compressor sounded. It has the same smooth quality of the 2254 but is a lot cleaner with far less noise and still provides the same amount of presence and low end as the vintage Neve.

Watch our new video to hear a shootout of the Rupert Neve Designs 535 and the original Neve 2254. Continue on after the video to learn more about the updated features of the 535 and read the rest of this review.

Rupert Neve Designs has added some new features that make the 535 more suitable for the modern recording industry. They’ve increased the headroom for a wider dynamic range even with extreme amounts of compression happening and drastically lowered the noise floor. They’ve expanded the ratio controls from 1.5:1 all the way to 8:1 where the vintage 2254 only went up to 6:1.

Now you can select between six variable time constants ranging from slow to fast as well as an AUTO setting. This is one of the biggest improvements from the fixed attack of the vintage 2254. Each setting was carefully chosen for different applications.

The FAST and MF settings are designed to compress more on transient heavy source material such as drums, plucked acoustic instruments or fast dynamic vocals. When messing around with this setting on a snare drum, I noticed it was taming the attack in a pleasant smooth way without completely crushing it out of the signal, then added nice length and sustain to the tail of the drum.

MED and MS have slightly slower attack and release times, which will allow more of the transient to pass through the compressor but a longer recovery will help extend the tail of whatever you are running through it. These tended to be my favorite settings because it was maintaining all the good qualities of the transient response, but adding a little bit of smoothness and length to close miked drums. This also tended to be the most natural sounding compression on a vocal and guitar.

SLOW and AUTO are both significantly slower in the attack and release. This had the most transparent quality of the available time constants. If you needed something to be mildly tamed with an unnoticeable amount of compression, this is the perfect setting for that application.

By engaging the FAST button, the attack and release times are halved for each setting, ultimately doubling the number of time constants from six to twelve. This makes the compressor very versatile no matter what style of music you’re working on or whatever source you decide to run through it.

They’ve also included a side chain high pass filter which is fixed at 150Hz 12dB per octave. This allows the low end information to pass through without engaging the compressor. Often times when a source contains a lot of low end information, that will be what triggers the compression, which can lead to it sounding squashed and mushy. By applying the S/C HPF, you can allow all that to pass on through and focus on compressing the key frequencies of the source, which leads to a far more natural sounding compression.

A blend control gives you the ability to apply parallel compression directly inside the unit. This can allow you to dial in an extreme amount of compression, then blend in just the right amount to add some power and weight to the source. I messed around with this quite a bit since I’m a huge fan of parallel compression and how it thickens up a source.

On a vocal I was hitting the compressor with about -18dB of gain reduction, 8:1 ratio on the MED setting. When the blend was set to 100% it didn’t sound all that good, but I started dialing it back so the dry signal was dominant and achieved a beautiful, full sounding parallel compression. For drum overheads, I was hitting around -22dB of compression, 8:1 ratio on the MED setting. It was completely smashed at first and would be unusable in any mix, but by dialing the blend control back I achieved a huge, smooth and powerful overhead tone that wasn’t unbearable.

Since I only had one 535 during my demo, I wasn’t able to mess around with the LINK control, but this feature allows two 535s to be “linked” where the control voltage is shared between them. If both units have the LINK control engaged, when one unit is triggered, it will trigger the other one equally. This can be helpful when dealing with a stereo track and you wish to maintain a focused center image. This could be harmful when applied to the mix bus if one side is heavier than the other, causing the compression to kick in equally on both sides which would squash the dynamics of the entire mix.

One thing that always bothered me about the vintage Neve 2254 were the meters. For some reason they’re always complicated to read, I have to sit there for a second and figure out how to read the different levels for input, output and gain reduction. They also always tend to be very “gushy” and slow, so most of the time I would disregard the meters on the unit and just use my ears to find what I’m looking for. This isn’t something you should do on every unit when applying compression, but it’s always nice to have an accurate meter to let you know where you’re at).

The new meters on the 535 respond great, and rather than having one meter that works for level and gain reduction (like the vintage 2254), RND included a separate meter for level and gain reduction. They work in eight step brightly lit LEDs. It’s nice to be able to see the level reducing as you’re applying compression, than without switching between different metering, be able to apply the makeup gain back to the ideal level.

The threshold control and output gain control are both step controlled with 31 detents per knob. The threshold ranges from -25dBu to +20dBu and the GAIN control ranges from -6dB to +20dB.

Just like the vintage 2254, a true bypass switch is included. This is helpful to A/B the source before and after compression, making sure you aren’t smashing all the dynamics, or messing with the original gain staging of the mix by over applying the output gain.

Since we had a vintage 2254 at the studio, I had to see how they compared back to back, so we did a shootout of both compressors on a couple different sources.

We started things off by using both using the 535 on bass guitar. I wanted to hear the smooth quality of the 535 as well as the fullness in the GAIN section. The source material was my 1978 American P Bass which was recorded direct through a Universal Audio 6176. The tone was already pretty amazing because of the sound of the Universal Audio channel strip, but after running it through the 535, it took on a whole new level of depth and presence. It didn’t crush the dynamics of the bass at all, it smoothed out the attack just a tiny bit, added fullness to the back of the note, pulled out more of the overtone harmonics and brought the bass to the front of the speakers.

Next, we set an exact match of the compression and output settings on the 2254. The knobs were at slightly different positions to achieve the same amount of compression and output gain, but they were still set to the same ratio, same amount of gain reduction and hitting the meters of the Tree Audio Roots console at the exact same level.

Both compressors were two separate tracks so I could use the mutes to pop back and forth between the two. If I had my eyes closed, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the 535 and vintage 2254. Vintage King’s Dustin McLaughlin was on-hand filming the shootout and he also couldn’t hear a difference.

After bass, we moved on to electric guitar. The source material was a Gibson Les Paul played through a vintage Ampeg Gemini one that was highly overdriven by a JHS Colour Box. The mic chain was a Sennheiser MD421 through my Universal Audio 6176. When I mixed the song where this guitar track comes from, I remember applying quite a bit of compression to make it sing in the chorus. In the track, I used a UAD-2 33609, which has some similar sonic qualities as the 2254.

I dialed in the compression settings on the 535 first and easily got a tone that was far superior to the source material. It added quite a bit of magic to the low end and brought the track to the front of the speakers. I then set the 2254 so they were hitting the same amount of gain reduction and level into the console. When switching back and forth between the two channels, I seriously couldn’t hear the difference. I thought for sure the 2254 would outshine the 535 on this particular source, but the 535 held it’s ground yet again.

Now we were ready for the test I’d been waiting for. I wanted to see how these compressors stacked up on vocals. This vocal was recorded with a Rode K2 tube condenser through my 6176, which is always a nice chain on our test subject Nino’s voice. I was applying about -3dB to -6dB on both compressors with a ratio of 3:1. After setting the level on each compressor to hit the console equally, I was ready for the shootout. This is where I could hear a bit of a difference between the two compressors.

Although I thought they both sounded great, the vintage 2254 had some more information in the low end, not too much, but enough to tell a difference. Now for this particular song, I wouldn’t need that low end information and would probably end up scooping some of it away, so the 535 would actually be a better fit for the final mix. For something that is intimate and very exposed, the 2254 would be the winner.

Lastly, I ran a mono overhead through both compressors. I went a little heavy on the compression for this example because I wanted to hear how it would affect the transients of the snare and sustain of the kick drum. On the 2254, I noticed that the snare transients weren’t being tamed as much as they were on the 535. Both compressors were giving me the same amount of sustain on the drum, but the 535 was doing a better job of taming the transient without crushing it. On the kick drum, I couldn’t really hear a noticeable difference between the two units. The 535 and 2254 were doing exactly what I was looking for, which was extending the sustain of the kick drum to the downbeat of the following snare hit. I also couldn’t hear a noticeable difference in the low end information as I did with the vocal, so ultimately I think the two compressors tied in this example as well.

The Rupert Neve Designs Diode Bridge Compressor is priced at $995. A vintage 2254 typically costs around $5,000 if it’s in great working condition. I think RND knocked this compressor out of the park, it performed great and on the same level as the vintage 2254 on everything I ran through it. The cost is at an ideal price point for someone looking to add some high-quality compression to their setup without breaking the bank, and for under $2,000 could get a world class stereo bus compressor.

If you’re interested in picking up a Rupert Neve Designs 535 Diode Bridge Compressor of your own, be sure to contact your Audio Consultant at Vintage King via email or phone at 888.653.1184. 

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