Blending Dynamics with the API 2500, MANLEY VARI MU and TK AUDIO S-BLENDER
I'm not the biggest advocate for dynamics processing during the mastering phase, except for perhaps the unfortunate ultimate brick wall. Compression really works when used deliberatly in the mix phase, focusing on vocals and drums and other percussive instruments. When mastering I usually apply 1dB gain reduction per module at most. And too often will revisit compressors after a few tracks and regret something.
Listening back to my past work I often feel a bit too much life has been squashed. This realization, along with an awesome closeout at Perfect Circuit, led me to purchase the TK Audio S-Blender Mastering Console- a real fucking savior for my delayed compression masochistic tendencies.
The S-Blender has a few cool features, like two stereo inserts that can switch places, a monitoring control that I'll never use and a single master bypass switch. But obviously, as the name implies, the real appeal is its parallel processing abilities where I can wet / dry blend both inserts.
I wasn't necessarily struggling to incorporate my API 2500 previously. It is my primary compressor and I use it for nearly all microdynamic processing. It can be very quick, near to that of a brick wall limiter, and it has some very fun, unique features that set it aside from other compressors. Like several options for signal linking, the cool AF LOUD mode, and that gluey makeup gain everyone raves about.
But still the 2500's versatility can increase with the help of an insert processor like the S-Blender. I don't think a better analog parallel compressor combo exists, with the API's nearly instantaneous attack times and auto calibrated makeup gain. Now I can use the compressor as before at full with its forward midrange and glue, or I can dial it back and increase the RMS while saving peaks with lightning attack times. And also moving away from typical parallel dynamics processing can be super useful as well- It can be a punchy madman with a slower attack and heavy gain reduction at something like 10% blend.
While the 2500 / S-Blender could easily survive as my only dynamics module, I have a second stereo insert and no will power.
For a couple years I had the IGS Tubecore 3U ME, which had lots of fun features but an unfortunately unpleasant harsh tube breakup when pushed which made me rethink the unit’s color overall. And now that I have the S-Blender I had the option to insert any compressor parallel, somewhat reducing the IGS’s appeal.
I decided to sell the IGS and give the so-called *real thing* a shot after reading entirely too much about the Manley Mu online. I found a great deal on a used mastering edition Mu at Vintage King and decided what the hell, savings accounts are for squares.
So its only been a couple months with the Manley, but for my macrodynamic work I'm happy enough. Its totally true that the Manley Mu does not work for all projects, but I've found that adding a blend control really expands its usefulness to a point where its on nearly every track I master.
Maybe the reason I still feel apprehensive with the Manley is that I honestly expected more color. I thought I'd be able to drive the unit into thicker harmonic territories with it’s controls alone. Don't get me wrong- there's obviously added lower order harmonics, but nothing really resembling the tube saturation I expected. But maybe my hopes are unrealistic, and just another heavy hand I'd regret next year.
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