Virtual Buss Compressors is a suite of three unique-sounding dynamic processors that are modeled from some of the most classic mix buss compressors in the audio industry. Careful attention was paid to recreating the unique nonlinearities of the circuit paths that give each compressor its distinct tone – including their transformers, tubes, VCA’s, amplifiers, phase distortions, harmonic distortions and timing. VBC is perfect for adding a professional final touch to your mixes.
This compressor is based on the classic RED-faced compressor that has been a favorite of mix legend Chris Lord Alge, who first showed it to me when I visited his studio years ago. I thought it was odd actually: here was this compressor that nobody else seemed to really use, and it was on a setting at 1.5:1 and the attack looked very fast for a Mix-Buss compressor. This was puzzling because I usually associated a faster attack with a loss of transient punch, but if you’ve heard Chris’s mixes you know that they are the exact opposite of that! So being the classic gearslut, I bought one, (I got the unit with both input and output transformers). The first thing I did was put it on my mix in the settings that Chris showed me… 1.5:1, attack around 10/11 o’clock, auto release, compressing just 2-3db tops. And…. WOW! One of the clearest, punchiest sounding rock mixes I’d ever heard come out of my own speakers. This unit was amazing!!!
When Fabrice and I analyzed the RED, we found out that it was indeed a very unique beast. The attack and auto-release work in an interesting way and are very musical, but the real magic we found was in the output section! We found that just pushing the makeup gain a few db did some insane things to the sound! A little push and things got a ton more punchy, fat, and aggressive. After more examination, we realized that this was due to a series of nonlinear reactions caused by the output transformer. Howie Weinberg, the famous mastering engineer who has a studio on our campus, let us in on a little secret: He uses his RED not for compression, but just to use the output gain to get that amazing effect! So I decided to do something that the original unit cannot…I put that output transformer effect on a knob called DRIVE. When you push the DRIVE knob, you get a beautiful punch and articulation of the transients, and you can control just how much you want, regardless of whether or not you use the makeup gain! Famous rock mixer Justin Netbank beta tested the FG-RED and loves the drive, suggesting ‘6.6’ as the magic number. But you can try cranking it all the way for an interesting effect!
The FG-GREY starts off with a very precise model of the classic British “4000 series console compressor”. I’ve used the hardware model for many years but I never fully appreciated just how magnificent the piece is until studying it during the modeling process. It has a way of being able to tighten and ‘gel’ the components of a mix in ways that can go from fairly transparent in auto-release mode, to very aggressive in manual mode.
We did a small mod to the circuit in our virtual model which I think you’ll really enjoy. We took the classic British discrete transformer and added some of its characteristics to the signal path. This does something amazing to the clarity of the midrange and bottom end, where the hardware unit tends to start sucking out too much bottom as you start to compress more. The hardware unit can also get slightly ‘choked’ in the mids as well, but our virtual transformer stage keeps the bottom big and round and the midrange more open, while still retaining the classic sound of the original unit. You’ll notice that there is a bit less of a drop in the bottom and the rich mids will still be nice and present when you heavily compress with the FG-GREY – I love it in both manual and auto mode, and it’s amazing on drums and guitars too!
I’ve been lucky enough to hear and use some of the most classic and hard-to-find tube buss compressors on the planet (like the Fairchild 670 and Manley Vari Mu), and let me tell you, there is some real magic that happens when your mix goes through a brilliantly-designed piece of tube gear. The midrange thickens, the lows get tighter and rounder, and the top end opens up with a beautiful sparkle… even better, those harsh upper mid overtones seems to get tamed too. For the FG-MU, we put all of these wonderful qualities into the algorithm. To experience FG-MU for the first time you don’t even have to do any compression, as just going through the processor without any gain reduction will reveal a beautiful open sound due to the modeling of the tube circuit path. Even when I’m using the FG-GREY or FG-RED, I love using the VBC Rack just so I can have the audio pass through the FG-MU!
But the FG-MU is an amazing-sounding compressor in its own right. If you scan through the presets, you’ll get a great idea of what its capable of. Smooth rich compression, fat warm compression, and even slightly aggressive compression. Overall, this is a processor that has tons of analog mojo and vibe for days. A sure hit on your ITB mixes!
The Non-Linear Difference
During the development of the Virtual Buss Compressors, I spoke to many top pros in the audio industry about mix buss plugin compressors. There seemed to be an overwhelming consensus that even though many of them were advertised as ‘analog modeled’, they still didn’t have the classic sound of analog compressors. So Fabrice and I got to work – and the first task was examining the hardware compressors and the current crop of analog modeled plugin emulations to see what was going on! And what we found was surprising: the classic analog compressors that we studied added some very complex nonlinear artifacts in their signal paths. Their sound was not simply based on their specific compression topology like timing and compression curves, some of them also had modulations, dynamic harmonic distortions, dynamic phase distortion, saturation, crosstalk, and more.
And just like in our Virtual Console Collection plug-in, these artifacts added a sonic imprint to the compression. Was this the magic sound that made the plug-in compressors sound different than the analog compressors? There was only one way to find out. We had to precisely model it. All of it!
Several months later, we had algorithms that combined the exact compressor topologies, curves, timings, as well as the circuit’s nonlinear dynamic artifacts. We were able to bypass JUST the artifacts, and the answer was very clear: much of the magic tone that has been missing from many plug-in compressors lies in these nonlinear additives. When you hear the three VBC compressors, you’ll notice a depth, life, and analog ‘vibe’ that you’ve likely not heard before in a plugin compressor. I hope that you enjoy it on your mixes!