I make no secret for my love of all things analogue, but at the same time I really appreciate that digital has opened the doors to realms in days of old, reserved only for the chosen few. Musicians now have the ability to nurture their recordings from conception through the birthing stage all the way to masterable product.
It’s also great that there are emulations out there for every conceivable piece of analogue equipment you ever wanted, and many are so good – unless you’re of a more mature time of life or you’re a bit of an analogue boffin, or you own a successful studio, you would never know the difference. However there is always a difference – however slight – and there’s something very tactile about a piece of analogue equipment: something beautiful about dialling in a little of this and a little more of that. Something about sliding that fader, turning that dial!
Well, we’re on Dangerous ground here! Dangerous Music, to be precise. The company was founded nearly 20 years ago with the launch of the 2 Bus Summing Amplifier, a product which ironically brings that analogue digital debate full circle and takes digital instruments and buses out of the box and mixes them together again in the analogue domain.
In fact, nearly every pro studio you walk into these days has one! So who are Dangerous Music? In their own words, they are a team of musicians, studio owners, producers and engineers who conceive, design and build the products they want to use; and it was this recognition that the hybrid studio was here to stay and that there will always be a place and a need for both analogue and digital to work together side by side.
And a quote from their Philosophy & Goals section on their website states: “From the inception, building to a price point was ignored in favour of audio quality first; sonic integrity is non-negotiable.” Cofounder, Bob Muller, originally opened Dangerous Music Recording Studio in 1992 in New York.
In the mid ‘90s, Chris Muth turned up to produce and engineer a band, and the pair became good friends. Muth’s time had been spent almost exclusively designing custom equipment for many of the world's preeminent mastering engineers and facilities - world class facilities like The Hit Factory, Masterdisk, and Absolute Music. In 1990, Muth went to work for Sterling Sound.
Working with famed Sterling mastering engineers Ted Jenson, George Marino and Greg Calbi, Muth modified existing mastering gear, which led to designing new equipment to meet the challenge of the ever increasing levels and dynamic range of digital consumer playback devices.
Working with some of the best ears in the business, Muth was able to design gear up to the rigors of hybrid analogue/digital mastering. So with that brief history of the company’s co-founders and their mission to build products that are both transparent and musical, when it comes to mastering, transparency and musicality are a must have in order to correctly do your job.
As a live sound engineer who moved from rock and roll - where you were often creating or re-creating a band sound - into theatre, I was aware that if the audience could ‘hear’ the PA system then I wasn’t doing my job properly. I wanted the audience lost in the music, captivated by the dialogue. In other words, I wanted the audio as transparent as possible. With that said, it brings us nicely to a fairly recent addition to the Dangerous range: the Dangerous Compressor.
This is no ordinary compressor, and it is not just a high end, seriously good mastering tool either.
A Soundscape Evolution
The first thing you notice when you look at the unit is the VUs with their amazing retro styling - and just to the right of these, the large ratio controls, one for each channel - with a ratio from 1:1 up to 20:1. Immediately, I can’t wait to hear how 20:1 sounds! More about this later.
Let's start at the far left next to the Dangerous logo. It’s great to see the in/out button called something different: ‘engage’ - this always reminds me of Star Trek Next Generation and Picard as they’re about to go into Warp Drive. I wonder if this was deliberate?
Next to this, we find a four-button side chain section; two of these options I don’t ever remember seeing on a side-chain circuit before. The first is a ‘Bass Cut’ which as a side-chain circuit doesn’t affect the audio in the signal path tonally, but tells the compressor not to react to the low end part of the original audio. Immediately I’m thinking you could wind this up without getting that over pumping effect that you get from a loud kick drum when what you really need is a smoother, gentler limiting style compression across the whole mix.
Likewise the ‘Sibilance Boost’ tells the compressor to react more on those frequencies within that range of the audio to be compressed. I can already think of some cases where this comp might have replaced two or more units or plugins.
Some comps without this feature are just not usable on a bright vocal for the simple reason they create more problems than they solve. The third button control sends your audio to an ‘external sidechain’, again extremely useful for contouring the audio that triggers the way the compressor reacts to the source audio. And fourth, the ‘sidechain monitor’ allows you to listen to the audio content of your side-chain in isolation.