Like other offerings available in the 500 Series format, there is a wealth of compressors to select in this increasingly popular form factor. Ranging from unique and original designs to emulations and clones of some of the most classic compressors heard on countless albums and songs, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the choice. This piece will highlight some standouts.
Chandler’s Little Devil has become a go to for many engineers since its release, and with good reason. Though it takes inspiration from some of Chandler’s rack-mountable compressor offerings, the Little Devil is not a direct clone of any one compressor, and gives you a fresh flavor for your 500 rack. Thanks to its Curve Switch, which alters the compressor’s knee, giving you an aggressive germanium flavor in the GERM position and a comparatively transparent approach with the ZENER switch (taken from the Zener Limiter). What you get is a compressor that shines on a variety of source material, from acoustic guitars to drums. Many engineers have a pair in their rack, using them on drum room mics.
One of the benefits of investing in 500 Series as a format is how wallet-friendly some modules can be, while maintaining high-quality audio. One of the best examples of this comes from Lindell Audio, and its 75X-500 FET-Style Compressor. Delivering the classic sound and operation of that stock studio compressor, the 1176, the 7X-500 simplifies the controls a bit (offering selectable fast, medium, or slow attack and release as opposed to them being continuously variable) while adding modern considerations like a wet/dry mix knob for parallel processing, as well as a side chain filter at 100 or 300 Hz. Lindell knows that a stereo pair of 1176s on your drum bus (or drum rooms mics) with “all buttons in” has been a favorite move of engineers for ages. Simplifying stereo linking 2 units, Lindell also has a stereo version of the 7X-500, the 77X-500, which adds the traditional attack and release knobs.
While the Little Devil and Lindell’s 1176 clones are great for when you want to impart some color and mojo on the track you’re compressing, everyone knows that’s not always the right choice for certain tracks. Something clean and transparent should be in every engineer’s rack, and FMR Audio’s RNC500 fills the bill as sonically neutral, with precision control and without introducing artifacts. Based on the 1/3 rack RNC, the compressor features its signature “Super Nice” mode, which utilizes three layers of compression to mitigate any pumping during operation. Add in the sealed C&K toggle switches, stereo link capability, and machined aluminum knobs, and you’ve got professional-quality and transparent compressor at an affordable price.
While Rupert Neve is synonymous with preamps, EQs, and consoles, I’ve always felt his compressors don’t get their fair due. Classics like the 33609 or the 55060 have graced countless records. However, Mr. Neve’s current company, Rupert Neve Designs, is the first to have 500 series modules by the man himself (rather than optimizing his classic designs for the format like other companies his name graces). The Portico 543 is based on the rackmount 5043 model and is one of the most versatile compressors in this format. In addition to the typical controls over threshold, attack, release, and ratio, you can change the detection mode between the vintage-styled feedback mode to the faster attack time of feed-forward. Add to the ability to change detection from RMA (or average) to Peak, increasing what kind of content the 543 can shine on. Add stereo-link ability, and the ability to disengage the compressor completely and use the module as a line amplifier, and the 543 can be at home in any studio.
You can’t talk about compression and not mention SSL. The company’s Stereo Bus Compressor (naturally, also available in a 500 Series version) essentially popularized the idea of master bus compression in the late ’70s and throughout the ’80s, and is still used as the glue on countless records made today. If you are after classic SSL dynamics, the E-Series Module offers the compressor/limiter/expander/gate found on SSL 4000 E console. One of the great things about the 500 Series format is that it affords manufacturers to release some more esoteric gear, and the LMC+ from SSL is a good example of this. Based on the Listen Mic compressor that was on the talkback of the SL4000E console, the LMC+ has the fixed attack and release times of the Listen Mic compressor that engineers quickly learned to love on ambient room mics. The LMC+ also gives you high- and low-pass filters, a wet/dry mix, and the ability to swap the phase of the “wet” signal, making it an expressive compressor with a myriad of creative applications.
There are a ton of manufacturers producing 500-series compressors. Unfortunately, we can’t list them all, but if you are in the market, do check out the current offerings from Midas, Golden Age, Serpent Audio, and BAE's take on the API FET compressor. Hopefully, this article has opened your eyes to the vast array of dynamic circuits, and you’re on your way to building the perfect 500-Series setup. For a complete overview of what the 500-Series format offers, check out our other articles on rack enclosures, microphone preamps, compressors, and effects.