JDK Audio R22 Stereo Compressor
As part of our effort to incorporate hardware options into our mixing and mastering tool bag, we began evaluation of hardware stereo compressors to be used on the master channel. The price ranges vary greatly, and just as we discussed in our review of the GoldenAge Neve clone, experimentation is expensive. We have experience with, and love, the API 2500. But the high cost exceeds many small studio budgets. The plug-in offering from Waves is decent… not the same as the hardware, but adequate.
During extensive searches we discovered a company called JDK Audio which, as it happens, is a sister brand of API! The price ($1,200) and features were just what we were looking for. The unit description said it was subtle and could be pushed without sounding overly-compressed. Plus, it featured the “Thrust” mode found in the API 2500, which allows lower-frequencies to pass through the unit without causing the compression circuit to overreact, since low end frequencies tend to amplify the amount of compression.
The controls on the unit are very simple: threshold adjusts when compression engages, ratio selection is typical of most compressors, and gain provides output level. There’s a link switch that when engaged syncs both channels to the left-side controls, a switch for soft knee or hard knee, one for the Thrust circuit, a meter selector for either gain reduction or output, and bypass switches for either side. There’s an LED that illuminates at varying strength, depending on how much of the signal is hitting above the compression threshold. This is very handy, because it compliments the VU meters which show the actual amount of compression.
The generally agreed upon purpose of a buss compressor is to tie together a mix with just a touch of compression. Unless the material requires a very squashed sound, a buss compressor is often barely noticeable. There are very few tools that by themselves will do miracles with a mix. One might be a Pultec or other “program equalizer”. But while a buss compressor isn’t usually relied on to contribute anymore than perhaps 10% of the total recipe for a final mix, the JDK not only provided the sought after “glue”, but our mixes were instantly bigger, deeper, rounder, and three dimensional. Switching the unit in and out of bypass was dramatic. This supported our opinion that hardware is often irreplaceable. No software that we’ve tried, even the most highly touted and expensive, could compare to the uncolored hugeness of the JDK. The R22 now has a permanent place in insert #1 on our stereo buss.