Ah compressors… those wonderful helpers that make our lives easier. It seems like the more you learn how to use compression to your advantage, the more you want different types and flavors to use in tracking and mixing. As some of you may know, we at WaveLab have been using a pair of Daking FET II compressors (Tape Op #36) on our stereo bus for quite some time now. Now Geoff Daking has introduced a more affordable stereo compressor to his product line: the FET III.
Geoff has taken the well-behaving and great-sounding audio-path and detector circuits of his FET II and given them a bit of a makeover. He’s changed all the controls, except ratio selection, to potentiometers instead of the switches found on the FET II and added some nice new features into the path. The compressor circuitry and gain stage are all discrete and fully class A, and the in and out differential amps are all balanced courtesy of THAT Corp. This is great, but he went a step further and added a high-pass filter as part of the detection path so you can change how the unit reacts to low-frequency energy. This filter is variable from 0–200 Hz and really helps dial in control of your source material. The other added feature is a blend control that lets you set the two channels to completely independent or fully stereo-linked — and all points in between — allowing you to really tweak your stereo balance. With its intuitive layout, large VU meters, and backlit switches, the FET III is exactly what you want in a compressor. We love those large meters as it’s easy to read how much gain reduction you are achieving even from a distance.
Scottsdale Community College purchased a unit this winter, and we have not been disappointed. At first, the variability of the new pots took a little getting used to, as did learning how the blend control affected the overall mix compression. But once we started getting our mixes together, we quickly discovered how flexible the FET III is. At school, we track all kinds of different things from jazz bands to metal to hip-hop. By playing with the high-pass settings and blend knob, we were able to use the FET III to enhance all these different forms of music at mixdown. It is very much a use-your-ears unit and a great teaching tool for that reason. The students could get a mix going, switch over to monitoring 2-track return, and twist those knobs to their hearts’ content. You can try to explain what is going on all day long, but it’s all about hearing it happen in real-time that yields the “aha” moments.
With the jazz combo, leaving the high-pass at zero was fine as the bass was not crazy and was already in a good space. Plus, since it was a live recording with minimal mic’ing, the stereo image was less important, and the blend knob to full stereo did the job nicely. On the topsy-turvy frequencies of the metal tracks, we found the opposite to be true. Here we found that we needed to prevent the low end of the heavy guitars from swinging the compressor around so much, so we ended up with the high-pass knobs set to around 150 Hz. We also ended up with the blend knob almost all the way to dual mono. What was fun was starting out at full stereo and then hearing the mix open up as we lowered the blend. By carefully adjusting the threshold settings and make-up gain, we were able to really drive the mix up nicely and maintain all the punch of the drums and size of the guitars while the screaming vocals sat nicely in the center — everything glued together very musically with lots of muscle.
For this review, the good folks at TransAudio Group (www.transaudiogroup.com) sent me a unit to use at WaveLab, and since we were playing around with it at school on the stereo bus, we used it at WaveLab for tracking and other group bus duties at mix. For tracking, having two great and easy to tweak compressors was awesome. It really shines as a compressor on kick drum and bass, and allows you to either simply knock down the louder notes or really go after some serious squash and create some more edgy sounds. On electric guitar, it was like having your hand on the fader on the way in, as the FET III tracks very accurately. We loved it on mix for a big backing vocal stack we were dealing with. We were able to get it to behave like our LA-3A compressors (Tape Op #49) and mimic the optical behavior of those units with ease. Here we found that using the blend knob in full stereo really smashed all the vocals together and made that wonderful creamy sound we were looking for when we built all the harmonies and multitracked all the voices (three tracks each and seven harmony parts!!!), and it really helped the vocal choir sit in the mix without clogging it up.
Once again, Geoff Daking has made a great product, and the FET III is in my opinion already a “classic”. At a list price of $2200, Daking has managed to create a reasonably affordable unit that will work with you faithfully for years and years.
($1995 street; www.daking.com)
–Craig Schumacher <firstname.lastname@example.org>
by Scott Evans
Brian Horvitz is the proprietor of Boston area-based TB Audio. Brian produces DIY-inspired analog gear, some as kits and some ready to go. His TBDD is a "modern implementation" of Roland's classic...