Serpent Audio's Chimera is the first LA-3A clone to fit in a 500-series module, complete with that opto-circuit compression that so famously soothes vocal dynamics or unruly bass lines, or... well, works well in pretty much any other scenario you can think of. Fitting the LA-3A-style guts into a single 500-series module was thought impossible, but Serpent Audio has made zero compromises in this reproduction, which is a big deal. There are some added perks as well, like a high-frequency boost on the detector for de- essing and a hard-bypass switch. There are no blinding blue LEDs - just a warm and glowing VU meter, foreshadowing the way your audio's about to sound. Okay, seriously though, this thing does sound great - but there's more.

Serpent Audio was kind enough to also send me a pair of their Send N' Blend module, a 500-series wet/dry knob that allows you to use your analog gear in parallel, rather than setting up additional tracks in your DAW. That's right - ever wondered what your favorite boutique compressor would sound like in parallel with the uncompressed signal, but can't get the delay compensation to match up in your DAW? Or do you need a simple and effective way to mix together two signals into one track? We've all seen wet/dry knobs on digital reverbs and plug-in compressors for years, and every so often, a hardware unit with a blend knob pops up, but with the Send N' Blend, you can play the wet/dry game with any piece of gear that your heart so chooses. (It is helpful, but not required, to have a Radial Engineering Workhorse [Tape Op #85, #92] or a Purple Audio Sweet Ten [#100] rack, both of which provide rear-panel access for the wet signal, eliminating the need to use the front-panel TRS connector on the Send N' Blend.) For the purposes of this review, I figured the logical thing to do would be to pair the Send N' Blend with the Chimera for some parallel LA-3A-style compression.

You may be expecting some sort of detailed analysis of what happened, but the results were exactly as you'd expect them to be. Regardless of what I fed into the Chimera, including my buses and master bus, it was such a great feeling to be a little too heavy-handed and then dial in some dry signal to balance out the signal. My drums hit harder, my bass was thicker, my guitars were richer - you name it. I felt like the most useful combinations were achieved when I either went slightly overboard with gain reduction and then brought myself back with the Send N' Blend, or when I was compressing at -20 dB or so reduction, but only using say, 20% of the wet signal.

Perhaps the most relevant example would be using the Chimera on vocals for that really soupy, heavy style of compression. Obviously, a sudden peak here or there would normally throw things off quite a bit, sucking your signal down -15 dB when you'd been otherwise sitting at -5 dB. Instead of reaching for an 1176, dialing in some dry signal is now an option, and you can keep the opto-glory that is near and dear to our ears.

Unless you have a shrink ray, you'll be hard pressed to find a better LA-3A option that fits into a 500-series rack, especially one with components such as those used by Serpent Audio. And the Send N' Blend is a no-brainer; this little device can add a new dimension to the tools you already know and love. (Chimera $1079 street; Send N' Blend $399;

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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