With the resurgent interest in analog gear, there are tons of new boxes on the market. Most have a straightforward purpose, but there are still some that don't fall into the "normal" categories of preamp, EQ, compressor, etc. The SP1 2UBE processor is a prime example. It's a boutique type of piece that's solely built for enhancing sound, rather than for surgical precision in adjusting sound. It's got loads of character and makes an incredibly unique impression.

To start with, it takes a bit of poetic license just to describe what it is — like explaining to someone what musical "warmth" is, you have to use sentences, not just a few words. Only two knobs — Low Thresh and High Thresh — control what it's doing to the source. My first thought was tape saturation, but that's not exactly what's happening. It's definitely doing some saturation-ish things like smoothing and widening lows. But SBS also describes it as an expander, and it's certainly doing some of that as well. It's really interesting the way that it manipulates presence. It's as if some low-mids and highs are scooped slightly, while high-mids are made more expansive. This can have an incredibly pleasing effect depending on how you use it.

As a home hi-fi piece, the SP1 2UBE can make many music genres sound much smoother, much more open, much wider, and generally more pleasing. It seems to take the sizzle off of many sounds that can often get too bright (e.g., the high-frequency resonance from guitar strings or slides, overcooked female vocals, claps, and snares that are pushed close to distortion). The box requires some care when processing music with heavily compressed kick drums. For some techno (the sub-genre techno, not everything that goes bmp-ch-bmp-ch) and some hip-hop tracks, you may find that the low end can get quite pronounced, even at the processor's lowest settings (despite SBS's explanation that there should be no effect at the lowest setting).

As a studio processor, the SP1 2UBE has the potential to be a real secret weapon. It's a piece of gear that absolutely has a vibe all its own — a signature type of box. It's not the type of thing you're going to throw on a master bus and call it a day. It does very unique things, and if you've already gone through the composition phase, then you'll need to take the time to get the unit into its proper place. That time is rewarded with incredibly warm, punchy bass, and satiny-smooth highs. Used as an insert on individual tracks, you can get just the sonic functionality you want from it — something I found to be a real grin starter.

The greatest thing about the box is how smoothly and how sonically pleasing its entire range is. From nil to full, the sound is never distorted, crispy, blown out, or otherwise unruly. The effect always feels clean and controlled.

According to the SBS website, "SP1 was designed for professional recording studios, home hi-fi audiophiles, the nightclub pro-audio market, and the live-sound PA market," and that's clear from the flexible routing built into the unit. In the back are XLR balanced, RCA unbalanced, and RCA phono I/O jacks. You can even apply a reverse RIAA curve to a line-level source so you can feed your favorite phono preamp for more flavor — more proof that the SP1 2UBE is a truly unique piece of gear.

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

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