The Splice MKII is an 1176-style FET compressor in a 2RU-height rackmount chassis. The original Splice, which is no longer available, was a 500-series module. The roomier faceplate of the MKII rackmount unit allowed Serpent Audio to incorporate additional features. The result is a fresh take on one of the most cloned pieces of pro audio gear. We at Treelady Studios loved the Serpent Audio SB4001 bus compressor and the more recent Chimera opto compressor, so I was super excited to dive into the Splice MKII to see what it could do.
Interestingly, the Splice MKII offers the choice between "Blue Stripe" or "Blackface" 1176 circuitry on the input and output stages separately — in effect, splicing the two together. For example, I often chose the Blue Stripe input section with the Blackface output transformer. In use, I found the differences in output circuits very subtle and gravitated toward the same mode for both in and out, but the option to mix and match is available. On the other hand, the inputs are clearly different and reflect the well-known characteristics of the originals. As you'd expect, Blue Stripe mode is 6 dB louder and noticeably noisier than Blackface. Both modes utilize the same input transformer, which is custom-wound to match the out-of-production original.
With any recreation, the first question is how it compares to the original. In the Splice MKII's case, the answer is that it sounds like an 1176, or two styles of 1176 for that matter. Working within the parameters of the original 1176 design (4:1, 8:1, 12:1, and 20:1 ratios) and ignoring any additional features for the moment, I tested the Splice MKII against a Universal Audio 1176LN reissue, a Hairball Audio Blue Stripe clone, and the UAD 1176 classic collection plug-in. Surprise, surprise — the Splice MKII performs like an 1176, both in the aggressive, midrangy Blue Stripe mode and the smoother Black Face setting. Did all of the tested compressors sound identical? Of course not. But did any two original 1176s? You get my point. The Splice MKII convincingly sounds like an 1176-style compressor — but I was far more interested in what made this thing unique.
To treat the Splice MKII like another clone would be a disservice. As was the case with Serpent's SB4001, the Splice MKII includes features absent from its inspiration that I found extremely useful, particularly the extra 2:1 ratio, which will please those users who find the original 1176 models too intense for certain applications. Previously, this ratio was found only on the Universal Audio Anniversary Edition or in the UAD emulation. Switching to 2:1 provides a completely unique knee and compression onset, which sounded fantastic on a clean electric guitar in Blackface mode. And as far as tracking goes, you can't beat the 2:1 option for subtle control of a vocal. An added "soft bypass" option lets you bypass the compression circuit while still imparting the color and vibe of the input and output circuits. I've always loved the nasty solid- state distortion Blue Stripes produce with the compression circuit out and the input cranked. The Splice MKII produced that crunch sound no problem — perfect for a parallel vocal or bass distortion bus.
Speaking of parallel operation, there is a Dry/Wet Mix feature, which comes in handy, especially if employing the aforementioned distortion trick. I've always found parallel inserts tricky to implement in-the-box due to converter latencies leading to a phasey, smeary mess. The Mix option eliminates that fear and makes for very flexible and convenient sound sculpting. "All buttons in" mode is replaced with a Slam switch, which in combination with the parallel Mix, worked wonders on just about any source material I could throw at the Splice MKII, particularly a mono room mic on a drum kit. I loved dialing in heavy-handed compression settings to really get that 1176 pumping effect, but only using 20-30% of the wet signal. The result was dynamic and real, but still aggressive and more interesting. Obviously, experimentation is key with any unit offering this many features.
Other add-ons include a side-chain high-pass filter with 60, 90, 130, 200, and 280 Hz options, as well as an external side- chain input. Two units can also be linked in stereo. Mike Pildis at Serpent Audio suggested a cool trick I'd never tried — engaging the link switch without connecting a second unit adjusts the threshold up by 6 dB, which means you can drive the input for more saturation before pegging the gain reduction. Wow! This trick is insanely useful for a rock vocal that needs the extra harmonics to compete with a wall of guitars. The unit also offers a 600Ω output-loading switch in case you want to run directly into vintage gear without mismatching impedances.
The Splice MKII is an innovative and refreshing take on a classic compressor. With two styles of 1176 in one box, plus a handful of additional features, it's hard to think of another unit that comes close in versatility and affordability.