BAE has been making high quality gear in Los Angeles since the '80s, when the company's initials referred to the name of original owner Brent Averill, and Brent got his start racking vintage Neve 1073 modules and 1272 line-amp cards. As the recording industry turned towards the digital realm and analog systems were being abandoned, BAE rescued them, racked their parts into 19'' frames, sourced vintage parts, assembled power supplies, and added input and output stages — making these analog pieces once again viable and coveted tools for recording. Along the way, the affable ex-intern Mark Loughman took ownership of BAE, reappropriating the initials so that they now aptly indicate British Audio Engineering (and not just for the heritage of the products, but also because Mark was a working musician from Manchester, UK). Under Mark's leadership, the company's product line was greatly expanded, yet even today, all of its gear remains hand-wired and built without compromise using through-hole componentry. BAE's catalog now includes 500-series racks and modules; standalone "brick"-style preamps; identical as well as "expanded" recreations of various Neve and API preamps and EQs; and its own line of Neve-inspired 10-series compressors.
The 10DCF (Dynamic Compressor with Filter) is the latest offering from BAE. It is a single- channel unit incorporating both a compressor and a limiter, and the two sections can operate together or individually. It is essentially the same design and build of the popular 10DC, a marriage of two classic Neve designs (the sidechain of the 33609 and a class-A amp similar to the ones inside the 2254 or 1073), but with the addition of a sidechain "bypass" filter. This feature is very useful in a variety of situations where you may not wish to have low-end energy engaging the dynamics control.
BAE's 10-series processors look like they were unearthed from a hidden treasure trove of pristine Neve compressors. Every bit of the fit and finish presents quality. The front panel is a familiar grey-blue color, and it's populated with Elma rotary switches and the immediately recognizable Marconi knobs. The pots are stepped and have a firm lock-into-place feel when adjusted. A single VU meter displaying gain reduction sits on the far left of the unit. Jensen and Carnhill transformers are employed under the hood. In short, these compressors are a thing of simple beauty.
The 10DCF's compression threshold control ranges from -20 dBu to +16 dBu (2 dB steps), and there are six options each for ratio (1.5:1, 2:1, 3:1, 4:1, 6:1, 10:1), attack (2, 4, 10, 20, 80 ms), and recovery (100, 200, 400, 800 ms; Auto A1, A2). The sidechain bypass filter has five options (50, 80, 180, 300 Hz; off). The limiter's threshold ranges from +4 dBu to +15 dBu (0.5 dB steps). Attack can be set fast or slow (2, 4 ms) and six recovery options mirror that of the compressor's. Overall make-up gain is from 0 to +20 dBu (1 dB steps). The back panel has XLR I/O, an RCA jack for linking two units together for stereo use, and a connector for the external power supply. Two BAE devices can be connected simultaneously to the high-current PSU.
Because BAE sent me two 10DCF units for review, I went straight for use on drums. I set up a drum aux for parallel compression of all my drum tracks. Typically, I would exclude the kick drum from this subgrouping to keep the low frequencies of the kick drum from engaging the compressor and therefore affecting the midrange and transients of the total drum picture. By using the bypass filter, I was able to keep the kick as part of the group and select where I wanted low frequencies to trigger and shape the compression. This worked well. I could spend considerable time tweaking it and did find myself deeply enjoying the possibilities for shaping the tones for pushing and pulling of the drums. The match between each unit was excellent, and the two operated well in linked stereo mode.
Next, I tried the compressor on individual tracks. On lead vocal, the 10DCF just stuck it in place while offering me the ability to adjust the motion and push/pull just by adjusting attack/recovery settings. The compressor didn't sound grabby, and the resulting sound was harmonically rich and present. I was able to easily achieve a solid, up-front vocal sound with a "tonal halo" that stitched the vocal into the quilt of the mix in less than a minute. On a different singer, I made slight adjustments and again found the sweet spot quickly. Check! On piano, I was able to achieve compression that sounded Beatles-esque. And on guitars, bass, and synths, the 10DCF was fantastic. To put it succinctly, in all situations, the 10DCF was a welcome addition to the mix.
The other place I would always want a Neve-ish sound is kick and snare. The mix I was working on had some pretty anemic and uninspiring kick and snare sounds. With a very small amount of fiddling and some Transient Designer in front of the 10DCF, I got both the kick and snare to not only be useable, but sound meaty and worthy of feature. In both applications, it provided the full gamut — from just controlling the dynamics in a neutral way, to sonic fireworks when desired. Chances are, if these units stay in my rack, they will remain on kick and snare — always.
In addition to individual tracks, I tried compressing stereo subgroups of elements that fit into specific frequency ranges. The 10DCF sounded great compressing all the guitars together as a group, or all the keys — or all the guitars and keys together. It's an interesting approach. You can also try doing this in parallel to maintain impact and to adjust the sense of urgency, by blending the compressed with the uncompressed subgroup (or the individual elements). Because the 10DCF can be such a tonally colorful compressor when you want it to be, it is a great choice for such applications.
On the mix bus, I played round-robin with the 10DCF pair and two stereo compressors in my rack, a Manley Variable Mu and an SSL-inspired TK Audio BC1-S. The bad news for sound seekers is that they all sounded great, but they did season the music in their own unique ways. (So, you would, like I would, prefer to have all of them ready to go for different styles and applications.) With the 10DCF pair, I liked using a 1.5:1 ratio, 10 ms attack, and one of the Auto release settings, with the threshold adjusted to achieve roughly 2-4 dB of gain reduction; this delivered a nice "glue" to the mix. The 10DCF felt like it had a place in-between the honey-dripping Vari-Mu vibe and the elbowing-edginess of the SSL-style VCA. "Tough" might be a good word for it.
By using the 10DCF's filter to bypass low-frequency energy in the sidechain, I was able to focus compression (and use more of it if desired) on the midrange, and sculpt motion and tone-shaping in ways not possible when you have big kick drums or bass coercing a compressor to over-engage. This is an area where I would want ample time to experiment and potentially get feedback from a mastering engineer to ensure that I deliver a workable file, without painting the mix into a corner. I felt that mix-bus processing was the application for which the bypass filter made the most sense to me, and employing it there did interesting things, shifting individual elements front-to-back and pushing/pulling them in the overall mix.
Note that just running signal through the 10DCF can gave it new life. Sometimes we get tracks that are compromised in one way or another: not the best mic or preamp for the job; poor mic placement for the role of an element in a mix; and so on. Blah, blah, blah. Wah poor me! We'd love to get every session in A+ condition and just throw the faders up, but the reality is, sometimes what we have to do as mixers is get the toolbox out and roll up our sleeves. The 10DCF is an amazing tool for this job. When I put the 10DCF on the aforementioned kick and snare of a difficult mix, I immediately thought, "Ah! So much better!" I turned the corner, and I was again inspired to work from that point forward.
Running your signal through the 10DCF, even with minimal gain reduction, imparts a familiar tone. You've heard it on so many records — and boom, there it is. It is "that" sound. It's tough and harmonically rich. From big in-your-face crack and boom, to pillowy Floyd float. When friends ask me what it sounds like, I reply, "It sounds like rock." But the 10DCF is far from one-dimensional in all that it's capable of, although there is something about its operation that is simple. I have always loved fixed-point options on EQ, and the fact that the 10DCF's filter points and attack/recovery times are predetermined, makes life easier. These settings just work!
I will admit that I used the 10DCF only for mixing, but I am certain based on my experience with this compressor that it would be a fantastic choice following your favorite mic preamp when tracking just about anything your heart desires. When I pulled it out of the various signal paths during mixing, for interstitial perspective or to try on other instruments, I immediately missed it, especially on drums and guitars. To really take advantage of everything the 10DCF can offer, I would recommend printing tracks through it — or buying more units for mixing.
The 10DCF provided great tone and sonically recognizable dynamics control right out of the box. But as any great piece of studio gear should be, the 10DCF is an instrument unto itself, and therefore, you will experience a small learning curve. Once you find your comfort zone, the 10DCF opens new possibilities for sounds, and it informs and inspires the recording process. From classic record-making and recording, to modern EDM production — you will find a place to use the 10DCF to your advantage. BootsnCatsnBootsnCats.