You may already know the story behind the legendary ADR Compex dynamics processor, which for many of us, is noted mostly for the drum sound on Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks." Q2 Audio, the manufacturers of the official ADR Compex F760X-RS reissue [Tape Op #108], recently began selling a 500-series version with almost the same feature set. This compact module does not have the expander function, but its compressor/limiter mimics that of its older sibling. I would urge you now to read Chris Koltay's excellent review of the F760X-RS, because my comments here will be more concise.
The F765 module is super solid, being fully encased in steel, except for a small cutout where the transformer pokes through the side wall. A beefy gain-reduction meter is on top, and despite the unit being feature-packed, the controls are well laid out, and none of them are difficult to access. As with the F760X-RS, the F765's controls are very interactive and sometimes deliver tones that are unexpected (but still welcomed) at certain settings, so the clear layout and labeling are especially appreciated.
This compressor/limiter isn't a simple box you will plug into, and be off and running right away. There is more to it than simple utility, and a look at the manual is necessary to understand its functions, setup, and capabilities — and even after that, it can still surprise you. I would need to spend ample time running all sorts of things through it to ultimately be an authority on the device, but it became quickly clear that the F765 has a great deal of depth and is worth exploring at length. That said, we seated a pair of F765 modules into an API 500-series rack, and ran some audio from the previous night's session through them as a test drive.
It didn't take long to get useable settings on a variety of things, but we found it more and more fun as we pushed the units around a bit and "abused" them. We loved how dirty we could get them to sound. Some compressors create nasty artifacts when pushed too far. Others, like the Empirical Labs Distressor [Tape Op #32] and Kush Audio Tweaker [#107] were designed to be pushed, and they excel in this regard. Same deal here. The F765 is a solid utility compressor and a creative tone machine all in one. With its ability to rein in dynamics and add musical distortion, even when these effects are barely audible, this processor can knit elements together while really adding something special to the mix.
We ran a vocal through one module and found that it could be very subtle sounding and unobtrusive, but also gritty and dirty in a very musical way. My first thought was to compress the lead vocal in parallel, and blend in some of this gritty compressed track. A version of this strategy was used on some old Motown recordings, and it certainly adds an extra energy to the track. Of course, to do this, you need the right dirt and the right compressor, and in the case of the F765, it is both of those things. The vocal thing was a surprise, because really what I was anxious to run through these modules was drums. You get into some new territory, and if you have done much listening to the classics, you know the sound.
I'd be happy to have and use the F765 on just about anything. Clean compression settings can be used on sources like vocals or acoustic instruments, when you don't want to hear audible dynamics control. Bass sounded great after I futzed about with it for a moment. Or you can get creative with the gain control and the rest of the features to paint some nice textures and have the compression be more present in the mix.
From good, clean, gentle taming — to real color-generating compression — the Q2 Audio F765 module can add as little or as much personality as you want to dial in. I probably wouldn't want to waste all that color and vibe, and therefore, I would be less likely to use the F765 as a utility compressor. Save your plug-ins for that, and create something special with this little beast.