The 2264A diode bridge compressor/limiter has been the stuff of audio drool forever. The original model was released in 1974, and aside from some faster attack times and the smaller form factor, it was very similar in sound to its predecessor, the 2254. The 2264A is easy to get a great sound out of, smooth sounding at lower ratios, and audible but musical when leaned on — and when driven hard, it is known for third-order harmonic distortion. I have put it to use on everything from acoustic guitars, piano, electric guitars, and synths. When a stereo pair is available, the 2264A finds its way onto a drum or mix bus. Unfortunately, the vintage 2264A is hard to service, and it comes with a not insignificant price tag. In walks the AMS Neve 2264ALB, a modern recreation of this iconic compressor/limiter — in a 500-series format and with the addition of a couple of new features.
The front panel of the 2264ALB sports three sets of concentric controls for operation. The top-most set is for the limiter. Its center grey knob is a potentiometer for limiter threshold (+4 dB to +15 dB). Its outer metal ring is a stepped switch for recovery time (50 ms to 800 ms, along with two auto settings). Pushing the center knob toggles the limiter in/out and turns a corresponding LED on/off. The next set of concentric controls behaves in the same way, but for the compressor threshold (−20 dB to +10 dB) and recovery time (100 ms to 1500 ms). The bottom set is for make-up gain (0 dB to +20 dB) and compressor ratio (1.5:1 to 6:1). Pushing the bottom set’s center knob toggles control-voltage linking for stereo (or multichannel) operation of two (or more) 2264ALB modules (in a 500-series rack that implements Pin 6 linking). Gain-reduction metering is achieved through a six-step LED ladder across the top of the unit. You’ll want to use your ears here, as this metering is very basic. The two features new to the 2264ALB are a signal-present LED and a switch to enable a slow-attack setting.
I was sent a pair of 2264ALB modules to review. Even with its multi-function controls, this compressor was easy to use. Moreover, it sounded great on everything I threw at it. I don’t like manuals, and if I need one to figure out a piece of gear, I tend not to use the gear. I will go back and read a manual — after I have the basics down and feel that I can use the gear intuitively — to see what I may be missing. But out of the gate, I just want to be able to turn it on and go. This was the case with the 2264ALB to some degree, although I will say, because there is so much functionality in the unit, it was helpful to take a gander at the manual after initial use to get where I was going a little faster.
As a place to start, I threw the two 2264ALBs across a mix. In this scenario, I usually start with low ratios and slower attack times, and I adjust accordingly, usually seeing 2–4 dB of gain-reduction on peaks. This type of “glue” still leaves the transients in play and doesn’t box in the mastering engineers too much, in case they need to get in there and wrench around. On the other hand, if I want to make sure the compression is really heard because it’s part of the intended sound, I’m not afraid to get heavy-handed. In this case, I liked hearing the 2264ALBs work a little, and it was enjoyable to lean on them with higher ratios and more gain-reduction for additional color and motion. The slow-attack setting let more of the transients get through, and for program material, I found myself employing this feature more often than not.
I also liked the stereo pair strapped across a drum mix, and once I heard this setup, it pained me to take these units off the job. All in, or set up for parallel compression, the 2264ALB pair was an addictive glue that I just wanted to keep on huffing. Hitting this compressor a little harder adds a nice sparkle and crack to drums without it sounding peaky or pokey. I like it when a compressor makes things sound more exciting, and there is motion within the parameters of gain control. Breath, life, push, pull — sometimes you need a rubber band, not a clamp!
Moving on to individual instruments, the 2264ALB added kick-ass punch and crack to snare drum, and it was super easy to get a workable/favorable sound happening in no time. I’d be happy to have this as my only compressor for snare drum. It was capable of fairly transparent dynamics control, as well as tonally rich audible compression. On acoustic guitar, I liked pushing the 2264ALB into the place where compression becomes audible but still remains musical and listenable. I have some really clean utility compressors, but this little beast sounds like something, and in trying a few different compressors on acoustic guitars with clients, their ears and eyes lit up when the 2264ALBs were in the chain.
With any new piece of gear, I try all settings and go for extremes to see if (a) I can push it into a bad sound, and (b) if something unexpected will happen that is favorable and fun. Like the original 2264A, you can go from smooth, reasonably transparent results, to harmonically additive and quite audible (but once again, still musical) character-laden compression/limiting with this 500-series recreation. I couldn’t really make the 2264ALB sound bad, even at its most extreme settings, and I thought things just sounded good running through the module, with no audible compression or visible action on the meters. With that said, the 2264ALB is not a surgical or super-clean, sharp-edges compressor. I would call it a colorful compressor that can impart a nice bit of glowy-warmth and harmonic distortion around the edges.
My only gripe might be that some of the control knobs felt slightly jiggly side-to-side. Granted, a lot of functionality is packed into such a small space, but I prefer no play in my controls.
Does the 2264ALB sound exactly like a vintage 2264A? Which one? Ed’s, John’s, or Tom’s? Does it matter? The 2264ALB is close enough, with all of the characteristics of the real McCoy. It sounds great on lots of sources, and it is easy to use. I own all sorts of compressors — from Empirical Labs [Tape Op #32], Kush Audio [#107], Daking [#101], Retro Instruments [#55, #66], Manley, UREI, etc. — and they all do something different. The 2264ALB would be a welcome addition to any collection for its sonic flexibility, ease of use, and reasonable price tag (compared to a vintage unit).