"Compressor Tone-Shaper Mix-Inflator Mojo-Maker" — I guess that was too much to put on the front panel, so Overstayer called it Stereo Voltage Control instead. Contrary to the company's name, the Overstayer SVC couldn't arrive too early, and it's welcome to stay permanently.
I was turned on to Overstayer Recording Equipment by fellow Tape Op contributor Thom Monahan. Whenever I am in L.A., I get together with Thom for a coffee, and inevitably, we talk about new gear that has been catching our eye. On one of these occasions, Thom said to me, "You have to talk to Jeff Turzo from Overstayer. You guys will get along famously." Calls and conversations with Jeff followed, and I soon had a couple of Overstayer boxes in my mitts. Thom had recommended the Stereo Voltage Control, but Jeff also insisted I take the Stereo Field Effect compressor for a spin as well. Here I will give you the skinny on the SVC.
It is impossible to succinctly describe the Overstayer Stereo Voltage Control. Even if I went deep on each section, my writing could not supplant what you would understand if you spent just 15 minutes with the device in hand. But, I will take a deep breath and try. The SVC is a VCA compressor. "Oh, like an SSL Quad comp! I get it!" No, you do not. The use of VCAs is about where the similarities end. Jeff has done some serious tweaking to make VCAs behave — or misbehave — in unique ways. I asked Jeff to give a quick overview of the unit in his own words:
"On the SVC, the VCA section is one part of the system. It's implemented so that you have control over how much you drive the VCA itself, and in turn drive the EQ and Harmonics stages downstream. This allows for compression and limiting envelopes that can be pushed into peak-rounding and distortion. The Behavior knob gives a deeper level of control over the intensity of the dynamics envelope. It essentially magnifies the range of the envelope — controlling the ratio, maximum gain, and timing simultaneously."
Got it? Yeah, me either. So, as I said, you just need to plug it in and start turning knobs. Speaking of knobs, there are the usual ones for Threshold, Attack, Release, and Output, as well as a Blend knob for parallel processing. Pulling the Release knob enables auto-release, and pulling Attack turns on RMS mode. Two pushbuttons choose between starting ratios of 2:1 soft-knee, 4:1 medium-knee, and 10:1 limiting. Two more pushbuttons engage a 220 Hz HPF on the sidechain, or let you patch in an external sidechain loop of your choice. Enabling the external sidechain with nothing connected to the rear inserts effectively sets the compression ratio to 1:1. Additionally, there are pots for low and high–shelf boosts, Behavior, and Level, as well as pushbuttons that engage a resonant 50 Hz HPF and a post-compression Harmonics module. These latter pots and buttons are very interactive — with each other and with the other controls — offering up a huge range of dynamics processing and an extensive palette of sounds.
You can certainly use the SVC as a bus compressor to excellent ends. It is musical, highly tweakable, and capable of inflating and adding teeth to whatever it is being sent. Furthermore, I really like the ability to restore and sculpt frequencies that may have lost some energy during compression. When used subtly, the SVC is capable of taming your mix, but there is also a ton of room to get yourself into all sorts of trouble, in the best sort of way. You can blow a mix out of the water by cranking the Harmonics control, or blend just a taste of it in, to give what you are processing some hair. As feature-packed as the SVC is, it is actually quite simple to get your head around it. Start turning knobs, and you will arrive at places you would have never imagined.
While recording Beat Connection here in Seattle, we set up the Overstayer SVC on an aux so that we could send elements of the drum kit to it, and then record the processed signal back into Pro Tools. Because we desired up to three different kit feels/personalities on some of the tunes, and we wanted to capture these as they were going down, our drum mic setup started with a very tight ‘70s sound, augmented with a variety of spot mics available for various levels of crunch and aggression. Engineer Sam Hofstedt had hand-built some of the mics that he put close-in for capturing mono portraits of the kit, and these provided a very focused but blown-up sound that worked great for some sections and cut-ins. For the times we really wanted to push the drums off a cliff, we sent an aux mix of the kick, snare, and one of the already compressed spot mics to the SVC, and within 5 minutes of fiddling around, we arrived at a sound that was, as I like to say, "exploding robot dinosaur" — with an almost sidechained "backwards" effect that, when blended with the very focused drum tracks, gave the groove a desirable push/pull motion and excitement. I like getting sounds like this from the get-go, to maintain the right vibe while recording. Plus, there is no second-guessing come mix time. Everyone in the room liked what they were hearing, and beyond that, it informed how other overdubs were approached and played. Check!
So, come mix time, do you think I was going to leave the SVC all alone in the cold? Hell no! I wanted some of that magic on the mix, so I patched the mix-bus out of the console into the SVC, followed by a TK Audio BC1-S compressor [Tape Op #106] and a Crane Song IBIS EQ. A Crane Song Spider handled conversion for printing back into Pro Tools. On the SVC, I enabled the Harmonics section and started to fiddle with the Behavior and Level controls. Behavior pushed things forward and inflated elements of the mix, and it was certainly interactive with the Level knob driving the Harmonics module. After dialing in what felt right in terms of overall inflation, and then dialing back the Blend control to a reasonable amount for each song, the mixes gained width and depth, along with some solidifying of the low end. Whenever I temporarily popped the SVC out of the chain, the mixes fell flat and lost excitement. These were songs leaning in the direction of pop music, so a gentle touch from the SVC was appropriate. With heavy music, you could really go to town with the SVC.
In addition to drums and mix-bus, the SVC excelled on stereo submixes of guitars, keyboards, and background vocals. This box is also a godsend for processing soft-synths and bringing them to life. These days, many folks are making music on their laptops, and more and more of my work is mixing projects where the music is great, and the level of creativity is off the charts, but the production is not quite hitting the mark, or many of the sounds are a little flat. In this regard, having a good set of audio tools to bring things to life is essential, and I could easily use several Overstayer SVCs to tackle a variety of lifesaving tasks.