What!? Another Universal Audio 1176 clone? Well, not exactly. Black Lion Audio has been modifying entry-level gear [Tape Op #48], into top-notch studio grade equipment, while building outboard gear - such as the Micro Clock [#83] and various microphone preamps [#100] - for over a decade. The Seventeen was designed in conjunction with Tobias Lindell, who has made different iterations of the UREI 1176, most notably the Lindell 17X and XS. Although the feature set of the 17XS is very similar, the Seventeen has a redesigned IC on the front end and uses relays to minimize noise. A peek inside the actual unit reveals Nichicon capacitors, a toroidal power transformer, and quality components throughout, which is no surprise. The steel enclosure, along with the rest of the build quality is great. Every knob is detented, making recall a breeze, and it's also easy to match when used in stereo, which the Seventeen supports via an RCA link on the back of the unit. Black Lion Audio sourced the manufacturer of the original UREI 1176 output transformer to make the Seventeens', and it's a big part of the compressor's character. Two other major differences in this design from typical 1176-inspired devices are Seventeens' sidechain filter and a wet/dry mix that both greatly expand this compressor's palette. It's mostly assembled in China, after which Black Lion Audio installs the transformer, calibrates, and burns in the unit, then performs a final quality control inspection.
In practice, the design choices are smart and efficient. I always accidentally bump the push type buttons on most 1176 types, throwing something askew. Not so with the Seventeen. An actual power switch on the front resolves this problem and smaller, individual ratio buttons also help. You can achieve multiple compression curves by selecting any combination of ratios. Gone are the +8 and +4-meter readings. In a hybrid setup like mine, I don't look at the compressor to see my output, just gain reduction, so I don't miss the readings at all. The VU meter is LED and has a soft glow with a different hue than most lamps. The Seventeen also has a true bypass, completely removing the signal from the compression circuit. A feature not mentioned yet are the low- and high-pass filters. Both are in the signal path at -6 dB per octave slopes, with the low-pass set at 10 kHz, and the high-pass at 100 Hz. One point of note, when engaging the filters, a pop/click is heard - not a huge deal as these functions are usually "set and forget" or not often changed… but the pop is audible. The sidechain lets you set what frequencies the compressor will start reacting to, with a five-position switch from Off to 100, 200, 300 and 400 Hz. The wet/dry Comp Mix knob streamlines parallel compression duties while not affecting the stereo linking. Attack time ranges are continuously variable from 20 µs to 800 µs, while release times are 50 ms to 800 ms - a very snappy compressor indeed!
So, what does it sound like? It sounds like a modern FET compressor! Bass guitar was a lot of fun when using the sidechain and setting the Wet/Dry to about 75% to let the low end come through unaffected - allowing me to keep some of the original dynamics of the performance while the top end received a slight boost to help cut through the mix. Driving the input really hard delivered some wooly, fuzzy tones, which I love! It was different bite than other 1176 clones, as I had more control over what the compressor was seeing. On drums I could easily use this compressor where I would normally use a VCA based compressor (due to their expanded options). And yeah, it smacks room mics by offering that distorted and forward sound FET compressors do so well! I generally use two compressors for vocals: one for the fast transients, and the second for overall compression. This unit fits the second role beautifully because it allows for a lot of control. A common technique is to run an audio signal through an 1176-style compressor without any compression, this imparts the character of the gear and I had great results in this way with the Seventeen.
Black Lion Audio has made a strong entry into compression. The Seventeen covers a lot of ground at a very easy to swallow price. Its expanded options provide a wide feature set that most 1176-inspired compressors don't offer. It's versatile, in that it has the ability to apply very clean or gritty compression while providing a Mix/Dry knob. Having the Seventeen as addition to my other 1176-style compressors is an awesome luxury. Though some of the same ground is covered, they all sound different - and that's the point!