Admission: I was first drawn to Heritage Audio's new Successor stereo compressor because at first glance everything about it screams "Neve" – metal knobbed 33609 and 32264a models are among my favorite compressors. Having missed the boat in regards to them being reasonably attainable, the Heritage spiked my interest, appearing to be a spin on that lineage at an affordable price. While it delivers the familiar goods in some ways, it really needs, and deserves, to be looked at as its own animal – one that offers some surprisingly modern benefits for today's workflows.
Sporting the classic combination of Marconi-style stepped control knobs and RAF (Royal Air Force) blue-gray paint, the Successor is a handsome unit, with a nicely illuminated meter. Faceplate layout is uncluttered and controls have a pleasantly deliberate feel to them – all in all, an inviting interface. Like those that wore the look before it, the Successor is a diode bridge compressor. In the past, I felt this style of compressor created an interesting and complementary detour on the path between opto and FET designs by adding a thick, chewy glue when used lightly, and taking on an aggressive but rounded character when really pushed – where a cranked FET is teeth and claws in your face, the diode bridge is a knee to the gut. The Successor offers much faster attack times (up to 50??s) than vintage diode bridge designs, getting you into FET territory (though in practice, I found myself almost always preferring the 2, 5, or 20 ms speeds).
After wiring the Successor in, I pulled up a session that seemed like it could benefit from the tonal heft and unobtrusive, tied-together compression I was accustomed to from 32264s at low ratios. Patching it across the stereo mix insert of my console in place of my usual Dramastic Obsidian [Tape Op #70], I was surprised to hear the mix take a tilt towards presence and brightness, with a bit steeper of a hit to the low end than I'd have expected. Engaging the sidechain allowed some of the low end back through, though minus some of the euphonic bottom end saturation I'd been hoping for. Switching it over to the stereo room mics on the kit, I missed the ability to drive a separate limiter section with the compressor's makeup gain in order to get that crunching pop-and-bloom sound I love from the old Neves. Feeling a little flustered, it was time to admit I was working from visually implied expectations, not from listening – and that's when the thing really started to show its worth.
I grabbed my Hofner bass, plugged into a DI, then routed it into the Successor. Oh man! At anywhere between 3:1 and 6:1, A2 release, I was loving it. The Successor offers a nice range of attack times, and I was enjoying the slowest 20 ms setting for gentle plucky thumb picked bass. Speeding it up a little and lowering the threshold gave a great gritty hold on lightly muted bass lines when using thumb or pick – I spent an unusually long time pretending to be Herbie Flowers that night and I'll credit the tone for that! Piano was likewise a hit. I love the Neve 33609 on a piano, and here's where the Successor most lived up to its visual cues. At the 5 ms attack with about 4 to 6 dB of compression, I got a thick, controlled sound with the top end nicely subdued, but not crushed to the point of losing articulation, finished with a nice hazy swell in the sustain. Probably not an appropriate tone for solo piano, yet achieving the sort of characteristic sound that I find just settles itself into an ensemble mix beautifully. The auto release settings are really excellent – smooth but still imparting some liveliness, and a joy on overheads; just a light touch really helped the kit feel more solid.
When the unit first arrived I was just starting a mixing project with Short Lives, a Washington D.C. area trio whose material tends towards arrangements that are uncluttered and open but tonally striking and complex enough that you couldn't rightly call it "sparse" – basically, an audio engineer's playground! For the first track, I put the Successor across the drum bus, a position held firmly by my API 2500 [#52] for more than a decade. This was a slower, starker tune that needed the drums to feel solid and strong yet tucked in. At 80 Hz sidechain in, 3:1 ratio, 5 ms attack, and about 4 dB reduction on the meter things sounded great but even better when I engaged the Successor's Blend control (parallel compression built-in), then let a little bit of uncompressed signal back in to highlight the drummer's control and nuance. With that mix approved I moved on to the next track, which was anchored by a flat picked melodic bass line that made use of all the fretboard offered. To help keep the level consistent and assertive through the octaves, I followed the Successor with my Purple MC77. I'm a big fan of chaining compressors to dial in lots of reduction without feeling overdone, and the Heritage Audio certainly carried its weight here. I switched to a faster attack to get some of that nice front end grip from the Successor, again using the sidechain to allow the lows to carry through. While I'd been loving the auto release settings on the Successor, here I switched over to the 400 ms release. I probably had 10 to 12 dB of reduction happening between the two units, but the tone never felt squashed – just totally present and tough – exactly what we needed.
Most of my initial complaints with the Successor faded away as I became more familiar with it, though a few minor quibbles remain. The bypass switch sometimes spikes the compression in auto release settings making it a little hard to A/B if that's your thing, but you can always just roll back the blend knob for a similar effect. I tend to feel like if I'm resorting to A/B tests I've probably lost the plot and it's time for a break anyway! I do also wish there'd been a simple front panel option for varying/breaking the detector link. I typically prefer unlinked operation, but it didn't stop me from finding lots of great uses for the unit.
The Successor is a capable, worthy entry into the compressor field – but that's a very crowded field, full of other highly capable and longer established alternatives. Looking at it in a traditional way, the Successor could very easily get lost in the fray. Where this thing goes beyond being "yet another good compressor" is in its sidechain section. Featuring 80 Hz and 160 Hz high-pass filter settings, 1 kHz and 3 kHz peak sensitivity, plus a 5 kHz low-pass detection modifier, there's a lot of capability here for creative shaping and problem solving. Heritage advertises the unit's ability to help suppress an overly loud snare or vocal with the midband settings, as an example. While it's always going to sound better going back and addressing those tracks individually, sometimes that's just not an option. In my postproduction work frequently all that's available for music is a stereo split that has seen any number of... inadvisable... processing edits rendered upstream that we're forced to live with. Any music mixer who has had to work from someone else's stems has probably had a similar experience! While the plug-in world has seen a fair bit of innovation towards contending with these issues, the hardware world has seen much less – particularly at a price point accessible to individual studios and home recordists. With units like the Successor and TK Audio's mid/side capable TK-lizer, engineers who are required to work from stems, remixers, and mastering engineers are getting new options for applying more targeted fixes across program material in the analog realm. These functions may not have the long reach appeal of something like a Universal Audio 1176, but these scenarios are an evermore present part of the mix engineer's landscape and it's truly welcome to see manufacturers acknowledge them with good sounding, flexible solutions that don't require us to go into the computer. While it performs well as the vintage-inspired generalist compressor the faceplate suggests, don't stop listening there – Successor goes further and distinguishes itself as a modern specialist.