I first met Bryce Gonzales about five years ago through our mutual friend and pillar of the Los Angeles music community, Jonathan Larroquette. Jonathan is a longtime manager, fixer, and fixture at Jack Waterson's renowned music shop, Future Music. Between Jack and Jonathan, there is basically no piece of interesting gear they haven't seen. From the most esoteric Japanese lawsuit-era spaghetti logo shit, to the secretly good Rolands that are still cheap, to the killer pro audio time forgot. When they tell you something is rad, it's rad.
I was sent pictures of three particularly interesting-looking compressors, two of which ended up being the last pair of Bryce's original run of four hand-wired BG-2s [Tape Op #113], the other was a totally custom one-off based on a hybrid RCA BA-6A / Universal Audio 175B compressor/limiter circuit. It was built into an airline salvage chassis and looked one notch less bonkers than it sounded. He brought them by and we had a fun hang and chatted about good design and awesome records. I bought all three immediately and, in the five years since, have used them on almost every record that I've mixed. You can hear the BG-2s in parallel with the entire mix for Bing and Ruth's No Home of the Mind.
Bryce came by the studio recently for a visit, appearing at the door with a smile whose size was rivaled only by the massive power transformer he was grasping, one-handed, protruding out of the back of the compressor we are here to discuss. The Highland Dynamics BG-1 Stereo "Re-Issue" is a design Bryce has been working on and refining since his days at Tape Op's own John Baccigaluppi's studio. If you stalk the right Instagram accounts, you can see Bryce leaving in his wake a series of cool one-off compressors with a BG-1 designation amongst lucky engineers around the world. This particular new iteration makes some interestingly useful additions to the circuit, and marks a formal run of the compressor under the auspices of Highland Dynamics, hence "Re-Issue".
At its core, the BG-1 Stereo "Re-Issue" is a 2-channel variable mu limiter based around Bryce's interpretation of an Altec 436C Compressor Amplifier circuit. Each channel has controls for input and output gain, nine position switchable attack and release time constants, a three position switch for threshold (high, medium, and low), and switches for Input Impedance, Feedback, and Compression bypass, which is not a traditional bypass – this switch simply disengages the sidechain tube so you can use the circuit as a fabulous line amp, to be sent into distortion at your pleasure. Additionally, there is a Hold switch – a la the famous EMI/Abbey Road mods for the Altec 436C – so that the user can "hold" an amount of gain reduction to prevent an audible bump when signal first reaches the unit in slower time settings.
The Input Impedance switch selects between 150 or 600 ohm input impedance, which makes the BG-1 "Re-Issue" capable of driving a mic without the need for an additional preamp (or it can add additional color with line level sources), and the Feedback switch changes the circuit behavior between stock Altec and the EMI mod – similar to the same switch in the BG-2. The three threshold settings allow the user to raise the threshold enough to optionally drive the compression circuit from the smooth stock setting into harmonic saturation. There's a link switch for easy stereo use, and Bryce has added a sidechain filter switch to the front panel as well to remove low end from the detection circuit. In operation, all this makes for a tremendously malleable tube compressor that simply can't be made to sound bad.
The arrival of the BG-1 "Re-Issue" happened to coincide with a wrestling match between me and a particularly resonant piano. The piano recently had a full hammer replacement, so there were several intensely sharp higher harmonics that would ring in a dissonant way on certain notes because the felt was still wearing in. I was trying a combination of extremely high-Q, tuned notches with some multiband compression in FabFilter's Pro-Q 3 [#132], some tape saturation to try to slow down the transients, compression, and some global shaping EQ, etc. One of those dumb plug-in chains that gets ten deep but still isn't quite doing what's needed. Replacing that with the BG-1 "Re-Issue" immediately solved all the textural problems those plug-ins couldn't. Add a little EQ and print.
One of the more interesting features found in this "Re-Issue" are the time constants. Per Bryce, he wanted to make it go from as fast as he could get it without artifacts, to north of ten seconds. This leads to some particularly unusual possible applications. The slower attack times mean that transients won't set off the detection, and the extremely long release times mean that really gentle and good sounding averaging is a breeze. In effect, it feels like parallel compression in one box without the need for a mix knob. Recently, I've been using this on my two bus in concert with a fast solid state limiter for that classic fast/slow combo, and this compressor absolutely rules in that application. Bryce told me he's been using the slower settings to do live to 2-track recordings to a Nagra tape machine, and it excels at that too.
Bryce, like many of the best designers in audio history, is also a talented engineer. Larroquette put it beautifully when he told me simply, "Bryce has the same goals as we do." He wants to make tools he can use for his own recordings. The BG-1 "Re-Issue" has been incredibly flattering to nearly every source I've thrown at it as Bryce is refining its harmonic texture in the crucible of his own recording work as well. This compressor has been examined down to the component level in this "Re-Issue" and is voiced a little differently than the BG-2. The copy on Highland Dynamics website says, "This BG1 used [the] 6SN7 [tube] to drive the output instead of the 6CG7 [tube]. This isn't a big difference, but the 6SN7 always sounded better to me so it's in this. The two capacitors in the signal path are K40Y-9 paper-in-oil caps."
This quote is so wonderfully emblematic of how Bryce thinks and speaks about equipment; I had to include it here. He describes the harmonic texture of this amp stage and a junction point in a circuit with the kind of certainty that everyone will understand what he's talking about – as one might understand if he were addressing a room about blueberry pancakes. Surely everyone here must know how blueberry pancakes taste; that's a shared human experience we can all relate to.
Even in a studio where there are already a beloved pair of BG-2s, the BG-1 "Re-Issue" is getting just as much love but in different applications. Whereas I tend to gravitate towards smacking the BG-2s a little harder, with the feedback set to Altec style and the impedance at 150, to push into that classic chimey Altec midrange for guitar or for that super in-your-ear vocal sound, the BG-1 "Re-Issue" tends to live more for me on buses or piano/Rhodes/synths in British Feedback mode, giving a gently flattering lift to anything a hi-fi tube circuit can benefit from. And again, the additional time constants on the BG-1 "Re-Issue" opens up a range of applications that further differentiate the two and set it apart nicely for stereo duties.
In an era where the milieu increasingly embraces the convenience of digital for a myriad of defensible reasons, I find it ever more important to celebrate those people keeping the light on for our analog forebears. Bryce Gonzales is, in my mind, absolutely one of the brightest lights designing and building today. He creates the tools I use daily that make my work sound better. Funny enough, Brad Allen Williams, the reviewer of the BG-2, bought a pair for his studio after his time with one, and I am thrilled to be adding this BG-1 "Re-Issue" to my collection as well.