There is nothing like a good, solid FET compressor. The Universal Audio 1176 has been on countless records – for good reason. It's very fast and it has its own sound, but it also has an enormous price tag. I am not saying that an original is not worth the coin, but not everyone has the extra dough to invest in a full complement of these desirable beasts by Universal Audio.
BAE solves this dilemma with the reasonably affordable 500C FET Compressor for the 500 Series format. The control set will seem familiar to anyone that has ever used a classic FET compressor: Input, Output, Attack, Release, and Ratio selector (2:1, 4:1, 8:1, 12:1, 20:1), plus the audio mangling ABI (all buttons in) mode.
This unit also sports a high-pass filter, a Bypass switch, and a GR (gain reduction) OFF mode if you want to run audio through the three 2520 op-amps and transformer-coupled output. Metering is accomplished via a 12 LED meter. This unit is also fully enclosed, making easy to slide in and out of the rack – important to me, because if modules don't slot in easily, or if they have front panels that are slightly miss-sized, it can be a real pain in the neck.
I love the sound of the BAE 500C on snare drum. You can really hammer it without crushing the transients or sucking the life out of the drum, plus it adds a nice degree of excitement. Once I tasted it on the first track of a series of mixes, it remained planted on the snare for the rest of the songs. I did some additional printing of a mono kit processed through the 500C in ABI mode for some super over the top pumping, then blended it in with the other drum tracks. Another cool thing to do with a single compressor – or other processor that you dig the character of – is to use it on an aux track and send multiple tracks (typically with similar characteristics) to that compressor or processer in parallel. I don't recommend this for specific dynamics control, but I got some interesting and unpredictable sounds this way. Experiment!
In addition to snare drum, this unit also worked well on electric guitar by again adding excitement and helping guitars sink into the track without losing their punch and presence. Though subtle, less overt sounds can be achieved with this unit, the 500C seems most suited to being used for its aggressive nature. It also works well for double compressing a vocal. Try putting a FET compressor before an optical compressor on a vocal. Set the FET ratio pretty high (12:1) with a fast attack and release and knock off a few dB of the biggest peaks before it gets to the second compressor. Optical compressors (like Universal Audio's LA-2A [Tape Op #26]) may not be able to recover from a huge peak in time to get the next one, so this technique keeps levels in check while maintaining a consistent signal.
Although I leaned on this unit primarily for drum and guitar duty, it would be a fine choice for many tasks such as bass guitar, and (as mentioned above) vocals. The controls all feel solid and knobs turn in a precise manner. I had a little trouble seeing the writing in low light, so grab some reading glasses if needed.
The BAE 500C is simple to use and sounds superb on almost anything you can throw at it for general dynamics control or extreme sonic mangling. I could easily find a use for an entire rack of these modules.