I've always wished there was a recreation of the Urei 1178, the stereo version of the Urie/Universal Audio 1176. With its FET-based compression and simple stereo link controls, the fresh-faced lads at M House Studios have put together the 5020 Stereo FET Limiter, a worthy 1178 substitute, yet one with its own sound, plus at an amazingly low price. I love that this limiter was not meant to be clean or transparent in any way. This is a device for creating exciting drum bus compression, crushing a bass guitar DI to make it pop in a mix, or mashing up electric guitars for effect. As M House says, it was "…specially designed to smash your drum bus into pieces and glue it back together again with aggressive JFET limiting action." I say, "Cool. Let's do it."

The ST.LINK (stereo link, duh) switch is interesting. LR is untamed, non-linking, and I liked it a lot on drums with the sidechain in. AC sounds like typical stereo linking, but DC gave me that warble you get when compressing two slightly out of tune sources at once, and on drums made the bottom of the snare pop out of the mix in a cool, weird way. The SC.HPF switch is either full range Off, or has filters at 100 and 250 Hz. I liked 250 on drums, but for some cases 100 feels good. The three Meter settings give us Output, plus average and instantaneous (peak) gain reductions. Quite handy, but nothing's cooler than the Blend knob, where you can mix the original sound back into the limiter's output. And don't forget the Character knob, where ratio and linearity combine into a unique control. Just turn it and listen; you'll know when it's right for you.

Setting it full bore with Input cranked all the way, Attack semi-fast, fast Release, and Character in the middle, the 5020 delivered some perfect parallel crushed drum sounds. When the drummer dropped into a quiet ride cymbal pattern I was transported right into Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" world, where the mellow parts still sonically rock. It's nice to have a tool that can deliver classic tones like this! On electric bass, I ran a track I'd played on through the 5020 and set a medium attack, medium long release, and got a deep, solid sustained part that held in the mix perfectly. I swear it even added a little low end to the sound.

The attack on this limiter is quick as can be, so watch out. Release times are super usable, and I was able to hide pumping, yet make a bass sustain well. The single rack space unit box is easy to use, if a little more on the functional-looking side than pretty or visually inspiring.

I find whenever I'm mixing in the box with plug-ins that I never feel digital compressors get the kind of aggression and detail that a piece of hardware like this can deliver. The 5020 FET would be a great addition to any home recordist's setup, or a studio looking for a stereo limiter to add character to any mix. I wanna keep this one!

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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