Raise your hand if you like gear that sounds colorful and big. Funnily enough, a lot of early engineers would have killed for sounds we take for granted these days, the clean ones that might seem boring and lifeless. In an attempt to evolve, we made leaps from tubes and tape to chips and computers. A lot of our attempts to perfect the art of sound ultimately left many engineers and musicians shaking their heads. Where did all the magic go?
Enter Hendyamps, the brainchild of Chris Henderson. Chris is an extremely smart and technical person, but he'll be the first one to throw the rulebook out the door if a weird design choice sounds better. I always tell people, that if they're looking for a really technical piece of gear that allows you to fine-tune and nitpick at problems, look somewhere else. If you want to turn a few big knobs and have something sound unequivocally "better" quickly, Hendyamps is going to make you sound like a better engineer than you might deserve. The Pollock compressor is no exception.
At first glance, there are probably going to be a few preconceived notions about a tube-powered stereo optical compressor (especially with ganged controls). Can you even use an optical compressor on a stereo bus? Most people would consider, that a bit of a ballsy move, but most people have never encountered an optical compressor capable of being this fast. The Pollock has absolutely no qualms living on your mix bus or taking on mastering duties. Although it’s capable of playing the aggressive Universal Audio LA-2A-style [Tape Op #26] game on vocals or bass guitars, there is plenty of color and beautifully subtle harmonic glue for mastering or mix bus duties when set accordingly. That’s when the Pollock's wet/dry Compression mix knob comes into play and really opens up its capabilities.
The first thing to understand about the Compression knob on the Pollock is that it’s not your typical parallel signal blender. In reality, it's nothing like that at all. Set in the default position (fully to the right), you're getting full-on compression. As you start to turn the Compression down, you are telling the Pollock to stop compressing when it hits a certain point. Unfortunately, there’s no way to reflect, that in an analog VU meter – the Pollock's meter is intended to be more of a general guide than an absolute reference – so you will have to use your ears to tell what’s actually going on as you start to roll back. I know that having nothing but our ears to go on is a pretty scary prospect for a lot of us. It’s going to be okay though, you’ll feel a lot better about flying blind the first time you hit the (true) Bypass switch on the Pollock – things will probably sound boring.
Moving down from the Compression knob, we have the smooth/aggressive switch. This is a little more straightforward and controls the overall compression characteristic. Aggressive is a little more like your typical optical compressor sound, but still much quicker than the vintage designs. You'll have absolutely no problem using this setting on your master bus, but it can still give you the color you’re looking for when pushing it on a single vocal track. The smooth setting, however, will let you get away with murder. I’ve tracked acoustic guitars hitting above 10 dB of compression without any pumping or other unacceptable artifacts. The only consideration with the smooth setting is that it tends to make things sound a bit dark when pushed hard. That's not a good or bad thing necessarily, just a consideration. It can easily be countered with 1-2 dB of EQ on your bus or source. It’s incredibly pleasant on brighter, more modern microphones, like my Chandler Limited TG mic [Tape Op #131].
The three-position Color and Style controls are probably the most complicated part of the Pollock, but I was able to get my head around them pretty quickly after a few days of use. Think of Color as the frequency range the Pollock is actually compressing, and Style as the frequency range that’s triggering the compression. With Color, you can go from compressing full range to compressing just your mids and highs, or only compressing your highs like the world's best de-esser. Style is similar, but also gives you some sonic tweaks. You can trigger full range with a somewhat flat overall sound to the compressor or a bit of a boost on top in your high frequencies. You can tell the trigger to ignore the lower frequencies while giving you a subtle boost in your lows and highs. The third Style setting is pretty addicting, and I found myself living there for the most part on master bus duties. With Color, Style, and smooth/aggressive setting combinations, you can achieve 18 different compressor characters!
Although I’ve never been a fan of using de-essers for tracking, the Pollock has been glued to my vocal chains since I received it. The third Color setting keeps harshness under control without getting in the way of anything else. If I’m using a more neutrally voiced mic, I tend to stay in aggressive compression mode with the third Color setting compressing only the highs and the second Style setting triggering the full-frequency band while giving you a subtle boost in your high frequencies. For brighter mics, switching to the smooth setting is a bit more noticeable. However, it can be very helpful for taming harshness later down the line during mixing and mastering. To put it simply, it's a de-esser you don't have to fine-tune and stress about.
Most of you would probably end up with the Pollock living on your master bus, though. If you prefer to insert bus compression towards the end of the mixing stage, or during mastering, I have a feeling a lot of you are going to be a bit surprised by how dark the smooth setting can sound when pushed hard. During mastering duties where you don’t have as much control over a mix, I guarantee you it’s going to come in handy when you are presented with brighter or harsher mixes. In my experience so far, the smooth setting on the Pollock is more interactive as opposed to simply sounding darker. I've only mastered one track through it, and the mix was definitely on the brighter end of the spectrum. Putting the Pollock first in the chain followed by an EQ to make up for some of the high end loss sounded noticeably smoother, while still presenting all the upper-frequency information the track originally had. However, the magic of the Pollock starts to become more apparent when you set it up at the beginning of the mixing process and mix into it.
I tried the Pollock on a song I'd mixed previously that had a lot of problems. The original session had plug-ins and parallel buses all over the place – it was a mess. I started from scratch, set some levels and got the Pollock roughly dialed in. It was still a tough mix, but pretty eye-opening in comparison to my first mix. My first attempt without the Pollock had a lot of tape and harmonic distortion plug-ins on almost every track. I hardly had to touch anything resembling a character plug-in on my remix attempt through the Pollock. Since I was on the smooth setting, I did notice I was a little more aggressive with some of my higher frequency EQ boosts. It was also interesting when I realized I didn’t end up de-essing the main vocal. There’s no point in waxing poetic here so I’ll conclude by saying it's a pretty special compressor. Hendyamps offer both potentiometer and stepped versions of the Pollock.