A couple years ago, I bought a pair of Neve 3310 limiter modules from hi-fi guru Early Bender-Worth (www.hifitown.com). I wasn't familiar with these particular modules, but I figured that if I didn't like them I could sell them without taking a hit, thanks to the Neve name alone. I have a special fondness for the sound of FET limiters and have always liked the sound of Neve limiters, especially for drums. The 3310s are tiny modules (3.35" h, 1.38" w, 6.3" d) installed in portable consoles such as the Kelsos and Melbournes. Each unit has a dark grey faceplate, bypass switch, and tiny knobs for fully- variable threshold (+4 to +16dBm) and selectable release times (.1, .2, .5, 1.5, & 3 sec.). According to the spec sheet, the attack time is fixed at 20ms, the ratio at 20:1, and the modules are recommended for "permanent use in every channel of the console" (nice), as patchbay insert tools, and "talkback limiter."

I had Rob Preston (www.rfiaudio.com) build a power supply and pigtails. I first plugged the 3310s in line between tape and console inputs for kick and snare. Transients occasionally overloaded the unbalanced modules, causing loud pops. I then plugged the modules into the console inserts and immediately loved the sound. The "Neve tone" was very evident and the sound was very, very Lord-Alge. With the fastest release time and appropriate threshold set, the limiters really bring out the ring in the snare drum, similar to an API 525. The medium settings worked better for kick. The 3310s are also useful when applied to ambient mics, providing the sound of limiting without affecting the dynamics of the close mics.

They also sound great for "the big, smashed stereo electric guitar" sounds or a subgroup of "big, smashed" electric guitars. I'm generally not into automatically compressing guitars, but for the ever-so-common commercial radio guitar tone, these things are spot-on. Try not to laugh (well, go ahead), but if you want the Creed guitar sound, these will help: apply the usual "hack methods" of electric guitar recording (don't forget to double track it out of phase) and limit!

I'm also not usually a fan of high-ratio compression and as a result, I don't really like the sound of these units on anything else for general use. Even with peak limiters I generally prefer units with a softer knee or the option of a lower ratio. These aren't subtle. They're a little extreme for bass and lead vocals, but make for some neat effects on background vocals and stereo hand percussion. If you're levels on tape aren't too hot, you can insert these modules with the threshold set at +16 and use them as a nice tone-coloring device. Thanks largely to the BA438 input amp, they have the familiar "Neve tone." I got the pair of units for $700, which is half of the average price of a single channel of 2254s. They're not as flexible, but the tone is there. Apparently, either Neve didn't install very many of these units or the people that bought side cars to part-out are keeping these units secret. I say this because I've never seen any others. But should you run across a pair while you're looking for that "Neve compression sound," check these out. I consider them a really nice alternative to their big brother units.

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

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