A few colleagues of mine had mentioned using the ART Pro VLA compressors for getting crunchy drum sounds, so when I heard ART had a new compressor coming out, I wanted to give it a review. This two- channel, 1RU compressor features the standard front- panel controls plus a DI, VU gain-reduction metering, LED output metering, and a few other interesting features. The V3 compression selector is a rotary switch which switches between four different compression modes with presets intended for various instruments or mixes. Setting the compressor manually, then "blind" switching through the V3 modes, I was able to hear slight variations in release times and ratios and minor differences between the VCA and Opto modes. Some settings enacted variations on the noise-reduction controls like de- essing, which seemed confusing without a manual in front of me. Some settings worked fine, some sounded off. There's also a button marked "tube" on each channel which pumps the compressor's output through the onboard 12AX7 tube. Initially, all this button seemed to do was make the channel output louder, but after extended listening, we determined that it was doing something slightly euphonic to the sound. There are also simple two-control "noise reduction" gates on each channel; with minimal controls, these weren't the easiest to set, though the shelf-EQ control added a bit more control than expected.
In use, this compressor was quite good at most tasks, reining in some wildly varying guitar tracks and holding vocals in the mix well; and it was great as a parallel drum buss compressor, with a real crunchy VCA attack and a full sound. In comparison with an FMR RNC1773 on vocal tracks at similar settings, the TCS sounded slightly darker, with some of the clarity of the original signal missing-not atypical for many compressors but something I would consider. I've noticed a few lower cost compressors appearing on the market with DI jacks on the front- an added bonus that seems odd to include on a compressor. I tried out the DI with a passive bass guitar, and while it sounded pretty damn good, it didn't have the deep bottom end of higher-priced preamps or DI boxes. It would be a cool option for a small studio where one usually finds a shortage of preamps. Other features include an insert path for the detector loop for setting up frequency dependent compression and a link switch for stereo operation. My final analysis is that this is a decent, functional compressor, with more features than one would expect for the price, a price which was half as much as I assumed it would be! But, the V3 feature could have been better served by having a simple VCA or Opto switch and letting the user rely on the standard manual controls. But in the end, this compressor does offer a lot of variations for the price, works well, and would find good use in many small studios. ($299 MSRP; www.artproaudio.com)