Like the rest of the Portico series, the 5043 two-channel compressor is a half-width, 1RU-height design that can be racked horizontally or vertically. Each channel has the expected controls for attack (20 to 75 ms), release (100 ms to 2.5 s), and ratio (1:1 to limit). Not so common is a button to switch between feed-forward and feed-back operation, allowing you to change the personality of the compressor by choosing where the compressor circuit's VCA gets its control signal-at the untouched input (FF) or the already-compressed output (FB). The other two features that stuck out to me are how much resolution within the ratio knob is dedicated to low ratios and the fact that there's a threshold control as well. There are plenty of compressors where you can essentially get the same results, but rarely do you have both of these controls. With an 1176 or a Distressor, you've got an input control, where you boost the signal up to a fixed threshold. I've got other compressors where there's a threshold control, but no ratio control. One or the other is fixed. These choices in the design of the 5043 make it much easier to shape the envelope of the sound without overcompressing. With a very low ratio and low threshold, you can get the compressor opening and closing for every note that's passing through at any dynamic, but without as big a difference in gain reduction between the softest and loudest signals. It's a much greater range of control over the subtlety of compression, and for me, this makes the 5043 unique. [Mike, you've got too many expensive, vintage toys! I'd say that the majority of modern compressors, especially many of the affordable ones based on VCAs, have
continuously-variable threshold and ratio controls. -AH] How does the 5043 sound? The first thing I noticed is a distinct low-end roll-off when A/B'ing between bypassed and feed-back mode with no gain reduction. This tonal roll-off reminded me a bit of how my 6386 rolls off the top and bottom a hair (which I love). The 5043 doesn't necessarily sound like the 6386, it's just the easiest way to describe the function of the tonal roll-off. A lot of things sit better in a
mix with a little rounding of the very top and bottom. When A/B'ing between the feed-back and feed-forward modes, it's pretty easy to hear the differences. Feed-back feels slower and is more artifacty; there's more VCA overshoot, which, combined with the top and bottom-rounding, makes for the more vintage sound of the two modes. Feed-forward, on the other hand, is much more like looking at someone with their face pressed against a pane of glass; it's a much faster and more aggressive sound.
It's definitely the modern rock-and-roll setting. I found I could get great sounds on all of the typical sources as well as the stereo mix, but mainly I'm drawn towards using it in low-ratio/low-gain reduction situations. My favorite use has been on a bass with a ratio of 1.5:1, a very low threshold, a medium to slow attack, and the fastest release. That way, pretty much every note benefits from some gain reduction and reshaping of the attack, but the overall dynamics of the performance remains intact. I found this type of setting to be much easier with the 5043 than
with most compressors. For some applications, 20 ms is a little slow for the
fastest attack, 75 ms can be a little fast for the slowest attack, and 100 ms is a little slow for the fastest release. So I wouldn't use the 5043 for really radical sounds; it's much more adept at general-purpose leveling than extreme effects. For instance, with a Distressor, you can turn a snare drum into reverb by completely removing the attack with its fastest setting. That's not the type of thing the 5043 is best suited for. The 5043's nature is great for preventing you from accidentally overcompressing; I found that when I got as aggressive as I could on kick or snare, I consistently got nice fat sounds, but never overcompressed. The sounds were very easy to shape in terms of attack and release to add punch and either more tightness or more ring without losing a natural sound. I feel that the 5043 was designed to have a lot of control within the range of where the most normal use is likely to occur, and that's a great strength to have.
The only thing I found difficult is its size. It may be an unfair criticism if you view it as being designed for a vertical rack with a bunch of other Portico gear, but the only open space I had was low in my rack. With the small knobs and tiny labels below them, it was frustrating to learn it because the text is obscured by the knobs. Once I had it down, it wasn't much of an issue, but it's certainly tougher to get a perfect L/R balance on a stereo mix with such small knobs.
The 5043 has a permanent place in my rack. It's not what I reach for when I need to do something extreme like smash the drum room mics. Rather, it's a compressor I look to for the precise shaping and leveling that I need for everyday, general use. The choice of feed-back and feed-forward modes makes it easy to change the attitude between gentle and aggressive, while still being able to compress subtly. I see it as being like Larry Bird-not the most radical or dramatic, but by covering all the fundamentals, always a winner and MVP. ($1895 MSRP; www.rupertneve.com)
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