The Little Devils are designer Wade Chandler's new modules for the 500-series rack system. The Compressor has all the controls to which you've become accustomed in a Chandler compressor, and the 4-band Equalizer gets some of its inspiration from a 1081, but it's not a 1081 clone. The circuits for these two units were originally developed for the channels of Wade's personal mixing console, not as production units for sale to the public. After getting enough pressure from customers and key dealers to make 500-series designs in this price range, Wade decided to adapt these two sections from his console to fit the 500-series racks. Bright red and yellow colors
were selected, and the Little Devil line was born. On the front of the Little Devil compressor is a vintage-style VU meter along with continuously-variable knobs for Input, Attack, and Mix; and 3-position switches for Ratio and Release. What's unique about this compressor is a Curve selector that chooses between Germanium and Zener diode knees. The sound of these knees is backwards from what you might associate with the names. Germanium is much more aggressive than zener, whereas in the full-sized Chandler compressors that go by these names, the EMI TG12413 Zener Limiter (Tape Op #59) is more aggressive than the Germanium Compressor (#61). Otherwise, there aren't any controls previously-unseen from the last few Chandler designs. The rotary Sidechain Filter switch shapes the signal in front of the compressor's detector (but not the signal passing through the compressor), making the compressor less reactive to low-frequency content, with settings at 30, 60, 90, 300 Hz, and Out. Conversely, there are no unit-based labels on the Attack, Release, and Ratio controls; just like he did with the Germanium Compressor, Wade chose not to figure out what these units are and instead worried solely
about how these settings sound. The Mix knob, when fully counterclockwise, allows the
compressor to operate in the standard way we're used to compressors working. As you turn it, some of the uncompressed signal is blended in, allowing you to do parallel compression within the unit itself. This can make your compression more transparent, almost like having a pressure valve to prevent over-compression. Before the addition of a Mix knob, parallel compression was primarily a mixing technique achieved through bus-routing in a console. Now that it's so common to work without a console, it's not practical for most people to use parallel compression during tracking or when mixing in-the-box with hardware inserts on a DAW. The Little Devil Compressor makes parallel compression -with or without a console -feasible in the simplest way possible.
I found that the Little Devil Compressor excels at getting vintage textures, but with modern tones. This compressor's identity is rooted in its original intended use as part of Wade's personal console. When you own a company like Chandler and you can go to the back room and grab a half dozen TG1s (Tape Op #37) whenever you want, what could you possibly need in a channel compressor? The answer is one that makes you never have to get out of your chair and walk into the back room. The choice of fundamental tone starts at the knee switch. Germanium mode is for when you want to get aggressive and really change a sound. When you need a middle ground, you use the Mix knob to tone it down. Wade describes Zener mode as being for those times when you want to add compression without hearing it -something that he
could simultaneously run on every channel of a mix if he wanted to. A very gentle knee adds the sound of the circuit without a lot of gain reduction -a little like the THD option on the full-size TG1 and Zener units, but with just enough influence on the dynamics.
My first opportunity to use the Little Devil Compressor was on an acoustic guitar I had recorded before. The owner kept telling me how great it recorded, but I had never really liked its recorded sound. With the Little Devil, I got a sound I loved. The low end is creamy -thick in a vintage way that's reminiscent of the TG1 or a vintage Neve compressor -but when I spent time A/B'ing it with the TG1, the Little Devil's top end was less restricted sounding.
Getting back to the guitar sound, I was able to round the attack a little giving it a more polished and smooth sound, while also making the release pop a little bit to add some excitement and vibrancy. At no time did it kill the width or dynamic range -or get agitating to listen to like peak limiting can. I've got a lot of great gear, but this particular sound is not something I've been able to achieve as quickly and easily with anything else.
I also got really beautiful vocal sounds with the Little Devil Compressor -forward and solid, while still really open. On a drum bus, it could easily be set for aggressive or to finesse out an even dynamic range while remaining transparent. One of the most unusual things for me was that I used it on a snare mic, which I pretty much compress. I had same-day, back-to-back drum sessions with We The Kings followed by The Summer Set and got a great sound using a Chandler TG2 preamp (Tape Op #39) and the Little Devil after it. I particularly like the way it breaks up if you overdrive the input. It's as if the center of the breakup is right in the middle of the snare's strainer's frequency.
There are some key things I discovered when using the Little Devil Compressor. Since the knee is so gentle in the Zener mode, I found the Ratio switch to be very subtle and that there wasn't that much difference except between the high and low settings. (That's not the case at all in the Germanium mode.) The Zener knee at low ratio with a slow attack was very interesting. There's definitely a little pop in fast release. The slow release is a little stiff, but the medium release really allowed the compressor to function as a tone control, so that you could make a signal a little more euphonic without radical changes to the dynamics. I also liked Zener at high ratio with a fast release and the attack around 9 o'clock, for a little bump to the attack without any pumping and breathing. The Germanium knee, especially at high ratio, is great for making the type of round sounds that people associate with vintage gear. Germanium, high ratio, fast release, and attack between 9 and 10 o'clock are the settings I liked on drums. Slow down the attack a little more and really drive the input, and that's when the nice, crunchy breakup happens.
I also found that with this compressor more than others, it's very important to ignore the meters. VU meter ballistics are too slow to precisely represent gain reduction. With the Little Devil, I got some really great pumping drums where you could hear it really rocking with the track, but the meters were barely moving.
I spent some time comparing the Little Devil Compressor to a variety of compressors. It's definitely got more punch than some of the "slower' compressors, but it doesn't have that hyper-fast release that people like for trashing drum room mics. While it's certainly possible to get good room sounds -and it's got versatility -for the way I work, it feels like an instrument compressor. I can see it working very well on an instrument bus, especially with the mix knob, since that's an area that you really don't want to over-compress. The Little Devil Equalizer has the same organic-but-modern vibeasitscompressorsibling. YoucouldsaythattheNeve1081 is its ancestor, but the Chandler is far less bland. It's got a high shelf fixed at 12 kHz and a low shelf with 50 and 110 Hz settings; high and low-mid bands with seven frequencies each and wide/narrow Q switches; and a high-pass filter that can be set at 47, 82, or 150 Hz. The magic of the Little Devil is in what it doesn't do. There are sort of two cliches in EQ designs. One is where the highs open up as you crank them, but it never digs in. The other is like the Neve 1073 where it's sweet but can get a little too sweet and too harmonic-ey (new word alert!) when you really push it. The Little Devil doesn't hit a point where the boost collapses like a 1073 will on the top. This was even more so in the midrange. Both the Little Devil and the 1073 have a 3.2 kHz setting, so that was an ideal frequency to compare to. With a slight boost, they were similar, but the more you pushed them both, the more harsh the 1073 sounded next to the Little Devil.
Another thing it handles well is the interaction between the high-pass filter and the bass shelving boost. I know a lot of people who think that the 1073 has a little boost in its filter right above the cut point. Every person with whom I've discussed this finds it to be a pleasing effect. I like to contour my low end with a bit of simultaneous cut and boost so that you can push it a little forward while getting rid of anything that's just muck. The Little Devil sounds like it doesn't have that bump to me, but it does have a nice, rich bass. I particularly liked high-passing at 47 Hz while boosting at 60 Hz. When I A/B'ed similar settings on the 1073 (50 Hz cut and 60 Hz boost), the Little Devil was definitely tighter, and the 1073 sounded wooly in comparison.
The Little Devils have an identity. They have some of the key aspects of vintage gear, while having a modern sound. Vintage and organic textures, but modern tones. Wade has tuned them too so that they don't collapse as you push them to their extremes, and even better, they don't sound at all like plug-ins. I think a big part of this is using the full 32 volts of the rails. (This is an important note to be aware of since some of the earliest API lunchboxes may have insufficient current to power them properly. See the Chandler website for details and a workaround.)
For me, there is one flaw with all 500-series gear, which is that smaller space requires smaller knobs. Smaller knobs mean less resolution, and that makes it harder to match left and right when using two in stereo. So far I have avoided all 500-series gear, but the Little Devils make me want to quote Nelly. "Give me two pairrrr. I need two pairrr!" (Compressor $1050 street, EQ $1250; www.chandlerlimited.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.