Germany-based Vertigo Sound's first product to market is the VSC-2 Quad Discrete Compressor. The quad part relates to the four VCAs within the VSC-2 and not the number of channels it can process, as this is a dual-mono unit. Having two fully independent channels obviously makes it a candidate for tracking or mixing mono or stereo sources. A quick perusal of the Vertigo website gives you the sense that high expectations and serious thought went into this unit, from the handmade, discrete VCAs to the choice of Jensen input transformers and THAT 1646 balancing amps, resulting in a reassuring maximum output of +25 dBu into 600 ohms. A look into the manual gives further evidence into the level of attention to detail, with handwritten test measurements and specific advice on getting the absolute most from the VSC-2. The overall construction is extremely solid, and the pots give a wonderful feel of being precise yet tactile. Along with the stunning blue color of the unit, the meters are worthy of a mention as they are exceptionally accurate, informative, and gloriously impressive to observe, and very nicely backlit too. The layout and parameter choice will be instantly familiar to engineers/producers, and there is a unique addition in the ratio selection of Soft and Brick.
Jumping straight into the main intended use of this little blue baby -in a word, the VSC-2 does a glorious job of processing stereo mixes. It adds a sense of dimension, coherence, and overall weight or power, making the uncompressed mix seem limp and more than a little lacking in comparison. What's more, it does this whilst preserving the overall tone, stereo image, and size of the mix, and if anything, it further enhances the mix with very little of the adverse effects of lesser units that tend to diminish the lows and highs. Even when using dual-mono mode for mixing, the image is preserved remarkably well, and this occasionally works better than stereo mode. (Caution needs to be exercised here as to not let things get sketchy.) Mix-bus compression probably being the most demanding of a compressor's uses -
this unit, when sitting side-by-side with SSL and Focusrite RED bus compressors, trumps them all. I don't bandy about my opinion here lightly, and I was surprised to discover shortcomings in units which I have relied upon for many years, but the VSC-2 really does operate superbly and eloquently with the ability to maintain the integrity of the mix. There seems to be a little adding to or accenting of lower-mid frequencies, which adds a fuller tone to a mix (but this could also be a step too far if the mix is already weighty in that area). I also found the VSC-2 contributes a very nice sheen or enhancement of overtones, especially at higher settings of output gain, which adds that finished/polished dimension to a mix that rapidly becomes very addictive.
I'd say that with some of the faster attack times, this unit is particularly good on transient-rich audio where drums would be at the forefront -not to say that music without drums or percussion would not benefit from some of the VSC-2's dynamic processing. In stereo mode, all controls for channel B become disengaged, and channel A becomes the master. The useful high-pass filters in the side-chain are selectable for 60 and 90 Hz operation and function as expected in preventing unwanted pumping triggered by bass instruments. At first guess, you might think that Vertigo's Soft ratio selection is similar to the dbx 160's OverEasy design, but it's actually more like an exaggeration of the Fairchild 670's curve, where the ratio always stays "inside the curve", even at 8:1 maximum, I found this particularly useful for recording vocals. The Brick setting is an extreme 40:1 ratio that warrants the expressive description where drum mixes get a serious smacking to the point of absolute decadence, although I'm sure this would act as a great limiter for overload protection as well.
As a tracking tool, the VSC-2 is a great unit to have around. Already mentioned is the usefulness for recording vocals, and the same goes for recording bass guitar. It's surprising how much the meters move before you hear the compression overtly. Using the gain makeup at higher settings also adds a range of subtle coloration when tracking instruments.
My aforementioned high expectations for Vertigo Sound are to be found and realized in abundance here, and the VSC-2 warrants its high price tag. For a desert island stereo compressor, this would be very high on my list. It's a superbly-built, no-compromise unit with a variety of uses. My only minor gripes would be that the VSC-2 is not particularly versatile in its sonic character (very few compressors are), and its auto release setting can be a little too sluggish at times, and I would have preferred a faster auto option. The sound is definitely hi-fi and indulgent in a way that is both full of character and enjoyable. It's difficult to get a bad sound from this unit, and I for one rate this in very high regard.
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.