New Zealand gear manufacturer Buzz Audio is best known for its REQ-2.2 mastering EQ [Tape Op #71], which some have compared to a classic Sontec. This impressive reputation made me curious enough to buy Buzz Audio's top-of-the-line compressor, which has achieved less visibility so far. The SOC-20 sells for just under $3,000 street, which prices it comparably to other stereo electro- optical compressors like the Manley ELOP and the Pendulum Audio OCL-2. The Manley offers far less flexibility, and both the Manley and Pendulum use tube make-up gain behind the light cell. The SOC-20 has similar compression characteristics to these compressors; it's very transparent when hit subtly, and it can apply more drastic compression without adding artifact or exaggeration. What stands out about the SOC-20 is its solid-state make-up gain. While I expected a relatively transparent signal path, perhaps because it includes Lundahl transformers, the SOC-20 make-up gain circuit surprised me by adding grit and character. The closest comparison would be the 1176 make-up gain; the SOC introduces a somewhat comparable color, behind a very different compression characteristic. The compression itself is very flexible, with either adjustable or fast/modern attack and release settings; five compression ratios; and even a balanced sidechain with a monitor switch and built-in high-pass filter. Another interesting and useful feature here is the Mid-Side functionality. When enabled, the left channel compresses the center sounds, and the right channel only affects the outside. If the sidechain is unused, it is possible to monitor only mid or side by engaging the sidechain monitor switch for the other channel, which results in monitoring silence for the center or sides. The backlit meters look quite impressive, too. For the first mixes I used the SOC-20, I had the best results on saxophone and drums. In a jazz recording where the sax did not quite have the thickness that I wanted, the SOC-20, with a low ratio setting, provided the subtle, organic compression that I'd expect from an electro-optical cell. The low-mid emphasis of the make-up gain helped to place the instrument's tonality nicely in the mix. With drums, I wanted a bit more drastic compression to help tame an unruly cymbal in an overhead mic. The 6:1 ratio setting helped to bring down the cymbal without introducing any noticeable artifact, and the make-up gain's coloration also helped to bring a bit more impact to the toms. The SOC-20's combination of high-quality electro-optical compression, 1176-ish make-up gain, and impressive flexibility offers a distinctive feature set at a competitive price. ($2960 street;

- Steve Silverstein <> 

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

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