One day, while listening to Roxy Music's Manifesto, I noticed that it was recorded at Ridge Farm Studio in England, and I did a bit of Internet research. While the studio no longer operates, I learned that its chief tech, Pierre-Olivier Margerand (known as POM), now manufactures gear as Ridge Farm Industries. There are two products: a direct box called the Gas Cooker [Tape Op #54]; and this compressor, the Boiler. The description on the Ridge Farm website intrigued me: "It will provide extremes of compression, creating a characteristic sound with massive presence and pumping, and may also be used to add a variable degree of 'dirt' and presence to any mono or stereo audio source." With a reasonable price of $1350 street for a two-channel compressor, I remained curious until I finally bought one.
The Boiler is definitely a great compressor, with a characteristic sound and some unusual quirks. I find it especially helpful for making sources sound a bit "older." When sounds seem too clean and modern, and they fail to fit in the mix, the Boiler comes to the rescue. With an appropriate input level and a modest setting of the threshold knob, it thickens the sound with more midrange, saturation that hints at overdrive, and a bit of compression. It's surprisingly natural, more so than the website description led me to expect, so it has proven great on things like piano, electric guitar, and acoustic guitar. The Boiler provides a cool, pronounced effect on drums. Here its character is more immediately audible, emphasizing some of the lower frequencies of the snare in particular. It's far from all-purpose, but it provides a great alternative to, and very different color from, the extreme settings on the Universal Audio 1176 and the Empiracal Labs Distressor [Tape Op #32], which are both popular on drums. It's also possible to crank the Boiler's input level, which produces a nice overdrive that's overt but not exaggerated.
The Boiler's interface has some unusual qualities beyond its distinctive steel blue facade; I'm not sure if these decisions were to reduce price or fit into a 1RU form, so I'm guessing both of these goals played a role. First, a single bypass switch located on the channel 1 half of the front panel controls both channels, even when they're acting independently - a switch in the same location for channel 2 causes it to act as a slave. The only metering for each channel is output level, so the compression has to be set by ear. Finally, when the threshold is turned up to its maximum setting, with a normal input level, no signal passes through at all, only hum.
For a relatively affordable compressor, the Boiler has immediately found use on every mix, helping each mix to quickly and easily sound more natural, classic, and complete. ($1350 street; www.ridgefarmindustries.com)
-Steve Silverstein <email@example.com>