Polish plug-in designer PSP has been producing hardware inspired plug-ins for nearly 15 years. The plug-in solutions tend to be tools in their own right with a generic analogue feel to them, but not specific emulations. However over the past few years PSP has released a few plug-ins that closer model specific gear. Of course they couldn’t resist adding a few additional parameters and functions along the way. Why not? It is a plug-in after all.
The PSP FETpressor is such a device, modelled on that very famous late 1960s Field-Effect Transistor feedback compression unit that we all know so well. So do we need yet another ‘76 style plugin?
Looking at the plug-in GUI we see a very familiar blackface style rack mount compressor. The look of the knobs is certainly reminiscent of the 1176LN. However the layout is slightly different than that classic FET compressor and perhaps that is indicative that PSP is stepping slightly away from the direct emulation.
In the top left we have the Attack knob which ranges from 0.1 to 10 ms. Adjacent to that there is a Release knob, with a range of 10 to 1000 ms. The knobs look stunningly similar to the hardware model of course. These parameters give the unit slightly more range than the original unit, specifically at the quicker end of Attack and Release. Whilst this might seem like overkill it is actually useful in terms of parallel compression paths. It should be noted that the perceived attack and release might be affected due to the compensated threshold algorithm, more on that later.
Instead of being controlled by radio buttons the Ratio control is accessed via a continuously variable knob, which potentially makes the compressor more of a workhorse for general mixing use. Strangely PSP have opted for less of a range than expected as the knob only goes up to 16:1. Bizarrely there doesn’t seem to be an all buttons in emulation mode either. This of course is a classic studio trick on the 1176LN where all the ratio buttons are pressed in together. It gives a very specific spanky sound and is something that one would imagine would be included in the emulation. However it is possible to gain settings akin to the all buttons in sound, a fast attack and release setting with 16:1 ratio seems to give something similar. Though the slightly delayed attack time seems to be tricky to match.
Notably there are a couple of features specific to this plug-in. There is a side-chain high pass filter labelled SC HPF. The side-chain can be activated or bypassed by clicking the text labelling, whereby a strikethrough appears on the text and the knob is greyed out. There is also a toggle switch allowing selection of left, right or both channels to have the compression applied. Of course a Linked and Unlinked toggle switch to allow gain reduction to be linked on stereo input is also present.
However perhaps the most useful control in the plug-in is at the bottom right hand corner, the Blend knob. Parallel compression is becoming more and more popular these days and we are seeing more plug-ins and hardware units with blend controls built in. This can certainly reduce the need for complex routing configurations, latency compensation concerns and additional CPU overhead. The Blend control in this plug-in let’s us really smash programme material and gradually bring that into the clean signal. Ideal for the New York City drum compression technique, vocal thickening and so on.
As you expect there are large knobs for the Threshold and Makeup gain, so the approach is slightly different to the traditional hardware FET compressor model. Normally you would have a fixed threshold and an input gain. The fact that the Threshold is variable actually makes this compressor is slightly more usable as you are less likely to trick yourself by simply increasing the volume.
Finally there is an In/Out toggle bypass switch at the top right hand corner. It’s interesting to note that PSP promote the use of the compressor in 1:1 ratio due to the modelling of the makeup gain and output transformers in the plug-in. Designed to give a subtle enhancement to the sound even if you’re not actually applying any gain reduction.
It should be noted that very much like the hardware compressor from which this is inspired, the PSP FETpressor is program dependent to some extent. There is a built-in threshold compensation algorithm that helps to maintain a constant compression of about -6dB. The manual warns of sudden ratio knob moves that may cause saturation. The saturation that this plug-in applies is perhaps not as obvious as certain other FET plug-ins, maybe not as transparent as a hardware unit. Yet it has a nice heft to the mid-range without being too fizzy. Sadly there is no indicator for saturation so it is a case of playing it by ear.
Finally we should mention the gain reduction VU meter. It’s fairly large and relatively centrally placed on the plug-in GUI though it may have been nice to see a stereo version available. Gain reduction is clearly indicated but there is no alternative view for input or output levels. PSP documentation repeatedly suggests keeping the gain reduction to -6dB maximum which is in essence fairly good advice for the novice user. At the bottom of the plug-in PSP have included their standard preset management controls. There are options for multiple banks, and presets within those. The plug-in comes with 17 factory presets which are certainly enough to get you going in most mixes. They are ideal guidelines if you have little or no experience of using this type of compressor. The A/B mode is great for auditioning different settings on the plug-in.
One thing that is particularly nice about this plug-in is that unlike certain other brands the default setting does not apply a marked increase on gain. So effectively you are hearing the benefits from additional compression rather than additional volume. Try it out on a kick or snare to begin with for the most obvious expression of how it sounds. The tonality of the plug-in is rather nice, perhaps a little sharper in the high end when in gain reduction than certain other FET compressor plug-ins, but the Makeup gain and output transformer emulation certainly are worth trying out on some sources. The plug-in has a nice smoothing effect on vocals and overheads when in 1:1 ratio. At $99 it’s placed about midway in the market compared to other similar plug-ins. There is a free demo from www.pspaudioware.net which is definitely worth checking out, this might just be the compressor for you.