Chiswick Reach

Stereo Valve Compressor

Chiswick Reach Stereo Valve Compressor

Review by George Shilling

Chiswick Reach Studio has carved out a niche for itself in the London studio market as a provider of vintage recording technology. Apart from collecting and maintaining ancient equipment, the company has been developing its own brand of processor, based on pre-digital and even pre-transistor technology. After considerable time and the involvement of three designers, the years of research and development have come to fruition in the form of the Chiswick Reach Stereo Valve Compressor.

The Compressor is a heavyweight 3U design. There are some similarities with the Thermionic Culture Phoenix. This is not entirely surprising, as the Phoenix's designer Vic Keary was also responsible for the original design work for this model, which has latterly benefited from development by Mike Craig and Brian Winters. Construction is very similar to the Phoenix. There is an enclosed metal base section which contains most of the circuitry on a pair of narrow boards with solder tags holding capacitors and resistors and what can only be described as higgledy-piggledy wiring.

There are no IC's or PCB's. On the rear of this base are XLR connectors for Inputs and Outputs, perhaps a little inconveniently spaced for some wiring looms. An IEC mains socket is also located here, along with a couple of fuseholders. This is a 220/240V only model, but dual voltage models are available to special order. On top of this base section (behind the front panel) are an array of huge capacitors and transformers, and a selection of valves. A mesh casing encloses these. The whole construction is extremely heavy and robust, if a little home-made looking. In its defence, it must be stated that I had a prototype, therefore production models may vary slightly. In two different studios I had slight problems with hum and interference, such as you might suffer with a single-coil pickup guitar in any control room. Moving the unit away from other equipment cured the noise, but there may be problems in a permanent rack installation.

The front panel features controls for two channels laid out side-by-side. Science-lab type VU meters and huge Input Level knobs, beautifully (lightly) damped, and marked from 1 to 11, dominate the panel. Central toggle switches provide Power (which lights a neon in the front panel logo) and Stereo Link. Each channel features toggles for Bypass and Input Attenuation. The former is a hard-wire Bypass, although input is still fed to the compressor to give a visual indication on the meters. The meters indicate gain reduction at all times. The Input Attenuation (roughly 10dB) is almost always necessary in use, as without it the signal gain is huge. Even with the attenuation, one rarely needs the Input Gains beyond 5 or 6. One could plug certain types of microphone in without a preamp. Each channel features rotary controls for setting up the compressor, usefully capped with coloured tops for identification. There is no ratio control: this is a soft-knee circuit which steadily increases up to a claimed 25:1 ratio at 20dB compression.

Threshold, simply marked up to 10, is lowered by clockwise rotation. Attack is simply labelled Slow on the left and Fast on the right. At the extreme left, the knob clicks into a special position labelled 'Thump'. This operates a switch that changes the way that the control circuit behaves. In this mode, the attack characteristics intended to enhance percussive sounds. This setting provides a very slow attack, which I found too slow for my tastes in most circumstances. Release is also variable with Slow and Fast claiming to vary from 2.5 to 0.25 seconds, according to the panel. These are useful ranges, but I would prefer faster ‘Fast’ settings to be available. Maybe we will see a ‘go-faster’ version in the future. Rotary Output switches feature four positions labelled -8, -4, 0dB and +4. I struggled a bit with these and would really have much preferred a variable knob to the switch positions. Presumably, this was used for sonic reasons, but it makes achieving the correct output level with the desired amount of compression a fiddly business using the Input and Threshold knobs. Stereo operation was not helped by the fact that there was a discrepancy between the two channels of more than 1dB when the Input knobs were set high on the review model. Legending is clear, but poorly positioned below knobs and switches. If you are looking from above level height with the unit these are unreadable.

Like the Phoenix, I found this an extraordinarily friendly-sounding compressor. There was something immensely satisfying about the sound, which had more warmth and depth than any transistor or hybrid transistor/valve unit. Whilst sounding good on almost every individual instrument or vocal, across a main mix this unit really excels, unobtrusively reducing dynamic range if necessary, or sounding warm and squidgy – like putting your mix through rich chocolate gateau. Frequency response is superb and down only 3dB at 55kHz.

The manual tries perhaps a little too hard with its humour and although extremely informative comes across slightly smug and overly boastful. The Chiswick Reach sounds so good though, that all is forgiven, and it even comes with free local delivery.

Reproduced with kind permission from Copyright ©

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