German based Vertigo Sound has been a name in high-end audio gear since 2007, launching with the VSC-2. The VSC-3 compressor is the successor to the popular original, and follows strongly in its heritage of quad discrete-component VCA modules, that purposely embrace sonic colouration — these VCA modules are aptly named 1979.
As we look at the front of this 2U rack you cannot help but be impressed the finish, an impeccable semi-translucent blue metal buffed to a shine. The knobs and switches all give a satisfying feel and are clearly high quality. The knobs are nice and large to aid accuracy on the continuous controls. Two rows of controls represent channels A and B, and offer continuous Threshold control, stepped controls for Ratio, Attack and Release, and a continuous Make Up gain.
The threshold ranges from -20 to +23dBu, with a more sensitive area between -6dBu and +10dBu that Vertigo term ‘Zoom In’, to give a more sensitive control in the most commonly used level area. Thresholds are a breeze to set, so it must be doing its job.
Ratio offers six positions ranging for 2:1 to 10:1, but there are also Soft and Brick modes. Soft offers a soft knee so the ratio increases as input approaches and passes the threshold. This is excellent as a ‘set and forget’ compressor for vocals and bass guitar, in a more moderate track, definitely adding a smoothness and colouration to the sound. Brick (40:1) is actually smoother than I was expecting and really brought those pop and rock vocals into line, perhaps due to harmonic distortion induced by the VCA stages adding second harmonics for some real thickening. Higher ratios still allowed a clear sound without too much sucking, perhaps due to the pleasant thickening distortion colouration.
Attack is controlled on a 10-position selector switch ranging from 0.1ms through to 40ms. This translates to a reasonable range for a VCA compressor, allowing flexibility across different sources. A spanky 1176-style drum sound can be achieved with faster attack settings, but more mellow vibes are within close reach with the Attack control set to one of the later positions.
Release, also on a 10 position rotary selector, offers .05 seconds up to 1.2 seconds and we have the option of two automatic release time modes, A.fast and A.slow. The fast release times are particularly useful in punchy bus- mastering, though for the most part I found myself using Auto Slow mode. In combination with the Soft or Brick Ratio modes this compressor could almost be used as a one knob system, merely tweaking the threshold for many different sets of program material. Finally, Make Up is pretty self-explanatory, a 0 to +22 dBu range, with a Zoom In range between 0dBu and +6dBU, offered plenty of gain when needed. The VCAs can be bypassed with each channel’s respective system switch: watch out though, the bypassed output is very loud and shoots up when power is turned off too! Also, colour can be added without dynamic alteration by rolling Threshold up to the top.
The VSC-3 has several operation modes. In an upgrade from the VSC-2, RMS mode (rather than Peak) can be selected with a heavy duty toggle switch. Whilst not necessarily so useful for mixing transient-heavy content such as acoustic guitar, DI bass and Drums, RMS can be particularly useful with distorted guitar and long, sweeping, vocals. It certainly gives a different feel to the compression, which is quite interesting for drum buses that have some element of saturation and heavy overhead content, creating a more consistent level throughout.
A three position toggle switch allows stereo modes to be selected. Stereo SC mode usefully moves control for both channels to the upper row of knobs. Both side-chains are monitored but not summed. The higher level of the two, on either channel, results in the compression being engaged on both channels, which allows for reaction to out of phase signals without an image shift. Actually quite useful for compressing an M/S recording. The Dual mode operates as one would expect whereby the two channels operate individually. And the Mono SC mode operates similarly to Stereo SC but with a summed side-chain. This was the quite handy for response to low-end content and vocals, and switching between the Stereo SC and Mono SC modes certainly gives a different flavour. Finally on the front panel we have side-chain filters for channels A and B, which can be set to 90Hz, 60Hz or Off.
At £4600 The Vertigo Sound VSC-3 is certainly aimed at the higher end of the market, mastering studios and as a feature piece perhaps in a mixing workflow. I had no fears in tracking through the unit, as it is difficult to make this compressor sound bad! The VSC-3 is ideal for mixing vocals both when on analogue desk mixes and in the box as a hardware insert. Apart from the XLR-only connectivity (which may be an annoyance for some), The only major problem is that I have to send back the demo model after reviewing it!