HHB Communications Radius 3 Fat Man Tube Stereo Compressor

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The Fat Man

Intro

The Fat Man provides 15 useful compressor presets for musicians who want to control dynamics when recording music or vocals. The unit is fully stereo, connects to any pro, home or project studio system, and is all solid-state except for half of a 12AX7 tube section in each of the stereo channel signal paths.

Ratings

Ease of Use: 3
Value: 4
Functionality: 4

Dealing With Compression

Deciphering the functions and applications of a modern stereo compressor's controls is daunting for the novice recordist. Though compressors are one of the most used pieces of recording gear, they remain the least understood. The juggling of the ratio control with threshold settings and then using the make-up gain control boggles the minds of many musicians who simply want to record a vocal or bass with a good, hot and consistent level. For the most part, just knowing a good "starting point" and tweaking until you like it would be great when recording a synth, guitar, drum sound or a vocal.


Read Barry's Mix Magazine Compressors and Compression Feature.

The HHB Communications Radius 3 Fat Man offers a way to get to that starting point -- actually, it offers fifteen ways with built-in preset compressor settings. Since all 15 presets are listed in the manual, you can learn how they differ and how to duplicate them from the unit's manual front-panel controls. So, far from a "dumbed down" or idiot-proof box, the Fat Man is a professional stereo tube compressor with every control and feature seen on units costing much more.

Introducing The Fat Man

About 8.5" long and 5" high, the Fat Man with his purple face will fit on your desktop or anywhere where you can easily connect it to your studio console or computer-based workstation. There is an optional rackmount kit that will hold two Fat Men side by side or one Fat Man in the middle. Audio is routed in and out via two sets of 1/4" balanced inputs and outputs on the rear panel and also two front-panel 1/4" instrument inputs for direct connection of guitars, basses or synths.

Front-panel controls include the fully variable: threshold, ratio, and switchable attack, release and soft- or hard-knee compression modes. Interesting to me is that the unit has both Output gain and Make-Up gain controls. The Fat Man has more than enough output gain to drive 24-bit digital recording systems, and the Make-Up gain control allows you to re-adjust the output level after gain reduction. This makes for an easy A/B of compressed to non-compressed with the bypass switch HHB calls "Compressor On." A small, lighted vintage-style switchable VU meter monitors either output level or gain reduction amount.

15 Presets

The Fat Man presets greatly simplify the compression process and work well for quickly recalling settings used on that guitar or vocal you recorded last week. The 15 presets include compression settings for vocals, keyboards, bass, acoustic and electric guitars, snare, kick and whole drum kits. There are also presets for finished pop, rock and dance stereo mixes. When you select a preset, all the front-panel controls are locked out except the Input/Output controls and the Make-Up gain control. Not being able to tweak on top of a preset like some other units didn't bother me. As a recording engineer, I used Manual mode but I cheated and was always looking at the manual to copy the settings for, say, "Bass1." I would then tailor the settings to my own tastes. Tube-base audio gear imparts a distinct sound to music played through it. For the most part the sound is caused by second harmonic distortion; a distortion generally not tolerated with newer solid-state equipment but which adds a pleasing "warm" quality to tube-based equipment. That is why certain vintage tube recording gear is highly prized by recording engineers and producers.

With the center-detented Input control you can overdrive the Fat Man for all the tube-driven harmonic distortion you could want. Increasing this control also causes more compression regardless of which preset you have selected. I had to be gentle adjusting this control as it is easy to go into distortion -- and not the cool kind of distortion, either. So even though the preset selects pre-determined values for attack, release, ratio and threshold, you still have some control over compression by way of the Input control. The center-detented Output control is usually left at the 0 dB position but since the Fat Man is ready to interface with either pro +4dBu or semi-pro -10dBu levels, this control will match the unit to whatever you are hooking it up to. A +4dBu/-10dBu button on the back panel sets the unit for either level.

I found I could really change the characteristics of an instrument and still precisely control dynamics as much as needed. Each preset worked well for its designated purpose. I liked the unit on bass guitar although I ended up using another preset other than "Bass1" or "Bass2." The vocal presets made quick and painless vocal recording setups. Fact is, the Fat Man may teach you about compressors and compression while you use it, whether you want to learn or not.

Full Stereo

The Fat Man always works in stereo, so there is only one set of controls for both left right channels and a single VU meter. The two channels are always stereo- linked and you are ensured that levels are equal on both sides. The only caveat is that you should not run two different mono signals in the left and right channels. For mono sounds, use only one side of the Fat Man. (Having said that, I wouldn't want to discourage experimentation, so feel free to try a kick drum in the left channel and bass guitar in the right.)

Controls

The Attack button switches from fast at 0.5ms to slow at 5ms while the release buttons toggles between 0.2 seconds for fast and 1.5 seconds for slow release. There are both Soft and Hard Knee compression curves available and I find that Soft is good for subtle musical compression and Hard works for an aggressive squash. No compressor would be complete without a Ratio control. The Fat Man's Ratio control goes from 1:1.5 all the way to a hard limiter value of 1:30 that is great for quick insurance of no digital "overs" when doing a very quick rough mix. I also found that the ratio control seems to affect the sound more noticeably than other compressors I have used. Again, all of these controls are active only in Manual mode.

The Fat Man is made in England and costs $469 (MSRP). It's a good choice for anybody who wants quick, stereo compression with a tube sound and good factory presets.

HHB Communications at 743 Cochran Street, Buildings E & F Simi Valley, CA 93065-1976. Telephone: 805-579-6490 Fax: 805-579-8028. Web to: www.hhbusa.com



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