Aside from the hardware, there are some great 1176 style plug-in compressors available from the likes of Waves, Universal Audio, and Bomb Factory/Avid. The original units had many revisions, hence there are various models with slightly different characteristics and faceplate covers. However, the fundamentals behind the knobs and meters are the same. With that in mind, let’s take a quick historical look at this classic piece of studio gear and hear then what it can do to a single drum mic in a room.
The original hardware first came out in 1968, introduced by a company called UREI and designed by Bill Putnam. It was a full solid state design, with no tubes and featured four different compression ratios; 4:1, 8:1, 12:1 and 20:1, all available via a front panel push button. The revision history went from the original 1176 Revision A through Revision H (final version) and a special LN (low noise) edition that reduced the noise by 6 dB and an AE (Anniversary Edition) that added a 2:1 compression.
The attack times were adjustable and would range from 20 to 800 microseconds. The release times could be changed from 50ms to 1.1 seconds. But my favorite part of these units is the two big knobs on front—Input and Output.
Unlike most compressors, there is no threshold knob. Turning up the Input knob sends signal into it, while also setting the threshold level – or where the compression starts kicking in. The Output knob is used for making up any gain lost during compression, and sets the final output level of the unit. So that’s about it, you turn up the Input, set an Output level, adjust your attack and release times and select a ratio. Note that there is an ‘all button’ mode, where you press in all the ratio buttons on the front panel – changing the ratio to somewhere between 10:1 and 20:1 with a slight overdrive.
What makes the 1176 so appealing, besides the attitude it brings, is that there’s only a few knobs and buttons. But few other pieces of audio gear can shape a sound so aggressively – should you choose to go there. The 1176 is program dependent, meaning the ‘inners’ work depending on the signal fed into it. So every type of material will make the unit react differently. For these examples, I chose the Universal Audio 1176 Rev E, set to a 4:1 ratio, which I find best for general purpose use.
The room mic was a Beyerdynamic M160, which coincidentally was the mic used on John Bonham's kit for Led Zeppelins classic When The Levee breaks, which was heavily processed with the 1176 (hardware version of course). The drummer is Ray Levier recorded at the Clubhouse in Rhinebeck, NY.
Example 1 is the Room mic isolated with no compression at all:
Example 2 is the Room mic with full kit (overheads, snare, kick, toms) and in the mix with guitars and bass:
Example 3 is setting the Input to around 10 o’clock, the Output to around 2 O’clock, and the Attack and Release around 12 O’clock.
This is a setting the gives a bit of edge but doesn’t drive the drums too hard. Note how the attitude of the drums starts to change, and the hi-hats become crunchier. This is something you have to be careful of on drums, when you push the 1176 hard. It will grab a lot of the high end and drive it hard. But that’s also the charm of it:
Example 4 has much more edge, simply by turning the release all the way up to .7. Input is still 10 o’clock and Output 2 o’clock, with attack also still set to 12 o’clock. Now the cymbals and hi-hats start to compress hard, and get even edgier. If I choose to go this route, I will sometimes take and EQ and remove some of the 12 kHz ‘crunch’ after the 1176 so it’s not so brittle, while retaining the attitude of the mids and lows:
Example 5 When the overall mic sound gets too brittle, try turning the Release time back towards 12 o’clock, which will soften up the drive. Here we have the same settings as above, but the Release has been moved from .7 to .5. You can clearly hear there is less crunch on the hi-hats and cymbals, yet the drums are still pushing hard compared to the non-processed track:
Example 6. For the mix, I found the room mic/1176 combination to sound best with the Input set around 11 o’clock, the Output around 3 o’clock, Attack around 12 o’clock and the Release around 1 o’clock – at about .5.
This offered the best blend of attitude and edge without being to crunchy:
As you might imagine, it takes a bit of trial and error to find what works best for each track. But as you can also hear, it can take drums tracks and push them to a new level, helping to pop them through the speakers in your production.