Universal Audio, which now make native plug-ins you can run anywhere (not on specialized hardware), has a couple of new releases this week. Most interesting: they’ve recreated an insanely rare tube compressor.
The Capitol Studios CM5511 was a hand-built tube mastering compressor. That was some Capitol Records (and Blue Note, and Motown, and Verge, and Geffen, and Def Jam) secret sauce: only four were ever made. So now you get a very distinctive Hollywood sound in plug-in form.
The CM5511 is not entirely out of the blue, mind – Capitol’s engineers had in mind devices like the Fairchild 670 and Gates Sta-Level. But here we do get the answer to the question “okay, what’s left that hasn’t been modeled to death already.”
The controls themselves do look a lot like those models – input, threshold, attack, release, and output trim for both left and right channels. As you’d expect, you get almost steampunk-vintage skeuomorphic graphics for this one, but then if you’re at the point of buying a pricey rendition of unobtanium Capitol tube compressors, I’m guessing that’s what you’re up for. UA says they took two of the four remaining units and incorporated characteristics of those two into the result. (I still believe in hand modeling over AI – sorry. There are just too many decisions to make, and decision-making is not part of what machine learning does.)
They’ve sensibly added some modern additions:
- Dry/wet mix control
- Headroom control
- Mono fold / stereo field control
- Some subtle saturation, continuously variable (with a shape control and additional saturator indicator)
- Sidechain filter
- dBFS and LUFS metering
The combination of all of that means you really can use this not just as some exotic historical oddity, but a main mastering compressor.
That seems reasonable. Personally, I notice a little bit of vintage grit will hold a mix or master together when nothing else will, especially if something was completely produced in the box. UA also points out you can use this on groups (vocals, drum bus, synths). I’m not sure you need the Capitol sound in particular, but then again, why not? The beauty of this is, you can apply the characteristics of some of this gear without necessarily knowing the records they were used on inside and out. (Please don’t hurt me for such blasphemy.) UAD has also done stuff like Capitol’s own echo chamber.
We have the ability to add nonlinearities in the box that previously required outboard analog gear. Not too shabby.
$174 Intro Pricing* / $349 MSRP – available at Sweetwater
Disclosure: If you buy something from a CDM link, we may earn a commission.
My ex-editor at Keyboard Mitch Gallagher talks about this for Sweetwater:
So that gives you the California, Hollywood sound. If you’re craving something a bit more, uh, eastern, there’s the TDR Molot GE from Tokyo Dawn Records, which also has enough modern controls to use for mastering. Among other tasty features, that includes a software version of the Tanhx saturator from Zvukofor Labs (now based in Armenia).
I actually owed them a review but it got lost in the pandemic; I think I’ll get it out again as it fits a mastering project I’ve got coming up. But there you go – that’s about the equivalent post-Soviet electronics answer to the California sunshine here. It might better fit my Berlin production style.
Also out from UA this week is an electric piano, as they’re working through a catalog of instruments alongside the studio effects. Electra 88 is not quite so rare, but you get:
Perfectly modeled 1974 Rhodes Eighty Eight Suitcase Mark 1 electric piano
Includes a curated analog studio packed with vintage mics, tube amps, and more
Classic rack effects and stompbox emulations for creating with pro sound in any genre
Over 100 album-ready presets for instant inspiration
Use with any audio interface, no UA hardware required
I just want to go to LA, myself, but there you go. Sound on Sound visited Capitol Studios, though, so we get this nice tour of the facility: