I’m excited to share with you a review of one of my all time favorite compressors, the Retro Sta Level! It is a beast and one of the few compressors you push up to 30db of gain reduction and it still sounds amazing! By the end of this review you’ll have a good idea of how it sounds on multiple instruments and vocals.
The Retro DOUBLEWIDE 500 Series Tube Compressor delivers the tube compression sound you expect because it has four actual variable-mu tubes under the hood and excels at processing delicate sources like bass and vocals. In the first video of our Retro DOUBLEWIDE series, SoundPure Recording Engineer, Allen Palmer, starts us off with the Retro on Stand Up Bass.
Part 1 – Stand Up Bass
Part 2 – Drums
Part 3 – Resonator Guitar
Part 4 – Vocals
Part 5 – Full mix
What We Think
The Retro Doublewide is one of the first 500-series compressors I’ve heard that is nearly impossible to “push too hard” with. What exactly does this mean for you? Due to its impeccably well-designed circuitry, inspired by the Gates Sta-Level (variable mu design), the Doublewide is able to adapt to and control an incredibly dynamic vocal/bass/guitar/keyboard/what-have-you without the typical gasping or unpleasant pumping associated with over-compressing.
Retro’s Sta-Level is an updated version of the venerable Gates Sta-Level tube radio broadcast compression amplifier. Still based on the original 1950’s all-tube design, Retro adds modern features and new adjustability for more recording studio applications possible than the original units.
The Retro Sta-Level is capable of 40 dB of gain reduction with a signal-to-noise ratio of greater than 70dB and a THD (total harmonic distortion) of less than 1% at 30dB of GR. It has a near ‘ruler-flat’ frequency response within 0.5dB from 20-20,000Hz.
When Retro Instruments first announced the brand’s new 500PRE ($799), we knew we were in love before we ever even heard it. After all, what’s not to love about bringing the Sta-Level design to the 500 Series world and packing three tubes into that compact module. Little did we know, we had something to do with the inspiration for it.
“It was inspired by the Vintage King April Fools’ Day post on the 500 Series Fairchild 670,” says Retro Instruments Owner/Designer Phil Moore. ““The performance of the 500PRE exceeded my expectations. It’s based on professional tube console program amplifiers from the era of the Sta-Level and 176. It’s got 75 dB of gain and no compromises.”
While the 75 dB of gain will make the 500PRE a great tool for tracking sessions, the 500 Series module can also be vital during the mixing process.