We reviewed the very exciting new box from Chandler Limited, the RS660 compressor in our studio Noise Machines. It’s a beautifully designed, vari-mu comp that offers vintage flair.
The RS660 is a vari-mu tube-based mono compressor styled after both the Fairchild 660 and EMI RS124 custom compressor. Most audio manipulators will be aware of the legendary, rare and pricey Fairchild 660 which sells for above $50 grand, and the RS124 which was a custom piece designed by EMI studios after they decided to gut their Altec 436 compressor and rebuild it as a unit they deemed more useful for their own studio purpose.
Chandler Limited started with founder Wade Goeke making his own DIY versions of equipment from the EMI/Abbey Road studios in the UK. They were so impressed with the sound that he began working in partnership with the studio to build modern recreations of some of their classic custom audio pieces. We felt quite chuffed to get a unit to review.
Like all Chandler pieces, the RS660 is a hefty, well-built piece of kit and sound-wise it’s fantastic! Put any audio through it, start to squish it, and it comes out thicker and richer than before it went in. It probably wouldn’t be my first choice for super fast, modern material but anything that requires a vintage 60s vibe will definitely benefit from this piece, which uses the once rare but now back in production 6386 tube.
Now, in comparison to the Fairchild 660, we’ve never had the chance to get our hands on a real one but we’ve definitely used plenty of software versions. And while those have their moments, it’s never 100%. Whereas the RS660 does exactly what you expect from this style of box – thick and large!
You’ve got the big input and output controls that do exactly what you’d expect. Push the input harder to get more compression and use the output to control the level coming out the other end.
There’s a rotary selector for THD (total harmonic distortion), Limit, or Compressor. THD turns the box into a distortion or overdrive, ranging from light to heavyish. Limit is a nice, thick-coloured limiter that will give an instantly recognisable, classic tone. And compress is a more subtle, smoother and less aggressive version of the limiter. More usable for everyday compression if you will.
The Time Constant is an interesting set-up on this thing – directly inspired by the Fairchild 660 Time switch, and with a taste of the RS 124.
The first 3 settings replicate the swifter settings of the Fairchild (well, as fast as the Fairchild gets) with a quicker attack and a release that gets a little lower around the dial. Setting 4 is more moderate on the attack, allowing more transient through and giving a little less colour. And 5-7 replicate the settings of the EMI RS124 – really quite gentle on the attack, and an overall very smooth tone and release.
And lastly, there’s the Balance control for easy calibration with the pulse button, and a link switch if you want to work with a stereo pair. On the back, there’s an impedance switch – 600 ohm for modern studio use, and 200 ohm is the original Abbey Road studio standard. We’re gonna stick with 600 ohms today.
Utilising our new studio Noise Machines, Owen recorded drums — with a single overhead mic, Electric bass and electric guitar. He then put the box through its paces and see what it can really do with these instruments, and then finally ran the compressor over the top of a mono mix of them all together to see what happens.
For the microphone, Owen used the brand new Pinnacle Fat Top II ribbon mic for some nice vintage sounds to compliment the compressor. Pinnacle Microphones are a company from Washington, USA that builds, assemble and tune its microphones.
This is a thick, harmonically rich piece from Chandler Limited. We mentioned earlier that this thing sounded like how we wish plugin versions of vari-mu compressors actually sounded. We’re not sure a plugin can really replicate what a good vari-mu compressor does, the RS660 is a truly great piece for this sound — it seems to make everything you run into it sound like a classic 60s record.
It’ll take the edge off drums and make them nice and creamy, and if you push it hard enough will start to mess with your cymbals and reverbs in the gaps too. Perfect. On electric bass guitar, we were surprised that at lower time constants you’ll get a really nice transient attack, and on electric guitar, it’s really nice and smooth. On an overall mix, we were loving it for a mid-60s vintage style — a really rounded glue holding everything together.
Now, it’s not a unit for short, fast snappy transients — this thing is all about thickness, harmonic detail, and vintage tone, and it does that so well. It’s not a cheap compressor, but for a vari-mu it’s very reasonably priced, especially compared to the vintage units it’s based on, or other vintage pieces like the Gates Sta-level or the original Altec 438.
The Chandler Limited RS660 Compressor retails for around $6300 Australian Dollars and is available now from all decent hardware retailers. Find out more at Chandlerlimited.com