FXpansion’s new bundle of circuit-modelled compressors is great value for money, but does it sound good? Liam Ashton finds out.
FXpansion’s Discrete Component Analog Modelling series was launched back in 2009 with the release of the Synth Squad bundle – a collection of three circuit-modelled synths which was an instant hit thanks to its high quality, authentically analogue sound. The range was expanded earlier this year with the release of Etch and has now grown further with the addition of DCAM Dynamics, which aims to do for compression what Synth Squad did for synthesis and Etch did for filtering.
Featuring three circuit-modelled compressors and an envelope shaper for just £69, the dynamics bundle appears to offer great value for money. Many similar alternatives such as Universal Audio’s Classic Compressors bundle cost three or four times as much. But can the sound of the DCAM bundle compete?
The bundle’s 1176-inspired ChanComp channel compressor offers the most simple interface and feature set of the four plugins. The basic options include input and output gain, five ratio settings, attack and release controls and a dual function VU display showing either the output level or the amount of gain reduction applied. The absence of a sidechain input highlights the minimalist ethos that was applied to this part of the bundle.
Things are made slightly more versatile with the addition of a wet/dry mix control, which offers a quick and simple way to implement parallel compression. The bias control is a little more unusual, allowing the values of the (virtual) capacitors in the circuit to be continuously adjusted. Extreme settings drive the compression circuit harder for a more edgy sound, while smaller adjustments can recreate the subtly different sounds of the various 1176 hardware revisions.
The only significant weakness (if there is one) is the small number of presets provided by FXpansion. Although a useable setting is usually found within a few minutes of adjustments, presets are always handy as quick starting points. The six on offer seem insufficient in this case.
Here we’ve applied the Channel Compressor to an 808 kick drum:
As you can hear, the channel compressor really brings out the punch in the kick. It’s suitable for use on virtually any sound, but when used on drums in particular it excels at allowing individual hits to cut through the mix. It’s clear and weighty without over-colouring the lower end. It’s a versatile, great sounding tool.
In comparison, the EnvShaper is slightly underwhelming. It’s a simple, effective Transient Designer-style tool most obviously suited to tweaking the attack and sustain portions of drum sounds, but it’s not quite as flexible as ChanComp despite the addition of a useful saturation setting and an interesting – but fiddly – external sidechain option, which turns out to be a little tricky to create useful effects with. It’s a helpful tool but not significantly different to most other transient shaping plugins on the market.
Get on the bus
The SSL-inspired BusComp, on the other hand, is the most immediately impressive of the four plugins. Again it’s very simple and it sounds great, plus it comes packaged with the best presets of all four (albeit only nine of them). For stereo mix bus compression or tightening up sub-mix buses it’s easily on a par with Cytomic’s The Glue or Waves’ SSL G compressor. The external sidechain option also makes it handy for putting over synth busses or pads. Mix bus compressors might not set the pulse racing like some more exciting effects, but a good one is essential in any plugin folder. It’s worth buying the DCAM Dynamics bundle just for BusComp.
Multi-band dynamics are sometimes thought of purely as tools to be used by mastering and mixing engineers, rather than a creative option for producers. With the CrossComp plugin, FXpansion have come up with a frequency-dependent dynamics tool which is truly creative, rather than corrective. This is a unique twist on the traditional multi-band approach. Based on similar compression architecture to the BusComp, CrossComp offers a high-pass filter on the left hand side that dictates which frequencies trigger the sidechain, and a crossover which determines the frequency range to be compressed. Other frequencies pass through untouched.
There’s no reason why CrossComp couldn’t be used for corrective purposes, but it’s most interesting for creating unusual dynamic effects thanks to its saturation option and external sidechain input. However, being the most versatile compressor of the bundle also made it the least immediate. I found that the signal chain wasn’t quite as natural as the other plugins, which impacted on my workflow. Nevertheless, with a little more practice to overcome the learning curve it’s clear that this is a very powerful sound design and signal processing tool.
The DCAM Dynamics bundle is a true all-round package. If you already have 1176- and SSL-style compressors in your plugin folder then the ChannelComp and BusComp plugins admittedly overlap with a lot of other products on the market. But, if you’re starting to put together a selection of compressors or looking to expand your collection, the Dynamics bundle offers an excellent set of creative tools and mix options.
Purchase: FXpansion DCAM Dynamics
The Final Word
An excellent all-round dynamics package at a very reasonable price.