10 – Thermionic Culture Phoenix
England’s Thermionic Culture is a company devoted to getting the very best possible sound out of valve equipment. Designer Vic Keary occasionally draws inspiration from the past, but his products offer a contemporary sound (and with the low-noise, trouble-free operation you’d expect from any modern device) which looks certain to make them future classics. That’s surely the case with the Phoenix, the company’s dual-channel, all-valve, Vari-MU compressor.
This hefty beast of a black box imparts compression that is big, rich and immediate, with a flattering air and depth. Popular applications include vocals, keys and bass. Switching to stereo link mode gives a powerful kick to the drum bus – the lower end in particular – and, when the material’s right, it can work magic on the mix bus too.
One of the frequently noted pluses of the Phoenix is its ability to glue the lows (making it excellent on a parallel kick/bass bus) while retaining high-end ‘in-your-face’ presence. Used in standby mode, the signal still passes through its valves, enjoying a gentle, flattering warmth.
Like the dbx 160, The Phoenix is a character compressor. It doesn’t do subtle. But it does do ‘life’ – breathing an indefinable loveliness into the audio lucky enough to pass through it.
The first ever owner of The Phoenix was reportedly Liam Howlett, of Prodigy fame, and among the wealthier class of dance music producers (you’re looking at upward of £3k for a new unit), this bird is very highly valued.