4 – Tube-Tech CL1B
In 1987, Tube-Tech founder John G. Petersen unveiled the CL-1B compressor, his take on the classic optical compression method pioneered by the Teletronix LA-2A – but with an additional level of control (unlike the LA-2A, the CL1B’s ratio, threshold, attack and release settings can all be changed manually).
Since that day more than 16,000 of the single-channel units have left the company’s Denmark headquarters for studios all over the world, where it has found a legion of fans who use it to treat (and track) everything from vocals and bass, to guitars and keys.
The caveat: the CL-1B is not noted as a character piece; it does warmth and it does smooth, and it does both transparently: you can dial in a lot of compression with barely any noticeable artefacts. For that reason it is one of the favourite go-to compressors for vocals (often in series with an 1176 or LA-2A). The sheen it imparts, though subtle, errs on the side of ‘poppy’, and you’ll find many users among hip-hop and urban/pop crossover producers
That’s not to say you can’t get results with slightly more grit: extreme settings can deliver some very tasty valve saturation. Above all it’s a box that demands and rewards both experimentation and time investment. Even very slight tweaks can make a big difference to results. Overall, this is a truly contemporary compressor, with a unique sound which bears comparison to the vintage classics.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking the CL-1B isn’t doing much – even when pushed hard. But that, in many ways, is its understated beauty, as well as its winning character trait. And it’s why many premier league producers and engineers claim it’s the single piece of outboard they couldn’t live without.
The hardware retails for around £2,300. The plugin model developed by Softube ranks among the most authentic circuit-modelled hardware emulations we’ve ever heard.