2 – Urei/Universal Audio 1176

In 1966, Universal Audio founder Bill Putnam redesigned his successful 175/176 limiting amplifier design using FETs instead of valves. In doing so he created the first incarnation of the 1176 Peak Limiter, a box that would go on to find a home in almost every serious pro studio in the world.

The main selling point of the all-solid-state device was its ultra-fast attack time – a startling 20 µs. It offers no threshold control – just input and output dials, with the amount of compression decided by the input level.

Sound-wise, the 1176 Peak Limiter can be many things, but it is probably best known for the energy and high-class grit it bestows, a musically-pleasing pushing of the tone in the lower mids. Think big. But also think intimate. That’s the 1176’s dichotomic charm. For grabbing vocals and placing them at the front of the mix it’s near impassable. But it’ll also work on just about anything else, from kicks, snares and claps through to synths and even full drum sub-mixes.

In addition to the four standard ratios selected via push buttons on the front panel, engineers soon discovered a secret (and unintended) trick up the 1176’s sleeve. By pushing in all four buttons simultaneously, the unit can be forced to behave in a completely different manner to the way in which Putnam intended, with seriously assertive results. The high ratio, often distorted results of this ‘all buttons in’ (or ‘Brit’) mode can be explosive on drums and aggressive on bass.

In the 1176’s long history, there have been many incarnations of the blue-striped original, some better than others. If you’re investing in one of these vintage beauties make sure you choose your revision carefully. The most recent – and current – is the black-face 2000 re-issue, recreated from the original designs.

The 1176 Peak Limiter has made a towering contribution to production history. Decades after it first delivered its trademark thwack to an underwhelming snare, it’s still rightly at the top of many producers’ wish lists.

There are many software takes on the 1176 Peak Limiter, from UA’s official versions through Waves’ CLA-76, Softube’s FET Compressor and Native Instruments’ VC 76 to Antress’ tasty freeware Seventh Sign. To this day, if a compressor uses the word FET anywhere in its name, chances are it takes at least a little inspiration from the 1176.

Author David Felton
13th November, 2012

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