15 – Gates/Retro Instruments Sta-Level
Rare, expensive and with a look like something that sat on the instrument panel of a WW2 tank, the original Gates STA-Level all but defined the sound of 1960s pop radio.
Although its two-knobs-and-two-switches front panel is rivalled only by the likes of the LA-2A in the simplicity stakes, it’s the musicality of the non-linear attack and release times – as well as the impact of its highly cherished circuits and valves – that make this piece so prized.
Further comparisons between the STA-Level and the LA-2A only serve to show how different the two are: while the LA-2A is undeniably more flexible, the STA-Level supplies a retro girth, personality and colour that the LA-2A most often can’t.
On vocals it can do useful – and occasionally amazing – things; it can make acoustic guitars sing; and it can revitalise lacklustre synths.
But it’s basslines that really benefit from the Level’s muscle: it offers a steroid injection to limp subjects, morphing them into bigger, fatter and more aggressive beasts.
Much better known to American producers than Europeans, the STA-Level is beginning to make a serious impact around the world some 50 years on thanks to a faithful reproduction by Retro Instruments. The only plugin emulation we know of is the Sknote GTS-39.