BLA have packed their take on the classic ‘blue‑stripe’ 1176 into a 500‑series module.
Black Lion Audio released their 19‑inch rackmount Bluey compressor back in 2020, and in my review I found much to like. You will find more detailed background in that review but, essentially, it is Black Lion’s take on Chris Lord‑Alge’s (CLA) favourite ‘blue‑stripe’ 1176 compressor, a unit which they were invited to investigate, and which had become heavily modified over years of servicing by different technicians. Black Lion’s engineers found that this device exhibited a more mid‑forward sound than a ‘normal’ 1176, and that this characteristic often seems to work especially well for presenting vocals in the context of a mix. In collaboration with CLA, Black Lion carefully measured and then matched the components and characteristics of this unique device, so they could give every engineer a chance to access this little bit of CLA’s sound.
Black Lion have now managed to pack the same electronics into a double‑width 500‑series module, and they seem to have done so without compromise. Everything is more crowded on the control panel, of course, but they’ve done a great job of keeping things intuitive.
To introduce gain reduction, you turn up the input, and juggle the output knob accordingly. Two more knobs adjust the attack and release times. On a typical 1176, faster speeds are achieved by turning the attack knob clockwise but on this device it operates in the opposite direction. That’s the case on many other compressors, of course, and I can see the logic (turn further right for longer times), but as a regular user of an 1176 I found this mildly frustrating. The 20:1, 12:1, 8:1 and 4:1 ratio options are set using buttons, though there’s no provision for the classic ‘all buttons in’ trick. There’s also a wet/dry parallel‑compression control, something that’s not present on CLA’s original unit but is a welcome feature in any hardware compressor now that so many of us aren’t using analogue consoles.
The backlit meter can be set to display output level or gain reduction. While this is a mono device, two modules can be linked for stereo operation using an RCA connector on the front panel. Finally, there’s a bypass button.
So, what does a ‘blue‑stripe’ 1176 compressor sound like, exactly? In relation to the subsequent revisions UREI and Universal Audio released, I think of it as having more attitude — it sounds more mid‑forward, and introduces a distinct tonal change that complements any compression that’s being applied. This is precisely how the Bluey 500 behaved in my studio, and on vocals in particular it had a knack of presenting quite aggressive‑sounding compression in a way that didn’t sound overly ‘messed around with’. It’s a pretty addictive quality — I can understand why they wanted to recreate CLA’s compressor! — and when tracking a variety of male and female vocals I found myself happily allowing the gain reduction meter to dance around with abandon.
The character of the gain reduction itself will be very familiar to users of any 1176, but coupled with this subtle mid‑heavy tone it’s especially pleasing. While it’s famous for use on vocals, it has many other applications. I got great results hitting the Bluey 500 hard when tracking bass guitar, and it was great on snare drums and anything that needed to be brought forward in that 2‑5 kHz ‘intelligibility’ range, as well as assertive dynamic range control.
This is one of the most satisfying 500‑series compressors I’ve used.
Even if I ignore completely the enticing story of how the Bluey 500 came into being, I have to say that this is one of the most satisfying 500‑series compressors I’ve used. 1176‑style compressors are a classic for a reason, and I found this particular model to be an excellent all‑round tracking compressor, and one that I would go to the bother of patching into the DAW when mixing, to help shape a vocal. Once I’d got my bearings with the controls, I didn’t feel there was any compromise whatsoever from using this more compact version of the Bluey over the 19‑inch one. Obviously, you need more than gear to make your mixes sound like CLA, but this is an excellent sounding compressor that’s also competitively priced.
Modelled on Chris Lord‑Alge’s favourite ‘blue‑stripe’ 1176, Black Lion Audio have successfully ported their rackmount Bluey FET compressor into the 500‑series format.
£819 including VAT.
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