We check out Korneff’s vibey take on a tube‑laden FET compressor.
Back in SOS August 2020 I reviewed Korneff’s Talkback Limiter, which was a wonderfully warm and teasingly tweakable model of SSL’s Listen Mic Compressor. Korneff have taken a similar ‘tweaker’s delight’ approach to their new Pawn Shop Comp 2.0, and while this a very different compressor — this time it’s a virtual FET compressor with tube amplification stages — the interface will feel familiar to anyone who has tried the Talkback Limiter.
You’re first presented with a GUI (below) that offers only the few controls you’d usually need to get the compressor doing its thing. Namely, there are Attack, Release, Threshold and Ratio knobs. There’s also an on/off button (to switch the compression in and out, but with the signal always passing through the virtual analogue circuitry) and an Auto make‑up gain button. A gain‑reduction meter tells you what’s going on.
That the initial preset had the threshold pegged anti‑clockwise for maximum compression was indication enough that this device is intended as much for audio abuse as control, but it’s obvious to your ears too when you run pretty much any source through at the default settings. That said, while this thing will never sound ‘clean’ exactly, there’s plenty of control on offer, and you can dial in much more subtlety if required.
Click on the Korneff logo and you’re teleported to a tweaker’s paradise.
But I’ve so far only told you the boring half of the story. As with the Talkback Limiter, click on the Korneff logo and you’re teleported to a tweaker’s paradise: a skeuomorphic second ‘page’ loosely resembling the innards of a hardware compressor. Here, you have input and output trim knobs, oversampling selectors, a wet/dry mixer, and a range of parameters to fiddle with in search of different sonic characters. You can also set the GUI to a range of sizes up to 200 percent (which was big enough to spill outside my 2018 MacBook Pro Retina screen) so hi‑DPI fans should be happy.
At the top, the virtual preamp valves can be swapped for other types, with 12AX7, ECC83 and 5751 models to choose from. Three output transformers have been modelled too, the options being Nickel, Iron and Steel. The lower half presents Preamp (gain) and Bias knobs, Weight (63 or 171 Hz) and Focus (1.6 and 2.4 kHz) controls and Operating Level pot and a wet/dry blend knob. You can also opt for different types of resistor and transistor. The manual does a good job of explaining what these do on a technical level, but the whole point here is that the user doesn’t really need to understand all of that: there’s always pleasing character on offer and, once you’ve chosen suitable compression settings for the source, your job is simply to tweak the second‑screen knobs and switches, select substitute components, and keep listening until your ears are greeted with optimum mojo. It never takes long to find something cool, and while the knobs always change the sound more than swapping components does, the latter is nonetheless always interesting.
So on what sources should you use this compressor? Well, anything that demands to be dirtied up or is crying out for more grit and attitude. It adds a lovely warm‑sounding distortion that I thought perfect for rock and hip‑hop vocals, and for electric and bass guitar more generally. There’s plenty of scope to make drums push, pull and crunch, while subtler settings might offer interest on a group or master bus. But for me, it really shines as a parallel vocal ‘crusher’, cranking up the attitude and helping a part cut through a dense mix. With a slowish attack, medium‑slow release, and highish ratio (by normal standards; this one can go up to 50:1!), 9 or 10 dB of gain reduction will get you in the ballpark. Then use the Bias, Weight and Focus controls to do the heavy lifting on the second page and back off the wet/dry mix to taste. Recommended.
A nice, vibey compressor plug‑in that should please those with a penchant for tonal tweakery!