Is Retro’s recreation of the legendary Gates Sta-Level more than just a reissue?
The audio examples on this page accompany the review of the Retro Instruments Sta-Level vari-mu compressor, in SOS December 2014.
The vocal example shows how effortlessly the Sta-Level can handle rather hefty amounts of gain reduction. The Triple mode controls the transients in a very effective yet quite natural-sounding manner. The Double and Single mode open up the signal, and a slow release also adds something to the end result. However, at times the “thump” is clearly audible, and visible on a meter. A low cut in the chain after the Sta-Level would probably be a good idea.
02: Triple mode, fast release, 15dB gain reduction
03: Double mode, fast release, 15dB gain reduction
04: Single mode, fast release, 15dB gain reduction
05: Triple mode, slow release, 15dB gain reduction
Some additional punch and some euphonic coloration — these were the goals in the Moog bass example. The faster the setting, the more distortion comes into play, for a grittier and more characterful end result.
02: Single mode, fast release, 10dB gain reduction
03: Double mode, fast release, 10dB gain reduction
04: Triple mode, fast release, 10dB gain reduction
This example shows a rare quality of the Sta-Level: it can exaggerate the transients and still increase the average volume of a signal. Not too many compressors can do this. And here’s the reason why: the Sta-Level saturates on the transients, which is more or less audible depending on the setting. It must not be overlooked that 10dB is already pretty strong compression. Should fewer artifacts be desired, a maximum gain reduction of around 5dB would be more appropriate. Please note how the rather extreme last round pins the signal in the front. It gets louder, more punchy, and some exciting distortion has been added. The Sta-Level does not only let signals sit better in the mix, it also imparts character in spades.
02: Single mode, medium fast release, 10dB gain reduction
03: Double mode, medium fast release, 10dB gain reduction
04: Triple mode, medium fast release, 10dB gain reduction
05: Triple mode, fast release, 20dB gain reduction