Our first installment of Compression Obsession will focus on the 1176's famous insider's trick, "All-Button Mode." If this term is unfamiliar, you may know this as "British Mode. It is when you push in ALL of the ratio buttons simultaneously on your 1176 (don't worry, this won't hurt the unit). The same effect can be achieved by just pushing in 4:1 and 20:1. I get a lot of people on the phone or at trade shows who want details about the reissue of the 1176, the 6176, or the Plug-in versions of the 1176, and they almost always want to know if these products can do All-Button Mode. They can!
Why does the 1176 sound so cool?
For starters, the 1176 uses a line level input transformer and a FET for gain reduction, followed by another gain stage; you tend to get a naturally edgy sound (The 1176s previous incarnation was the 1108, a mic pre). Regardless of source material, the 1176 will affect the tone. In fact, some engineers use the 1176 just as a tone box, and turn off the compression.
People often think of the LA-2A as a program dependent compressor. In fact, its known as the program dependent compressor, and of course, it is. But the 1176 never gets the same accolades as a program dependent device it is!
The way the 1176 sounds, and specifically, the way All-Button mode sounds, is partially due to its being a program dependent compressor. The attack and release are program dependent, as is the ratio.
The 1176 will faithfully compress or limit at the selected ratio for transients, but the ratio will always increase a bit after the transient. To what degree is once again material dependent. This is true for any of the 1176s ratio settings, and is part of the 1176s sound.
But in All-Button Mode, a few more things are happening; the ratio goes to somewhere between 12:1 and 20:1, and the bias points change all over the circuit. As a result, the attack and release times change. This change in attack and release times and the compression curve that results is the main contributor to the All-Button sound. This is what gives way to the trademark overdriven tone. The shape of the compression curve changes dramatically in All-Button. Where 4:1 is a gentle slope, All-Button is more like severe plateau! Furthermore, in All-Button mode there is a lag time on the attack of initial transients. This strange phenomenon might be described as a "reverse look-ahead".
One more thing to know: the perception of distortion is increased with lower frequencies in All-Button Mode. Because of this, you can make a pair of overheads or a room mic explode with the 1176, especially with the frequencies and transients created by the kick drum.
"First the kick causes that great All-Button concussion which is enhanced by the unique All-Button distortion."
Heres an example of what you might expect using All-Button mode on drums. Drum kits are great because the kit has such a wide range of frequencies. Remember, the 1176 is program dependent. You can use that feature to utilize the 1176 in a musical, percussive way.
Lets say you have a medium tempo, 4/4 rock beat (an excellent scenario for using All-Button mode). First the kick causes that great All-Button concussion which is enhanced by the unique All-Button distortion. The other frequencies "suck in" and then comes an exaggerated release and recovery, and the rest of the frequencies return. This is a classic use of All-Button mode.
The basic controls for the 1176 are Input, Output, Attack and Release. The input knob doubles as the threshold control. The Output knob controls make-up gain and, therefore, the final output level. However, cranking up the Input knob also affects post-compression output levels. Its a balancing act that quickly becomes familiar. To achieve the described application with the drums, you would probably have a lot of Input, slowish Attack, and a quick Release, and of course, all Ratio buttons in!
With this knowledge, I hope you can expand upon your creativity with the 1176, and specifically All-Button Mode. We love to hear feedback, so drop us a line and tell us how YOU use the 1176!
Questions or comments on this article?