Blind Shootout - Analog vs. Digital Buss Compression. Can You Tell The Difference?

   Nowadays it is hard for people with home studios to know just exactly what to believe when it comes to audio. I can think of few fields of work with more myths, misconceptions, and outright lies. Add in the fact that - for the first time in history - there are tons of people making music who have never stepped foot in a recording studio and you can see where conceptions can be blurred.

   I master mostly house music here in the studio. Most - if not all - new producers in the genre work entirely 'in the box'. That is, with no analog equipment and only digital tools. Today's digital signal processing capabilities are pretty incredible, no one can really deny that. Digital plugins offer tons of benefits. First of all, there's total settings recall. No need to write down all the settings you use on a track, making revisions incredibly simple. Also, there's no need to spend time and computer memory recording out everything in real time. Add in the fact that many of today's plugin manufacturers claim to be able to emulate every sonic detail of analog hardware, and one could start to wonder why bother with analog anyway?

   Ironically, it seems like most digitally-based producers nowadays spend an awful lot of time trying to sound less digital. Plugin companies like Waves, Soundtoys, Slate Digital, UAD, and loads more offer analog-modeled plugins that supposedly emulate every circuit component and characteristic of the hardware units they are based on. 

   In the myth-laden world of audio, I have learned to not trust everything I read on the internet (gasp!). Listening to blind tests of loudness-matched audio clips is just about the only way to decide for yourself if something sounds the same, better, or worse. So we're going to do just that. 

   We are going to be listening to some afro house I recently mastered by my friend and producer Doug Gomez for his label Merecumbe Recordings. I have recorded two snippets with exactly identical settings and loudness for us to compare. We will call the clips Compressor A and Compressor B. 

   One of the clips uses Slate Digital's FG-Grey Buss Compressor. This VST plugin is modeled after an SSL G series compressor. Slate also states that the specific unit they modeled the plugin after includes transformers which alter the sound by thickening and tightening up the low end. They also included a sidechain bypass to let some of the bass through uncompressed.

   The other clip is the exact same audio, but instead run through an analog compressor with incredibly similar characteristics as the Slate Digital FG-Grey. I used my Revive Audio Modified Chameleon Labs 7720 buss compressor. This hardware unit is ALSO modeled after the SSL G Series buss compressor. Not only that, but It uses the exact same VCAs, has the same settings (plus a few more options), and even has added TRANSFORMERS on the outputs, just like the FG-Grey.  The unit also has modified and enhanced power supply, op amps, capacitors, resistors, release characteristics, and tuning to make it closer to the actual SSL G series compressor than a typical 7720. 

   I used the exact same settings on each unit - A light 1.5:1 compression ratio, an attack of 10 milliseconds, a release of 0.3 seconds, and the sidechain filter set to 130 Hertz on both units. I adjusted the threshold on each to compress just 1-2 dBs. I have to say, the needles moved nearly identically on the meters. Both were processed from 24bit 88.2 kHz WAV files and rendered to 16 bit 44.1 kHz with POW-R2 dithering before being uploaded. The apparent loudness is the same and both have ample headroom. So, if Slate really can nail the sound of analog gear, these two clips should sound nearly identical. 

Click Here to Listen to The Blind Shootout on Soundcloud

   

So, take a listen for yourself! Can you guess which one of these is analog and which one is digital? Can Slate and other plugin manufacturers really emulate the exact sound of analog hardware? Does one sound better than the other? Drop us a comment with your guess!

   SPOILER ALERT - you can click here to see which clip is which compressor. Keep it on the down low on this page please. Good luck!

   Oh, and if you l like the track and would like to support the artist, you can here.