Vintage-style, all-tube, variable-gain unit brings back the beloved compression sound of a bygone era
Grammy Award-winning mixer, producer and engineer Hugo Nicolson (Radiohead, Primal Scream, Julian Cope, etc.) proudly announces the founding of Lisson Grove, a new boutique pro audio brand dedicated to recapturing the finest studio sounds of yesteryear. Right out of the gate, the company is underscoring this mission with the launch of its inaugural product, the R-124, a valve compressor based on the classic 1960s British studio units used extensively on all of the Beatles' recordings.
Reverse engineering one of the highly-modified Altec 436 originals, the new R-124 differs from its "holy grail" predecessor by utilizing modern, reliable components. According to Nicolson, "Although the original models sounded fantastic, they always had difficulty producing adequate low end. By using new parts--especially modern, high-quality transformers--we've been able to faithfully preserve the compression characteristics of the vintage units while offering a much fuller bandwidth and bigger sound."
Prior to the product's official launch, Nicolson provided a beta unit of the device to fellow engineer Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, U2, Paul McCartney, etc.) who commented, "I love the Lisson Grove R-124. It's rare to find a new compressor that has the bounce and character of a classic vintage unit but also the reliability of a new one. I have found it to be a very musical tool for mixing, but also a great creative tool when I'm after something more adventurous… the perfect thing to turn to for bringing life and edge to sounds. It cooks!"
Entirely hand-built for fanatical quality, the R-124 is a versatile tool well-suited for tracking, mixing and mastering applications alike. From left to right, the 2U unit's faceplate comprises a Balance control, chicken head knobs for Input and Output gain, a circular VU meter, rotary pots for Attack and Threshold, another chicken head knob for Release, and a power switch with bright jewel lamp. Rear panel connections include a power cord receptacle, 1/4-inch jacks for the Infinity and Link, and XLRs for In and Out.
Boasting a slightly faster release than the famed British studio units, the Lisson Grove device also adds an Attack control, which can conveniently slow down the attack for mastering situations and other uses.
The Threshold control on the R-124 also offers a unique twist in that it uses the dynamically changing compressed signal as its point of reference rather than a fixed voltage. In other words, as the knob is rotated clockwise to raise the compression threshold, the tone changes slightly adding a subtle sparkle, which can be a wonderful way to "tickle" the vocals or a mix.
One of the classic features that Lisson Grove has preserved on this unit is the Infinity control, formerly known as Hold. In between each of the six recovery settings on the Release control is the infinity position, which is, in effect, an extremely long recovery time.
This particular feature has a variety of uses, the most useful being the ability to prime the R-124 before a take so that the very first note doesn't sound uncompressed. This is done by placing the compressor in an infinity position--one click up or down from the desired setting--having the artist play or sing a note before recording, then switching in the desired release time once things are under way. Yet another use of Infinity would be to prevent an increase in gain during silent passages. A 1/4-inch jack on the R-124's rear panel accommodates an external foot switch for musicians recording themselves and requiring hands-free operation.
The Balance control provides an easy way to balance out the two sides of the gain reduction valve, thus minimizing distortion and feed-through thumps. By pressing the adjacent button, the engineer can then adjust a small trim control until the pulsing sound is heard at its thinnest or lowest level. This is a very practical in-use method for balancing out the gain reduction valve.
As interesting and helpful as the feature set is, Nicolson reports that those who have heard the R-124 are first and foremost wowed by its tone. "It's a very lovely sounding piece, and, although it's fashioned after an iconic outboard tool, it certainly has its own mojo as well. I've personally been using it for mastering lately, and the lovely silky sheen it adds to the top end has been stellar for that. It sounds amazing."
Currently available, the Lisson Grove R-124 compressor features a US retail price of $3,700.00 and is exclusively distributed in the States by Vintage King Audio.