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Getting a classic piece of gear in your hands means either investing in a time machine, or dropping a ton of money for an original that may or may not have seen better days. BAE has a new line of well-priced studio gear, under the UK Sound banner, that delivers big tone without the sticker shock.
The single rack design of the new 176 unit has the usual input and output controls. The compression ratios are pre-set with 4:1, 8:1, 12:1 and 20:1. There’s also an “All Buttons In” switch that engages all of the compression ratios at the same time. The Side Chain filter switch engages a 100 Hz High Pass filter. The attack and release controls have a nice wide sweep from fast to slow, and a large VU meter sits right in the middle. It’s also has a true bypass switch to engage or disengage the compressor. The rear panel is pretty simple, with XLR ins and outs, along with the usual IEC power cable connection and power switch. For such an affordable unit, they certainly didn’t skimp on features or build quality.
Plugging it in, and connecting it to a few microphones yielded great results overall. First up using it on acoustic guitars brought in that nice attack and overall thickness, as well as a great rounded depth. For bass guitars this is a heavy hitter, accuracy and punch was the name of the game. Electric guitars sweetened up nicely, especially with cleaner tones. The attack and release controls can really drive the tonal direction. If there’s too much high end wafting off, slow down the attack, and it pulls in nicely. The release control works much like what you would expect, with faster settings increasing the sustain. Engaging the Hi-Pass filter is also great for compressing those ungainly and woofy signals, while maintaining clarity — great on kick drums or bass guitars. The overall response is excellent, and what you would expect of its more expensive cousins in the BAE lineup. It’s simplified to keep things musical and functional, without going too far. BUT…
Those classic compressors that this is based on had a “fault” — if you engaged all of the compression ratios at once, as they were pushbuttons, things got really wild. The 176 has this designed into it, with the “all buttons in mode”. It gets really loud, with the VU meter hammering well into the red. It’s a harsher and more dramatic sounding overall. The initial hit of a sound is very prominent, but the decaying sound kind of sucks itself in.
So where would you use a “sucking” sound? Well, a lot of classic British albums exploited this “fault” — it does WONDERS on drums. Compression is one of those great effects that makes cleaner tones sound bigger, warmer and more driven, without getting unmusically gritty, or gain-y. The 176 is a great example of what good analog compression delivers.
This has all of the sound and flexibility of the BAE’s more expensive units with a more wallet-friendly price in the $700+ range. Recommended for home and commercial studios alike.
Well made, excellent sound, great price.