Fink Analog Audio CS2-FA Tube Dual Channel Strip Review

Jul 27, 2010 2:30 PM, By Barry Rudolph



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To familiarize myself with the CS2-FA, I fed Pro Tools’ signal generator at unity gain through the unit. Both channels had identical knob settings—a good sign of excellent design and close component tolerances. With nominal song mix levels coming out of Pro Tools, the VU meters read normally, but I think the VU meters could use a scaling feature when measuring the hotter audio output levels encountered after limiting. With or without music playing through the unit, I could hear pops when switching the limiter in and out. As the limiter uses a true bypass system, there is no way around the associated level change that occurs when the limiter is switched in and out. Fink Audio has incorporated a hardware change to fix the pops that happen with no signal present.

With a compression ratio of 1:1, I set the limiter’s input and output controls to around 2 o’clock and got unity gain; when switching the limiter in/out, the levels matched. On my Pro Tools rig’s stereo bus output, with the unit’s ratio set to 4:1, the Attack knob straight up and fastest release setting, I found the limiter to be smoother and less aggressive than my 1176LNs (Rev-D), but definitely in that same family of sound. I was getting about 2 to 6 dB of gain reduction as read on the meter and was able to increase the output level upward of 5 dB. I tried the Link switch and found it to work exactly like UA’s 1176LN stereo adapter unit, where the control signals from each limiter channel are summed and then applied to both.

I enjoyed building a resonant peak with the EQ by boosting low frequencies at 60 Hz and cutting at the same time. This causes the kick drum to move forward in the mix and the bottom end got tighter and less round. The equalizer is refined and musical-sounding; the 10dB boost is spread over the knob’s entire range. Ditto for boosting high-midrange frequencies at 8 kHz and then using the HF cut at 10 kHz. This is an excellent way to precisely set the overall brilliance of a mix.

I used a pair of Mojave MA-101fet condenser mics with omni capsules and no pads. I spaced the mics about four feet apart, four feet from the floor and in front of my drummer’s kit at about three feet out. I got a warm, natural tone from the kit and from the small room it was in. With the mic preamp set at 0 dB, I got plenty of level with the Gain knob at about 2 o’clock and the Level at 11 o’clock. By switching in the equalizer, I was able to boost more low frequencies at 120 Hz for increased low end on the drums—particularly the kick. With the limiter switched in, the ratio on the S position worked well to smooth out and further fatten the drum tones: snare, kick and toms. The cymbals and hi-hat did come up in level, but rolling off 12 kHz with the Hi-Cut control seemed to prevent them from taking over the whole sound.

Next, I recorded a male vocal using a Neumann M149 mic with no pad and no roll-off, and played with the ability to saturate the unit’s mic pre. At 0dB mic gain, the CS2-FA’s tube mic pre and input transformer were constantly saturated from the hot level coming from the M149. Saturation can increase apparent loudness, in which the signal is louder without much VU meter (electrical) level increase. For the most part, I liked it on the track except when the singer pushed his voice and the additional roughness became too much. Reducing the mic gain attenuator to -10 dB produced a more “conservative” and high-fidelity sound. The CS2-FA’s EQ was very flattering to the voice. Pushing low frequencies sounds great, although that is unnecessary for my singer’s barrel-chested sound. If you like a bright vocal sound, boosting the midrange section set at 10, 12 or 16 kHz is glorious—there is nothing like a tube-based LC equalizer!

Next I tried recording a 1971 Fender P-Bass plugged into the front panel DI jack. Here the sound is exactly like UA’s 6176—thick and creamy, big tube coloration with loads of sustain. But unlike the 6176, the CS2-FA has a complete EQ for carving the bass sound to perfectly fit the player, the part, the track and the song. Again, you can crank gain and reduce level going to the EQ/limiter and go from clean to dirty, and easily maintain the same amount of compression.

My 80-year-old Schiller baby grand piano sounded amazing when recorded through the CS2-FA. The Mojave mics were used but with the -15dB pads and cardioid capsules. I placed them right over the hammers, aimed outward, left and right, toward the extreme ends. By themselves, the mic pre’s produced a full and balanced sound. Boosting 10 kHz using the broadest Q in the midrange EQ opens up the sound with more air/brilliance, and adding the compressor set to a 4:1 ratio with 2 to 4 dB of compression compacted the dynamics nicely.

I found the CS2-FA wonderfully handled any recording task and stereo mix bus processing. While the front panel looks technically daunting at first glance, operationally it works in a musical manner. As with any vintage tube unit, I quickly learned each control and then cranked them around freely, achieving a lustrous, fat sound on all sources.

Barry Rudolph is an L.A.-based recording engineer/mixer.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the CS2-FA product page.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the CS2-FA product page.

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