Lisson Grove R-124 Compressor Review

Mar 1, 2012 9:00 AM, By Barry Rudolph

UNIQUE-SOUNDING GAIN CONTROLLER WITH EMI, ALTEC LINEAGE

Polls


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Hold allowed me to freeze the release time (and therefore gain reduction) at the last moment of the singer’s previous section. When my singer came back in, I immediately clicked out of Hold and avoided an attack “pop.” The R-124, already in GR, was back to normal operation with the vocal at about the same volume. I found this process easy to do and liked having the option to use it or not.

Processing direct Fender bass is great fun—you can compress to needle-pinning depths off scale—around 25 dB and it sounds fat, rich and super-dense. I was working on a song in drop D tuning and the bass player’s performance and sound was good, but it was not “reading” well in the final mix.

I went with the R-124’s input control at 9, output at 8, attack time control straight up and the fastest release. In spite of the fast release time and about 15 dB of squash, the R-124 did not distort sustained bass notes. The bass track had about a 3dB dynamic range, stayed “in your face” at all times and took on raucous character as if we had used a bass amp that was about to explode.

Here, the O/P Load function became useful because at the 600-ohm position, this bass was too bright, so I went halfway between the darker 200 and full-range 600 ohm. I found O/P’s tonal range to be vast for an effect anywhere from subtle to dramatic.

Pulling out on the R-124’s Attack knob switches to a throughput bypass—audio passes through the unit without compression. Because this is not a true bypass, switching to it will necessitate all-new level settings. In a future R-124 version, I’d like to see a hardwired bypass switch because doing A/Bs should be easier.

I had a lot of fun overdriving the R-124 by winding up the input control. I liked the many analog colors possible, from subtle warming to brutal distortion. On the Dark side of the O/P control, the sound fuzzes out, low frequencies thin out and the output level decreases. Toward the 600-ohm side, high fidelity is returned.

Bypass worked well for overly clean electric guitars that I wanted to “throw out into the street” and rough up. Different combinations of O/P and input settings offer many tonal choices, from somber and dire to brighter and full-sounding.

A Martin D18 acoustic sounded better after a pass through the R-124. I preferred barely compressing (4dB max) with the slowest attack time setting, release set to 1 or 2, and O/P set at full 600 ohms for an open sound.

Individual drum tracks, loops, a mono drum mix bus and most percussion are also good subjects for the R-124’s magic. Even under massive compression (greater than 10 dB), the sound does not dull out and lose high frequencies. Set the attack time anywhere from 12 o’clock to faster, release on either 1 or 2, and O/P set to 12 o’clock or higher.

OLD IS ALL-NEW
The Lisson Grove R-124 compressor is like a glimpse into the toolkit of English recording engineers working at Abbey Road circa 1960. It’s not perfect, it’s not pristine and it’s not like any other compressor. It sounds distinctive and is one of my favorite compressors of all time.

Barry Rudolph is an L.A.-based recording engineer. Visit him at barryrudolph.com.

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