At first glance, the immediate impression of Big Blue Compressor is one of classic hardware compressor design: big knobs, VU meters and 3U height, not dissimilar to the visual vibe of a Manley or Avalon unit.
A quick scan of the controls doesn't alter that opinion. Closer inspection, however, reveals Choke, High-pass, Mid/Side, Drive and Look-ahead parameters, and its with this discovery that the broad potential of this device begins to dawn…
Big Blue Compressor (BBC) is a dynamics plug-in (VST/AU/RTAS) designed to serve as both a transparent levelling amplifier in the Fairchild vein and a compressor that can colour and shape your sounds to the rudest extremes. Currently available in stereo configuration only, an upcoming update will enable the BBC to work on mono tracks, too.
In its stereo guise, it's ideal for bus compression, particularly on drums and percussion. The Drive knob offers saturation of the input, introducing the classic colours of valve distortion.
The high-pass filter enables you to shave bass energy off the sidechain signal, reducing the compressor's response to the kick drum, say, which could otherwise ruin the weight and evenness of the compressed output.
The variable Knee control (which, along with the Look-ahead, would of course be impossible to offer on a real valve hardware unit) gives greater precision over the response of the compressor and helps it to bite. The Dry/Wet mix control provides instant parallel compression without any routing faff.
The intriguing Choke control is an innovative feature that models the way valve compressors work to stifle transients, and it does sound surprisingly authentic. Finally, as you'd expect, there are the usual Threshold, Ratio, Attack and Release parameters onboard, too.
Blue in the face
In theory, all of these controls should come together to make the perfect compressor for drums, and indeed the results are hugely impressive. The Big Blue successfully combines the warmth and colour of a valve unit with the bite and pump of a VCA compressor, resulting ina big, weighty, powerful sound that's best summed up as huge and in-your-face.
Of particular note is the combination of Drive, Threshold and Choke, which enables you to beextremely precise and refined in the level ofcompression you apply.
It's not just a fabulous drums compressor, though - Big Blue is equally adept with any other musical signal, sporting both peak and RMS detection modes. The latter gives a more natural level control to bass, pianos and any other stereo signal.
We're hopeful that the aforementioned mono compatibility will have arrived by the time you read this, because it sounds fantastic on a vocal routed through a stereo bus.
More than stereo
Big Blue Compressor offers several stereo-centric features that enhance its operation. The Stereo knob swings the output between a collapsed mono signal and an extended 'super-wide' stereo one (with 'normal' at the centre point), which is a useful addition.
The Link switch links the levelling of both channels, responding to the loudest, but compressing both by the same amount, doing away with any left/right panning modulation. There's no variable linkage,
but that's something we'd say is more useful in a mastering limiter, so it's not an issue here.
The Mid and Side switches activate separate compression forthe mid and side signals respectively. Compressing the mid enables you to bring out the centre signal of a stereo mix, (in other words, the vocal and other mono elements).
The Side switch compresses just the peripheral stereo elements, so you can bring out the air or space of a track.
Big Blue Compressor certainly looks the part, and its functionality and sound more than match up to the visuals. Somehow it really does manage to combine the warmth and weight of vintage valve processing with the bite and immediacy ofmodern compression.
It comes at you with real sonic snarl, making it especially good on up-front dance and rock tracks. It's certainly highly recommended by us.