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Vintage music tech icons: 1176N Limiter

Vintage music tech icons – UA 1176N Limiter
(Image credit: Future)

Music Tech Showcase 2021: Some classic hardware just has inherent attitude. The 1176 has an upfront sound that engineers have used for years to mould productions of every genre. 

From disco to rock and back, the 1176 has repeatedly found itself at the forefront of music production. Walk into any major studio in the world and you can expect to see at least one 1176; in most you’ll find an entire rack full.

It was a groundbreaking design at the time as it was the first peak limiter that utilised 100% solid state circuity

The 1176 has been around since Bill Putnam put together the ‘Revision A’ model in 1967. It was a groundbreaking design at the time as it was the first peak limiter that utilised 100% solid state circuity. Where a tube compressor adds warmth and colouration, an 1176 imparts clarity, impact and bite. This is what makes the 1176 popular and why it continues to be a mainstay in modern production.

The hardware sports a pretty modest set of parameters and controls. If you have ever used a compressor before you will find yourself diving in and achieving results in a matter of moments.

The input stage is perfect for driving gain into the circuit while simple ratio controls and over-sized VU metering allow you to constantly monitor your work.

UA 1176 compressor

(Image credit: Future)

Revisions and reissues

Since its conception, the 1176 has seen a truckload of alterations and revisions. Most of these have been to improve simple things like noise floor and reaction time. The last revision made was the model H but, interestingly, the general consensus is that revision D and E gave the best results and are still favoured. This is perhaps why Universal Audio chose these versions of the 1176 to use for their current reissue of the hardware.

Another interesting fact about the 1176 is that it has what some would consider a spatial mode. All button or ‘brit’ mode is a trick well known by 1176 users – punch all the ratio buttons at once and the compressor will alter its attack and release times and induce unpredictable compression ratios. The whole thing sounds great. Apply this to a parallel drum buss and it’s a winner every time.

Strap an 1176 across your drum buss and you may wonder how you have lasted so long without this compressor

The current reissue hardware produced by Universal Audio is faithful down to the last component, so this is the ultimate version to own. Although the hardware in its current state is actually not as expensive as some classics, at around £1,500 some may still consider this to be out of their reach. Thankfully there are some excellent digital models in the wild and these mimic the original almost exactly.

Universal Audio once again represent the best bang for your buck here. They produce the hardware so they ultimately produce the best sounding software 1176. If you don’t own any UAD hardware or just prefer to plant your flag elsewhere, you won’t find a shortage of emulations to choose from. Waves, Native Instruments, IK Multimedia, Lindell and many more have produced 1176 models so it’s worth trying a few.

When you see five versions of hardware, a reissue and a multitude of people recreating a product in digital form, you know you’re onto a good thing. Whichever version you choose you can rest assured that you are selecting a stone cold classic. Strap an 1176 across your drum buss and you may wonder how you have lasted so long without this compressor.

Verdict

One of the best compressors for drums and has every right to be in all the top studios.

Original RRP $490 | Used from £2,000

Buying a used UA 1176N Limiter

1. If you are unsure about buying vintage hardware, simply stick with the reissue. Very old compressors tend to break, easily. The reissue is excellent value for money and comes with a warranty. UA have taken great care in recreating the very best sounding 1176 so, unless you are a vintage nut, the new version represents the best way to invest your studio tokens.

2. Check the knobs and buttons if you are buying second-hand. These can get some abuse and, although they are built very well, you may need to get a service on ageing units. This doesn’t mean your unit is out for the count but it’s something worth bearing in mind before handing over any cash.

3. Try comparing the plugins and hardware. They are scarily close these days and many top pros are turning to ‘in the box’ models now. The UAD 1176 has to be the pick of the bunch and is more or less identical to the hardware.

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