VCA-based compressors are probably the most commonly available units worldwide.
Most manufacturers have at least one VCA-based unit in their product range and, consequently, they span the complete price spectrum. German manufacturer Vertigo Sound fits very much into the high end of that spectrum, both in price and quality.
The analogue version of the VSC-2 has a big reputation in studios all over the world. At nearly £4,500 it still manages to twist the arm of many audio pros that try it into buying it: quite something in these cash-strapped times.
Fortunately for those with shallower pockets, Vertigo have teamed up with FM favourites and recent UAD companions Brainworx to bring us a software plug-in version.
Blue for you
With its bold blue front panel and black and white knobs and meters the VSC-2 is reminiscent of many late '70s and early '80s devices. It has a straightforward but comprehensive control set.
Starting on the left is the continuously variable threshold. Next comes the ratios and here it's a bit more complex.
The stepped controller starts at Soft and steps through 2:1, 4:1, 8:1, 10:1 and then to Brick. The Soft setting certainly does what it says on the tin and provides a very gentle soft knee response even if you really hammer the input.
As you step up the ratios, the VSC-2 'pulls' much harder, right up to the Brick setting where basically nothing is going to get past it.
Next come the attack and release sections, both controls being stepped. As you can see from the picture, these are all but identical to the attack and decay settings of the SSL Buss compressor, among others.
Those values have certainly proved themselves popular with plenty of engineers worldwide - so if it ain't broke… The final knob is a continuously variable gain make-up.
The VSC-2 is also able to work as a dual mono device, so you get separate left and right switches for in/out and for the sidechain filters. These are there to prevent excessive pumping of low end, particularly when used on program material, by removing some of it from the detection circuit. They're set at a very useful 60Hz and 90Hz.
On the level
In operation, the VSC-2 proves itself to be a very versatile beast. Although big, expensive stereo units such as this are normally aimed at the mix buss or drum groups, the mark of a truly great compressor lies in its ability to deal with many and varied sound sources. This little beauty doesn't just deal with any sound you throw at it; it excels with all of them.
Starting with a stereo drum group you can go from a small amount of subtle compression to savage limiting - and through every stage in between. Even when being hit really hard, the VSC-2 doesn't lose the clarity of the source sound.
With minimal choking of the high end and judicious use of the sidechain filters, the low end won't start to pump the signal too much.
On the mix buss it's the same thing: great sounding compression that you can take much further than you'd expect without the signal collapsing into mush or just becoming very one dimensional.
Lower ratios give a really pleasing tightening of the overall sound, and higher ones grab hold of the peaks and put a real energy and drive into anything with strong percussive or groove elements.
With acoustic instruments, its subtle side takes the fore. Acoustic guitars lose none of their air but gain a powerful presence in the track. Attacks can be tamed or enhanced and auto release helps to provide some really smooth results. Pianos can be given the high-energy treatment or brought under control without losing their sense of dynamic.
Bass is a very different animal altogether and often requires quite a heavy hand to make it behave. With both synths and bass guitar the VSC-2 stands for no nonsense.
It keeps the sound big and fat while ironing out the peaks and troughs without any hint of trouble. On subtle warmer basses it enables you to leave the low end plenty of room to breathe with no compromise in the level control department.
Vocals also benefit from the VSC-2 treatment. Because it doesn't trash the high end with extreme settings it's possible to pull a very dynamic vocal into line. We tried it with the old trick of chaining two together, the first one set to Brick to knock off the peaks and the second set to 4:1 and pushed hard to give the sound.
The combination added real excitement to the voice without losing transparency, and the nasty peaks of the original were tamed without the obvious choking you get with some units.
On softer voices it's possible to get just the right amount of gain control while adding some warmth and strength. All in all, great for vocals.
Whatever you want
The VSC-2 could very easily become your 'go to' compressor: subtle and smooth when required, but fat and ballsy when you need it, too. Its excellent transparent quality coupled with its innate ability to pump up any sound that passes through it makes it one of the most versatile and desirable plugs available right now.
In short, this is a fabulous analogue compressor successfully transported into the digital domain at one-twentieth of the price of the original unit. Hats off to Vertigo Sound and the Brainworx team.