The Empirical Labs UBK EL7 Fatso
We had three goals in mind when I set about to modify what was already a classic piece of gear.
1. We wanted to create a collection of fixed-setting compressors that, with the turn of a single knob, could shape and tame any sound you throw at it, and be especially adept with those that are the easiest to screw up: vocals, drums, bass, acoustic and electric guitars, and pianos.
2. We wanted these preset comps to offer up several distinctly different ‘flavors’ of compression, each of which has a ‘grab’ and ‘motion’ that is totally unlike the others, in order to give the modern engineer maximum flexibility in terms of style, attitude, punch, and squeeze.
3. We wanted to make these compressors incredibly smooth and easygoing at moderate settings, but able to go to extremes (and beyond) to create sounds that are surprising, inspiring, and drenched in vibe. No matter how much you dig in, the results should be musical; it might be too much compression for you, but it will never be *bad* compression.
“How do we do this?” Once upon a time, compressors came with two knobs, and your compression options were ‘more’ and ‘less’. But make no mistake: this minimalism in design was actually an asset to the guy who had to turn the knobs and push the faders. The engineers who designed these simple boxes paid painstaking attention to every crucial aspect of envelope shaping — the knee, the ratio, the attack and the release — and they tweaked and tweezed the mysterious and often chaotic interplay of these parameters until they found their holy grail: a circuit whose action was incredibly musical and whose grab sounded amazing on every source and sound you feed it.
“Compression was easy, and it always sounded good.” So it is with the UBK Fatso. In addition to all the tone-sweetening characteristics and features of the classic Fatso — harmonic thickening, tape-like saturation, independent ‘warmth’ control to soften and tame high frequency harshness — the UBK Fatso features 3 brand new presets, lovingly crafted and tweaked by ear, and exhaustively tested in the trenches on every sound you’re ever likely to find in your mixes, and a few you probably never will… just in case.
Splat – this is our take on the comps built into our favorite 3-lettered vintage console. At modest settings, it stiffens and reigns in drums, focuses a vocal, and enhances the vibe of the original sound while making it easier to manage. But when you dig in, wonderful things begin to happen. Drums develop thwack and hit you in the chest. Vocals get utterly creamy with a pleasing, old school hair. Loops come alive and breathe organically. Electric guitars get thicker, deeper, and stay pinned where you want them. But don’t be afraid of those meters: push it farther, past that red light. 20db of reduction? Don’t worry, keep going. Ever heard your drum buss do that? Didn’t think so.
Welcome to ‘no rules’ compression.
Smooth – this is classic limiting, with a twist. Our intent here was to craft a tracking style limiter that would allow the engineer to shave 6-10db off the peaks of instruments without sounding like much of anything happened, yet things are somehow sweeter, they behave better. When you print elements thru this preset, you’ll find your mixes come together easier and faster, with less eq and compression. Things just ‘fit’, the way they did when we tracked to tape.
But again, what happens if you start to abuse this preset in the mix? ‘Fast and smooth’ begets and ‘fast and aggressive’, that’s what. Slap it on electronic drum loops and watch the Germans seethe with envy. Put it on a room mic in parallel, maybe a little Abbey Road really is what that kit needs. Crazy hip hop vocal refusing to behave? Clamp it down, ruthlessly, effortlessly.
One compressor does it all.
Glue – the bottom end never sounded like this. It is simply unreal how easily this preset will lock the bass in place, punch it up, let all the notes ring clear as a bell, and make it loud while getting it out of the way. Engage the transformer to make the low end sing, even on iPod docks. If gluing the bass were the only thing the UBK Fatso did, it would still be worth the price. But Glue is every bit as versatile and surprising as the rest of this box, especially when pushed. It’s an extraordinary drum compressor, imparting a distinct smack even as it makes the room explode. It’s lovely on acoustic guitars, Rhodes, sitar… whatever.
When all else fails, glue the sucker down.
In addition to all of these purposeful compressors, the UBK Fatso features Dave Derr’s classic“Spank” for that inimitable SSL-style smack. You can also combine any two presets, or all three, for even more unusual and unexpected results. So grab those knobs, experiment fearlessly, and ignore those meters: your ears will tell you all you need to know.