November 4, 2008
Review by Tony SanFilippo
The fine folks at
have made yet another great, affordable piece. The 7720
is a stereo compressor based on the SSL Quad compressor that we've all heard on about a million records. It is not a direct copy and features some things not available on the inspiration.
No specific specs listed.
The 7720 has all of the expected controls--Threshold, Attack, Release, Ratio, and Output. All of the controls on the 7720 are stepped except for the threshold and output, both of those being continually variable. I like this set up more than I ever thought I would, after getting another compressor like that many years ago. With stepped controls it's really easy to hear the difference in settings when trying to decide which works best for the given applications. There are six times each for Attack and five times for Release (which has AUTO as its fifth time), and four Ratio options. These give the user plenty of options and permutations to really tailor this compressor to its given application. In addition, there is the stepped control for the High Pass Filter, offering six positions--Off, 60Hz, 90Hz, 130Hz, 200Hz, and 440Hz giving quite a wide range of options. There is a nice looking, fairly fast acting, round VU meter which also has a stepped control to read input (L or R) output (L or R) or compression. Honestly, I kept it on comp except just to confirm that the other functions worked. There are Power, Comp In/Out, and Sidechain In/Out mini-toggles with corresponding LEDs. The blue power and comp LEDs are really bright, I'm not sure if that's good or bad, but I thought it worth mentioning.
There is a Sidechain Input to trigger the compressor from specific sources or to insert an EQ or filter into the detector circuit. There is also a built in High Pass Filter that feeds the detector, but not the audio circuit. For those who have never used a compressor in this way, it can be quite useful for making the compression smoother, less obvious, and for keeping the bottom of the mix nice and large (if desired).
I got the 7720 in at the perfect time. I had two records booked to mix back to back. I produced and engineered both, but they are fairly different musically. I knew I'd have a lot of things to try it on and it got used somewhere on probably 85% of the mixes for these records. Though designed as a 2-mix compressor I found myself liking it on many sources, and often preferring it elsewhere in a mix. If I were going to describe the tone of the 7720, I'd call it urgent, with a good upper midrange presence. It's fast, due to its VCA design, and somewhat transparent at first, but as you listen more you realize how much effect and impact it is having on the audio. For each mix I'd audition both the 7720 and my Drawmer 1969, which I have been using on the 2-mix for years. These compressors are quite different and my choice of when to use one over the other was based on tone and compression characteristics. I again think of the word urgent. The 7720 affects the upper-mid, pushing them a little forward and adding a certain excitement to a source. Sometimes that was a bit much for a mix, but could do wonders to an element of the mix. I loved what it did as a parallel drum bus compressor, aiding to the drive of the drums. On guitars it would help both contain and focus them, allowing the guitars to be more present in a mix without taking over or requiring extra EQ. I find using a compressor as a tonal tool often can be more pleasing than EQ, and this is something I think the 7720 does well.
When the 7720 is used on the 2-mix I feel it really directs the mix. Its tone makes the mix a little smaller, more focused than the Drawmer and also brighter. This works well when there is a lot going on in a mix. Mixing is often shoehorning the different elements into a cohesive whole. The sound of the 7720 helps to keep things present and to not get lost. This is helpful when many of the elements of the production are active and have good midrange, reigning in both elements. Conversely if you want a mix to be more broad, open and with individual elements still 'separate' the 7720 will make you chase your tail, as it's really not the right choice. On the 2-mix for Matt Robinson's song "Sad Song Honey" it was really perfect. The tune is quick with a drum groove similar to a calypso with the snare instead of the hats driving the 16th notes. In addition there's fiddle, percussion, electric and acoustic guitars, bass and vocals. The 7720 really kept that tune on track. Using the HPF I was able to experiment with when the compression kicked in which helped tailor the low end and the drive of the song. I love having a HPF on a 2-mix comp, but having different frequency choice is absolutely wonderful! I was surprised at how high I'd set it to get the mix to have the mass I was looking for, yet still having the compression characteristics and tone that the 7720 brought to the table. On a song with Dan Hubbard and the Humidors called "Long Road" in production I was going for a modern rock "clear channel" type sound. We added a couple of big Mesa Rectumfrier guitar parts, doubled the guitar intro/outro line up an octave, added some keyboard pad texture, totally going for 'thick and dense.' Mixing into the 7720 made total sense and was exactly what the song needed. It helped me keep it dense but still focused, and again using the HPF and trying different settings the bottom of the song could add a lot of power with taking over or causing the compressor to go crazy and distract the listener.
On mixes that I chose to use the Drawmer on the 2-mix I made a conscious effort to try the 7720 on different sources using it both as an insert and a parallel compressor for individual instruments and sub-groups. I really loved what it did to a drum group parallel. When pushed, it can add aggression to the drums. When the 7720 is peppered into the mix, it can really bring the drive of the tune to a new level. Again the options on the HPF helped shape the tone of the parallel, in a different way than taking out the BD in the compressor send. As an insert on an acoustic guitar track it really helped make the acoustic present through the whole song instead of sticking out in some parts and being buried in others. On a few songs where singers were all over the place dynamically, the 7720, working pretty hard and fast was able to make the vocal sit on top of the mix--right where I wanted it. It's also quite effective for backing vocals, adding a pleasing denseness. And, the 7720 is the absolute best compressor for taming totally out of hand random noises generated by Syndrums vintage analog electronic drums, bar none!
- Present sound, brings urgency to sources
- Works well with mix buss duties
- Works well with parallel and individual elements
- Easy to tweak with well chosen parameters / choices
Super nuclear bright blue LED's
In short the Chameleon Labs 7720 is a very useful, good sounding unit that fits a specific spot that I think could be useful for many recordists. I had a few things that I needed to buy for the studio at the time the 7720 was here. Otherwise, it would have stayed in my rack. I'm sure I will have one of my own soon enough.
Chameleon Labs 7720 Stereo Compressor
at Front End Audio