The latest pro audio piece of equipment to come out of USA manufacturer Daking Audio is the Fet 3, a dual mono to stereo compressor / limiter.
Out of the box:
The 2U construction of the casing is stainless steel, not the thickest of casing compared to other manufacturers, but sturdy enough. The faceplate is green with a lighter sage green ledgering; this gives the unit a retro look but maintains a clear view of the ledgering. Machined anodized aluminum knobs, with a knurled finish for the rotary switches and potentiometers, are of a good quality and feel. There are also two 3-way switches for meter select, the meters being of the VU type. Power comes from an external power supply which connects via a 6 pin din at the rear of the compressor. Also at the rear are standard Neutrik male and female balanced XLR connections.
For both left and right channels the controls are Threshold, Ratio (1.5:1,2:1,3:1,5:1,10:1 and 20:1), Attack (250microseconds to 64 milliseconds), Release (500ms to dual time constant [Auto]), Gain (goes up to 11!), HPF (0 to 200Hz) and Meter select for input, output and gain reduction. There is also a bypass switch for each channel and a VU meter.
Central to the unit is a single sweepable rotary pot from dual mono to stereo.
Powering up the unit via the 6 pin din (no power switch) illuminates the large VU meters. Straight away I like this – big VU meters, perfect for monitoring the gain reduction, input or output signal, depending where the selector switch is.
Looking at the controls, there is everything you would expect to see, except for the HPF pot and sweepable mono to stereo pot – interesting.
First things first though, let’s check the calibration. Upon receiving the Fet 3 I had just finished a mix, so a straight swap from the buss compressor I was using to the Fet 3 was made. If I am using an outboard compressor on the mix buss I will always carry out a calibration test. I generate a series of tones, 100 Hz, 1KHz and 10KHz using a signal generator and check on meters, usually digital meters – in this case I was mixing in Pro-Tools so used a plugin meter. Bypassing the unit first, it displayed perfect calibration. Switching out the bypass and engaging the compressor circuit, setting the ratio to 2:1, threshold to zero, medium attack/release, make up gain set to 5 and HPF set to out, both VU meters displayed the same reading on the compressor.
Switching between input, output & gain reduction, as well as the digital meter in pro-tools, readings very close left and right. A slight adjustment on the output gain, checking that the pot markings correspond equally on both left and right side and match equally on the dial markings, all looking good.
The mix I had just finished is a modern sounding Goldfrapp-style pop track, nicely layered vocals and lots of low-end bass information. I started off with light compression, maybe maximum 2dB of reduction, and first impressions gave no colouration in sound but held the mix together nicely. Giving it a bit more compression, the mix falls apart, the low end starting to disrupt the overall sound. Time to utilize the HPF (High Pass Filter) feature. This is a variable 12dB/ Octave HPF in the side chain path of the unit, which basically means, when selecting a frequency from 0 to 200Hz, the compressor will only compress above that frequency – very handy when using the compressor as a buss compressor on bass heavy material such as this mix. Selecting the maximum on the filter, 200Hz, the mix reverted to sounding balanced and retaining the low end punch but, as I had already mixed the track and balanced accordingly using lighter compression the balance, even with the filter at maximum was still not as controlled as it was originally. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of heavy buss compression and generally keep it to a minimum. That said, in today’s modern music such as Dub Step, Drum and Bass and Hip Hop, with the sub bass being a key element, there is a definite use for this feature and if I had started out on this mix having this feature, I think I would have used it.
For the next track, I had a big sounding rock number which I’d recently finished mixing, full of dynamic instruments and vocals, and decided to see how the Fet 3 faired with that. Inserted over the mix buss and light compression again, it held the mix together nicely and didn’t impart any colouration.
I started to write quite an in-depth breakdown on each individual instrument and vocal I tried it on, then realized that it was taking too long, was rather boring and anyone reading this knows what to do with a compressor, so concluded a round up would be better…
Yes, it worked well! Overall, I found it a very flexible compressor, basically functioning as a compressor should do, and controlling the dynamics well. A couple of situations I really liked it on was drum buss and drum room. Having the side-chain HPF enabled squashed the drums considerably but let the bass drum be more prominent, not causing the drums to “Pump”.
In the manual there is reference to the Audio & Design Compex, a classic compressor from the 70′s found in some of the Helios consoles of the time and famously used on some of the Led Zeppelin records – by setting the compressor release time to auto, which is dual time constant, this starts the release pretty fast then slows down, giving the compression a very musical feel. I thought I would try the setting on drum ambience – maybe it was a bit of a placebo effect, but there was a definite element of that classic drum sound.
Another control on the Fet 3 is a sweepable dual mono to stereo link pot. This enables you to use the unit as a dual mono or stereo link and whatever is in-between, the in-between bit being a little confusing. It basically sends the signal into the compressor section from left and right to stereo depending on where you have the pot set to e.g. you could compress a bass drum and a bass together and make them gel well as a combination. For me, it was more trial and error; twist the knob till it sounds good! Also, the link indication on the knob control doesn’t link any of the parameters, so be sure that left and right settings are of equal value when compressing a stereo source (If that’s what you want).
First impressions, out the box, I thought this compressor has been made to a specific price point, not the highest quality of build but good enough. The manual, very good, explains what you need to know with example settings and with some humor. In use, I thought the compressor was also very good and did a good job of, well compressing (!), as it should, plus I really liked the additional HPF function, I would class it as a Swiss army knife compressor – very good at its job whether you are tracking or mixing.
My only reservations are in its contribution to the overall colouration of the sound I found it didn’t have any, seeming very sterile to me. It didn’t have that X-factor as Mr Cowell might say. It isn’t a Neve 33609, SSL G384, Manley Vari Mu, Urei 1176 etc and at this price point…………. hold on, how
much is this unit? I was very surprised to learn that this unit is £1549 all in (including VAT). Learning this fact, this has probably placed this unit as the best in its price bracket of compressors to own. If you are on a budget, a project studio, college or a freelance engineer who needs a compressor to chuck in the car or plane to go and do a session, or a commercial studio that could do with a couple of floating compressors, you need to check these out. I honestly cannot think of a better stereo compressor at this price. Superb!