CHANDLER LIMITED GERMANIUM COMPRESSOR
Chandler’s new Germanium Compressor is not the one-trick pony you might expect it to be.
Text: Rob Tavaglione
I often talk about compressors as ‘paintbrushes’ because of the way they impart a particular character on a track. Most engineers purchase a variety of compressors over time, each for their individual traits and colour palette, never expecting any single device to be perfectly suited to all circumstances.
But times are changing, and the new Chandler Germanium Compressor seems destined to challenge this entrenched expectation. This unpretentious looking device has taken my world of compressor assignments and methods and turned it inside out. It’s forced me to recalibrate my expectations about what I hope to achieve with a dynamics controller.
Named after the lustrous metalloid chemical element in the carbon group, the Germanium Compressor is an eye-catching single rack unit device, with yellow ‘chicken head’ knobs and a kidney-shaped VU, set against a dark blue chassis. It’s a mono FET-based compressor with an XLR connector for input and output – both of which are transformer balanced. It utilises an external power supply (the PSU-1) rather than housing one on-board, and this can power up to two Germaniums – whether it be two channels of the compressor or a mixture of devices in the Germanium line.
The compressor’s numerous controls include a hardwire bypass switch, a Clean/Dirty compression switch, a continuously variable input control that ranges from 1 to 11, a sidechain control, a ratio control (again, 1 to 11), a compression curve selector, a Wet/Dry mix control, controls for attack and release times, a stereo link switch, the germanium output drive control and, finally, a feedback control.
Most notable is the Germanium’s choice of compression curves. Rather than the relatively limited options of hard and soft knee that most other compressors make available (at best), the Chandler include six modes (achieved through a network of resistors, germanium diodes and silicon diodes). These include: R soft, Germanium soft and medium, Silicon medium and hard, and Zener hard. R soft provides very neutral gain reduction while the other modes offer some pleasantly warm, round, and distorted sounds that transistor/diode materials are well known for. In particular, germanium – the element – is often used to generate great guitar distortion, but it’s significantly more expensive and difficult to work with on account of the noise problems it induces.
The Chandler Compressor also offers a side chain control that’s notable for its ability to filter the bottom end out of the control signal (without an external EQ) to prevent bass-induced pumping when used on final mixes and other full-bandwidth material. This control ranges from ‘Out’ (no HPF) to 300Hz, on a six position switch.
The Clean/Dirty switch allows the unit to be neutral and accurate in the ‘clean’ position (with THD between 0.2 and 0.5%) and somewhat distorted (THD from 2 to 5%) in the ‘Dirty’ mode, which features second- and third-order harmonics.
The Wet/Dry control allows phase-coherent blending of the original input signal with the processed signal, all summed at the drive/feedback controls. Such parallel compression is commonly achieved with mult’s and subgroups on a console, but a similar setup can be easily contrived inside the box – a feature that’s growing in popularity as time goes by.
Finally, the Drive and Feedback pots work together to affect the final output. The Feedback control changes how much inverted signal is routed back to the input and subtracted, which affects not only level, but also tonality and density. Turned fully to the right, feedback is minimised, with higher output, more distortion and a low bass bump. Drive, meanwhile, affects how hard the Germanium drive amplifier is hit with an incoming signal, varying the output level in conjunction with the Feedback control.
VERSATILITY IN EXTREMIS
The Germanium is a fantastically versatile compressor that can do just about any dynamics squeezing you might require, albeit with an emphasis on patience and careful adjustment. With this many controls, it’s not the easiest compressor in the world to operate. Transparent dynamic control was unexpectedly simple to achieve, even in the Germanium ‘Soft’ mode, with moderate input and ratios, clean mode, slower attack, a click or two of sidechain filtering, moderate germanium output drive and 50% feedback. To my ears, the Germanium is actually clean and hi-fi enough for mastering, although stepped controls for repeatability would help here.
The three Silicon and Zener modes aren’t nearly as polite as the others. These have a tendency to grab the incoming signal, producing a harder sound. They also exhibit an increased sensitivity to both attack times and sidechain filtering. Both modes are temperamental; Silicon ‘hard’ is aggressive enough, but the Zener ‘hard’ mode is really hard, hypersensitive in fact, with a distinctive bark and transient grab that’s aggressive indeed. Both Germanium ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ modes, on the other hand, are relatively more flattering and tasteful in their affect.
Here’s where the fun begins. During tracking and mixing, any input source/mode combination I found undesirable was easily altered by massaging the attack, sidechain, ratio, clean/dirty, wet/dry blend, germanium output drive and feedback controls to get something I could actually use! By ‘easy’ I mean adjustable, rather than simple. The unit does have an abnormally large learning curve for a compressor, but I’ve got to say, with experimentation it can produce great drum sounds, transparently control whole mixes (in pairs), and provide colour and saturation wherever you require it. I couldn’t make it do really dirty mangling, at least not all by itself. It can get all saturated, pumpy and grabby if you choose it to, but it’s no distortion pedal.
Once I was used to having this plethora of compression options in one processor, the Germanium Compressor ultimately made my life easier, in both tracking and mixing sessions. I highly recommend this unit for anyone looking for versatility and vibrancy in their compressors. For the mythical ‘desert island gig’, the Germanium’s extreme flexibility makes it a great choice in compression.