Drawmer is primarily known in recording circles for its venerable expander/gates. The famed DS201 gate, originally released in 1981, was the first of its kind to feature built-in filters for side chain frequency keying. Two years later, Drawmer introduced the first product in its series of solid-state/tube hybrid audio processors, the 1960 Dual Vacuum Tube Compressor. Recently, Drawmer teamed up with Mercenary Audio to update the 1960, and the result is the Drawmer 1969 Mercenary Audio Edition ($2,949).
Product PointsApplications: Studio Recording
Key Features: Dual-channel vacuum tube compressor/microphone preamplifier; auxiliary input tube section; XLR microphone and line inputs, XLR line outputs; individually switchable phantom power.
Contact: Drawmer/TransAmerica Group at 805-375-1425.
+ Authentic and effective tube compression
+ Excellent tube aux input section
+ Clean mic preamps
– Limited attack and release settings
– Poor front panel labeling (being addressed by Drawmer)
The Score: The Drawmer 1969 is a high quality tube compressor with smooth and “musical” results. The clean mic preamps and tube aux input are a bonus
According to Mercenary Audio’s Web site, the 1969 is significantly modified from the original 1960: “·all we kept from the original 1960 was the meters, connectors and power transformer · everything else is different.”
The 1969 is a dual-hybrid, solid-state/tube microphone preamp/compressor in a two rack-space chassis with ample vents to allow tube heat to dissipate (unless it’s sandwiched between power amps – definitely not recommended). Two channels of microphone inputs, line inputs and line outputs are mounted on the rear panel; all are XLR.
Each channel also sports two 1/4-inch TRS insert jacks, one at -10 dBu and one at +4 dBu. The insert jacks utilize the familiar tip/return-ring/send configuration and can be used to patch in additional processing after the microphone preamps. A 1/4-inch side chain input is provided for each channel for frequency keying and other compression effects. A standard IEC AC connector and fuse compartments round out the back panel. Drawmer provides instructions in the manual on how to change the voltage requirements of the 1969 for use abroad.
On the front of the unit, a four-position source control determines the choice of input per channel. Input options are aux, line, microphone and microphone with 48-V phantom power. The aux position refers to the 1/4-inch auxiliary input and corresponding control section found on the far left of the unit. This instrument-level input features a separate tube gain stage (overdrivable) and several equalization controls.
The aux input section’s bass and treble knobs allow the user to boost (not cut) the corresponding frequency ranges. What frequencies and by how much? This information is not provided on the silk-screened panel (see editor’s note, below) . The manual says the bass knob adds up to 15 dB of boost (the knob is labeled numerically 1-10) at 40 Hz and the treble knob adds up to 18 dB of boost (also labeled 1 to 10) at 16 kHz. No mention is made in the manual as to what types of filters are implemented.
Other controls in this section include a +10 dB gain switch, an EQ section bypass and a normal/bright switch, which adds a generous 10 dB boost at 2 kHz to simulate the voicing of a guitar amp. There is only one auxiliary input, which is understandable when you consider the complexity of the circuit and the limited front panel real estate.
The Burr-Brown op-amp-equipped microphone inputs feature a stepped rotary knob, with gain adjustable from 0 dB to 60 dB in 6 dB steps. An LED adjacent to each microphone gain knob indicates a near-clipping level state. A phase reverse switch and a switchable high-pass filter (50 Hz/100 Hz/Off) are provided for each channel as well. Phantom power is independently selectable per channel via the rotary input selector.
The compressor section features the usual threshold, attack, release and gain make-up controls for each channel. Drawmer incorporates some unique designs into these controls, so it is worth taking a closer look.
The threshold knob is adjustable from -20 dB to infinity. There is no ration control. According to Drawmer, the compression ration varies automatically, and is dependent upon how much the signal exceeds threshold (lower threshold = higher ratios). The attack and release knobs are also of the stepped variety, with each step cryptically labeled 1 through 6. The six attack settings range from 2 to 50 milliseconds; release settings include three fixed settings (100 ms, 500 ms, and 1 second) and three program-adaptive settings (0.2-2 seconds, 0.5-5 seconds and 1 to 10 seconds). The gain makeup section incorporates a 12AX7 tube on each channel, adding the sonic touches of a tube stage at the final output.
A stereo link mode allows both channels to track together, avoiding the telltale narrowing of the stereo image when using unlinked compression. A second stereo link mode called “Big” puts a high-pass filter in the side chain to prevent the bass and kick drum from driving the compression.
Although the manual does not indicate the high-pass cutoff frequency, I found out from Drawmer that it is 100 Hz. In either of the stereo linked modes, all compression adjustments are made with the first channel.
Each channel features a backlit VU meter that can selectively display output volume or gain reduction. A channel output switch selects between normal (compression is active), compressor bypass (but tube section is still inline), and a side chain listen mode.
I used the 1969 during recording at Avalon Sound Studio in Bethesda, Md. and in my project studio. I first used it as a front-end recording unit – tracking a variety of sources directly to both 2-inch tape and Pro Tools. Sources recorded included stereo percussion, vocals and piano. In these cases, I used the 1969’s dual phantom-powered microphone preamps and reasonably light compression-just enough to reign-in the peaks and get the signal comfortably to tape (or disk).
I found the recording path clean and pleasing to the ear, without adding excess coloration to the signal. For recordings that needed that over-the-top processing (squashed drum loops in this instance) excessive compression effects were easily accomplished.
I also recorded guitar and bass directly through the 1969 using the front panel aux input. I enjoyed the flexibility of the input section, which allowed a wide range of tonal adjustments and overdrive effects. The aux section on this unit is fun to use and robust enough to warrant a separate Drawmer DI product based on this input (send me two, thank you).
Next I used the 1969 to compress tracks on tape by inserting the compressor on a mixing channel. Again, the results were predictably effective and musical. On a few occasions, however, I pined for a slower attack setting than the maximum 50 ms available. I found the program dependent release settings worked well for constantly changing sources, such as a vocal or a mix.
When compressing rhythmic instruments, such as a kick drum or snare, I prefer choosing release settings roughly timed with the tempo. To this end, I would easily sacrifice the one-second fixed release setting for one between the 100 ms and 500 ms fixed settings provided (say, 250 ms).
I also used the 1969 as a stereo bus compressor on several sub and full mixes. When combined with the Big stereo link mode, I found the Drawmer 1969 excelled for this purpose. Here, the soft-knee approach was kind to the mixes on extreme dynamic changes, and the automatic-adjusting releases were transparent.
During one “power pop” mix, I patched the 1969 in on a stereo drum sub (again, in Big mode to prevent the kick from ruling the compression). I folded in generous helpings of the ambient room microphones and lowered the threshold and voila – big, trashy drums. Perfect!
My complaints are mostly ergonomic: vague or nonexistent labeling of controls and a corresponding lack of technical information in the manual. For example, the attack and release knob settings are labeled 1 through 6. An independent engineer approaching the 1969 for the first time would have no idea what these settings mean. Granted, he may be able to figure out that attack setting one (2 ms) is quicker than setting six (50 ms), but even the most intuitive engineer won’t be able to figure out why release setting three (1 second fixed) yields a potentially longer release time than setting four (200 ms to two seconds program dependent). Having to break out a manual to figure out an attack or release knob should not be required.
As mentioned earlier, I’d also like to see the frequencies labeled on the aux input equalizers instead of “Treble” and “Bass.” Even a trip to the manual doesn’t tell you the filter type (shelf) or its bandwidth/slope. I understand that there is a certain point where one should just “use your ears, man,” but consider this: If you are cranking up the bass control and monitoring on close field speakers with limited bass response, it is important to know if the filter is a peak/dip or a shelf for obvious reasons. (Based on our concern about control labeling, Drawmer said it is in the process of changing the front panel silkscreen to reflect the actual values of the controls-Ed.)
Also, as I mentioned earlier, I would like greater attack and release flexibility. Some recordings require greater than the maximum 50 ms attack time setting. More release settings between 100 and 1000 ms are on my wish list as well.
Those negatives aside, the Drawmer 1969 passed its sonic test with flying colors. I used the 1969 on a number of different recording projects, from the subtle to the extreme, with great success. When you add in the excellent tube aux input section, the price of the 1969 is easily justified.