In collaboration with the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences, one the country’s leading pro audio teaching facilities, PAR has introduced a regular series of in-depth reviews conducted at the Conservatory’s state-of-the-art teaching faculty in Phoenix.
The Electro-Harmonix NY-2A ($2,699) is a dual-channel, vacuum tube optical compressor. Its channels can be run separately in mono or linked for stereo compression. Unlike most compressors, the NY-2A does not offer typical threshold, ratio, attack, and release settings, rather each channel has pre-gain, compression, and post-gain controls. The combination of pre-gain level and compression results in gain reduction, and the post-gain controls makeup output.
In addition to the input, compression, and output controls on each channel, the NY-2A gives the engineer three selectable light sources to feed the opto-coupler. A knob on each channel switches between an electroluminescent (EL) lamp, an incandescent (IND) lamp, and a light emitting diode (LED). The people at Electro-Harmonix claim this flexibility is unique within the compressor market.
The EL lamp changes color based on frequency. It emits less light at low frequencies, therefore more compression is applied to higher frequencies. This creates a de-esser of sorts, and the resulting sonic characteristic is a slight boost in the low end. For greater compression amounts to the high frequencies, the NY-2A has a “squash” setting that is available only when EL is the selected light source.
Of the three light sources, the IND lamp has the slowest attack. With this slow attack, high frequencies escape compression, thus achieving a slightly brighter tone at the output. If an even slower attack time is desired while sourcing the light from the IND lamp an “attack” switch is provided for a secondary preset attack time (100 ms). The LED has the fastest attack time and flattest frequency response of the three light sources (10 ms).
It may seem that having only input, compression, and output controls in addition to the light source selector would make the NY-2A a piece of cake to set up. This is true to some degree. Dialing it in is really more about the ears than the numbers. The challenge in making the NY-2A work the way you want is in understanding that each lighting element is unto itself, meaning settings that sound good with the EL lamp may not work at all with the IND lamp or LED. For those not really well versed in compression this could lead to liking one lamp over the others out of a misconception that the input/compression/output settings should translate equally from element to element.
Each channel of the NY-2A features two meters. The first is a backlit VU meter that can be switched to show either gain reduction or output level. A screwdriver adjustable trim is included for recalibration of the meter for “tube changes or age.” The other meter, the “Magic Eye,” shows output level. While it does not afford the user a numbered meter for specific output referencing, it is much faster responding than a VU.
In this day and age of smaller and lighter means better and cooler, the NY-2A is not concerned with being part of the hip crowd of recording equipment. Weighing in at 25.7 pounds, it is a very solid three rack space box filled with eight tubes plus Lundahl input and output transformers. This means that in use it is not just your sound that will be hot. Even with vent holes on the top and back panels, the NY-2A can get very hot. Caution needs to be taken in building a rack with an NY-2A so there is proper ventilation- for the NY-2A’s sake as well as any gear near it.
I had the opportunity to put the NY-2A through some paces in both tracking and mixing sessions. Both sessions were with Shannon Carlton, a Phoenix singer-songwriter.
We tracked acoustic guitars placing the NY-2A in the path to tape. We used a pair of Audio-Technica 4051’s in X-Y on a Tacoma jumbo body guitar and ran them through a pair of Old School Audio MP-1A preamps into a SSL G series console.
The first settings we dialed in were with the EL lamp. I did not apply the squash setting. Since the guitar has a strong bottom end and the 4051’s represent that accurately, the added low-end presence produced a real boom on full chords. Unfortunately it was not what we were looking for. This is where the beauty of the NY-2A shines.
If EL was not right at that time, we started over with the IND lamp, and voila! With minimal adjustment to the compression control we had a very tight, clear guitar sound that was full with out losing balance. Even with just a couple dBs of gain reduction, the transformered output fattened up the sound noticeably.
Vocals were tracked using the LED setting. Again we used no more than 4 dB of gain reduction and the result was a nice transparent recording in regard to frequency response. The bottom line is Shannon loved the sound and if the client is happy, I am happy.
While mixing, I ran the bass guitar through one channel in EL mode. With only 2 dB of gain reduction, we achieved a sound that retained its dynamics while sitting comfortably in the mix without needing additional equalization.
I ran the electric guitar lead parts through channel two using the IND lamp. After a bit of tweaking the parameters, we got a part that jumped out of the mix with real presence in the upper mid frequencies. This allowed me to back off my fader a bit and still have part that cut through.
I am not quite prepared to stand behind the claim that the NY-2A is the greatest compressor ever, only because I have not used every compressor ever made. Of those I have used, the NY-2A ranks right there with the very best, and its flexibility places it at or near the top of that list.
Combining a great Class A design with tremendous tube sound, Electro-Harmonix has built a wonderful compressor. It may take users a little while to figure out how best to use it in any situation, but a little learning curve is a small price to pay for the benefits your tracks and mixes will receive from the NY-2A.
For more information contact Electro-Harmonix at 717-937-8300, www.ehx.com.
“The NY-2A is a very impressive box. Its versatility makes it a good choice for nearly every component of a mix. It is a little bit LA-2A, but capable of getting gritty like an 1176. My only regret is that I did not have more time to play with it and exhaust all of its possibilities.”
— Michael Jones, CRAS Director of Education
“If you have the time to dial in the settings, the NY-2A is an awesome compressor. I really liked it. Using it tracking vocals really fattened up the sound without becoming muddy. I would definitely use it again while tracking or mixing.”
— Dirk Hooley, CRAS Project Staff Leader
“Putting the NY-2A is the signal path to tape instantly changed not only the sonic qualities of the recordings, but the confidence I had in every take. Quieter sections sat better in the mix, and in louder passages, the NY-2A allowed me to be more focused on the delivery and less on managing dynamics through moving around the mic.”
— Shannon Carlton, Phoenix singer-songwriter