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Shadow Hills Mono Optograph 500 Optical Compressor

Shadow Hills Industries has been producing topof- the-line preamplifiers and dynamic processors that have found many fans around the world, of which I am one.

Shadow Hills Industries has been producing topof- the-line preamplifiers and dynamic processors that have found many fans around the world, of which I am one. I love the “Batcave” styling and uncompromising build quality of these units. The Shadow Hills Mono Optograph 500 is a single-channel compressor that will occupy two slots of your API 500 series host.

The Mono Optograph uses the Shadow Hills optical compressor cell from the company’s monstrous mastering compressor as the basis of its design, with a few additional functions. The electroluminescent optical attenuator controls audio program processing, and the unit has a two-stage release time process where 80 percent of the processed audio recovers quickly with the last 20 percent taking over a second. The release time has a small amount of flexibility, based on the amount of gain reduction that has been applied.

Flanking the central Retro VU gain reduction meter of the Optograph are two multi-position switches. The Condition switch moves between Bypass, Engage—to activate the Mono Optigraph—or Desaturate. Desaturate enables a cancelling of distortion caused by the transformer when undesirable, a kind of transformer bypass mode.

The switch to the right of the Gain reduction VU is a side-chain filter selector with five LF roll-off positions, including Off and Bandpass. In the case of Bandpass, compression triggering is very much dictated by the input audio signal—the signal’s midrange that triggers the compression, with high and low frequencies ignored.

I have come to expect a great deal when presented with a new unit from Shadow Hills. The benchmark the company sets itself is always high and, with products priced at the premium end of the market, you do need to impress.

The Shadow Hills Mono Optograph ($1,675) does not disappoint. As with all Shadow Hills units I have used, the Mono Optograph works with the sonic attributes of the music to bring the sound or combination of sounds together. Without the usual array of parameters associated with compression, you might argue that the Shadow unit lacks flexibility of control, but that would miss the point. You do need to spend time with a device such as this to appreciate the subtleties and sonic variations that can be achieved with the Compression and Makeup Gain rotary controls, along with the various side-chain filter options—and the Desaturation mode adds yet more sonic possibilities to the mix.

The Mono Optograph is very good indeed at pulling sounds together, particularly sounds with a low mid-frequency detail. I found that with vocals, drums, bass and acoustic guitar, it pulled the sonic elements together and added in a little character of its own, broadening the lower midrange without dulling any of the high-frequency content.

With a pair of Shadow Hills Mono Optograph units to use for main bus or subgroup compression, the range of applications would expand once again.

The Mono Optograph 500 continues delivering everything I expect from Shadow Hills.

Shadow Hills
Vintage King Audio