Imagine your daddy’s compressor time traveled, got made into a plugin, and became free to boot. Interested? So were we!
The latest offering from plugin master Bootsie is a vintage broadcast limiter (VBL) with oodles of distortion, saturation, and the ability to crush the life out anything. However after the destruction has been done, like a phoenix the sound is reborn from the ashes into something more glorious than before. Although, to be quiet honest we were not sure about the Thrillseeker VBL at first, it can get kinda nasty.
The Thrillseeker VBL is modeled after what is known as a Variable Mu style compressor/limiter. If you are unfamiliar with the term “Variable Mu” fret not, most people do not what they are either because they are not very common anymore (notable units included the Fairchild 670, Manley Vari-Mu, UA-175). Without getting into any technical mumbo jumbo, a variable mu design has a automatically adjusting ratio. So as the signal gets higher and higher above the threshold, the signal will get hit harder and harder by compression hence why they are sometimes referred to as limiters and not just compressors. However Mu style designs are not as fast a VCA, FET, or flat out brickwall style limiters and take on more of a compressor/gentle limiting role in the modern audio world; the Thrillseeker VBL is no exception.
What is also cool about a Variable Mu style design is that in order to even work they need a tube circuit which means glorious saturation, that is assuming it was implemented in the plugin. Thankfully the Thrillseeker VBL does not disappoint in this regard (saturation is kind of Bootsie’s thing). In fact we get access to a whole host of controls in the Thrillseeker VBL to control the gain reduction, saturation, and overall tonal shape and this is where things get a little hairy.
Controls and Usage
When we first approached the Thrillseeker VBL we collectively went “ew.” However, giving Bootsie the benefit of the doubt we threw caution to the wind (and then read the manual) and realized you do not approach this compressor in the same way you do a normal compressor.The primary controls for the VBL include the IN GAIN, COMP, AMP, and OUTPUT. While the IN GAIN and OUTPUT are self explanatory the others are not quite as easily understood. On a basic level, the COMP controls the threshold while the AMP dials in more compression, distortion, saturation, etc. If you need a cleaner (relative term in this situation) sound go COMP first and AMP second, where as if you want all the destruction possible go AMP first and COMP second. Or do what we did and screw around till it sounded right (what you hear is more important than what you see!)
In addition to the main controls there are options for EMPHASIS, BIAS, BRILLIANCE, TRAFO, stereo or dual mono, and a dry/wet balance. The EMPHASIS controls how much the bass effects the VBL (think lowpass) where as the BIAS is meant to mimic tube loading but for all intensive purposes controls the detail in the highs. The BRILLIANCE reduces the tube style woomph and raises the highs to brighten the sound back up after distortion and saturation while the TRAFO adds the option for transformer style saturation as if there were a transformer at the In and Out stages of a physical unit (changes bottom end most notably). Finally the stereo switch either links or unlinks the L and R channels. A note on the dry/wet knob, Bootsy recommends using his wet/dry knob over an external option due to phase distortion induced by the TRAFO; do as he says!
The first thing you will notice is that the VBL has stupid high levels of possible compression and with values this high, the Thrillseeker VBL is basically saying “go ahead, abuse me.” So we did. You never really know a compressor until you abuse to see how it reacts at the extremes.
In the following examples there are a raw track, followed by a more carefully dialed in sound, and then a example where we smashed the living hell out of the sound and balanced the wet/dry 50-50 for a New York style parallel compression. In each case, the overall gain was brought down via the OUTPUT knob to match the original files peak volume.
First up is a guitar track that is for the most part clean with a little amp distortion for a upbeat but easy going rock sound.
Guitar Reasonable Compression
Up next is a solo snare drum track that for all things considered is flat and boring unprocessed (note we do not condone fixing things in the mix but damn is it fun).
Snare Reasonable Compression
Moving along in the drum world we have a very muffled kick drum with a lot of bass. The EMPHASIS switch really comes in handy here.
Kick Reasonable Compression
Finally we have the kick and snare buss compressed to see how the Thrillseeker VBL reacts to more complicated material.
Drum Buss Raw
Drum Buss Reasonable Compression
Drum Buss Smashed
Conclusion and Verdict
The Thrillseeker VBL is kind of like that gruff ugly guy sitting in the corner. You do not wan’t to talk to him but the bar is full and you need a seat. After talking with him you realize that there is a lot more than meets the eye and he is full of character. Then he shouts some obscenities but it is ok because they were funny. While we were initially tempted to give the VBL a bad rating, it quickly grew on us once we spent some time with it. It has an unapologetic thick sound that would do well on guitars, bass, drums, or anything that needs some fattening up. Sure you need to be careful on the stereo buss, but with a little care this little gem can go a long way to improving your mix. And for the price of free? It is a no brainer.
Every engineer NEEDS a colorful compressor to bring things to life once and a while and the Thrillseeker VBL delivers. So what are you waiting for? Go download it now!