How Fast is Fast? Know Your Gear: 1176 Limiting Amplifier
Since its initial release in 1967, the 1176 Limiting Amplifier has been a staple in every recording studio around the world. One of the most notable characteristics of this famous compressor is the extremely fast attack times. But just how fast are these attack times?
A quick note before we begin: The below specifications are based upon the current UA 1176LN model. Multiple variations and emulations are available that operate with different specifications than what will be discussed below. Always refer to the operating manual of your particular 1176 model to find the exact specifications.
The hardware units of the past and present, as well as nearly all digital emulations of this beloved compressor show little detail of the exact parameters available. The ratio, input and output are fairly straightforward. But what about the attack and release? Does 1 mean 1 millisecond? Insert the classic saying “you’re supposed to use your ears and not your eyes while mixing.” As most engineers know, relying solely on your ears isn’t always easy nor reliable, especially in the early stages of your career.
Let's first breakdown how this unit's attack and release functions. Looking at the attack and release knobs, you’ll find the numerical values of 1 to 7. Turning the dial fully counterclockwise or towards 1 yields a slower attack/release time. Turning the dial fully clockwise or towards 7 will yield the faster attack/release times. Now that we understand that 1 is slow and 7 is fast, let’s get back to the main question and topic of this post. How fast is a fast attack?
At the fastest attack setting (attack knob on 7), the speed at which compression begins to take place is an astounding 20 microseconds or .00002 seconds! The “slowest” attack time is 800 microseconds or .0008 seconds. Both of those values are extremely fast. Let’s analyze a visual representation to get a better understanding of these values.
The below image shows a snare sample imported into iZotope RX.
If we zoom in a bit closer, we can see that I've made a selection at the beginning of the sample. Remember that the slowest attack time on the 1176 is 800 microseconds. The shortest selection I could make in RX was 1000 microseconds or .001 seconds. Notice how this selection only spans half the cycle of the snare's initial transient.
Now consider the 1176's fastest attack time of just 20 microseconds. Compared to the above 1000 microsecond selection, a visual representation of 20 microseconds wouldn't even appear as a selection at this zoom level. So, with this visual representation in mind, it's easier to understand just how incredibly fast the attack times are on this style of compressor.
Now let's briefly review the release times. These values are not nearly as surprising when seen with a visual representation. The length of the below selection was made according to the fastest release time of 50 milliseconds or .05 seconds. This would be the release knob turned fully clockwise.
The slowest release time on the 1176 is 1.1 seconds. A selection of this length extends far beyond the length of my snare sample, which is only .624 seconds long.
The 1176 is an incredible tool. It's ability to control dynamics and add a sense of energy to a track makes it easy to understand why these compressors are so popular. The numbers behind the knobs are extremely important for every engineer to understand. For me, seeing the visual examples of the attack and release times has helped speed up my workflow. I have a greater sense of confidence about the settings I'm dialing in while using this compressor.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article.
If you learned something new or found an idea particularly helpful, please like and share this post. Let me know in the comments below if this is one of your go-to compressors and share a helpful tip or technique.
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- Sterling Skye
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Resources and Additional Learning Materials:
Fuston, Lynn. “UA's Classic 1176 Compressor - A History.” Universal Audio, www.uaudio.com/blog/analog-obsession-1176-history/.
Hicks, Mason. “Tips & Tricks - 1176 Classic Limiter Collection.” Universal Audio, www.uaudio.com/blog/1176-collection-tips/.