This is an Excerpt from a review by SOUND on SOUND of the dbx 160S Compressor/Limiter
Is the dbx 160S pure technology, a work of art, or a little of both? PAUL WHITE puts it to the test.
You can always tell when a valuable product comes in for review — it turns up in a flight case, not a cardboard box! The 160S is dbx’s top-of-the-range analogue compressor/limiter, and it’s pretty clear that the heavy, sculpted front panel and chunky metal knobs have been influenced by Focusrite’s high-end ‘Red’ styling, but the design aim seems to have been to capture the sonic signature of existing dbx classic products, rather than to go all out for sonic neutrality or attempt to create a new compressor characteristic.
Housed in a 2U rack-mounting case, the 160S is a 2-channel compressor/limiter with the addition of dbx’s proprietary PeakStopPlus limiter on the output. Metering is via moving-coil meters rather than the more usual LED ladders, and full side-chain access is available. The heavy aluminium front panel is blue anodized, and all the controls, buttons included, have a heavy, smooth feel that inspires confidence.
Before going further, it’s probably helpful if I explain the presence of the PeakStopPlus limiter in a product that can already function as a limiter in its own right. The most obvious reason for including a separate limiter after a compressor is so that the user can apply gentle compression to the signal using the compressor section, but still have the limiter keeping watch for peaks that might otherwise exceed the safe limit for the next piece of equipment in line. This is particularly important with digital equipment, which doesn’t tolerate any overload. However, even if you were to configure the main compressor as a limiter, by using a high ratio and a very fast attack time, you’d find this setting less than ideal for low-frequency sounds, which are treated more kindly if the compressor attack time is set a little longer. Of course, setting anything other than the fastest attack time allows brief peaks to slip through the system unchecked, which is why a separate, very fast output limiter is so useful.
PeakStopPlus is actually a two-stage limiter designed to arrest excessive peaks with the minimum of side-effects, and it does this by first employing what dbx describe as their Instantaneous Transient Clamp, which controls the level using a soft logarithmic function to avoid harsh-sounding clipping effects. This effectively prevents overshoots of more than around 2dB above the set threshold, but then stage two comes into action, introducing another new dbx term — Intelligent Predictive Limiting. I interpret this as a type of look-ahead system that monitors the input level, providing a very short but still useful warning that a peak is about to hit the limiter. Apparently the top couple of dBs of the limiting process provide soft clipping rather than simple truncation which, again, helps produce a more natural sound. PeakStopPlus is provided as a kind of peak level safety net, so under normal circumstances the compressor output level would be set so that the limiter rarely operates (if ever). If desired, however, the limiter can be provoked into more frequent action, allowing its use as a creative effect.
dbx® 160 Plugin Overview with Eddie Kramer
Watch renowned producer/engineer Eddie Kramer (Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones) present the Waves dbx® 160 Compressor/Limiter, an authentic-sounding plugin version of the vintage dbx® 160 compressor heard on countless hit recordings from the 1970s, 1980s and beyond.
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