Alesis 3632: This is the new update to their old "classic" 3630. However the quality of this new one is so much better that it's almost unfair to call it just a new version. Like grandpa it is a VCA-based two-channel line-level rack comp with an array of features. But unlike grandpa, the 3632 doesn't distort so easily, it sounds pretty good, the gate is more usable, and even the construction quality seems better.
The nice thing about the expander/gate is it has a ratio control, allowing a more subtle gating effect instead of just hard open/close. It has preset fast attack and slow release times, which are a good compromise for most applications.
The compressor section's threshold knob is surrounded by four buttons. One of them toggles a low-pass filter in the sidechain, to reduce the amount that low frequencies trigger the compression. This is the same as dbx's "Contour" function. Another button toggles between soft-knee ("smart") and hard-knee compression response. This "Smart" is the same as dbx's "Overeasy" function, and it even uses the exact same 3-LED system for indicating whether your signal is in the soft knee threshold range. The last two buttons control sidechain routing, useful for applications like dance-track mixing effects or adding an EQ into the control path. It actually offers a bit more sidechain flexibility than most other rack comps.
The attack and release knobs have a wide range of operation, and there is an "Auto" button that overrides those knobs with times that change automatically in response to the signal you feed it.
They added a separate limiter stage to each channel, with its own threshold knob and LED. This is the one function that disappointed me--it occasionally makes an electrical crackling noise when releasing. It works very well as a limiter, and its preset attack and release times seem about the same as the gate, a useful compromise. And I did not hear the crackle when I was playing aggressively and triggering the limiter repeatedly. But it was definitely noticeable when playing a loud peak in an otherwise mellower passage.
The noise level is very low unless you crank the output gain very high. There is no loss of highs or lows. Sometimes the highs could get dulled or darkened during heavy compression, as is common with this type of compressor, but it didn't seem as noticeable with this unit as I remembered hearing with the 3630. The tone overall is fairly clear and transparent. There's no magical tone fattening or sparkle, but it doesn't harm your sound either.
It has both balanced and unbalanced inputs and outputs, but it is not suitable for plugging your bass or guitar straight in. The bypass for each channel is an electronic relay, and it works transparently. The pushbuttons on this unit light up, which looks cool. They are smaller and more recessed than the buttons on "grandpa", so they they feel more solid and professional. The down side is they are a bit hard to use if you have big fingers. It takes a standard IEC cord for power.
All in all I consider this model a very good value!
Price in USD: new $135, used $85
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