Extensive compressor reviews and FAQ

dbx 160XT: First, see this article for an explanation of dbx's product-numbering system. I directly A/B compared the 160XT with the newer 160A, and the XT really does sound a bit nicer, with warmer tone and slightly fuller lows and highs. Their circuits are nominally identical up to the outputs, but the older one was made with through-hole components, while the newer one was made with SMT parts; and the fact is that different specific components can sound different even if they have the same nominal rating.
The XT has both balanced XLR and unbalanced 1/4" jacks; there is actually a very different set of components driving each of the outputs, so you can get slightly different sound qualities by using one or the other output. The output of the 160X uses components identical to the unbalanced 1/4" output of the XT, so the XT is like an X plus another variation on the sound. The differences are subtle, but worth exploring if you like this sort of thing as I do. I find that the unbalanced out of the XT has a lively quality which is very appealing.
Overall the 160X/XT have a somewhat warm, neutral tone with low noise and no unwanted artifacts, and they are rugged and easy to use. It has a fixed attack which is a bit slow, meaning that it sounds quite articulate as it allows more of the initial note attack through, but if you peg it with a loud note it will allow the initial transient spike to pass and possibly clip your other gear. So that means if you want to use it as a limiter you'll need to carefully adjust all of the gain levels in your chain to make it work well. Note that every dbx model I've tried has a tendency to roll off the highs a bit when more compression is applied.
Compared to the Symetrix 501 (another rugged utility comp) the 501 is more transparent, but the XT is warmer. Note: the X and XT can be modified with an output balancing transformer, as that was an available factory option/upgrade. Sometimes you can find them with the transformer already installed. Some people prefer the "vintage" tonal effect of a transformer, but others prefer the more quick/crisp sound without it, so the ones with a transformer are not necessarily better.

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