Extensive compressor reviews and FAQ

Symetrix 501: This is a one-channel one-rack-space line-level unit. It is legendary for how great it sounds on bass, and is used in many recording studios alongside the more expensive units. Symetrix, like Ashly, did not fool around--their gear is rock solid and professional.
 
The sound quality is pristine, with almost no noise, and no rolloff of highs or lows. The construction is rugged, the controls are simple, and there is a wide range of usable settings. It took very little time for me to find a crisp, punchy, articulate setting that sounded equally good on the highest and lowest notes.
 
I spent some time rigorously A/B'ing it with the dbx 1066- they are equals in sound quality overall; the Symetrix sounded notably "crisper", but the dbx sounded a bit "sweeter", whatever that really means. The dbx was much more complicated to set up. The peak limiter on the 501 works fairly well, although there is an occasional artifact when the threshold gets hit hard. But the compression side has no audible artifacts.
 
This comp has a terrifically clean and sharp hi-fi sound; the only "flaw" is that it can sound kind of dry, with no magical tone fattening. Other comps may be sexier, but I would rely on this as a clean, solid workhorse with a big full-sounding low end. It's one of the few I'll actually keep.
 
Symetrix made several versions of the 501 over many years. Most use a dbx VCA chip to control the compression, but one of them (known as the "silver toggle" version) uses a Valley People VCA. You can recognize that one by the metal toggle-style power switch; the others have a plastic pushbutton power switch. The silver toggle one is more coveted, but is it any better? I A/B compared them, and felt that the toggle one was smoother and less aggressive-sounding than the pushbutton one. The pushbutton one has a slightly "harder", more cutting action. They sound equally good in my opinion, just different. Some units have silkcreened printing on the faceplate, while others have a vinyl decal face. They are pretty much the same internally, but the vinyl decal ones just don't look as good.
 
Price in USD: $100-$250 used, no longer available new.
 

 

 
 
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