The good folks at U-He are not lazy, to say the least. Submitted for review here is their compression workhorse, Presswerk at version 1.1. This project is the brainchild of Sascha Eversmeier, a man who sure knows a thing or two about compression. So let’s get on with it.
Presswerk is not your average compressor, which is why U-He are calling it a Dynamics Processor. There is (next to the compression methods), Feedforward, Feedback and Interactive. Saturation is also on board and the whole thing is also spiced up with Mid/Side mode (ms). As well as this, tasks like de-essing and Limiting are also possible.
3 Different compression methods:
Feedforward (FF): This is a very precise method of compression. This mode tracks the input very precisely and can be a little unforgiving. Very careful setup of the parameters is required here.
Feedback (FB): This is the kind of compression method used in many older hardware models and is way more forgiving and musical sounding than FF.
Interactive (INT): This is a nice blend between both the FF & FB modes.
EDIT: Presswerk can operate on two channels independently. However, the standard mode here is Link, as this is the most used option and ensures that you don’t run into spatial problems.
M/S (mid-side): This mode gives you more opportunity for detailed stereo signal processing. Channel 1 acts on the mid (L+R), while channel 2 is the side-chain (L-R). This method is often used to widen out the stereofield or to solve problems that can’t be solved in a regular way.
DPR (Dual Phase Rotator): This emulates a trick often used by radio broadcasters to tame vocal transients. Originally designed to increase headroom by reducing asymmetries in the human voice, it can also be used as a general-purpose ëphase smearingí option.
In my honest opinion, this option can sometimes blurr the signal too much, but there are rare circumstances where it can add a nice color to the compression due to symmetrical distortion. It’s definitely a feature that should be used with care!
Smack in the middle of the GUI are the levels and meters section. A very nice and accurate analogue style VU meter measures gain reduction in decibels for each separate channel. Gain reduction can come from the compression itself as well as the saturation proces (warmth). A soft clip function is also added, to clip off the peaks at 0dBFS in a smooth way. In soft clip mode, the indicators will light up to show if the signal is hot and soft clipping is occurring. When soft clipping is bypassed, the indicators will warn you that digital clipping is happening and you need to back off the signalOn the left side of the GUI is a panel for the setting up the compression curve. Threshold, Ratio, Auto Makeup, Soft Knee and Non Lin are all set here. A nice display is added, where you can visually see the curve you are creating, which is a very helpful way of working.
On the right side is the envelope section, comprising of Attack, Release, Adapt & RMS Window. Adapt is a handy feature where in the middle, it acts as a automatic release. Higher values mean more release from the automatic point of release and lower values to shorter times result in more snappiness.
The RMS Window (Root Mean Square) revolves around percieved loudness. Short settings can be used for limiting purposes and values between 1 and 5 ms are best in most cases. At values higher than 10ms, you can emulate the lag of Opto Compressors, which is great for vocals.
The sidechain section is very well thought out and you can set it to internal or external sidechain, but what’s really cool is the delay option. The delay is bi-directional which means that negative values result in lookahead sidechaining, with fewer transients. It’s a bit like setting up a fast release on a normal compressor, but now you do it on the sidechain signal. This is an option you very rarely see on compressors. Positive values result in more transients. It’s definitely worth experimenting with on your sidechained signal.
Also, low cut and hi cut are added to tighten the signal. This can add punch and clarity to your sound. Finally, there’s the 12db knob, that when activated, results in 12db slopes for more surgical signals and when turned off, the slopes revert to 6db. A sidechain monitor is also available, where you can listen to the separate sidechain signal.
This is where the colored compression starts, you can set it to pre or post, dial in a dynamics amount and warmth. All self-explanatory, however the warmth knob is kind of a tilt filter that shifts the energy towards the highs. Saturating the highs can give a pleasingly (warm) feel to the sound.
Dry/Wet, High Pass (HP), level and expand are in this section.
Dry/Wet can be used for parallel compression (aka New York compression).
A cool and often used trick to slam the signal to oblivion, really compressing hard and then ease off on the wet dry balance until you find your happy place between the original and slammed signals.
Great on drums especially.
(HP) is an added option to the parallel compression technique and can be used to clarify the signal.
Expand is used for inverse gain reduction creating downwards expansion, a cool technigue that can push the signal out of the speaker. Try this on synth leads that you want to pop out of the speakers, EDM guys take note! 😉
With version 1.1, they have introduced different GUI instalments (called Special Views) for different compression tasks. Easy compressor, Vocal compressor (including a De-Ess option), Drum compressor (saturation available), Bus compressor (ideal for glueing the buschannel), M/S Program compressor (for those who are familiar with the worldfamous Fairchild, this is set up something like that) and Limiter. Each one is ideally set for the chosen task, so if you feel a little overwhelmed by the regular GUI, you can choose one of these options for the specific task you have in mind. A boatload of presets are also provided to get you started.
In the preferences window, you can set up the GUI size and more useful things, for instance text anti-aliasing.
Also a comprehensive MIDI learn section is provided and you can control every parameter with a MIDI control device.
At first the GUI can be a bit complex, but with the new added 1.1 options, finding the right setup for the task at hand is very straightforward. The sound can range from very clinical to more (dare I say it) analog like, through use of the softclip and saturation section. What I think is really great is that the team behind Presswerk didn’t waste time trying to emulate older, well known devices, but instead looked at the method behind those machines. This makes Presswerk a much more versatile compressor and there’s not a lot you can’t throw at it that it cannot handle. CPU usage is also very nice, so you don’t have to be afraid to add more instances into your project.
U-he, a job well done again!