Stam Au­dio SA4000

Bruce Aisher checks out this new take on the de­sign of the clas­sic stereo VCA com­pres­sor

Future Music - - CONTENTS -

De­spite the move to dig­i­tal record­ing and in-the-box mix­ing, the need for ex­ter­nal au­dio pro­cess­ing gear has never gone away… but it might have seen a shift in bal­ance. 20 years ago there was still a pro­fu­sion of low- and mid-priced units sit­ting along­side ex­pen­sive high-end boxes. Whilst the lower-end has con­tracted, the high-end re­mains, now in­clud­ing both new de­signs and old favourites – af­ter all, why use a cheap ana­logue unit when a bet­ter-sound­ing plugin can be em­ployed. There has, how­ever, been a growth in tribute-style de­signs, those that at­tempt to em­u­late older clas­sics. We’ve seen plenty of man­u­fac­tur­ers aim­ing to bring the past back into pro­duc­tion.

Stam Au­dio – based in Chile – are one such com­pany, at­tempt­ing to bal­ance the (of­ten con­flict­ing) goals of sound qual­ity and price. Their focus is firmly on un­avowed clas­sics, with their start­ing point be­ing the SA-4000, a re­cre­ation of SSL’s leg­endary G Se­ries Con­sole Buss Com­pres­sor) and SA-2A (a replica of the Teletronix LA-2A).

The original G Se­ries de­sign dates from SSL’s con­soles of the 1980s, and found fame as the de­fault de­vice for over­all mix com­pres­sion by nu­mer­ous en­gi­neers. Known for its abil­ity to glue a mix to­gether and to add punch if re­quired, it has since been im­mor­talised in count­less plug­ins (from SSL them­selves, as well of­fi­cially-li­censed ver­sions and broader ‘tributes’). In fact, SSL still in­clude a hard­ware vari­ant of it in their XLogic se­ries and as a 500 Se­ries mod­ule (at £3000 and £1800 re­spec­tively).

Like the original, the Stam SA4000 is a VCA-based stereo com­pres­sor with a very sim­ple set of con­trols. Whilst Thresh­old and Make Up gain are con­tin­u­ous pots, all other el­e­ments are switched. Three com­pres­sion Ra­tio set­tings, six At­tack times and five Re­lease times (in­clud­ing an Auto set­ting) are all you get. This makes for a lim­ited range of choices which, in th­ese days of al­most in­fi­nite dig­i­tal pro­cess­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties, is rather empowering. Stam have cho­sen to skip the ‘Auto Fade’ feature of the original, but most as­pects of the broader de­sign re­main the same.

It should be clar­i­fied that the dbx-de­signed VCAs that were em­ployed in the first SSL de­sign are not used here. In its place are the well-re­garded THAT 2181X’s, (and as the original dis­crete dbx ‘Gold Cans’ are no longer avail­able, even SSL them­selves em­ploy a THAT VCA th­ese days).

Stam are now also of­fer­ing an SA4000+, that (for an ad­di­tional £230) adds Carnill trans­form­ers and up­graded buf­fer cir­cuitry to the out­puts.

But while the SA4000 may not sound ex­actly the same as the early SSL units, it comes ex­tremely close. This com­pres­sor ex­hibits all the the char­ac­ter­is­tics for which the original be­came pop­u­lar, in­clud­ing its abil­ity to ‘glue’ a mix to­gether, and at an ex­tremely com­pet­i­tive price.

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