Stam Audio SA4000
Bruce Aisher checks out this new take on the design of the classic stereo VCA compressor
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.