A few weeks ago, we published an article about the best 1176 compressor emulation plug-ins, which bring the sound of the legendary FET compressor/limiter straight to your DAW. But what if software doesn’t tickle your fancy? Well, we’ve got you covered! Here’s our list of the best hardware 1176-style compressors: the official reissue, the most popular clones and a couple of innovative alternatives.
1176 compressor clones, reissues and alternatives
Although software emulations have come a long way and we now have a choice of numerous great-sounding 1176 plug-ins, hardware is still very much alive. Some say that it still sounds better and more organic. Others prefer the hands-on feeling that only real knobs and buttons can provide. And let’s face it: a rack full of shiny outboard gear is still the easiest way to give your studio a professional appearance and make yourself look like you know what you’re doing, a reason that – let’s be honest – probably plays a bigger role than most of us would like to admit.
So you’ve decided to invest in hardware, but can’t cough up the cash for a vintage 1176? Here’s a list of some modern hardware alternatives. Some are straight clones, which seek to recreate the famous compressor down to each individual component. Others present a fresh look at 1176-style FET compression by modifying the circuitry or adding features that the original doesn’t offer.
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The OG: Universal Audio 1176LN (reissue)
The fact that it’s made by Universal Audio (which was reestablished by Bill Putnam’s sons in 1999) means that the reissued 1176LN is the only one that can lay claim to being ‘the original’. The company says that the modern 1176LN is hand-built to Bill Putnam’s exact specifications. So it comes as no surprise that it carries a premium price tag of around USD 2,400.
The company also makes the 6176 channel strip, which is a combination of a 610-style preamp and 1176LN-style compressor in a single unit.
Warm Audio WA76
Warm Audio has steadily built a reputation for offering inexpensive, great-sounding clones of analog hardware, and the WA76 Limiting Amplifier is no exception. The WA76 features a discrete signal path modeled after the 1176 Revision D. It uses through-hole components and CineMag input and output transformers. No bells and whistles and unnecessary additions here, just a solid reproduction of what an 1176 should (and shouldn’t) be, at a fraction of the price.
Purple Audio MC77
Purple Audio was the first manufacturer to offer a modern remake of the 1176 compressor, even before Universal Audio was reestablished. Building on the success of the MC76, the company released the updated MC77, which is based on revision E of the 1176. They’ve added true bypass, a stereo link option and a sidechain insert loop. The MC77 became so popular in its own right that it has now been modeled as a plug-in – to my knowledge, it’s the first 1176 clone to receive this accolade. It’s definitely not the cheapest 1176 alternative, but it’s been around for a long time and has built a solid reputation of its own. The MC77 retails for around USD 1,650.
WES Audio Beta76
The WES Audio Beta76 is unique in that it lets you choose from modern and vintage characteristics. The difference lies in the desymmetrization of the input signal: Modern mode uses an electronic circuit, while vintage mode relies on a Carnhill input transformer. They’ve also added a sidechain high pass filter, as well as a true bypass switch. Two units can be stereo-linked using a special cable.
UK Sound 176 / 276
Contrary to what the brand name suggests, the UK Sound 176 and 276 are built in the USA by BAE. UK Sound’s take on 1176-style compression is available in single and dual channel versions. Unlike most 1176 clones, the 176 and 276 don’t copy the classic panel layout. By using rotary switches instead of buttons and smaller circular meters, UK Sound was able to squeeze the 176 and 276 into space-saving 1U enclosures. They’ve also added a sidechain filter. It should be noted that the dual channel version does not offer a stereo link feature. It always operates as two independent compressors, which is a bit of a missed opportunity.
Klark Teknik 76-KT
Klark Teknik offers by far the cheapest hardware clone of the 1176. One of my colleagues recently commented that it basically costs as much as the chassis and parts. I’m sure that Klark Teknik (which belongs to Behringer’s Music Tribe network) has figured out a way to make a profit on the 76-KT, but it really is unbelievably cheap. If you’re keen on supporting local manufacturing, the 76-KT isn’t for you. But if you just want a decent-sounding hardware FET compressor for next to nothing (in analog hardware terms), here you go. Despite its low price, the Klark Teknik 76-KT does use a discrete signal path and MIDAS transformers and is often praised for its sound and value for money.
Black Lion Audio Seventeen
The Seventeen doesn’t claim to be an exact reproduction of the 1176 compressor, but rather “the Black Lion spin on what the ’76 should have been”. It uses a newly designed, IC-based circuit paired with a custom Chicago output transformer. For added flexibility, they’ve added a sidechain high pass filter with five settings and switchable high pass and low pass filters in the signal path. There’s also a mix knob for parallel compression.
Black Lion Audio B172A
Now here’s a strange beast. The Black Lion Audio B172A is both: 1176 and LA-2A. Besides squeezing the two most famous compressor designs of all time into two units of rack space, this lets you accomplish the classic trick of running the signal first through the 1176 and then through the LA-2A (or vice versa) in a single unit, with a flick of a switch. The two sides can also be used independently. The FET section of the B172A is based on the aforementioned Seventeen.
Black Lion Audio Bluey Limiter
At first glance, it looks like any other replica of a ‘Blue Stripe’ 1176. But the Bluey Limiter is in fact a recreation of a one-of-a-kind unit owned by mixing engineer Chris Lord-Alge. According to Black Lion Audio, the vintage unit was modified with different components when parts became unavailable, which resulted in a special ‘mojo’. They’ve teamed up with Chris Lord-Alge to analyze his ‘golden’ Blue Stripe and recreate its circuitry. The Bluey Limiter adds a mix knob for parallel compression.
Build your own 1176 compressor: Hairball Audio FET/Rack kits
If you’re not afraid of picking up a soldering iron, you can also build your very own 1176 replica. Hairball Audio from Seattle offers complete and partial DIY kits for several versions of the 1176, notably revision A (Blue Stripe), revision D (Blackface) and revision F (which Hairball has christened ‘Red Stripe’). Full kits include all required parts, including transformers, matched FETs, custom VU meters, authentic knobs and everything else. Partial kits contain only the hard-to-find components and require additional generic parts, which you’ll need to buy from the electronics supplier of your choice. There’s a detailed build guide and even a build support service that can help you out if you get stuck. Full kits are USD 595, partial kits are USD 465.