As Winter NAMM 2021 will happen in a very different format due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, gear makers are literally left to their own devices this year. Yet it’s only January 8 and the announcements are starting to seep in! A Hungarian manufacturer by the name of Gainlab Audio wants to put the country on the map with the announcement of two rackmount analog processors – Dictator (dual-pentode tube vari-mu compressor) and Empress (tube equalizer). Read on…
Gainlab Audio Dictator
Dictator is a 2-channel unit designed after vintage vari-mu compressors, such as the Fairchild 670 and the Gates STA-Level. While the Attack/Release behaviour and saturation characteristics harken back to the old days, the unit exhibits modern precision. Its two channels operate in sync throughout the entire transition curve for near-perfect gain reduction.
Interestingly, the pentode tubes in use date back from the Warsaw Pact era (1955 – 1991) and were manufactured for military applications in countries such as Hungary, East Germany, and Poland. Other components in use include a modern line driver design and permalloy transformers.
Except for the dual VU meters, all front panel controls are shared by the dual channels. An Input gain knob, On/standby switch, Attack knob with 4 modes (Slowest, Slow, Fast, Fastest), Release knob with 3 modes (Slowest, Fast, Fastest), Threshold control, Mode switch with 3 modes (Locomp, Bypass, Hicomp), Sidechain filter knob, and an Output volume knob populate the front panel.
With this much control and circuitry in action, the Dictator is described as a particularly versatile unit. It can serve as a stereo bus compressor on your master and mix buses, a tracking compressor for recording, and even as a tube distortion and saturation box when you get those fine-aged tubes cooking.
Gainlab Audio Empress
Like most vintage and modern tube passive equalizers, the Empress is a souped-up Pultec EQP-1 at heart. Gainlab’s goal is to improve the classic 1950’s design in meaningful ways for modern music production. To achieve this, the designers added a mid-frequency filter with a single Boost/Cut knob to make the unit a 3-band parametric EQ.
They also came up with Shift switches, present for the low-band Boost controls and high-band Cut controls. This way, the mid frequency impact from the distinct Pultec approach of simultaneous cutting and boosting can be shifted relative to them. Granted, that’s a pretty confusing theoretical explanation, so we’d rather hear the switches in action. The final change is a Tube Boost switch, which presumably coaxes additional saturation from the tube amplifier stage.
The Empress too employs Warsaw Pact-era military-grade tubes, alongside stepped attenuators and nanocrystaline alloy transformers. The unit occupies 2U of rack space, which is an impressive engineering feat considering this is a stereo Pultec-style EQ with upgrades.
Price and availability
The Dictator will be available by the end of January 2021, priced EUR 1203 sans taxes and shipping costs. The Empress will be available by the end of February 2021, priced EUR 1300 sans taxes and shipping costs. The units will be sold direct from Gainlab Audio.