Drawmer have been in the audio game for quite a while.
In 1982, they released the DS201 gate, and by the time I started recording music it was already considered a staple for over a decade.
By the time I began taking things more seriously they had significantly expanded their line, and the 1968, and later 1969, compressors became some of my all time favorite pieces.
I start with this because perhaps I’m a little biased towards liking their gear. I’ve never thought of it as particularly sexy, in fact it’s almost coldly utilitarian in a find-them-in-every-live-rack sort of way, but since the beginning, I’ve been able to rely on Drawmer products. So when I heard they had a new compressor coming out, I was anxious to give it a listen.
Features and Use
In a way, the Drawmer 1978 is simply an expanded FET version of the 1968, with a couple features taken from their other products, plus a few more modern touches thrown in to boot. To top it off, they still fit two channels in a single rack space.
As far as I know, even the most luxurious control rooms run out of rack space quickly, and I always appreciate when a company can condense an idea down to the smallest size possible without causing noise or heat issues. After running the 1978 constantly in a hot rack for about four months I can assure you that it is in no danger of overheating.
The controls are a single set for both stereo channels, most likely to save space, and while having a dual mono unit can be useful, I can’t remember myself wishing for a separate set of knobs even once in the last few months.
This unit thrives on stereo sources, to the point where I stopped even trying it in mono almost immediately after receiving it. The issue wasn’t that it was inappropriate for mono, but rather that it was so good on stereo sources, particularly buses.
On top of the grouped stereo controls two functions really helped it stand out for drum bus, and later for guitar buses and grouped background vocals: first, the integrated sidechain EQ and secondly, the mix knob.
The idea of adding a wet/dry knob directly to outboard has picked up a lot of steam in the last few years. Perhaps due in part to the influence of Bob Katz and legends concerning Michael Brauer, additive and parallel compression techniques have become something even home engineers use.
However, as more people have adopted these techniques, they’ve also run into common issues in implementing them, particularly when it comes to latency (for software users and a lack of returns (for hardware users).
The wet/dry knob however, which Drawmer has labeled the “Mix” knob, is an elegant and simple solution, allowing you to convert any subtractive compressor in to an additive one with a single turn. Even with a large format desk, I often run out of returns while mixing, and I found myself using that knob almost every time I reached for the 1978.
Sidechain compression has also grown in popularity in recent years. I often hear the term used in reference to electronic music, particularly sidechaining a mix to its low end elements for dramatic effect.
The shaping EQ on the 1978 is a completely different kind of beast. Even at full blast in either direction it causes a very subtle change in the way the compressor reacts. Add to that a very limited number of functions (four fixed cuts and two fixed boost in both the high and low end) and you end up with a control that’s more like those found on some software compressors.
By carefully adjusting these shaping EQs I found myself able to completely revoice the unit, making it react like a number of different hardware compressors. Trying to list all those different compressors would be futile, since what the 1978 is best at is finding those points in between. It functions like a chameleon that never quite blends all the way in to the background, allowing you to discover wholly new colors and voices.
To Be Critical
For all these positives, I did have a few gripes with the unit. After a few initial tries, I never touched the saturation knob again. I kept finding myself appreciating how delicate of a compressor the 1978 can be, and the saturation felt a little ham-fisted, and perhaps a little shtick-y. With that said, if I were working in a studio with fewer outboard options I could certainly see myself using it from time to time.
In addition, the “character” switches all seemed a bit useless to me as well, and I found myself leaving the unit in a single mode. All of the character functions (aside from the stereo link) were so subtle that they were only really useful when the unit was running full blast, and as mentioned, I primarily ended up utilizing it for smaller, more delicate moves where these differences could not be appreciated.
Once again, in another space with fewer options I probably would have spent more time with them, but even after using the unit for months I didn’t really find myself digging in to them.
All in all, the 1978 lives up my expectations from Drawmer, and those expectations are high. It’s a multi-purpose compressor with a lot of options packed in to a small space, but that didn’t make it in to some sort of colorless, beige unit that didn’t stand out among scores of other pieces of outboard.
It’s a tool I found myself using on nearly every record that came across the desk, and one that I think could be even more useful in more limited environments than my own. Just like my old and trusty Drawmer DS201, I can imagine seeing the 1978 in racks everywhere for decades to come.