Retro Instruments

New Gear/New Toy Review: Retro Instruments DoubleWide II 500-Series Tube Compressor

The new DoubleWide II is nearly a whole new product from California-based Retro Instruments--it's a ground-up redesign of their popular single-channel 500 series compressor that maintains and then expands on the original DoubleWide's ease of use and classic sound.

Like the original model, the DoubleWide II fits into two slots of your 500-series rack and requires 130-milliamps of slot current. The hand-wired, American-made DoubleWide II uses 12AT7 and 12AU7 twin triodes, large Cinemag input and output transformers, and the easy to read Simpson gain reduction meter. The meter now has an expanded scale for more precise measurement and setup.

The DoubleWide II has a wider range of attack and release (recovery) times available for achieving more aggressive processing--this is similar to the Retro Instruments 176 Limiting Amplifier.

During my first use in a mix, I immediately found it to have a lower noise floor and a better frequency response when compared to the original DoubleWide I have here in my studio. Like the original unit, the controls and meter are active even while the compressor is in bypass. I like this professional feature since it lets you set and check its operation (especially for live sound) before engaging it into the mix.

I went straight to compress a bass track in Single mode. Single and Double modes are choices of two ranges of attack and recovery timings "borrowed" from Retro's top-of-the line Sta-Level Compressor with its Single, Double, and Triple modes. Single is the slower range while Double offers a faster range of timings. For the bass I wanted big compression with minimal distortion on sustained (held) bass notes and Single mode with Attack at 9'oclock and the Recovery knob full CW (fastest) did the trick. It increased attack and punch easily and cleanly with up to 4 to 10dB of gain reduction.

I used the Double mode on a lead vocal track and set the Attack time to midway and the Recovery time to full CW. I saw peak gain reduction values up to 7dB on the meter yet the vocal did not sound squashed just more present and "placed" in the track just as I prefer. Even setting it to compress to over 10dB on vocals, the sound remains clean, not dulled out and undistorted even with the fastest recovery times.

Other new thoughtful features and updates are: a front panel meter zeroing trim pot and front panel switchable stereo linking with another DoubleWide II though a dedicated pin on the unit's gold-plated edge connector.

Retro Instruments DoubleWide II 500-Series tube compressor makes a great main all-around, compressor in your rack with even more versatility and utility. It's perfectly adjustable for processing any source from subtle to extreme or anywhere in between! It sells for $1,167 MSRP, the same price as the original DoubleWide.