Retro Doublewide 500 Series Valve Compressor

(first published in CX magazine – October, 2014)


If there’s a single word to describe the Retro Doublewide 500 Series module its ‘silky’… as in, smooth as.

I’ve got a pair in the rack here at the moment, and my lordy they are incredibly smooth. They have such a beautiful ability to control audio program, particularly on slower settings, that I just want to put them across every mix I do right now…

But I should back up a bit.

The Doublewide is a mono tube compressor crammed into a two-space module for the 500-series rack format. Designed from the ground up by Phil Moore, the founder of (and demonstrable valve genius at) Retro Instruments, the Doublewide is a heftily hand built (in California) push-pull vari-mu design, similar in design principle to – though not the same as – the legendary Gates Sta-Level.

It features variable input and output levels working around a fixed threshold, variable attack and release controls, two selectable time constants – ‘single’ and ‘double’ (more on that in a sec) – and a genuine hard-bypass switch.

Internally the compressor is a fully floating transformer balanced unit that accommodates line level signals. It uses NOS 6BJ6 tubes, Cinemag transformers, gold-plated edge connectors, an amazing looking US-made Simpson gain reduction meter and hand wiring throughout. It’s old school in miniature. Impossibly cute… sexy even (if you’re prone to amorous feelings towards art deco compression meters). Frankly, I think the Doublewide looks amazing… almost as good as it sounds.

Some great little extra features include an adjustment trim control on the side of the module to calibrate the zero position on the meter, and a ‘standby’ mode for the module so it can be switched off even when everything else in your 500-series rack is on… a nice touch that helps preserve the precious tubes – you don’t want them sitting around ageing if they don’t need to be.

But it’s the sound of the Doublewide that really impresses: luxurious, powerful, impossibly well-balanced, clear and dense. It’s certainly not Usain Bolt in its reaction time, even though the ‘double’ time constant setting is faster in its response to program than ‘single’ mode. But compression speed is not what you buy a Doublewide for in the first place. The slower ‘single’ mode rocks gently back and forth on instruments in a beautifully relaxed and steady manner, making for full, rich vocals, thick and solid bass and smooth as double-thickened cream stereo mixes.

A couple of these in a 500-series rack, to be deployed on just about anything you care to throw at them… sounds like a great idea to me. They’re a fantastic antidote to the harsh, spikey, prickly tendencies of 21st century digital recordings and mixes. They add genuine aural beauty to the basic need for dynamic control; providing far more than mere gain reduction. There’s a certain magic they contribute to mixes that I’ve been liking a lot.

These are amazing sounding, compact, go-anywhere unmistakably ‘tube’ compressors. Their spectacular clarity and richness makes them well worth the audition. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.


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