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JDK Audio R22 Compressor, ($1,195 MSRP, $999 street, www.jdkaudio.com)

September 1, 2010
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ph2_r22_nrWhat: Dual channel (dual mono/stereo) hardware compressor with the same circuit used in the ATI Paragon live consoles. At first I thought JDK ripped off Arsenal Audio’s look, but JDK was Arsenal—until JVC complained of possible marketplace confusion with their car stereo systems. Well, I certainly understand: When I took this milspec/ cold war vintage-looking 2U rack compressor out of its box, my first thought was “Oh no! They mistakenly shipped me a car stereo system!”

Why: Sure, plug-ins are great. But hardware has no latency, the much-revered “analog” sound, and in this case, a legendary circuit, ease of use, and high-end response to 50kHz. What’s more, it was developed by API (although it uses ICs and no transformers, thus disqualifying it as an API product), and is made in the USA.

Packaging: The retro look leans toward army surplus—as does the build quality, with all-metal construction and 3/8" thick front panel. The pots are held on to the front panel with hex nuts; there are no wobbly shafts sticking out of a hole. It seems JDK built the R22 compressors so that once they shipped, the company wouldn’t have to see them again.

Installation: There are balanced in and out jacks for each channel, duplicated as 1/4" phone and XLR. Patch ’em, plug into AC (the power supply handles 115/230V), done.

What’s hot: The aspect I expected to dislike—no attack and release controls—is arguably the best feature. The response to individual tracks or program material is excellent, and I never felt the need to tweak attack or release because “it wasn’t right.” This makes the R22 good for compression newbies because they can’t screw up; for live use (either on stage or “printing” the effect when tracking), you don’t have to mess around trying to get these crucial parameters right.

r22_Secondary_nrThe rear panel is basic, but delivers the essentials.

The two channels are identical. Threshold covers a respectably wide –40 to +15dB range, and you can choose hard or soft knee (to my ears, the hard option avoids sounding “obvious”). The ratio covers 1:1 to 10:1, which I prefer to compressors where the first click on a ratio switch is 2:1—there’s a lot of use for settings below 2:1. You’ll also find a bypass switch for instant reality checks, makeup gain control with up to 20dB gain, LED to indicate when the input is over threshold, bitchin’ looking analog meters switchable between reduction amount and output, and link switch for stereo.

The “Thrust” switch, which filters lows so they don’t step on highs, is also hot; for example, you can compress a dance music track heavily without the kick shoving the high end aside. You wouldn’t leave this on all the time, but it can be very useful, especially as sidechaining isn’t available.

As to sound quality, I’d start with “clean,” particularly because you can hit it hard without getting “crunch.” If you compress really hard you can get the R22 to pump, but it’s a fairly smooth pump that works for vintage recordings. The hard/soft knee switch seems to have a little more mojo than usual; it’s worth trying both positions, as a signal you thought required soft knee might sound better with the hard setting, and vice-versa.

Conclusions: A grand may seem high for a stereo compressor, but the price seems fair—the build quality, and USA manufacturing, doesn’t come cheap. And there’s much to be said for a device that sounds good without having to think about it; I found dialing in the right sound didn’t take much time, and it’s difficult to get the R22 to misbehave. I can see smaller studios with a restricted budget getting one to expand their options into hardware compression, as well as pro studios having a couple around just because they give fine results with so little effort.


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