Two LED bar meters span the top of the unit; the 5043’s LEDs work as a team, monitoring each individual channel at a time. The left meter (Channel A) measures input level and the right meter (Channel B) displays gain reduction. A selector button allows you to pick which channel to monitor, a design that can be handy in a tracking situation (e.g. one track at a time), as it appears more conducive to getting proper levels.
A Feed Option provides a choice between Feed Forward and Feed Back compression — a powerful, yet uncommon, feature (most compressors are designed to offer one or the other, with notable exceptions being the API 225 module and 2500 bus compressor). For the layman, the feed option refers to the method of providing control voltages to the compressor’s detection circuit (see sidebars for more information). In short, Feed Forward designs take the control voltage directly from the input, and are generally more suited for fast limiting work while Feed Back compressors take some of their control voltage from the output, which is often interpreted as more “musical-sounding.” In theory, either design can be used for any application. However a bit of practice is required as threshold, attack, and release affect the sound differently depending on the feed structure. For end users, this choice means the flexibility of the 5043 is essentially doubled when compared to many other units.
Those familiar with RND’s dual mic pres (5012 and 5032) and true tape emulator (5042) may recall a “To Bus” output feature, which is also present on the 5043. Until now, this was reserved for “future functionality,” but the first payoff from said feature has arrived in 5043: It can accept XLR inputs and the bus feeds from the aforementioned Portico modules, affording new routing options — especially for those with fixed rack installations — allowing users to maintain a dedicated patch into the 5043 that is activated only as desired. Very cool. . . .
APPLYING THE 5043
We tried the 5043 for mastering, tracking, and mix bus compression. In a mastering context, I appreciated the significant control afforded over the ratio values. Settings from 1.5:1 to 2:1 in FB mode were smooth and often reminded me of the Manley Vari-Mu, which has an uncanny ability to glue a final mix in place. Adding the unit to the signal chain immediately imparted a subtle quality to the sound — colored, but in a good way. However, the controls are packed rather close to one another, and the full-range knobs make recalling settings challenging. Overall, the 5043 was a fair choice for mastering sound-wise, but not necessarily recall-wise.
As a tracking compressor, the 5043 was pleasing on many sources; mild settings added more “silk and cream” to a fretless bass line, while rougher settings contributed to the smack and punch of a slapped bass part. It also took a good-sounding snare track (captured with an SM57 through a Daking Mic Pre/EQ) and upped the level in terms of pop and “woody” sustain. Feeling adventurous on a vocal track, I began to push the ratio towards 8:1 on an aggressive rock singer, which allowed retaining the dynamics while not negatively impacting how the overall track settled in the mix.
We also tried the 5043 for a multi-bus compression mix down. We applied the unit as one of the main drum compressors, and I asked Andrew Morse to smash the daylights out of the track (I find that a great way to test a compressor is to purposely abuse the settings). As soon as he hit play we all knew what this baby was born to do: Compress drums so as to retain dynamics, and achieve a fullness of the kit but in a tight context, complete with silky cymbals but not harsh hi-hats.
Effective compressor use is equal parts science and art. Because of numerous design choices, some units can be better suited for some jobs than others. In general, the 5043 is a capable all-purpose device. But after using it for a while a few key applications stand out.
The smooth vocal. The first thing I wanted to do with the 5043 was loop the output of Channel A back into Channel B and use this puppy in series. After our staff solder-monster wired me a 1 ft. XLR that did the trick without making too much spaghetti, we were ready to go.
For a crooning (or smooth) vocal, choose Feed Back compression. Set Channel A to a low ratio, around 2:1, with a slow attack and a medium release. Then, dial a ratio around 8:1 on Channel B. The resulting compression will be a smooth arc that gradually clamps down as a passage increases in volume. It’s a very natural sound, not dissimilar to an experienced engineer riding the fader during mix down.
Taming the novice bassist. Many new bass players have major volume jumps in their performance. This can be a result of a poor setup, pickup alignment, and/or technique. For these tracks, choose Feed Back and set up Channel A in a heavy compression/limiter mode, then select a high threshold. Think of this channel as the “over height” truck sign you see on tunnels and underpasses — you don’t want the E string to pass this shelf. Then, set Channel B to a medium ratio (3:1 to 4:1) and use that to bring up the level of the D and G strings, a tactic which will go a long way to putting some control on the track.
Output limiter. Just because an analog compressor has a 20:1 or higher ratio doesn’t mean it’s a good peak limiter. With a Feed Back topology, some peak voltages manage to get through to the output before the detector learns about them — making it too late once the compressor kicks in. If you’re serious about using an analog device to protect downstream gear, then choose Feed Forward and get ready to set up. As the detector will “know” about peaks as soon as they hit the unit, the attack setting will be much more sensitive than you’re used to for Feed Back compressors. You may find yourself setting it faster than necessary. Likewise, a release setting that may let up in an even manner might cause audible pumping in a Feed Forward design. Remember, most engineers have limited exposure to FF topologies: It will take some practice to get used to the unit’s response. Some people might get frustrated and avoid using FF. Don’t be one of them; you’re throwing away half of your compressor. Instead, set aside time to work on your technique, and don’t forget the new power as an effects device FF can prove, as well: If you want “trashy-drums” this can be your chance.
New owners of the 5043 will probably rip the thing out of the box and start using it right away. This is fine, and you will certainly obtain good sounds with little effort. However, this is a feature-rich unit, so read the manual and become acquainted with the power and flexibility this model offers.
My concerns with the unit are minor. It would be difficult to obtain spot-on recalls in a mastering situation with the full range pots. Also, the combination of half-rack width and how cool the 5043 sounds in composite operation begs the consumer to want two (actually, I’m not sure this is a concern about the unit or my lack of budget).
While many covet vintage Neve gear, each Portico release diminishes my interest in the older units. The RND products combine decades of design refinements with modern production techniques — not to mention significantly better component tolerances. These factors set the Portico rage at the crossroads of Neve-sound and modern reliability . . . and that’s a good place to take up residence.
Product type: Compressor/limiter duo.
Target market: Mid to high-end home studios and professional facilities.
Strengths: Feed Options offer maximal application possibilities. “To Bus” feature offers increased routing choices. Excellent sound, particularly for bass, drums, and vocals.
Limitations: Full-range knob proximity placement makes recalling settings challenging.
Price: $1,895 list