FIG.1: The front panel of the Tube Station 1 is clearly laid out and easyto use. The compressor section features a one-touch Compress control aswell as Attack and Release knobs.FIG.2: The rear panel gives you stereo line-level I/O for using the TS1 asa stereo compressor. The XLR mic preamp includes a balanced 1/4-inchinsert point and a preamp output. The digital output card appears onthe left of the panel.FEATURES4.5EASE OFUSE4.0DOCUMENTATION4.5VALUE4.5RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO5
Tube Station 1Specifications
AnalogInputs(1) balanced XLRmic (+4 dBu); (2) balanced XLR line; (1) unbalanced instrument ¼"(-10 dBV)AnalogOutputs(2) balanced XLR(+4 dB); (1) balanced ¼" output (+4 dB)Other AnalogConnections(1) TRS ¼"preamp insert; (1) TRS ¼" compressor sidechainDigitalInput(1) BNCword-clock input (on optional A/D converter card)DigitalOutputs(1) AES/EBU; (1)S/PDIF (on optional A/D converter card)Maximum InputLevel+21dBuMaximumOutput Gain+20dBuFrequencyResponse12 Hz-52 kHz (-1dB)Noise-87 dB (22 Hz-22kHz)MaximumOutput Level+20dBuDimensions1U × 9"(D)Weight9.5lb.
Drawmer, a respected British manufacturer of midpriced pro gear, isreaching out to the personal-studio and gigging musician with its TubeStation 1 (TS1). The processor combines a Class-A mic preamp, ahigh-impedance instrument preamp, a stereo compressor, a tube circuitfor coloration, a highpass filter, and an optional 24-bit, 96 kHz A/Dconverter. The TS1 can be used as a single-channel voice processor,channel strip, or stereo compressor; add the A/D card, and it can actas a front end for a DAW.
Like all Drawmer gear, the TS1 is built to last. Housed in a 1Usolid-metal chassis, the look is basic black with easy-to-read whiteand red labels. The only concession to fashion is a swirly red logothat alludes to the symbol used at London Underground stations, knowncolloquially as “tube stations.”
The TS1 front panel is divided into seven subsections correspondingto the internal signal flow (see Fig. 1). First on the left isthe Input section, which includes a ¼-inch high-impedance jack(identified by a picture of a guitar), a preamp input switch, andstatus LEDs that show whether the instrument or the mic input is beingused. The XLR mic input is located on the rear panel next to the¼-inch preamp output and insert jack (see Fig. 2). Also onthe rear panel are a pair of line-level XLR inputs, a pair ofline-level XLR outputs, and a TRS sidechain jack. The optional A/D cardoffers rear-panel AES/EBU I/O on an XLR jack, S/PDIF on an RCA jack, aBNC word-clock input, and sampling-rate selection switches. The cardconverts the signal to 24 bits without provisions for dithering to 16or 20 bits.
Moving to the right on the front panel, the Front End section has acontinuously adjustable input gain control with instrument gain values(ranging from -20 to +40 dB) marked in red and microphone gain values(ranging from 0 to +60 dB) in white; a red LED next to the controlindicates clipping. The 48V phantom-power and polarity-reverse switchesare accompanied by red status lights, and this section also includes ahighpass filter, which ranges from 25 to 250 Hz, and a control labeledH.F. Contour that adds a broadband high-shelving boost.
The Compressor section has a source switch that selects either themono front-panel input or the two rear-panel line inputs. The Compressknob controls input gain to the compressor circuit and is marked 1through 10 (those values bear no relation to a decibel scale). Thecompressor uses VCAs for dynamic control and has a fixed, nonadjustablethreshold: increasing the Compress value produces higher gain and morecompression. Next to the Compress knob are standard continuouslyvariable controls for Attack (from 0.5 ms to 50 ms) and Release (from0.05 seconds to 5 seconds); below the knobs, an LED ladder indicatesthe amount of gain reduction.
Unlike most compressors in its price range, the TS1 compressor hasno individually adjustable parameters for 2-channel mono operation.That doesn't mean you can't use the unit on two different signals atonce, but it does limit an engineer's options.
The Tube Drive circuit uses a pair of ECC83/12AX7 vacuum tubes toincrease the amount of harmonic distortion in the signal. Smartly,Drawmer made the effect bypassable rather than simply creating a hybridcircuit for tube coloration. Controls in the Tube section are an Activeswitch with a status light, and a continuously adjustable knob (rangingfrom 1 through 10). With Tube Drive bypassed, the signal path throughthe inputs and compressor is entirely solid-state.
Because the TS1 is essentially solid-state and is marketed as a“stereo vacuum tube compressor with instrument and micpre,” I asked company founder Ivor Drawmer for clarification.“The TS1 is a compressor with a tube,” he said. “Wefigured it was better to make the tube available or not, because wewould be asked why the tube can't be switched out. Of course, a realtube compressor uses all tubes, weighs a ton, and doubles as centralheating.”
The next two sections have to do with output gain and metering. TheTrim control has a limited range (-30 to +5 dB) and controls the levelafter the compressor but before the limiter and the A/D converter. Fordigital output from the unit, Trim is the final gain control. Afterthis point in the circuit, the signal is sent to a fixed thresholdlimiter (set at +16 dB, or 12 dB above 0 VU referenced to +4 dBu),which has a status LED but no bypass switch.
The Analogue Output knob, which ranges from off to +16 dB, is thefinal gain control for the TS1's XLR outputs. Below the Trim and Outputknobs is the unit's master digital-output-level meter. A bypass switchto the right of the meter disables all compression and gain; when theswitch is engaged, the meter indicates input levels. A power switch andstatus LED are on the far right.
JUST THE FACTS
The TS1 manual covers only the basics. The illustrated descriptionsof each control are clear and concise, and it includes a few diagramsof common setups.
Technical specifications about the unit's filters, compressor ratio,and even the bit rate of the A/D converter are conspicuously absent.Considering the TS1's versatility and its many possible operationalmodes, I was surprised that the manual contained no practical orcreative user tips.
DI ANOTHER DAY
A custom Telecaster guitar seemed to lose a little bit of midrangewarmth when preamplified by the TS1 (using the TS1's ¼-inch preampoutput at unity gain, with no tone controls active and no compression)and then run into an all-tube Fender Pro Jr. But I got a kick out ofplaying through the unit and could imagine it catching on amongtech-savvy instrumentalists onstage. The Drawmer's preamp gain boostwas very useful and added a convincing crunch when set at about +35 dB.I also enjoyed using the unit's high-frequency contour knob, which canfunction as a smooth and subtle alternative to the “bright”switches on many guitar amps.
Running the guitar signal from the compressor out jack allowed me toaudition the Drawmer's onboard tube processing, which seemedsurprisingly subtle with this guitar and amp combination. And incontrast to most compressor stomp boxes, the Drawmer's dynamics were adream. Regardless of the playing style, the TS1's compressor was alwaystransparent and gentle, with the attack-time adjustment being a majorplus.
In studio testing on a variety of vocal and instrumental tracks, theTS1's class-A mic pre was a solid performer. My studio partner, BartThurber, and I found it to be consistently reliable for definition,subtle ambience details, and flat response without sounding clinical.At its best — for example, when used with a Neumann TLM 103 as adistant mic for drums — the TS1 delivered a very hot, modernsound that rivaled any of the top-notch mic preamps in my racks. Atouch of compression and an ample dose of the drive effect made thedrummer (and all of us in the control room) very happy.
DRESSED TO COMPRESS
During a Pro Tools mix, the TS1 contributed positive tube attitudeand much-needed sustain on a bass track. And yet, despite its sonicbenefits, I got a bit annoyed during the final tweaking of a mix when Ihad to make multiple knob adjustments on the TS1 to hear lesscompression while keeping the output level the same. I also wishedDrawmer had included a limiter bypass switch, as I was getting audibletransient distortion on the bass track anytime the limiter LED litup.
Tube Station 1
with digital I/O $1,150
PROS: Feature packed.Bypassable Tube Drive. Detailed mic preamp. Full-featured instrumentpreamp and DI. Transparent one-knob compression. Phase-reverse switchon front panel. Optional A/D converter. Sturdyconstruction.
CONS: Limiter cannot be bypassed. Gainstaging and limiter not optimal for analog recording. No individuallyadjustable compression parameters for two-channel mono operation.Skimpy manua
I liked the sound of this unit's compressor for mixing; a littletube drive and about 4 dB of gain reduction usually worked beautifullyon a range of vocal and instrumental tracks. In the midst of my tests,I realized that the TS1 is similar in character to one of my favoritecompressors — the venerable (and more expensive) Drawmer 1960.Drawmer's U.S. distributor informed me that the TS1's compressorcircuit is closer in design to the company's revamped 1969 model, theversion of the 1960 created by Mercenary Audio.
Auditioning a 16-track analog mix through my Soundcraft Spirit boardand using an Apogee PSX-100 for A/D conversion to a Tascam DA-30 DATrecorder, I found that the TS1 passed pristine analog audio in bypassand active mode. My only complaint with the TS1 at this stage was thatI couldn't set both gain controls to zero (supposedly unity gain) andget the bypassed and active levels matched up without some gainreduction taking place.
Because the Compress pot increases the input gain with a setthreshold, I had to set the trim at -4 dB, increase the output to +12dB, and bring the Compress control up to 3 in order to A/B myuncompressed levels reliably. Toggling between bypass and active modesat these settings, I was impressed to hear no change in audible noiselevel, and only a faint switch click in the audio. Engaging thecompressor circuit with no gain reduction produced very subtleattenuation of high-end airiness on my horn-dominated mix, but no othercoloration.
Bringing the Compress value up to nearly 4 (with Attack set at 15 msand Release at 100 ms) yielded minimal compression, accompanied by a 3dB increase in overall gain. At these settings, mix compression wassmooth and undetectable. But a Compress value of 5 was way too much,producing pumping on the low end and audible high-end distortionartifacts when the brass lit up the limiter LED. Curiously, wheneverthe compressor and limiter were working simultaneously at noticeablelevels, the TS1's output seemed a bit fuzzy or crunchy in the treblerange.
Turning up Trim to produce more limiting revealed that the limiteris definitely of the brick-wall variety and optimized for digital use.This means that the TS1 can be used to deliver scorching levels on atwo-track stereo mix bus to an analog or digital recorder. Even whenused in this fashion for highly compressed mixes, the limiter would notdistort or get fuzzy. I'd rather use a dedicated mastering compressorfor final leveling, but the TS1 is certainly cleaner and gentler tofull-frequency mixes than many comparable units I've used.
MIND THE GAP
I do have one cautionary note for anyone contemplating use of theTS1 in an analog studio. Because the unit's output metering is set upfor digital recording, I often had to ignore the meter and push theoutput levels harder to get sufficient signal to my analog 16-track. Inall instances the TS1's ample headroom and +16 dB-maximum output levelcontrol supported this practice without undue noise or distortion.
In addition, I found myself trying to work around the built-inlimiter. In the absence of a simple bypass switch, I kept dynamiclimiting to a minimum by attenuating the prelimiter Trim knob by asmuch as -20 dB. That kept the signal below the limiter's nonadjustable+16 dB threshold, necessitating corresponding makeup gain amounts of+10 dB or more. Although my work-around compromised the gain staging ofthe unit somewhat, it created no problems with noise. And in all trialapplications, even with -10 dBv input signals, the TS1 never ran shortof gain.
For a lot of the rock and blues recordings I do, the aggressivenessand authenticity of the TS1's tube circuit puts it in themost-likely-to-succeed category. However, for some sounds, such asbright vocals and acoustic guitar, even a little bit of the TS1's tubeflavor can be too much. One male rock vocalist I recorded sounded tooedgy with any amount of Tube Drive, even when using a common dynamicmic.
STATION TO STATION
There is certainly a lot to like about the TS1. In the basic analogconfiguration, it's a notch up in price from a lot of the competition,but it gets high marks for features, versatility, and audio quality.Every feature sounds good and is relatively foolproof, making the TS1stand out from the crowd of multifunction boxes. A bypass switch orthreshold adjustment for the limiter circuit would certainly broadenthe TS1's appeal for combined analog and digital setups.
Although basic, the compressor in particular works smoothly and setsup easily. Additionally, the Tube Drive offers authentic tube flavoringthat can be bypassed without a fuss. And the instrument preamp sectionadds a handful of creative options for tracking as well as gigging.Like its London namesake, the Tube Station 1 is a fast and efficientway to get your signals to the desired destination.