A-Designs HM2 NAIL Compressor Description
There are rare times in the professional audio industry when a new piece of recording equipment comes to the market that is ahead of its time. A Designs Audio, Inc. believes that the HM2 Compressor “Nail” is one of those pieces of recording equipment.
The Nail is offering endless possibilities in the control of compression and shaping the envelope with three features that set the Nail apart from other compressors, such as Hard Threshold, Filter and Mix. Due to the unique nature of the design, the Nail will take you to places you have not experienced before. But with all things new, there is a “learning curve”.
The NAIL is a Feedback, diode based design combined with tubes. This combination qualifies it to be a Hybrid.
One feature that is missing is the Ratio setting control. It has been replaced with a “Variable Ratio”. This means that the ratio will change as the settings of the Threshold and Hard Threshold are changed. You may, or may not, need to adjust Attack and Release, depending on what is sonically pleasing.
MIX: This feature is a unique tool of the Nail’s design. This is what we would consider a highly valuable function. The Mix feature allows for endless combinations of mixing the sound of the Nail’s compression with your audio signal path. You can go from your signal (Dry) to full on compression, depending upon your need or taste.
This means you can perform the maximum compression on a signal, such as drums, then blend it into the audio path. Where as with most compressors, you do not have this option and you will find yourself fighting this in a mix. The Nail takes all that away and makes it easy to blend just the right amount into your audio signal path.
FILTER: The Nail offers another feature, the filter, which can make recording more enjoyable. This feature, in combination with the Hard Threshold and Threshold, allows you to select the frequency or frequencies you wish to compress. This is by no means a “multi-band compressor” where you can isolate and compress, but it works somewhat along those lines.
For example, if you would like to compress everything above 50HZ, but you do not want to drag down the frequencies below that, then simply select the right frequency you wish to apply compression to. Then, you will be compressing all frequencies above your selected choice.
The frequencies below 50HZ will be hit by the Nail’s compression, but they will NOT be dragged down, the way most compressors will do.
Again, this will not isolate the assigned frequency, such as a multi-band, but it will allow you to be very flexible without fully compressing the lower frequencies. This function becomes extremely useful with recordings that are Kick Drum-forward or Bass-forward. But, the Nail has much more to offer with numerous other applications.
METERS: A great deal of thought and consideration went into the decision to use an LED array as opposed to the traditional VU meters you would most likely see on a compressor. Aesthetics and personal taste are involved and we chose a combination of “Old School and Modern Look.” But, plain old work environment dictates that the LEDs can be seen from across a dark studio much easier than a backlit VU meter and in some cases with more accuracy.
2 BUSS AND TRACKING: The NAIL was designed with the 2 Buss in mind. It is with this that the feature of a Stereo Link Switch was developed. All the functions on both channels in Stereo Link Mode will be controlled via channel 1 (with the exception of Gain and Mix). The NAIL is not limited to this application alone! It works very well as a tracking compressor too.
MOJO, VIBE, COLOR: All equipment brings something unique to the table. The NAIL is no different in that respect. It has it’s own sonic flavor, for lack of a better term, but it can be “neutral,” clean or colored, as well. The tubes in the NAIL (12AT7) were selected because they will allow for more on-demand control.
SWITCHES: The NAIL has six functional switches that aid in the operational use of the compressor. There is a main power switch, a stereo link switch and two gain reduction/level switches to change your metering, one for each channel. There are also two in/out switches, one for each channel, that allows you to hard bypass the compressor channel, as needed.
CONNECTORS: The NAIL has four XLR connectors on the rear panel, two male balanced and two female balanced for easy standard integration for any studio.
POTENTIOMETERS: The potentiometers, or pots, are a conductive plastic. The conductive plastic pots are found to be most reliable and have an above-average life-span. There is a lesser chance of getting that “scratchy-ness” when compared to a carbon based pot.
Custom-milled aluminum knobs, and milled-aluminum face plate add just the right touch to compliment this unit.
|A-Designs NAIL HM2 Compressor Review / See
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The NAIL is the long anticipated diode / tube compressor from A-Designs and after spending time with it I can truly say it was worth the wait. Pete Montessi has always delivered a great tube tone but this is A-Designs first foray into dynamics control (and the NAIL just happens to match up nicely with the HAMMER EQ). A lot of time was spent designing this box. The NAIL features a THRESHOLD (which also increases the ratio when hit deeper), a HARD THRESHOLD (which is a separate peak limiter for extra stopping power), ATTACK and RELEASE (both of which I find to be exceedingly fast OR slow depending on your need), an on board MIX control (an internal mixer which allows dry and wet parallel compression), a sidechain FILTER (which keeps bass heavy material from pumping), a true hard BYPASS, stereo linking, and a pair of very cool LED meters. The unit is transformerless with a tube output section outfitted with JAN Philips 12AT7WC steel tubes.
Action: On drum buss I can absolutely hold stuff in place nicely with still a great transient "snap", cymbals and snare still have nice top end response. To keep things from getting too pumpy what we have is the ability to affect the low end response of the compressor less by engaging the FILTER and removing the ability of the compressor to react to heavy bass. The HARD THRESHOLD can be a nice quick stop for snares and kick! The cool thing is being able to find that happy place, that variance between both threshold settings (they interact to a degree). On drums I am really liking THRESHOLD maxed out with HARD THRESHOLD at about the 12:00 position (AM...). I am talking about a drum buss, gluing and smacking and fuzzing them into a nice controlled envelope. I tend to hit drums fairly hard but I ease off the attack a bit to let initial snare and other transients crack. The breakup range on drums (when purposely pushed) is in the "crisp / splat" area. On bass the NAIL is pretty predictable and tends to have a somewhat "round" sort of release to it that you can dial in (it's smoother, rather than jumpy).The breakup range on bass (when purposely pushed) is in the "fart / fuzz" area.
There is a lot to say about the NAIL on vocal use. First of all, having only a single THRESHOLD and not an additional ratio control are kind of nice. Who wants to have to dial in all this crazy stuff during a tracking session? The somewhat more automatic nature of the NAIL is welcomed in my book, and it's what makes a lot of cool classic compressors so sought after. The threshold is very easy to find on voice, and essentially we're affecting not only the threshold level but as we go deeper it's raising the ratio at the same time. It's not tricky or hard to find though, it just sort of...works. On voice I am able to take up to -20dB of reduction (according to the snazzy meters) and still hear space and air around the voice. In fact, the NAIL is one of the few compressors I've heard that not only seems to retain space and air-y top, but brings it more to the surface. It has less of a "ducking" sound to it with voice, you have to go extreme with it if you want to hear the clamping / grabby stuff. The breakup range on voice (when purposely pushed) is in the "crunch / rasp" range.
2 buss is a main design goal of the NAIL, and it has all the right tools on board. You can use dual mono / stereo linked (dual mono compression can sound wider), and the MIX feature is really well suited for more subtle types of sculpting. I found on 2 buss the NAIL has an easy way of dialing in the rhythm of things while varying the threshold moves from subtle presence to a noticeable pumping and anywhere in between. You can just sort of use it to pop certain elements out hotter (vocals, guitars) while reigning in drums, or you can go deeper and really get the whole mix moving. I never ended up past around the 11:00 or 12:00 position on the THRESHOLD on any 2 buss mix (of course this is dependent on the mix level), and HARD THRESHOLD I liked set in a similar range with around 80hZ as the corner frequency on the filter. Experimenting with the filter, and then going back to the THRESHOLD / HARD THRESHOLD, you can find a range of natural sound that still allows the low end to breathe but not dominate. It can be tweaky in this regard, but worth the time. This is my main area of interest when using MIX features on a compressor, I found the 2.5 setting on the comp side to work a lot.
Tone: The tone of this unit is what you expect out of a high end company like A-Designs. Having used their MP2A preamp I can tell you it's rich, air-y and deep with a unique way of delivering sources in their own space. It stays on the cleaner side for the most part, don't expect the more obvious distortion some companies purposely go after. The NAIL excels at 3D tube tone that only enhances, and never seems to take away. Transient response sounds gently rounded (I mean gently, not crazy smoothed over) and it's a smooth tone that also delivers size. My ears hear maybe a bit of extra presence in the 8-10k range (great for clarity) but no noticeable accent above or below in normal use.
Conclusion: The NAIL nails it in many ways, the good news is that those ways are the things most of us use compressors for (drums, voice, mixdown). In minutes you can really get a good understanding of what knob does well most times in each position, and its just sort of tweaking from there. The dynamic range control is a great mix of set-and-forget and dial-in-able, with very fast action available when needed. I suspect a lot of folks will buy the NAIL to let it live on the mix buss but it really does well with many solo sources as well.