The P38 “Edward the Compressor” is the latest in a line of designs from Ted Fletcher that officially started with the Joemeek SC2 in 1993. Following various Joemeek variations on the theme, a previous TFPro unit of this ilk was the bright red P8 Edward the Compressor model. The P38 takes the best qualities of that unit, and refines operation still further.
Fletcher’s designs are known for their use of optical compression, and the P38 is no exception. But rather than the slow, sometimes invisible classic compressors such as the Teletronix LA-2A with their somewhat lethargic photo-electric cell circuits, Fletcher employs LEDs in a circuits that provide much faster compression characteristics.
The P38 has a shallow case depth, and is rather lighter than rival units. The rack handles are gone; it is now fronted with tall Focusrite Red-style knobs, and a pair of wonderfully large, clear illuminated VU meters. Round the back are the usual IEC mains input with a voltage selector. Analogue audio connections are provided on both XLR and jack sockets, all at +4dB professional level. The input sockets lack latching clips, but work well enough, and the provision of separate jacks rather than combo sockets is a bonus.
On the front, a lovely large input gain knob is lightly detented, and with the clearly legended scale it is easy to recall noted settings. For increased compression and handling consumer audio levels, a +14dB boost switch added gain we measured at +12.4dB. The metering is a slightly unconventional arrangement, with left and right output levels displayed (after the Output gain knob) or by pressing the button, the mono level before the output knob on the left meter, with gain reduction shown on the right. With the P38 in a fixed stereo mode, compression will always be similar on both sides of the buss, so this makes sense, although it looks a little disconcerting at first!
Although the P38 is an optical compressor offering conventional Attack, Release, Threshold and Ratio knobs, it also offers four distinct operational modes, each with different compression characteristics. Ratio is easy to set, going from 1.2:1 right up past 20:1 to Limit, with 3:1 at half way round. Threshold works so that turning clockwise lowers the threshold, which is perhaps counter-intuitive. Modes are simply numbered 1-4 on the front panel, but the manual provides more of a clue. These respectively comprise VCA, 1176, LA-2A and Green Box settings. Working backwards, the latter is of course a copy of the Joemeek SC2. The Joemeek and earlier TFPro models offered a Slope knob with several fixed settings, rather than the variable Ratio provided here, so this is more flexible. This mode offers powerful compression without dulling or colouring the tone. The LA-2A mode lacks some of the hugeness and enhancement of the far pricier valve LA-2A, but emulates the attack and release characteristics pretty well. Unlike the P38, an LA-2A has no variable attack and release, (and only two different ratios), but offers a two-stage release where short peaks release quickly and longer peak levels release slowly. The P38 copies this very well, with the advantage of being able to vary the times – the secondary release can go even longer than the indicated 3s.
The 1176 is a much more aggressive-sounding compressor, and although the P38 has no FET, some clever electrickery allows it to emulate much of the excitement and juiciness of an 1176, with a particularly responsive mid-range. VCA mode is a meat and potatoes ‘does what it says on the tin’ compressor. Based on more neutral modern compressors, attack is fast and linear, and release is a simple linear capacitor discharge. This works well on some program material, and here, as with all modes, pumping can be lessened by using the Transient Release function. This unique feature is operated by a button push - an LED to accompany would be useful but is notable by its absence. This function is not fully explained in the somewhat scatty manual, but it seems to smooth out the reaction to short peaks, taming percussive tracks with less pumping. This can have the effect of reducing the excitement, but can allow more compression to take place before things get crazy.
Another notable feature is Soft Clip mode, a button that applies a further limiter to the signal to smoothly clip very loud transients. This helps maximise mastering levels, and an accompanying LED lights up when the threshold is crossed. It certainly sounds preferable to overloading.
Unusually, the P38 utilises Sum and Difference signals, where the stereo signals are processed separately as centre and sides rather than as left and right. This assures the stability of the centre image, and also allows another interesting feature, the Width knob. This is a variable control which goes from Mono at one extreme, through detented Stereo (which leaves the image unchanged) up to 150% extra wide. With a lifeless mix which has too much lumped into the middle, some extra interest can be added by widening a touch. Conversely, with too many crazy phasey stereo effects, these can be tamed slightly using this knob. Helpfully, a Balance knob is also provided for centring uneven stereo signals.
There is no ‘hard-wire bypass’, rather, just a Compression On button, which is a shame, as it would be useful to compare the signal with matched levels and without hearing it pass through the P38’s transformers.
The 11th Century English King, Edward the Confessor oversaw a relatively peaceful period, and Edward the Compressor is indeed also very good at keeping things under control. It’s an improvement on the fiddlier P8 model, and offers a wide range of high quality compression which is a joy to experiment with.
Easier operation than the P8
Effectively Four compressors in one
Transient Release function simple to use and now works in all modes
Suitable for a wide variety of program material
Cheaper than most high-end mastering compressors
Walk On By
No provision for dual-mono operation
No ‘hard-wire’ bypass
Protective rack handles have gone
A terrific sounding mastering compressor with wildly different modes – four great compressors in one!
Reproduced with kind permission from George Shilling. Copyright George Shilling.