Top producer / engineer, George Shilling, also takes time out to review interesting audio equipmentGeorge Shilling reviews:

Fat Man 'Fat One' by TL Audio

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tl audio fat man one 1 recording equipmentI was just a few days into my health diet when the Fat One arrived, threatening to spoil things. The novelty of receiving a cubic container was quite irresistible - apart from mixing desks and microwave ovens/CD changers I rarely review something that cannot be bolted into a rack. Except that despite the Fat One's chubby looks, by the time you read this there will be available a matching red rack tray, enabling one central or two adjacent Fat Ones to be held in a 3U rack space. For the time being, though, I had to balance the 'One on top of my rack, and those Fat blokes had kindly supplied some stick-on feet for this purpose.

 

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The Fat One is a stereo compressor, with two inextricably linked channels. The front panel therefore quite reasonably features only one set of controls. It is, like many other TLA products, a hybrid valve/solid state unit, the single dual triode serving both channels, providing a pre-amp stage before compression takes place.

The Fat One has certainly not been dieting - it is quite weighty. The sturdy case features a mesh top, which rakes down backwards from the front panel, providing ventilation for the circuitry - even just one valve generates plenty of physical warmth. The simple, small rear panel features an IEC mains socket and Input and Output connections on balanced jack sockets (which will also happily accept unbalanced plugs) with a Gain switch to select -10dB or +4dB operation.

 

The front panel features a single cute illuminated VU, which works well, although a larger one would of course be preferable from a pro-user's perspective. A button allows display of Output Level or Gain Reduction. There is a Threshold knob with a -20dB to +10dB range, and a Ratio knob with a range of 1.15:1 to 1:30, with 1:3 coming about a third of the way up. These ranges are well chosen and allowed for any settings from very subtle 'tickling' to full-on limiting. There are also two separate buttons to switch Fast/Slow for Attack and Release settings, which give enough variation for many situations. There is also a Hard/Soft Knee button, which also gives the unit some unusual flexibility for a budget unit, although the difference can be subtle on many signals. Input and Output Gains feature a useful +/-20dB ranges, with centre détente.

 

tl audio fatman 1Turning up the Input Gain will drive the valve harder. A Gain Make-Up knob provides up to 20dB further Gain when the Compressor On button is activated, usefully allowing one to roughly match the uncompressed and compressed signal levels. An LED near the meter glows when the Compressor On button is pressed. Sensibly, a front panel power rocker switch is included, with an LED indicating Power On. Unusually, for a completely analogue compressor, there is a big rotary knob, which clicks into each of 16 positions: 15 presets and a Manual setting.

 

These presets cover settings for Threshold, Ratio, Knee, Attack and Release, disabling those controls. The presets are usefully described by the application the designers recommend them for. So there are settings for Vocal (3 positions), Keyboards, Bass (2), Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar (2), Snare, Kick, Kit and Mix (3 settings). Perhaps slightly to my surprise, these worked rather well, with minimal tweaking of the Input and Output Gains. They were always a good starting point, and if not quite right it was very easy to try something else. Unless you refer to the manual, you might not guess their exact settings, which is not always a bad thing.

 

Inevitably, with such few variables, a number of presets are similar, for example the Vocal 2 setting is the same as the Mix 2 with a slightly different Threshold setting. But it is a fun new way to work, which is very quick in practise. If you want to get fussy, there are a couple of explanatory charts in the manual which explain the settings and show exactly where the controls should be to recreate the presets, allowing you to understand and modify them. The unit performed particularly well across stereo mixes, the valve circuitry injecting a vibrancy, which brought my pop/rock track alive in the midrange, but always retaining a solid, indeed 'fat' low-end. There is not the 'zinginess' I would associate with a Focusrite, but instead a fat, warm, rockin' 'British' sound, especially good with lively mixes and rock guitars.

 

The use of a transconductance amplifier, rather than a VCA, for gain control, is credited with giving the unit its characterful sound. This is also used in more expensive TLA units. An added bonus is a pair of Instrument jacks on the front panel, which gives the unit a useful DI box role. These sound terrific with an electric guitar, and can be used simultaneously with the rear inputs with no loss of level.

 

The Fat One is cheap for a unit featuring valve circuitry, albeit featuring just one valve, but even forgetting about the valve it is a funky, friendly, good value compressor. Wherever you set the controls, you really are guaranteed a truly fat sound. I knew the diet wouldn't last…

 

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