Purple Audio MC76
I have yet to meet a recording engineer who dislikes or actively avoids using Urei 1176 limiters. Every commercial music recording studio worth its salt usually has two or more of these mono units in the rack as standard.
Useful on vocals, drums, guitars, basses, wind instruments - almost anything, there is something pleasing to most ears about the way they control dynamics. The meter shows gain reduction clearly and its needle ballistics are almost as visually pleasing as the audible effects. They possess wonderfully 'warming' properties - with not a single valve in sight: these units make use of FET technology.
Production ceased following the take-over of the company by JBL (Parent company: Harman USA) who no doubt wished to concentrate on the much larger sales of their other products. Prices of second-hand units have crept up recently, which has undoubtedly led to Andrew Roberts and John Klett stepping into the breach to develop the Purple replica. Their MC (Mono Compressor or Roman numerals for 1100?) 76 model has a front panel virtually identical to the Urei model, except, obviously, the colour.
Although the manual studiously avoids direct reference to the original, even the Purple logo borrows heavily from the Urei one. Urei models were black or silver, the early Universal Audio silver/blue 1176 making way to the black 1176LN (low-noise) and later the silver 1176LN. There were steady upgrades of the model during its life designated 'A' to 'F': the MC76 most closely resembles an 'E'. The MC76's knobs look the same but the pots are a little out of whack: e.g. the Output pot stops 3dBs before the legending reaches zero although it starts in the right place. The Release knob pointer is also misaligned, and the Attack knob has a strange feel to it, like a rheostat or a pot with lots of very small steps. It retains the click-off bypass operation of the 1176.
The Purple features the same sets of pushbuttons as the 1176: ratios of 4:1, 8:1, 12:1 and 20:1, and (Power) Off, +8 level, +4 level or GR (Gain Reduction) metering and a similarly illuminated VU meter. Most 1176s have rear panel connections on solder tags/screw clamps. Purple sensibly use XLR connectors instead. If you want to link two 1176s you need the 1176SA (stereo adapter) to make use of the phono socket on the back of most units. The MC76 vastly improves on this situation with two jack sockets for stereo link operation, one marked Direct and the other Offset with a locknut trimpot for offset adjustment and a phase toggle, all neatly grouped on the back panel. Obviously I was unable to assess stereo operation with only one unit, but such use is apparently facilitated by an internal 1.5V AA battery which I am told will give way to a tap from the mains power transformer on units made from June. This case-mounted torroidal transformer is the most obvious internal difference from the 1176. It is also worth noting that the main circuit board is far more rigidly located than the Urei: Purple have worked hard on the build quality and physical durability of these units. Another sensible move is the provision of an IEC mains socket with fuseholder and voltage selector.
I only received the manual by fax at a late stage, which despite being an early draft appears well written. It promises purchasers spare fuses, mains leads and mounting bolts, although mine lacked these. My initial impressions of the unit compared to a late-model silver-faced 1176LN were that the MC76 was a tad quicker in its characteristics. However some of this may have been more in the bouncy meter ballistics than the sound. After a quick comparison recording a D/I'd bass guitar, I thought the Purple lacked some of the depth of tone of the Urei. Later, though, I was able to make a direct comparison with a mid-period black face 1176LN and an unusual light-grey fronted Haeco-badged mastering unit (with the Urei name on the back and obviously similar construction). With the benefit of the excellent monitoring at Dave Gilmour's Astoria studio I was able to determine subtle differences between the units.
The Urei was the warmest and richest sounding, with the Haeco not far off. In comparison the Purple seemed slightly brighter, which I assume may be due to the 'newness' of the components. The compression characteristics were similar, however the Purple was very slightly faster than the others, and seemed to distort more easily when driven hard. This was especially noticeable when I tried the (top-secret) all-four-ratios-simultaneously trick. I preferred the warmth and gentle overdrive of the Urei to the Purple's slightly harsh fuzz, but in most situations the Purple acquitted itself perfectly well. It did the job perfectly when gently compressing vocals or acoustic guitar on a 4:1 ratio. With the benefit of easy stereo linking, unless you can find a black-faced 1176LN for the same price then this unit would make an excellent purchase. Choose carefully though: the manual states that there may be some colour variation between units! (Thanks to Nick Ryan, Mark Thompson and Fletcher for background information for this review.)
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