Hands-On Review:Tube Compressor


HHB Radius 3 Fat Man: Tube Compressor


Part 1: Rating and Overview


A Quick Look

The Fat Man provides 15 useful compressor presets for musicians who want to control dynamics when recording music or vocals. The unit is fully stereo, connects to any pro, home or project studio system, and is all solid-state except for half of a 12AX7 tube section in each of the stereo channel signal paths.



Ease of Use: 3
Functionality: 4
Value: 5


Dealing With Compression
Deciphering the functions and applications of a modern stereo compressor's controls is daunting for the novice recordist. Though compressors are one of the most used pieces of recording gear, they remain the least understood. The juggling of the ratio control with threshold settings and then using the make-up gain control boggles the minds of many musicians who simply want to record a vocal or bass with a good, hot and consistent level. For the most part, just knowing a good "starting point" and tweaking until you like it would be great when recording a synth, guitar, drum sound or a vocal.


The HHB Communications Radius 3 Fat Man offers a way to get to that starting point -- actually, it offers fifteen ways with built-in preset compressor settings. Since all 15 presets are listed in the manual, you can learn how they differ and how to duplicate them from the unit's manual front-panel controls. So, far from a "dumbed down" or idiot-proof box, the Fat Man is a professional stereo tube compressor with every control and feature seen on units costing much more.


Introducing the Fat Man
About 8.5" long and 5" high, the Fat Man with his purple face will fit on your desktop or anywhere where you can easily connect it to your studio console or computer-based workstation. There is an optional rackmount kit that will hold two Fat Men side by side or one Fat Man in the middle. Audio is routed in and out via two sets of 1/4" balanced inputs and outputs on the rear panel and also two front-panel 1/4" instrument inputs for direct connection of guitars, basses or synths.


Front-panel controls include the fully variable: threshold, ratio, and switchable attack, release and soft- or hard-knee compression modes. Interesting to me is that the unit has both Output gain and Make-Up gain controls. The Fat Man has more than enough output gain to drive 24-bit digital recording systems, and the Make-Up gain control allows you to re-adjust the output level after gain reduction. This makes for an easy A/B of compressed to non-compressed with the bypass switch HHB calls "Compressor On." A small, lighted vintage-style switchable VU meter monitors either output level or gain reduction amount.


15 Presets
The Fat Man presets greatly simplify the compression process and work well for quickly recalling settings used on that guitar or vocal you recorded last week. The 15 presets include compression settings for vocals, keyboards, bass, acoustic and electric guitars, snare, kick and whole drum kits. There are also presets for finished pop, rock and dance stereo mixes. When you select a preset, all the front-panel controls are locked out except the Input/Output controls and the Make-Up gain control. Not being able to tweak on top of a preset like some other units didn't bother me. As a recording engineer, I used Manual mode but I cheated and was always looking at the manual to copy the settings for, say, "Bass1." I would then tailor the settings to my own tastes.