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A-Designs Audio, Inc.

HM2 NAIL Compressor

A Review with pan60, Ronan Chris Murphy and Tony Shepperd

Dated: Feb. 24, 2010

pan60 My first thoughts when I got the NAIL, was “Wow! This is primarily an awesome two buss compressor.”  The NAIL has the features many great engineers crave in a single tool. They think this is nothing less than sacrilegious short-fall, the NAIL performs flawlessly as a two buss comp, but certainly excels as a tracking comp as well. This is not a tool one will find just hanging around in a rack just looking pretty. This sweet, sleek, sexy piece of art will see a LOT of work. Being a bit of a Harley buff (LOL, those that know me will tell you buff is an understatement, but that’s another story), the terms road- hard and put-down-wet comes to mind. To say the NAIL is versatile does not do it justice, but, this compressor is very versatile: )~ Well, I do not feel anything is 100% transparent: )~  It does have a bit of a tone, but it is not a real aggressive MOJO sounding compressor. But it will snag a cool bit of MOJO when called on.  As mentioned, you can get more vibe from the HM2 NAIL as it pushed. You can really squeeze the source, just slam it down, then mix in the compressed signal with the original for that “ever so often used and popular sound” you get from parallel compression. The HM2 NAIL does it without having to have a separate track. It is an awesome feature for tracking as well as mixing. I would say it does a bit of both, but lean more to the clean-ish more transparent side. Let’s take a look. The NAIL is a hybrid tube compressor and takes up two slots (as with any tube gear, don't forget to allow for some ventilation). The layout will be fairly straight forward many, and may require a bit of thought for some, don't be intimidated. This is a two channel compressor. Let’s take a look at the top row on channel one – there is Threshold, Hard Threshold, Attack, Gain, and the Meter. Directly under this we see two toggles: One for the meter, Gain Reduction and Level, the next is simply an In / Out. Next is the filter selection: Off, 10HZ, 50HZ, 100HZ, 180HZ, and 250HZ (cool knob!!), Release, Mix (Direct/Compression), and then a Stereo link toggle. Although it has its Magic, the NAIL is not a heavy handed. I can distort it, color it, mangle it, comp it, but, I can also impart a very wide range - from sweet smooth, almost invisible, to a very magical, “you can hear me now” sound. It's such a good thing: )~ All equipment brings something unique to the table, and the NAIL is no exception, in that respect. Although the NAIL has its own sonic vibe (for lack of a better term), it is more in the venue of the clean/neutral camp. As the Nail is a hybrid compressor, the 12AT7 tube allows for a sonic signature that all of A- Designs fanatics have come to love… the dimension! The threshold also increases the gain reduction as it is opened up (clockwise), the ratio is increased. I found if I wanted more squeeze, I’ll just crank it up. (Have no fear, remember, we do have a mix knob: )~ The hard threshold is a Godsend. This will see more use as engineers get a feel for it. It will let you tame a mix from a hard-hitting source, like a slamming bass or kick drum, and it will do it while leaving the rest alone. Set the threshold where you like it, then set the hard threshold to hit it where you need it most. The Attack and Release are straight forward. You can dial in bit of subtle pump, or go for a very, very smooth sound, that one would be surprised to know had even been shot through a compressor and compressed at all. But it has.  The attack is fast, fast! Set the Attack to grab it fast and slam it as quickly as you like, WOW! The direct comp mix is truly something. I am not sure why every compressor in the world doesn’t include this. After having the feature in your hands, it is hard to understand just why it is not a standard pre request for all.  It is such an awesome feature! The filter is another great tool that makes the HM2 NAIL, yet again, a grade above. This is very useful feature: A side chain from off to 250Hz: )~ sweet! This will allow you to leave a pre designated selection as is, while putting the slam on something else or maybe a gentile push, your choice. For two buss duty, I love the stereo link. Wow! Every compressor needs a great functioning stereo link. The gain and mix are not part of the link. This allows you to dial in your make up gain and use your ears on the mix as to channel one and two. Also, try taking a mix that has utilized some serious MOJO compressor, run the mix through the NAIL, as opposed to going for a heavily compressed sound, just caress it. The HM2 NAIL is amazing.. GLUE IT! There have been a small handful of us that have had the good fortune to get our hands on one of the NAIL COMPRESSORS before the official release. I would like to ask a few of these engineers to give us their impressions. Ronan Chris Murphy Hello, my name is Ronan Chris Murphy, I don't work for A-Designs, I am a producer and mix engineer and I use lots of their stuff. I have been lucky, they were nice enough to let me help out with the beta testing the HM2 NAIL. So, I can tell you a bit about it. I'll try to run you through some things that are interesting and different. It took me a little while to get my head around it. It is different from a lot of compressors I've ever used, in terms of how it combines different features, how it sounds and functionality. Here is a quick run-through: It's got a direct and a comp (mix) that is just a blend which allows you to sort of perform parallel processing with just one box. It’s really helpful for a lot of “in the box” engineers. The makeup gain is obvious. A lot of compressors have the side chain filters, but, one of the nice “hip” things here, is that the filter side chain on the NAIL is completely variable, from off, to 250Hz, it is really very nice to have this much range. It is also excellent for dialing in bass using heavy two buss compression. It’s great when you don't want the compressor kicked in by a heavy rock bass or hip hop kick drum stuff. It is really, really cool to have that much control over the high pass on the side chain. What is really interesting is that there is a dual threshold control, a threshold, and a hard threshold.  Basically, the more you crank in the threshold (clockwise), the more compression you are going to get.  Not too odd for anyone that has used an LA-2A or that style of compressor. The hard threshold works as a threshold and in the off position it is bypassed. The interesting thing about the hard threshold is that you can basically set a specific setting, so you can actually crank the threshold for extreme amounts of gain reduction. If you want to get that kind of envelope, use the hard threshold, and then have it only come in where you specifically need it to be. I have found it useful in opening up a lot of options in terms of envelope shaping. You can really manipulate sounds and clamp down on them. Last is the attack and release. There is nothing too unfamiliar, or unexpected. One thing that is cool, unique, and really “hip” about this box, is it's insanely fast if you need it. I really view this has a very cool way to shape envelopes. I really get into it, because it's really powerful to have precise control in terms of shaping the envelope, more so then any compressor I've ever used. The NAIL has its own sound to it, a bit, but I don't really reach into it has a box that way, not the way I might some other compressors. What I love about it is, if I am in situation where I really need to do some extreme amounts of gain reduction, it doesn't slam its own imprint on it. It is the kind of thing where, if you really need to draw a whole lot of gain reduction across a mix, or a instrument, but don't really want to change the character of what is coming from the mics and mic preamps, it's really good for that. You can smack it down. It'll let me do a lot, even with some pretty radically fast attacks and releases. It is not going to totally, dramatically change the character of the sound, the way some other compressors might do. It does a really great job of maintaining the spectral integrity of what's going on, without introducing a lot of coloration or distortion. So, you can really get away with a lot. The cool thing about this box is it doesn't replace the other really cool compressors I've got in my collection. And I've got a pretty big compressor collection. I even find myself using this in conjunction with my other compressors. If there are compressors that I really love the tone of, but don't quite have the range of sculpting options that I might like, this, in conjunction with those, has really proven to be incredibly powerful for me. Not just in tracking, but for mastering and work on the two buss. It really does bring something new to the table. The way it combines these features, the threshold, hard threshold, the incredible range on attack and release, and again with the mix control, I have found that there is nothing else I own that is anything like it. Ronan Chris Murphy Tony Sheppard The Nail Compressor is an amazing sounding unit. It has permanently changed the way I work. The full bodied sound that comes out of the Nail has to be heard to be believed. -Tony Sheppard
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