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Field Test: InnerTUBE Audio Dual Atomic Squeeze Box

By Michael Cooper


Nov 1, 2005 12:00 PM


HIGH-END STEREO COMPRESSOR/LIMITER

We've all been here before: You slam a snare drum track with a compressor to put a point on it and then suffer the tedium of gating the resulting pumping hi-hat bleed. An obligatory ritual? Not anymore. The InnerTUBE Audio Dual Atomic Squeeze Box can nuke percussive and other types of tracks while keeping gain-modulation artifacts to virtually zilch.


From its etched front panel and stalwart 2RU chassis to its beefy, positive-action controls and curved VU meter cutouts, the Dual Atomic Squeeze Box oozes quality. A Link switch and duplicate rotary controls for its two channels accommodate either true stereo or dual-channel operation. Continuously variable input and output level attenuators adjust respective gain from maximum down to infinity cut. The squeeze (threshold) and attack time controls are also continuously variable, whereas the release time and slope (ratio) controls are stepped. For each channel, the release time's range can be modified by two three-way switches: mode (marked slow, medium and fast) and hold (a release time multiplier marked 1x, 2x and 3x).


Each channel's VU meter is backlit and has a recessed calibration trim to zero it. A beefy toggle switch for each meter selects either output level or gain-reduction amount to be displayed. Rear panel I/O connections for each channel are via 3-pin XLRs. A 4-pin XLR provides connection to a 56-inch-long cable serving the outboard power supply, which is a weighty affair sporting a power switch and indicator, carrying handle and IEC receptacle (the latter for its detachable AC cable).


TOP SECRET

InnerTUBE Audio declined to divulge what type of gain-control circuitry the Dual Atomic Squeeze Box uses, but the company told me it wasn't a VCA, opto-electronic cell, variable-Mu tube, FET — or anything else ever used before. As there is no owner's manual for the unit, a “cut sheet” and some chats with designer Stayne McLane were my only informational sources about the unit.

Octal dual triodes and nickel-core input and output transformers serve the Dual Atomic Squeeze Box's all-tube audio path. Attack and release times aren't titled with time-based references on the front panel, in part because they are program-sensitive. In fact, all of the rotary controls are titled with arbitrary numbers (1 through 10 or 11). The slope controls effect ratios from 1:1 to roughly 20:1, adjusted in equal steps. The unit can deliver more than 20 dB of compression and handle at least +20dBm input level (conservatively rated).


FUN IN THE STUDIO

I quickly discovered that the Dual Atomic Squeeze Box's release and slope switches have no end stops, which is neat because you can switch back and forth between extreme settings without having to step through intermediate ones. The unit's Slope switch incorporates a wiper with two half-moons; at the crossover between them, the control switches between two high voltages, causing a crackling noise as you switch between the two corresponding slope settings. It's a minor annoyance.


The Dual Atomic Squeeze Box put a heightened point on kick and snare drum tracks, which — when the processed results were combined with the dry source tracks — really made the drums rock. Amazingly, I could hear no pumping of the snare track's hi-hat bleed, even with up to 20 dB of gain reduction!


On quadruple-tracked background vocals, dialing in a very fast attack, very slow release and high slope slammed the tracks with more than 20 dB of gain reduction without thinning their tone — just what this arrangement needed for the background vocals to sit unobtrusively at ear-candy level in the subsequent mix.


Next up was electric guitar, blowing through a cabinet miked with a Royer R-122. Setting very fast attack and release times and sky-high slope for 8 dB of gain reduction on peaks, the sound was dynamite — warm, crunchy and in-your-face, but again, with no hint of pumping.


The unit also lent excellent dynamics control — characteristically not unlike that provided by an opto-compressor — to lead vocals. I heard some loss of depth with 6 dB of gain reduction, but no pumping.


The Dual Atomic Squeeze Box sounded really incredible on stereo room mics for drums. Dialing in 10 dB of gain reduction — using ultra-fast attack and release times and a high slope setting — produced absolutely slammin' tracks. But what amazed me was that there was only very mild pumping on crash cymbal hits. The unit's Link switch kept the stereo image rock-solid.


I found the unit's lowest slope setting above 1:1 to be too drastic for most 2-bus applications. Also, the review unit had no bypass switches, making A/B comparisons difficult without using a console equipped with insert switches. (InnerTUBE Audio says the next production run will include channel bypass switches.) Just for grins, I dialed in 20 dB of gain reduction on a broadband percussive mix to see if I could make it pump. Not a chance. I was dumbfounded.


NUCLEAR WINNER

The Dual Atomic Squeeze Box is unequaled for stereo applications in which transparent yet heavy compression may be desired, such as on room mics for drums. It also does a stellar job on a variety of mono tracks. At $6,750, it's not inexpensive, but it does what no other compressor I've ever heard can do.


InnerTUBE Audio, 805/688-8286, www.innertubeaudio.com.


Mix contributing editor Michael Cooper is the owner of Michael Cooper Recording, located in beautiful Sisters, Ore.



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EQ Magazine: Mag Mic Review

Innertube's unique tube mic provides illuminating sound quality.

By Bobby Owsinski


There are not many products that come along that garner instant attention based just on their unique looks, but the Innertube MM-2000 "Mag Mic" is one of them. For instance, when I first brought the microphone to Front Page Recorders and showed it to owner Biff Vincent, he immediately grabbed it from my hands and took it to each of the three studios for one and all to see. And not only that, every one of the producers, engineers and artists were so intrigued by the interesting look that they all clamored to try the mic first.


Why, you might ask? Because the Mag Mic is a good old-fashioned large-diaphragm tube microphone built into the casing of a two-cell Mag Light flashlight. The brainchild of Innnertube Audio's Stayne McLane, the MM-2000 is an offshoot of some of his other products: the Atomic Squeeze Box compressor, the "Tube 87" tube retrofit for Neumann U 87, and the "450-Tube" tube electronics retrofit for AKG 450. But even if the packaging is irresistible, it still has to hold its own sonically, which the MM-2000 does very well indeed.



THE SPECS

Well, there aren't many specs actually. With a veritable museum of old tube gear to compare his creations to, McLane is an inventor of the old school in that he keeps working until it sounds right, not specs right. As an example, his first attempt in tube mic design used the venerable 6072 tube, but when he went to make a second one, he inadvertently mis-wired the tube socket. After noticing the mistake, McLane decided to experiment with a tube that might be a direct fit in the mis-wired socket and found a 6DJ8 (very popular with hi-fi people since Marantz used it in preamp circuits in the '50s). Although the new tube fit, McLane never had any luck with it in previous experiments. Turns out the new tube sounded great while the previous 6072 sounded broken in comparison, and a new circuit version was born. Now McLane uses a NOS (new old stock) Phillips 6922, which is pin-for-pin compatible with the 6DJ8.


If there's anything to the Mag Mic, as well as McLane's other products, it's the "less is more" philosophy. Most Innertube products use a minimum of circuitry and only the highest-grade hand-selected components he can find. And if he can't find a product of high enough or consistent enough quality, he has them built, as is evidenced by the specially wound output transformer in the MM-2000.


In fact, the MM-2000 features that rarest of animals, the high-gain, yet low-noise circuit, that actually puts line level out directly from the mic. Because of the high output, there is a three-position switch on the power supply to attenuate the signal if necessary. This provides full output, 10 dB, or 24 dB of attenuation. A 20 dB pad is also located on the mic itself to attenuate an excessively hot signal if needed, although this seems unneeded thanks to the high headroom of the circuit.


The MM-2000 comes with an internally regulated outboard power supply. As with most tube microphones, the polar pattern control resides on the backside of the supply and is continuously variable from omni to cardiod to figure-of-eight. Regarding the large diaphragm capsule, McLane is somewhat close-lipped, stating only that it is of "European origin".


As for the unique packaging, McLane states that it came about out of necessity after spending large sums of money on custom metal work and dies for his previous products. "Where else can I get a highly machined, anodized, serial-numbered device in two colors any time I need it?" he laughs. "I have a reputation for stealth packaging. My personal Mag Mic uses a Superman lunch box for the power supply. People get a kick out it."



IN USE

I used this mic on a variety of acoustic sources with great results. On acoustic guitar it had the typical quality of a good microphone in that it made a mediocre instrument actually sound great, in this case much bigger and brighter sounding than the actual instrument really was in the room.


I used it outside a kick drum in place of what would normally be a U 47-FET (about 1 foot outside the cutout of the drum head), again with excellent results. The mic has tremendous headroom and the line-level output was such that no mic preamp was needed. The end result was enough bottom that no additional EQ was required while the top end remained clear and clean. Set on cardioid, the focus was distinct enough to pretty much isolate the kick from the rest of the kit as well.


On vocal again the MM-2000 rose to the challenge of both a screamer and a soft singer. The mic handled the screamer from a foot away with no hint of overload, while on soft vocals the sound was again huge while retaining the high-end clarity so often missing with expensive large diaphragm mics. While trying a variety of mic amps (Avalon, Hardy, even the on-board preamps of the SSL G+), all seemed to couple well with the MM-2000 as long as the pad was inserted, but the unit sounded best connected directly into a compressor then right into the recorder.


The MM-2000 is available directly from Innertube audio for $3,000. A stereo version (in a three-cell Mag Light case) is also available. Try a Mag Mic. It'll definitely throw some light on your recording.


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EQ Magazine: Innertube Audio U-87 Tube Retrofit

A REAL FIND.

By Bobby Owsinski


October 16, 1996


The Neumann U-87 is a fine microphone. In the presence of some wonderful examples of vintage microphone like an M49, C12 or 251, however,it would not be my first choice for a lot of things, vocals, for example: nor would its tube predecessor, the U-67. So you can imagine my surprise while setting up for a recent tracking session when Richard Barron, the studio manager at Sonora Recorders, pulled out what looked to be a stock U-87 and said, "You should try this. It has a tube in it." "So what?", I thought, "67,87, it's not gonna have "the sound" I'm looking for." But, ever the experimenter and trusting the taste of Richard (who has quite a nice vintage mic selection), I figured it was worth a try.


My original feelings have now changed since using what turned out to be the new InnerTUBE Audio tube retrofit for the Neumann U-87. This retrofit utilizes the capsule and housing assembly of the standard 87 and includes a replacement internal tube preamp, an external power supply complete with pattern control, and all interconnecting cables. What's more, the retrofit is just about as instant as you can get, taking less than a minute to screw the exterior housing off, remove the solid-state preamp from the capsule assembly, and insert the new tube preamp. Plus it has the distinct advantage of allowing you to return your 87 to "stock" if and when you ever want to .


It's hard not to throw superlatives around when you use an 87 with the InnerTUBE retrofit. I found it to be much, much, "bigger" sonically than a stock 87, with a lot more bottom and much more open on top.



Putting a tube into the 87 may give the impression that the mic automatically becomes a 67; nothing could be further from the truth, though the capsules are identical. "The U-67," says McLane, "is a totally different beast in that it uses an EF86, a very high gain pentode tube. It doesn't sound as good as a triode, but it has a lot of gain, which is why they used it. The tube I use is a 6072 dual triode like that used in the C-12 and 251, which-in my opinion-is much better sounding."


Although I didn't get the chance to match the InnerTUBE retrofit against a vintage U-67, I did get the chance to use it against both a stock transistor 87 and a few other vintage tube mics. I used the InnerTUBE retrofit on all the things that I might normally use a good 67 on-sax, percussion, acoustic guitar, distant guitar amplifier, even vocals. In every case, this mic blew away the standard 87 with no trouble at all. It was so much more open that it was like a blanket was lifted from in front of the mic every time we switched. And the difference was dramatic enough that not only the trained ears in the control room heard the difference; everybody heard it immediately.


When we put the InnerTUBE retrofit up against an M49 on a male vocal (which, perhaps, is like comparing apples to oranges) the difference was much less dramatic. Both sounded great, and you'd have to call it a taste judgement at that point. Still, the InnerTUBE retrofit held its own with no trouble at all vs. a very highly regarded (and expensive) vintage cousin-something that neither 87 nor 67 would be able to do.



The InnerTUBE retrofit is a real find. It is currently in use at A&M, Bearsville and Westlake studios, and famed engineer Shelly Yakus had bought six. Yes, at $1500 it does turn your U-87 into one pricey item, but at least you know what your getting in terms of a new piece of equiptment likely to give you years of trouble-free service as compared to the sometimes finicky ways of something 30 years old. Plus, it has "the sound" and it's got it in spades. InnerTUBE will soon come out with its "Four-Fifty-Tube®" retrofit for the AKG 451/452 series-a development that I eagerly await.


Manufacturer: InnerTUBE Audio, P.O. Box 610 Los Olivos, CA 93441.

Tel:(805) 688-8286 Price: $1500.