IGS AUDIO Tubecore 3U by DJamesGoody
When I heard the Tubecore, I wasn't looking for another Vari-Mu. In fact, I was looking for a decidedly different beast : a diode bridge compressor. After a brief email exchange with Nathan at Atlas Pro Audio, he informed me that the IGS V8 - a diode bridge compressor, a la Neve 33609/2254 - would be several weeks to ship. With this info, I had the choice of simply waiting it out, or going a different route. Perhaps, the Buzz, or another comp of that ilk.
Instead, I was persuaded to give the Tubecore a shot. Figuring that I could always return it and exchange for a V8, I decided to go for it and give it a whirl. I couldn't have made a better decision.
For starters, Nathan is a world class retailer. He made sure the box was working beautifully before shipping it, and he got it to me with no time to waste. Packaged exactly how you'd want a several thousand dollar machine to be shipped, I opened it excitedly and set it upon my rack, plugging in the hefty external power supply, and connecting a couple of loose tie lines.
I let it warm up for about 30 minutes before I ran signal through it, but when I finally did...... oh my. It immediately sounded rich, without doing anything. Leaving thresholds way above any activity, and moderate input and output gains, I strapped it onto the buss of a project I had just finished mixing a week prior, and what I heard was the subtle character shift that a high class valve box imparts - a slight deepening of harmonic richness, and the most complimentary, almost imperceptible rounding of transients.
I started to dig in. Still in 'stereo' mode, I started hitting the transients a bit more, careful not to go too far, but giving that indescribable 'pillowy' quality that only a Vari Mu does this well. And the harder you push it, the more pillowy it becomes. It was doing all the things I want a Mu to do... that cliched glue that we all talk about, and the utter lack of 'pumping' whilst hitting it hard, and the rich harmonic artifacts of valve compression slightly widening the stage.
It was making all the right sounds...
I then switched over the M/S mode, which is the main reason I decided to try this machine in the first place. I've been mixing and mastering in M/S more and more over the last few years, and this box manages to do that for significantly less money than some others that do it very well. I wasn't disappointed. Immediately I could dial in the depth from the sides that I wanted, while smacking the middle for aggression. Or vice versa. It was all happening so effortlessly, and most importantly, it did so in the most elegant and classy way.
I happened to have a Highland Dynamics BG1 on loan from a friend at the same time, and I did some comparisons whilst both were in the room. it became clear to me that while the BG1 is an outstanding box, the IGS did the master buss duty better - at least for my taste. There was less pump, more clarity, and the added benefit of M/S processing made it a no brainer. Of course, the BG1 sounded brilliant, and had no shortage of interesting capabilities. The BG1 made great work of several individual sources like vocals, bass, even drums. But the IGS was just more what I was looking for. A highly capable and creative machine for buss processing that sounded far more expensive than it is.
The reality is that compression of this sort is very expensive. Even the IGS box is not exactly bargain basement, but comparing it to its direct competitors, It is hard not to say it's affordable. It also outdoes many of the modern Vari-Mu types I've heard, including the Manley and the Thermionic. And while it provided a different workflow and use than the Highland BG1, it's clear that the IGS plays in that league. It is high end, for damn sure. It sounds it, looks it, and feels it.