Chameleon Labs 7720 Stereo Bus Compressor by pjamin
Value Conscious Audio
Chameleon Labs marketing catch phrase is the rather drab 'value conscious audio'. Not exactly an attractive or brag worthy proposition. Yet, with an ever increasing amount of home-audio enthusiasts seeking the 'pro' sound, Chameleon Labs can't be criticized for its direct marketing approach. I picked up the 'value conscious' 7720 as an introduction to hardware bus compressors, to see if a) it offered any improvement on mixing into popular software SSL compressors (Waves SSL and Cyotomic 'The Glue') and b) to see if mixing into a compressor on the 2-bus suited my way of working. I was pleasantly surprised on both fronts.
We all know the story of Solid State Logic's legendary 80s console bus compressor, and we all recognize the sound of one. Manufactured completely in China, the 7720 is Chameleon Labs (mostly) faithful attempt at recreating this style of stereo VCA compressor with a few excellent features thrown in. The build quality is fairly good, although I do prefer the newer style aluminium knobs over my early run plastic ones. Switches feel solid, metering is fast and precise (although a little hard to see when not looking face on to the front of the unit). Popping the lid reveals a well laid out board with not much to fault. The compressor is built around the THAT corporation VCA used in other manufacturers VCA designs, including SSL. Design wise relatively few corners have been cut, and the specifications reveal acceptable levels of noise for such a competitively priced compressor:
Model 7720 Specifications
Input impedance: 50K Ohms (Balanced)
Output impedance: 200 Ohms (Balanced)
Sensitivity: 20 dBu maximum at 1 KHz
Noise: Less than -80 dBu
Total Harmonic Distortion: <0.5% at 1 KHz, +4dBu
Maximum Output Level: 20 dBu
Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 KHz +/- 0.5 dB.
Net Weight: 6.6 pounds
Obviously higher priced competitors such as the TK audio BC1, Alan Smart C1 & C2, and the SSL G-series rack compressor boast better noise and THD specs, but the Chameleon Labs is no slouch by any means. Combined with excellent features, and at half the RRP of the TK, quarter the RRP of the Alan Smart the Chameleon Labs 7720 hits the 'value conscious audio' mark bang on. Features wise, the 7720 boasts an excellent HPF feature with five selectable frequencies from 60 to 440hz, an external side chain, metering on input, output and overall gain reduction, and ratios from 1.5:1 through to a slamming 10:1. Blue LEDs are a little bright for my liking, as it is hard to see the faceplate settings in a dimly lit control room.
I found when strapped to the 2-bus that the 7720 added a definite 'glue' to my mixes. I usually used the 7720 at very modest settings, taking 3db or so off the peaks with a 1.5:1 ratio and the HPF in at 200Hz to avoid bass 'pumping'. It is a very neutral compressor and stays out of the way nicely while making my mixes sound more coherent. I was concerned about the frequency response of this unit, but was relieved to hear that what went in, generally came out. The 7720, while adding its gluey coherent sound to the mix, seemed to handle stereo material well without degenerating the balance or image. If anything, the image became ever so slightly narrower (or 'smaller') but not in way that was overly detrimental. Compared to both the Waves SSL comp and the Cyotomic 'The Glue', the 7720 offered a major improvement in imaging, with the software compressors making the mix noticeably 'smaller' sounding with equivalent settings.
Routing a drum stem through the 7720, I hit the settings hard with a 10:1 ratio. Punch crack and sizzle mixed back in under the stem in parallel added a nice flavour to rock-drums. The 7720 shines at this particular task and may well live strapped to the drum bus on future mixes. Again, Waves SSL and Cyotomic could not emulate this with nearly as much punch.
As an introduction to SSL style bus compression, the 7720 is no slouch. It is competitively priced, offers great features and remains neutral and stays out of the way if that is what is required. It offers a major improvement over plugin bus compression and excels at slamming drums. Recommended.