Hey Gear Mortals, today we are checking out the SA-4000 by Stam Audio. Some of you maybe already guessed as to what this is just by looking at it! That’s right, it’s a clone of the legendary Bus Compressor on the SSL 4000 series consoles. I love working in my DAW as much as possible, just because of the sheer convenance of it, but the SSL4000 Bus Compressor was always one of those pieces of hardware on my short list. I have every plugin version under the sun and while they are good, I was always told by those with the hardware that the plugins just can’t keep up with the hardware. So naturally, I wanted to find out if this actually held true – and find out I did!
But before I get to that, let’s quickly go over the actual look and feel of Stam Audio’s clone. This is far and away one of the best clones I have ever put my hands on. This thing feels really nice, solid, and premium. Nothing about this screams “clone” at all to me. Stam clearly went to great effort to ensure that the look and feel of the unit was perfect – and I think perfection is what they’ve achieved. I greatly appreciate the dedication of trying to get it to look and feel like the original.
As you can see it has all the settings of the original hardware. A threshold of +15/-15, Ratio selection of 2, 4 and 10, Attack ranging from .1 ms to 30 ms, Release from .1 to Auto and Make Up Gain up to +15. Also included is a Bypass button and a Side Chain button. What is Side Chaining? It allows you to have the compressor be controlled by an external source like a Kick Drum, for example, on a bass guitar. This allows you to set the compressor up so that if you wanted, you could have it work its magic on the kick only when it’s receiving a signal from the bass guitar.
So what about how it sounds, especially compared to popular plugin versions? Well, those who told me the hardware was better were right. The best way I can describe the difference between the SA-4000 and the plugins is that you can push the SA-4000 a lot harder and get great results. Whereas, I felt with the plugins, when I tried pushing them just as hard I noticed the attack in the mix got really peaky and unpleasant, and the pumping it was creating was way too much. Some of the plugins were a little better than others, but they all actually had pretty much the exact same issue compared to the hardware. With the SA-4000 my mixes sound both better glued and a bit more open.
While I really love my complete “inside the box” setup, what the SA-4000 has over the plugins is easily worth the effort of having a hybrid setup. And you might think a clone this good would be way out of your price range, but they sell it for $590! Thats a STEAL as far am I’m concerned. It’s not often that I’m impressed by pro audio hardware these days, with plugins getting to sound so good, it’s nice to see that there is still magic to be had with hardware, and companies like Stam Audio that do such great work like this. I look forward to hopefully checking out the rest of their offerings in the future, and let you guys know if the rest of their lineup lives up to the standard set by their SA-4000.