The Universal Audio 1176 Compressor/Limiter is one of the most revered time-tested pieces of recording gear in history. Introduced in 1968 by Bill Putnam Sr. of United Recording fame, it has become a mainstay in nearly every studio today. Known for its smooth character and, at times, inaudible compression, the 1176 of the modern era has maintained the reputation that its predecessors created over five decades ago. But there were definite changes along the way, and each revision of this sonic masterpiece had unique characteristics that made it different, if not better, along the way. We’ve compiled notes on each revision here in hopes of helping you reach for that right piece of gear at the right time.
The 1176 had a predecessor of its own in the Universal Audio 176. This vacuum tube-based limiting amplifier was used as the model for the original 1176 “Rev A” Compressor. It was a variable-mu compressor that, unlike its behemoth 6RU competitors from Gates and RCA, fit neatly into a 2RU space. This, along with four selectable ratio settings and variable attack and release, made the 176 sleeker and more functional than other compressors on the market. It stayed in production for much of the 1960s before being replaced by the first American transistor-based compressor commercially available, the 1176.
The 176 even has it’s own faithful recreation in the Retro Instruments 176 that you can check out here.
The classic “Bluestripe” 1176. These extremely rare original units were designed in November of 1967 and featured slightly different electronics than the modern-day 1176LN. Most notably, they are the only REV to use FETs instead of bipolar transistors in the preamp and line amps of the unit. They also lack the low noise circuitry of the later revisions, but this is why they are so sought after. The classic bluestripes are able to generate more harmonic distortion at the expense of a higher noise floor. The overall characteristics that these REV A and A/B units have are a thick juicy compression (even if they’re a little noisy) and a warm vintage feel.
In January of 1970, low noise circuitry was added to the preamp stage of the 1176, thus changing the name to the 1176LN. A trim pot was also added to the feedback circuit of the audio FET to help with minimizing distortion. These units became the basis of what the modern 1176 Reissue is modeled after, with the current reproductions being based on these revisions. They are known for their lightning-quick attack and release times, imparting a sense of transparent control over your signal while bringing life and energy to your recordings.
This revision made one significant change to the circuit: the output amplifier was changed to a “push-pull” class A/B from the original Class A design. A design change that gives the unit more output current but leaves a different sonic fingerprint on your recordings. If you’re looking for an 1176 with a super clean transparent sound, these are the units for you! Despite having a higher output, the REV F 1176 is the cleanest iteration of this compressor, with the lowest harmonic distortion of any of the revisions.
The last revision that had to do with circuit redesign, the REV G 1176 got rid of the transformer on the input stage and replaced it with a differential input op amp stage. These units are incredibly close to the REV F 1176 and offer an equally clean sound.
There’s not much to mention here other than all of the changes made in REV H were cosmetic. These units feature a brushed aluminum faceplate, a different UREI logo, and an updated meter design.
This classic compressor/limiter isn’t a one-trick pony in any sense. The Universal Audio legacy wasn’t built overnight, and as you can tell, Bill Putnam Sr. was constantly trying to improve upon his already sterling audio designs. The 1176 has been a centerpiece throughout recording history. Bruce Swedien used it on every Michael Jackson recording he ever did, and you can find it on countless records old and new. From the early “bluestripe” beginnings, to the modern day 1176 reissue, you can be sure there’s an 1176 for you.
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