The 1176 compressor is a unique piece of audio processing hardware that has significantly influenced the recording industry. It’s a classic, if not legendary, piece of gear that has proven its timelessness. This article will explore the history of the 1176 compressor. It will trace the development of the compressor from its creation to its current usage in modern music production.
The Original UA 1176
The 1176's story began in the mid-1960s. At that time, sound engineering was on the verge of a major revolution. Bill Putnam Sr. was a renowned audio engineer and the founder of Universal Audio.
He was the brain behind the creation of this revered compressor. Putnam introduced the 1176 Peak Limiter, the first-ever true peak limiter with all solid-state circuitry, in 1967.
What Does an 1176 Compressor Sound Like?
The 1176 became a staple in many professional studios due to its sonic flexibility. Its fast attack time and variable release settings made it ideal for managing drum transients. It was also excellent at adding warmth and sustain to guitars and vocals.
This audio compressor could provide everything from gentle, transparent leveling to hard, pumping compression. Its "all-buttons-in" mode, an original design quirk, became a cherished feature due to its aggressive and distinct sound.
In the following video, you can hear various 1176 audio examples. Doctor Mix runs vocals, a kick drum, bass, and acoustic guitar through this colorful compressor.
The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Universal Audio
Multiple different revisions of the original 1176 compressor exist today, all of which we'll explore in the next section. However, the history of Universal Audio and United Recording Electronics Industries (UREI) is heavily intertwined with each revision.
Bill Putnam Sr. owned a recording studio business called United Recording Corporation in the 1950s. Although, he decided to expand on this business. The design and manufacturing addition to URC was called Universal Audio.
URC eventually acquired a company called Studio Supply Co., rebranding it under the name Studio Electronics Corporation (SEC). By 1965, Universal Audio had been completely absorbed by SEC but the name "Universal Audio" remained.
SEC rebranded as United Recording Electronics Industries (UREI) in preparation of acquiring additional companies, like Teletronix. For this reason, many 1176 compressors have both a "Universal Audio" and "UREI" logo on them.
In 1983, UREI was acquired by Harman International and became a division of JBL Professional. After the acquisition, Bill Putnam Sr. was no longer involved with the development of the 1176 compressor. That said, Harman took it upon itself to create its own revision of the 1176, known as the "H" revision.
In 1999, Bill Putnam Jr. reestablished Universal Audio. This is the Universal Audio that you're likely familiar with today. The company makes an assortment of audio interfaces, recording products, guitar gear, and UAD plugins.
1176 Revisions A to H
If you search up "1176 compressor" on Google, you'll see that there are multiple different hardware revisions. These revisions range from A to H. Over time, the 1176 was upgraded with new technology. Each revision has a unique sound, with some audio engineers favoring a particular revision over others.
Revision A: The "Bluestripe"
The very first model of the 1176, Revision A, earned its nickname "Bluestripe" from its distinctive blue-striped front panel. It was manufactured from 1967 to 1968. Rev A featured a low-noise design with an FET gain reduction stage, class-A line amplifier, and custom transformers.
Its unique sound and fast response set the stage for future revisions. Although, the Bluestripe's particular character, known for being aggressive and gritty, has always been cherished by audio enthusiasts.
Revision B: "Bluestripe" Improvements
Revision B was the second and final version of the 1176 to bear the Bluestripe design. While it maintained the same overall aesthetic as its predecessor, this revision contained several crucial electronic enhancements to improve stability. Despite the adjustments, Revision B retained the unique sonic character of the original Bluestripe model.
Revision C: The "Blackface"
Revision C, produced from 1969 to 1970, marked the switch from the "Bluestripe" to the "Blackface" design. The name was a result of the front faceplate no longer being produced in blue, but now in black. This version also introduced a new low-noise (LN) circuit design. The addition of this design further enhanced audio quality and established a new audio industry benchmark.
Revision D, E, F: The "Blackface" Refinements
Revisions D, E, and F, manufactured between 1970 and 1973, represented subtle evolutions rather than radical redesigns. These models maintained "Blackface" aesthetics while featuring incremental updates to components and circuitry.
Some of these changes aimed to improve reliability, stability, and to meet new safety regulations. The iconic sound of the 1176 was preserved. Minor tweaks to the circuitry created slight variances in character across each version.
Revision G: The Bridge to UREI
Revision G, produced from 1973 to 1980, represented the final version of the UREI 1176 compressor under the direction of Bill Putnam Sr. These models introduced a transformerless class AB output stage, resulting in a cleaner and more transparent sound. This marked a subtle shift from the slightly more colorful tonality of the earlier revisions. Despite some under-the-hood upgrades, the "Blackface" design remained constant from revisions C to G.
Revision H: The "Silverface"
Revision H, often referred to as the "Silverface", was produced after UREI's acquisition by Harman International. This version saw another faceplate color change, this time to silver. As you'll notice in the image above the "Universal Audio" text was also dropped from this revision.
It introduced additional changes in components and circuitry. Despite that, it managed to preserve the essential characteristics that had made the 1176 a studio staple. While not directly overseen by Bill Putnam Sr., the "Silverface" still carries forward his innovative spirit and commitment to sound quality.
The New Universal Audio and 1176 Reissues
When he reestablished Universal Audio, one of Bill Putnam Jr.'s first undertakings was the reproduction of the classic 1176 compressor. These reissues, faithful to the original designs, allowed a new generation of musicians and engineers to experience the legendary 1176 sound.
Revisions A to H are currently only available through used gear websites like Reverb. However, the Universal Audio 1176LN Classic Limiting Amplifier is the most recent reissue and can be purchased new from a website like Sweetwater.
It's priced at $2,599 which is relatively moderate in comparison to early revisions (A-H). For reference, some revision sell for upwards of $10,000 each. An extra consideration is that you'll need two 1176 compressors if you want to process stereo recordings.
Hardware and Software 1176 Emulations
Production of the original 1176 came to a halt by the end of the 1970s but its legacy was far from over. Its popularity led to multiple clones and emulations, both in hardware and software formats.
Today, countless hardware units and compressor plugins base their design and sound on the 1176. This proves its continued relevance and influence in the audio industry.
Hardware emulations can often fall flat of the gear they're attempting to emulate. Although, there are a few companies that seem to have hit the nail on the head. Black Lion Audio and Warm Audio have managed to deliver the sound of the "Bluestripe" and "Blackface" at a relatively affordable price.
Black Lion Audio Bluey FET Limiting Amplifier
If you're looking for a hardware "Bluestripe" emulation, check out the Black Lion Audio Bluey FET Limiting Amplifier. It's an homage to the legendary 1176 Revision A. This single-channel compressor captures the unique, aggressive character of the original unit and adds some thoughtful modern enhancements.
The Bluey is based on the personal 1176 unit of Grammy-award winning engineer Chris Lord-Alge. He's known for his work with artists such as Green Day and Bruce Springsteen.
The Black Lion Audio Bluey includes a wet/dry mix knob, allowing for parallel compression within the unit. A marriage of vintage inspiration and modern functionality makes this hardware emulation a force to be reckoned with. It's priced quite moderately at $999, putting it within reach of home recording enthusiasts.
Warm Audio WA76 Discrete Compressor
The Warm Audio WA76 Discrete Compressor is a modern hardware replica of the classic '76 Revision D, using the "Blackface" design. It has an ultra-fast attack time and classically "punchy" FET compressor sound.
It features a fully discrete signal path and a vintage-inspired design. The Warm Audio WA76 brings the vintage '76 Compressor sound to studios of all sizes and budgets.
Priced at $699, it's close to 1/4 the price of a new 1176 from Universal Audio. This particular emulation has received glowing reviews.
Universal Audio 1176 Classic Limiter Plugin Collection
Universal Audio's 1176 Classic Limiter Plugin Collection is renowned for its meticulous modeling of the 1176's complete electronic path. These UA 1176 compressor plugins deliver an incredibly accurate digital rendition of various revisions.
This bundle includes a Rev A, Rev E, and Rev AE (40th anniversary edition). The Rev AE is unique in that it includes custom mods like a 2:1 compressor ratio.
If you own an Apollo audio interface, I highly recommend checking out Universal Audio's 1176 Compressor Plugin Collection. Universal Audio did a killer job of modeling its own hardware. In my opinion, this is the best 1176 compressor plugin available.
To use these plugins, you'll need to own a Universal Audio interface. A Universal Audio interface provides on-board digital signal processing (DSP). This allows UAD plugins to run in real-time, which has significant benefits.
When recordings appear in your digital audio workstation (DAW), processing will already be applied. The experience is similar to tracking through a hardware compressor. This is a time-saving technique that many recording engineers like to use.
Waves CLA-76 Compressor / Limiter
As a more affordable alternative, Waves sells a plugin called the CLA-76 Compressor / Limiter. Within the plugin, you can toggle between a "Bluey" and a "Blacky" version. The result is that you can choose from one of two tonal colors.
This 1176 style compressor is priced at just $29. This makes it one of the most affordable ways to add the sound of classic 1176 compression to your productions. It also made it onto Black Ghost Audio's roundup titled "10 of the Best Waves Plugins for Processing Vocals".
The 1176's Place in Audio History
The 1176 compressor holds a special place in the history of audio production. From the pioneering design work of Bill Putnam Sr. to its enduring presence in studios worldwide, the 1176 has proven its staying power.
Its unique sound characteristics, flexibility, and revolutionary design have made it a beloved tool for audio professionals. More than half a century later, the 1176 compressor is still highly sought after and widely used in the music industry.
Undoubtedly, the 1176 compressor has had an interesting history. It's now known as one of the most prolific compressors in the world of recording. Looking forward, it's exciting to consider how the 1176 will continue to shape the sound of music in years to come.
Want to learn more about compressors? Check out "4 Types of Audio Compressors You Need to Know About".