MANLEY VARIABLE MU® LIMITER COMPRESSOR
The MANLEY VARIABLE MU® LIMITER COMPRESSOR has been our best selling product for many years. It is one of the very few compressors that has become a real standard in Mastering studios and contributed to most hit records over the last decade and probably the next. “Mu” is tube-speak for gain, and Variable Mu® is our registered trademark for this limiter compressor. It works by using the “remote cut-off” or re-biasing of a vacuum tube to achieve compression. The precious vintage Fairchild 670 also uses this technique and is one of few all-tube compressor to do so, that we know of. Even the side-chain has glowing rectifier bottles. How’s it work? The unique 5670 dual triode is at the center of the peak-reducing and compression action constantly being re-biased by the vacuum tube rectified side-chain control voltages which cause this tube to smoothly change its gain. Just like that.
The COMPRESS mode is soft-knee 1.5 to 1 ratio while the sharper knee LIMIT mode starts at 4 to 1 and moves to a more dramatic ratio of 20 to 1 when limiting over 12dB. Interestingly, the knee actually softens as more limiting is used. Distortion can be creatively used by turning up the Input and turning down the Output while using very little or no compression. See the gain reduction curves here!
You might notice that the Variable Mu® Limiter Compressor has a ganged input control, but do not jump to conclusions that it is mono-unfriendly. Track away! There are separate threshold and output controls to make compensations with plus you can always adjust your individual source levels elsewhere, right? The advantage of the stereo input control becomes dramatically clear when you switch to LINK mode, and that’s what our Variable Mu® Limiter Compressor does better than anything else: final mix, 2-track, or mastering limiting and compression. Like one reviewer put it: “It’s like pouring a bowl of sweet cream over the mix.” Mmmmmm. Yummy. Give your music a big hug.
The High Pass Side Chain mod comes stock on all Manley Variable Mu limiter/compressors since 12/2009, on both regular and mastering versions. This mod adds two switches to the front panel, one for each channel, so that when engaged, the side chain will not respond to frequencies lower than 100Hz. (We standardly use 100Hz as the -3dB point. Other frequencies can be custom ordered.) This HP SC Mod can be used with music with heavy bass lines or bass-heavy mixes where you don’t want the bass driving the whole action of the compressor.
The filter is a very gentle 6db per octave 1 pole filter, and will typically be down 1-3db at 100 Hz, and down 4-6db at 50Hz. As you decrease the frequency the amount of limiting will decrease also. At the extreme LF (less than 20Hz) there should be very little gain reduction going on. The whole intent of the filter is to keep very LF stuff (like a heavy kick drum) from activating the compression/limiting so that the overall level doesn’t duck with every drumbeat. We can add the High Pass Side Chain option stock boards for an extra $350 NET to older Manley Variable Mu limiters. Units which are more than ten years old that have to be hand wired for this mod will cost slightly more in order to install the circuitry, approximately $425.
Another mod we can do for several Variable Mu’s is to accommodate Surround Sound Linking. This presumes you want to use 4 to 6 (or more) channels of Variable Mu for your 5.1 surround work, and you own two or three Stereo Variable Mu units (or more). For this we add a pair of RCA jacks on the back of each unit so that the sidechain can be easily plugged into another one or two other Stereo Variable Mu units. Then the LINK switch is replaced with a three-way switch and wired to select amongst the following three conditions:
- LINK: Link the side-chains of the two channels in this chassis
- EXT: Link the side-chains of the two channels in this chassis AND to the other units plugged into the RCA linking sidechain access jacks on the back of the unit
- SEP: Do not link to any other channels
We add TWO RCA jacks to each unit for easy daisy-chaining. Just use any ol’ RCA cables you have lying around to link up the sidechains.
Then all the sidechains track each other. You still have to set up each unit as you would though, as the very act of linking the side chains does not create a master-slave situation.
We usually charge $200 NET per unit to do this Surround Linking mod.
We also offer a Mid/Side mod upgrade (aka. Vertical/Lateral or Sum/Difference) to the Variable Mu® Limiter Compressor which opens the door to stereo encoding and decoding as well as exciting image enhancement processing capabilities. For instance, setting to compress only the in-phase information allows the augmentation of the stereo image as the out-of-phase content is left untouched. Or, conversely, if you need a “more-mono” mix for broadcast, or vinyl-cutting for instance, you can set it to kill off more of the out-of-phase info which leaves more in-phase material in the final result. Read more about the MS Mod on page 12 of the Owner’s Manual.
Total mod cost for the M-S option is $800 NET added to the base cost.
In order to add both M-S and the HP SC mods, we move the power switch to the rear panel and install both channels’ HP SC switch to the center hole where the power switch was. The M-S switches then flank this switch.
Please inquire with us personally for detailed information.
WHICH TUBES SHOULD I USE IN MY VARIABLE MU® LIMITER COMPRESSOR? 6386? 5670? OR 6BA6 TBAR MOD?
Yes, the newer units use the 5670 tube instead of the 6386. By now the availability of the original USA GE 6386 is poor; we don’t have any left at all, and what we do have are not usable due to noise, microphonics, bad side-to-side match, etc.
DOES THE 5670 SOUND DIFFERENT?
Well, up to about 6db of limiting it’s about the same. After that point, the 5670 version tends to sound more “squashed” than the original 6386 version. Some like it better, some don’t– depends on what you’re trying to do. To solve all these problems, Paul came up with a really good solution: the T-Bar Mod which uses a pair of 6BA6 pentodes wired as single triodes to replace each dual triode 5670 (or 6386). the 6BA6 TBAR Mod is the preferred system to use in the Manley Variable Mu® for reasons of ability to perfectly match each phase-halve section and each stereo set, ability to select for lo-noise and lo-microphonic sets for a low cost, and because the action of the 6BA6’s so closely resemble the smooth 6386 limiting curves.
Read more about Paul’s special T-Bar Mod here.
Update 2009: There is a new production 6386 being made by JJ factory. They are very expensive, $120 each! We have not tested these tubes.
You can read an informative thread about the JJ6386 on Gearslutz to decide if you want to them instead.
Follow the directions below to convert your 5670-powered Manley Variable Mu® to use the 6386 tubes. It’s more work to do this than to install our 6BA6 T-Bar mod kits which we charge $500 for (complete and installed with four 6BA6 tubes selected for quad-perfect matching, lo-noise, and lo-microphonics).
If you want us to convert your unit for you, we can. You’ll be supplying the 6386 tubes and we will all pray to the Tube gods that they are quiet and internally matched. Maybe buy extras to be sure. Check out our service page for rates and then fill in the RA form to book the service and you can work with Paul on that.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR CONVERTING 5670 TO 6386
- Replace 3K57 resistors connected to pins 4 & 6 of 5670 socket with 6K8 1W.
- Replace 1K resistors connected to pins 2 and 8 with 511 Ohms.
- Replace 10K “balance” trimpot with 500 Ohm trimpot.
- Remove 200 Ohm resistor between pins 2 and 8.
- Replace 33K 1W resistor between wiper of “GR cal” trimpot and the junction of the meter with 22K 1W (resistor is located near the rear corner of the pcb next to the GR cal trimpot).
- Repeat procedure for the other channel; re-calibrate as outlined in the owner’s manual.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TURNING UP THE INPUT LEVEL CONTROL TO DRIVE THE UNIT INTO LIMITING WITH MORE LEVEL VERSUS USING THE THRESHOLD CONTROL?
The limiting characteristics shouldn’t change much, but the distortion characteristics will. The input control on these units is located ahead of the tubes, directly “behind” the input transformer. So as you advance the input control, you’re hitting the input tube (which is the gain-varying stage) with more and more signal. Gain reduction is done by making the DC bias on this tube more negative (the threshold control determines how much). The tube has a limit as to how far it can be biased negative to reduce gain before it goes non-linear, and since your audio signal is obviously swinging both positive and negative, the big swings of the audio signal plus the negative gain control voltage will eventually push the tube into the red zone. Tubes like the 6386/6BA6/12BA6 can be pushed a lot farther before the THD builds than tubes like a 5670. Higher signal level also pushes the rest of the tubes and the output transformer harder, which will change the sound character as well.