Universal Audio 1176 Compressor Celebrates 50 Years

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Upon its release in 1967 and throughout the 70’s, the 1176 Limiting Amplifier and was ubiquitous in professional studios as shag carpets, overflowing ashtrays, and brazen stained brown upholstery. It quickly became an instant classic because of its unique lightning-fast attack and release times, musical Class A output stage, and its wide range of sounds, ranging from subtle, near-transparent compression, to all-out drive and distortion.

In studios throughout the world, you can find entire racks of 1176s, and for those without the studio space or specimens, there are more than a dozen software emulations to fill the gap.

Today, Universal Audio’s 1176LN Classic Limiting Amplifier is a handbuilt, faithful reproduction of Bill Putnam Sr.’s original visionary design — an iconic piece of audio history that had a hand behind classic recordings from Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, and more.

But why? What’s so special about the 1176?

Transitioning to “New Solid-State Technology”

Bill Putnam started designing audio gear in Chicago under the name of Universal Audio in the 1950s. In ’57, he moved to Hollywood and renamed his company Universal Recording Electronics Industries. UREI had just acquired a company called Teletronix, which came with the patent rights to the optical LA-2A compressor. This merger was the first step toward creating the famous 1176.

With tube compressors like the Fairchild 660/670 and the LA-2A dominating the market, Putnam set out to “transition to new solid-state technology.

Billed in the 1968 release as a “true peak limiter with all transistor circuitry and superior performance on all types of program material,” the 1176’s major selling point was its ultra-fast attack time — a mere 20 µS (.00002 seconds) at its fastest setting. It also offered contemporary design, featuring knobs with clear surrounds, pushbuttons, and a brushed aluminum face panel with a blue stripe near the VU meter — none of those then typical big Bakelite knobs in sight.

The 1176 became an instant favorite with producers and engineers because of its unique lightning-fast attack and release times (20 µS to 800 µS Attack, 50 mS to 1.1 seconds for Release), its Class A output stage, and its wide range of sounds, ranging from a very subtle, near-transparent compression at 4:1, to its most notable setting, the “All Buttons In” mode, where all the ratio buttons are depressed simultaneously. This allowed the 1176 to make a sound unlike any other processor ever heard before. Distortion increased, along with a plateaued slope and a lag time in response to initial transients, creating an explosive sound on drum room mics, making an incredible grungy bass or electric guitar sound, or squeezing a vocal so it sat right in your face.

The 1176 Compressor Celebrates 50 Years
The 1176 Compressor Celebrates 50 Years
The 1176 Compressor Celebrates 50 Years
Universal Audio engineers bench testing the 1176.


So what does an 1176 “sound” like? The characteristic that most 1176 lovers agree on is that what comes out is better than what went in. There’s a brightness and presence, an “energy” imparted, according to Mike Clink from Guns ‘N’ Roses. Bruce Swedien used his 1176 on all the Michael Jackson vocals he recorded. Some even use the 1176 with the compression turned off, just for the distinctive tone it imparts. The amplifiers and transformers all by themselves give a desirable “hot” quality to anything passing through them.

In a 2002 interview with Universal Audio, Andy Johns—famed producer and engineer for The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Television, and other era-defining artists—said, “Since you guys came out with the device, I have used them on every record.” Decades after Johns’ heyday, pop mixing engineer Jon Castelli would use the 1176 on Kesha’s 2017 comeback single “Praying.”

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