A little about the Passive Aggressive Series…
The standard models share most of the same basic features as the Deluxe, but the deluxe adds a few extra bells and whistles.
First thing to acknowledge, a lot of the box is based on how hard you push what is going into it. Like hitting the output section of a Neve or API pre, or gain staging your favorite classic compressor or how hard you hit that tape machine, it can be subtle, or you can throw a ton of gain into it to push the effect. For this reason, an output attenuator is included on each channel. The deluxe version adds a stereo linkable stepped output for easy stereo bus work, while the Standard Issue model gives you independent 12 position attenuators for easy matching . In short, push your gain into it as hard as you want, and then take it back down to a workable level before hitting your next piece of gear in line.
Yes! it really is a passive based design. Obviously the indication lights and meters are active, but the audio circuit itself remains true to a completely passive analog design. I like to think of it as an extension of whatever gear I have placed before it, whether it’s my console, or when mixing tracks back into, or even used subtly in the mastering stage. Because of the completely passive design, on some settings you will notice a minor insertion loss up to a few dB’s. For example, when the Germanium or Air features are used to extreme, and they are in full clipping mode, you are effectively shaving off the tops of transients, like a clipper/limiter. You will hear the threshold effect and a little reduction of volume.
The new DELUXE MK3 Signal Path:
Audio goes in. Starts with a bypass switch. Because the box is designed to let you hit it hard and attenuate the output back to a usable level, the circuit bypass still keeps the attenuator in line. Why? Because if you cranked the gain going into it, then hit bypass, you’d not only give your ears a jolt, but you’d risk gaining out whatever is next in the chain. Plus, this way, you can A/B with the circuit in or out to hear a more volume relative comparison. So while not a “true” bypass, when the attenuator is set at full volume, you are effectively removing the resistive attenuation network and is by all means, bypassing.
INPUT TRANSFORMER STAGE:
1) IRON – classic Carnhill output transformer. Yup. Those big beautiful red ones used in legendary Neve gear. Think subtle, but in that way that just makes things sound more 3D. Nice bottom end, clean airy top, and just the right amount of thick meets clarity. My favorite for 2-bus duty but it’s at home in so many other places.
2) NICKEL (deluxe only) – the ying to the Iron’s yang. Classic custom wound nickel core transformer. The influence behind this was to achieve a little of that mid range forward sound found in classic API pre’s, but was never intended to be a tone clone. Like the Iron channel, it’s pretty subtle but just the right amount of sparkle and sheen. Nickel transformers by nature are intended to be “clean” by design. I strived to find a Nickel cored transformer that still allowed core saturation at a lower level. By utilizing a smaller core, it was effectively achieved. Great for bus work, and tracks as well.
3) STEEL – based on an NOS classic small frame dual-core transformer, with a lower threshold than the other transformer stages. It saturates much more easily, and has a sound all of it’s own.
SOAK (deluxe only)… an optional stage which can increase impedance and voltage to a level that is more easily workable, or rather, lowers the threshold for where the various saturation/soft clipping stages ignite. Lets you “SOAK“ the the transformers and diodes and serves two purposes. It will add a load to the input transformers increasing harmonic content at a lower threshold, and will also send extra voltage to the upcoming diode saturation stage (causing the diodes to saturate earlier). It’s a nice feature for crushing drums and whatnot through the diode stages.
SLANT 6 EQ. This is a 6db per octave slope filter. Use the more an less settings to change the slope’s start Q. On it’s own the feature can be used for subtle high and low roll off. For example, use the lesser settings on the hi EQ for some “analog” high end roll off, etc.
Use the EQ’s in conjunction with the SAT FOCUS switch to further shape saturated tones.
DIODE CONFIGURATION -
GRM 1 – A germaium diode based saturation/soft clipper.
GRM 2 – utilizes vintage Soviet made germanium diodes in an fashion that will give a different variant of 2nd vs 3rd or harmonics
RECT – Rectifier diodes used in an order that creates yet another diode sat varation. You’ll find this one to sound “dirtier” with more 2nd order harmonics. More of a fuzz tone when pushed hard and can get similar tones to the lighter side of a vintage guitar fuzz.
DIODE SAT THRESHOLD KNOB - controls the threshold of the saturation. Turn it all the way to SOFT for more transparent use as a soft clipper with subtle harmonics. Crank it to NUKE and really saturate the source.
SAT FOCUS – this is basically a crossover frequency selector that allows you to only send part of the EQ band to the diode saturator. For things like drums, you can send use these setting to keep your kick drum clean etc. Or take a random source, use the “mid” setting and then roll out the low end with the slant 6 EQ. The Focus and the EQ are often work well together to really shape the tone. (great for Electric guitars). Try using the Luft or Top settings with just a hint of saturation to just add some top end harmonics to sources. Can give some nice tape like sounds. I’ve had a lot of people even like this on master bus work. Just a hint of top end sparkle.
OUTPUT IRON - Bypass it, or add it for a little finishing character. This is a secondary transformer output stage. The Standard Issue model utilizes an “always in” output transformer stage and the Deluxe edition adds a switchable stage.
BOOST - Adds a roughly 3dB boost (depending on your source signal impedance, it will vary a bit) and works kind of like a make-up gain. Sometimes when hitting the diode saturation stages heavily, some signal will be lost because it is effectively shaving off some peaks as it saturates. The boost helps get you back to where you were without having to turn up the input of the next piece of gear in your chain.
Add all this up and what do you get? Anything from subtle overtones, to varying degrees of all out saturation. Each in a musical analog fashion that adds a little character.