: : Full Review : :
By: Tom Zartler of Woodcrest Studio.

This all started with an Electrodyne CA-700 I picked up for the studio then I really realized I had missed some of the musicality of analogue outboard compressors when I went from a full analogue studio to full digital then back to a hybrid digital / analogue setup. The difference to my ears and my connection to the music I was mixing was seriously altered, for the better. I've always known this, but as we get lost in software it takes a whack to the ears to wake us up sometimes. I am by no means saying digital software plugins are terrible, but to my ears the difference in sound woke me up from my cozy digital slumber.

I found some my trusty plugins, good ones by Universal Audio and others seemed almost fake. Not as much with the Universal Audio ones (I remember when I inserted the LA-2a plugin for the first time with the 1st UAD-1 I bought and was awe-struck making me a UAD convert), but with the other compressor plugins I had that I have been using for years as my go-to software compressors that I have mixed countless albums on. I then evaluated my small selection of outboard compressors and decided I needed a stereo buss compressor to pick up where my 4 Mindprint DTC tube compressors and the Electrodyne CA-700 couldn't fill. I started looking for a stereo, ultra flexible and tunable compressor.

My searching went through the gamut of compressors. I looked at Chameleon Lab's 7720 and 7802, API 2500 to name a few. I read my butt off and listened to samples galore. Then I accidentally stumbled on the Safe Sound Dynamics toolbox. After all the listening, reading, and many conversations with Warren Dent of ZenPro Audio. I paused and thought:

"What do I need out of a stereo compressor that I can't really achieve now that will let it get a lot of usage and allow me to do things I couldn't do before and/or do things better then I could before?"

And these parameters came to be them:

"Somewhat Transparent, Side Chain, Ratio, Threshold, Release and Gain Make Up Adjustments, suitable for Stem and Master buss Compression."

I am not a gear-lusting engineer, chasing the latest fad peace of gear, drooling on the internet browser screen having to sit my laptop in a bag of rice to dry out all the drool. I get things that need to work for me and provide results that will take things further than without them. If they don't , they are returned. A little plug for Warren at ZepPro Audio: He told me if I didn't like the unit or it didn't suit what I was looking to achieve, he would let me return it with a full refund. Well, as you can tell, the Dynamics Toolbox has found a permanent home here at Woodcrest.

After having it for almost 2 months, what can I say? It has been a Wonderful Addition. I just finished another artist's album where I did some tracking and mastered his album with it. On other current "in-progress" albums I have been mixing, it has found its place on instruments and stems, printed on tracks. This compressor can be transparent or noticeable. In my mixing technique, I deal in a lot of parallels. Not always just compression, but I like to let artist's music pulse and breath and I trigger off that with the the parallels. This compressor can do a lot. The side-chain built in is fantastic and it even has an insert for side-chain as well so you can send what ever you want to it to have it respond however you like. The external side-chain lends itself very well to the production side of mixing. Make it do what you want it to do. You can also have more hands off and set it and forget it, if you're that type of mixer or if that is all the track needs. Tracking vocals and acoustics were a charm in peak-ride. Complex stems, track and buss compression all found a welcomed path through the unit. Another really cool trick with the unit is you can parallel compress a single instrument by just chaining one channel of the Dynamic Toolbox's compressor to the other and on top of that, side-chain and blend each channel to create whatever effect you want. Now that is cool. Also, I really like process chaining outboard gear together in one d-a-d pass, so I chain the Dynamics Toolbox into other gear (one of my favorites is Toolbox -> TMP-8 for a beautiful rich addition to fill out a mix).

Now, what don't I like? I don't like the lack of numeric values around the knobs. It takes longer to set up dual-mono and writing preset sheets. That is all, seriously.

There is so much good I can say about this piece so the last thing I'll say is, TRY ONE OUT if you are considering an application that you've read here in this review or other reviews. Be sure to read the manual, not that this is a difficult unit to operate, so you can push the unit to the extremes to hear all that it can do. It serves for a lot of different instruments/stems/master busses, and I have only shared very little here. It is something you will have to hear for yourself. The Dynamics Toolbox is not a character sound piece stock, but you can make it one to your taste with the add-on transformers, however a stock unit can bring character out of your tracks if that makes sense. Think of it this way: You can set the compressor to help expose aspects of a track/stem, create pumping breathy compression and distort it using the limiters and adjusting ratios to get serious punch. That is different than altering spectral response and saturation characteristics with the add-in transformers. If you opt for transformers, you get two sets of outputs so you're not pigeonholed into a particular sound. So, it is all up to you, your ears and your ability to have it do what you want it to. The Dynamics Toolbox is a piece that performs.

As with anything, YMMV!

Happy Mixing,

Tom Zartler
Woodcrest Studio


Safe Sound Audio

ZenPro Audio

© 2009 Thomas Zartler/Woodcrest Studio.

Disclaimer: Tom Zartler is not affilliated with Safe Sound Audio nor ZenPro Audio. This review is based on personal, in-use experience with the Dynamics Toolbox. Individual experiences may vary.