Manley Variable Mu Limiter Compressor. $4,000 list - That's right, big bucks for a 2 rack space unit with tubes, knobs, switches and lights. But you're probably thinking, "I can get a compressor with that for less than $500". Just remember the old saying "you get what you pay for", because it's completely true in this case.
The "buzz" about Manley's Vari-Mu is that it has a certain "sound", you know, THAT sound. It leaves its own very special sonic footprint on whatever passes through it. This "buzz" if you will has landed many a Manley in some of the best studios and mastering rooms in the world. And, since I've been doing a lot more mastering for outside clients, I figured I'd give the Vari-Mu a shot in my room.
First impressions (and I'm going back to 2002 when I first put it to use). It's heavy, solid, and obviously very well-built. I can tell that a lot of care went into this product and it's evident that this is a "big boys (and girls)" product here. Bottom line, this unit looks and feels like it will put in many years of reliable, professional-level service (and after 2 years it still is!).
The sound is what really counts and the Manley delivers it and then some. Every kind of music that I've sent through the Vari-Mu came out with THAT sound - and THAT sound was always an added benefit to the music. The best I can describe is that mixes sounded "tighter", more polished, with an added definition. Just the slightest gain reduction (1dB or less) provided outstanding results. More hardcore settings squashed things to tears, which is a nice effect (sometimes), but not in a mastering situation. The only thing that the Vari-Mu wasn't right for was when I processed some field recordings of nature ambiences with it. Not that I would normally do this, I just wanted to try it.
The specs of the Vari-Mu are... well, I forgot. I haven't looked at the manual in 2 years, and to tell you the truth, I could care less about the specs. When it comes to gear made at the quality level of the Vari-Mu and that sound like the Vari-Mu, its specs mean nothing to me.
Yes, there are plug ins that emulate tube compressors at a fraction of the cost of this real one. Yes, there are hardware compressors with tubes, knobs and switches that sound pretty good and cost around $500. And, yes, an entire Pro Tools Digi 002 Rack setup with a new computer can be had for around $4000. This box isn't for everyone. Only those who want the absolute highest quality and who look at their money spent as an investment in their studios.
After 2 years of owning and using a Vari-Mu in my studio, I'm still happy with my purchase. It's still going strong, and it's needed a total of ZERO software updates. No crashes, no dongles, no latency, no driver conflicts, no viruses, no bad RAM chips, no oil changes or tune-ups....
Check the Manley website for specs and other details - www.manleylabs.com