What could be a definite strong contender for the compressor Holy Grail award
In the late 60’s, David Rees worked alongside Rupert Neve as a design engineer. David had worked for BBC previously and allegedly had first come up with the original model (for its predecessor, the Neve 2253) as nails on wood with soldered wires.
This eventually led to the release of the classic Neve 2254 mono compressor/limiter in 1969, which also became the standard unit inside their 80 Series consoles.
The input stage features an input transformer followed by a diode bridge which acts as a level control element. This bridge relies on the dynamic resistance of the diodes changing with current provided by the control voltage.
Due to their non-linearity, diode attenuators tend to have high distortion levels. To combat this problem, the level was dropped about 40dB in front of the diode bridge. Doing this brought the distortion down to an acceptable level. A second transformer takes the output and passes it to an amplifier chain (the BA183/283).
The make up gain element is actually a 20dB attenuator, with the make up gain reducing the amount of attenuation. So in total, there is a 60dB loss and subsequent amplification in the device, which means the noise floor gets raised quite a bit. This is very common for diode-bridge compression designs, and is one of the reasons later compressor designs more often than not featured alternative control elements. Neve quotes the noise floor at being around -73dBm (20Hz – 20kHz), without any gain reduction.
And lastly, a third transformer drives the output from the device.
The sound of the 2254 is often described as creamy, warm or round. One of the characteristics of this compressor is that it’s quite limited in parameters. Therefore, when choosing a master bus compressor, people tend to go to its brother, the 33609, which has more flexibility.
The 2254, especially if you have them mounted in a stereo rack, is great for thickening up or toning subgroups, such as drums for example.