The Pete Best of Compressors – The Altec 436B

Altec 436

Ah, poor old Pete Best, if only they could have added output attenuator and ‘recovery’ switch to him maybe Ringo would have never got the job and George Martin would have left things as was for The Beatles. Luckily for the Altec 436B these modifications could be made and along with the unique Hold feature of EMI’s six-position recovery switch stuff of legend was born as the humble Altec became the EMI RS124, a super rare and very expensive mythical beast in its original form.

Not as well known, desirable or wildly valuable as the king vintage compressors that is the Fairchild 660 (due to its use on Beatles recordings, yes, that old chestnut) what is arguably less well known is that five years before the Fairchild arrived at Abbey Road, EMI purchased several Altec 436B compressors, which in modified form, also featured heavily on those famous and highly influential records.

During the 1950s, the American Altec Lansing Corporation produced several compressor models originally intended for telephone, broadcast and public address applications (deputy cleaner to isle three etc). In fact, the company manufactured a wide range of audio equipment including those big old monster speakers for Woodstock in 1969. The 436 series of compressors were all-valve, vari-mu designs, i.e. they automatically crank the ratio up as the signal rises more.

Early Altecs were inexpensive and rather basic, the original 436A model had fixed parameters and no user controls whatsoever. 1958 saw the release of the 436B, which featured an input gain control, then, a few years later, the 436C included threshold and release-time controls. Maverick producer/engineer Joe Meek, for example, used a pair of Altecs – a model 436A and a model 436B – modified them to decrease the attack and release times, helping him to achieve the heavy pumping effects that were a trademark of his unique sound, so much so his landlady would take to her ceiling with a broom stick,  but we all know the end of that story.

Wonderfully enough and original 436B has just landed with us, you can find out more at :

Or if you want to find a faithful (arguably, but lets not open that can of schematic worms) recreation of the Abbey Road/Emi modified Rs124/436B, have a look at: