Gear reviews

Shadow Hills – Mastering compressor

vintage king

Alright, so here I am finally writing this review or the Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor for my man Necola!

So here are the specs for this heavy baby (from VK website):

  • The input stage is transformer balanced, followed by our fully discrete optical compressor. This section utilizes the same T4B optical attenuator as the LA2A and LA3A, but is optimized for mastering.
  • The second stage is our discrete Class-A VCA compressor. There are no electrolytic caps or IC chips in the audio path.
  • There are six ratios: 1.2 to 1, 2 to 1, 3 to 1, 4 to 1, 6 to 1, and 10 to 1.
  • There is six attack settings: .1, .5, 1, 5, 10, and 30 milliseconds.
  • And there are six release times selectable: .1, .25, .5,8, 1.2, and Auto.
  • There is an insert-able filter in the side chain to limit pumping with bass heavy material.
  • Lastly the signal goes through our new Shadow Hills custom transformer-switching network.
    • The first position is Nickel, which is our custom version of a famous L. A. custom console.
    • Next is Iron. In this mode the signal goes through our op-amp and into a Class-A output stage        then to our custom Iron transformers.
    • The last transformer position is Steel.
  • These selections allow you to choose between different output transformers that are in effect: clean, colored, and dirty, respectively.
  • The optical section has a hard-wired bypass that completely removes it from the signal path, and the Class-A VCA compressor is also hardwire bypassable, completely removing it from the chain.
  • It is possible to independently bypass both compression sections and have your signal go through the input transformer and transformer selector only.
  • There is also a hardwire bypass for the entire compressor, effectively a strait wire in and out of the box. So besides being a mastering grade, and highly functional buss compressor, it serves as an excellent tracking compressor.

I had couple of mods done on it, like having the hi-pass filter going from 90hz to 100hz. When I bought it, Peter, the man behind the Shadow Hills, had moded for his client and added an insert path between the two compressors as to add for example a eq between both compressors: I removed it.

Ok, done for the technical part, so here is what my experience with this unit has been.

Let’s start with the bad things I don’t really like about it to get this out of the way. The version I have is an early one, so the “lil lights” have a tendency to go off and on or just.. off. The meter have also their day’s. Which can be a good thing as it forces me to use my ears! It’s a really heavy unit to strap into your rack, and, again for my version, not really maintenance friendly. It can be hard to get, and understand, where and what to do when you want to calibrate it.

The good part now, apart from the mega WOW factor, IT’S A MOFO COMPRESSOR. A little word here about Peter.

When I bought it second hand from the n°13 owner, I wanted to know about calibration and the mods that were done on it. So I called Shadow Hills Industrie hoping to get some sort of pdf on how to do so. I ended up talking with Peter on the phone for something like 1 large hour. I was really surprised on how accessible he was and I ended up with all the info I needed.

So what about it in action.?

This tank has been with me for the last 3 years and has been strapped to the 2 bus for 98.9% of the time. It works on all sorts of music style. I have been able to achieve different kind of sound using either the optical & discreet, or only the discreet. I find the optical to be somehow too obvious when on the 2 bus, but alone on vocals, bass or other it’s a blast (being base on the T4B you can expect it to work as well as a La3!!). I can have it pumping like a Amsterdam red like district expert lady worker, or softly caressing peaks like a soothing bath.

Using the combination of both compressors can really tighten up the mix, “put it together” or have a blending effect for the mix.

For example, with some rock material (yeah, tailored example for the big George), I will have the optical side always a bit compressing (reacting mostly to the vocals for example or just the hight peaks) while the discreet will be  at a med ratio, slow attack and med release, compressing between 2-3 dbs (sometime more) shaping the over all mix. That can do wonder (and if you use this as parallel compression it can do magic). BUT, it is hard to describe how to use any compressor, as it is ALWAYS material dependant! I use my ears and often mix into the compressor (lets say half way into the mix I switch it on).

That said, this compressor is the one to do the job really well. If I would like to do the same without the SHMC, I would have to strap a couple of compressors one after the other and then I could be close, but without the output selector which bring a choice to add some texture to the mix!

I think there is not much more to be said about it except that, apart for being an expensive tool, it has a sound of it’s own, a wide range of material friendly and can do the job of 4 (well… 2 channels) compressors really well! Take your ears; some stuff you mixed and go try one!

This review was written by Mike Kundaeli. You can find him @

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One Response to “Shadow Hills – Mastering compressor”

  1. Dr. Eddy says:

    I´ll get mine next week. Thanks for the tips.

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