Dramastic Audio | Obsidian Compressor
The Dramastic Audio Obsidian stereo compressor was first released in 2005 by John Ellis, who was making them in his USA basement for a select few producers and engineers ‘in the know’. Through various online forums, and word of mouth, the demand for these compressors increased, meaning that over time he began to ramp up manufacturer slightly. It was at this point around 2009 that KMR Audio began representing Dramastic Audio in the UK.
I had just joined KMR Audio providing consultancy visits and on-site demos and one of the very first pieces of equipment that began to create a buzz on my travels was the Obsidian. So much so that as I’m writing this review now, I’m looking at the unit I purchased myself in my own rack.
There are many compressors which have taken their inspiration from that classic console compressor from Solid State Logic, and SSL themselves have no shortage of variations from the SSL Stereo Bus Compressor 500 , SSL X-Logic G Series version and SSL X-Rack Stereo Bus compressor.
Although being inspired by this design the Obsidian takes quality compression to another level.
The Obsidian is a ‘feed forward’ VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier) as opposed to a ‘feed back’ (e.g 1176LN).The descriptions of feed forward and feed back basically describes where the control voltage processor and detector are in the circuit. Some compressors, for example, like the API 2500 Stereo Mix Bus compressor have been designed to be selectable between both.
There is a High Pass Filter at 125Hz, 12db/Octave which is situated before the detector circuit, and an external side-chain input on XLR, both of which are controlled by bright blue switches alongside the compression bypass switch on the front panel.
No corners have been cut by Dramastic Audio with the design and build of the Obsidian. Quality parts such as Elma switches, a custom made VU, gold plated Neutrik connectors, VCA’s from THAT Corporation, large very high-quality power supply and 4 Jensen Transformers are inside. The Jensen transformers, of which there are two on the input and two on the output, have been hand selected for the Obsidian’s TXIO circuit.
Those familiar with any SSL type VCA compressor will immediately understand the 5 controls on the front panel. Both the Threshold and Makeup dials have stepped increments for ease with recalling setting, with Ratios from 2:1 through 12:1 and then a skull and crossbones for a very aggressive smash type ratio. The Attack and Release settings again are familiar but with added Lo-Fi for a ’program dependent distortion mode'.
With all these extra little modifications the Obsidian can pump, squash, smash or be subtle and extremely musical whether it is over mix duties or individual tracks.
I find myself regularly mixing elements through it, vocals, guitars, samples, bass or a drum subgroup being treated to some Lo-Fi distortion, and then blend it back underneath. It can’t be used as a dual-mono unit and the HPF is fixed at 125Hz, but really these are minor and not really a negative, just what it is.
Some of these ' issues ' have been addressed in a new Obsidian 500 Stereo Compressor available with selectable HPF settings, and a Dual Mono Expansion option, available now in the 500 Series Lunchbox format.
The Obsidian is a work of audio art, built impeccably, completely flexible and yet brings a glue to everything. It kicks into shape tracks that aren’t working and makes ones that are, just that bit better. The Dramastic Audio Obsidian is extremely high quality and may not be a purchase you'd normally rush into, but this is one case you won’t regret when you do.
I feel it shines with the stereo imagining and there is no loss of focus at all, no matter how hard you drive it. The Auto release function gives a really smooth texture and this in conjunction with the classic analogue weight of those custom Jensen transformers can make your tracks sound like a record, not just a recording.