Low cost stereo "betterizing" unit for master out?

Does anyone have a suggestion for a box that can add some subtle drive/compression/whatever to your master outs just to give a little more cohesion to a mix?

The Heat is an obvious choice, but it seems like it’s almost certainly overkill for a low distortion, set and forget usage. Boum seems good on paper, but all of the demos I’ve heard are very heavy handed with (to me) ugly sounding distortion.

Are there less obvious choices that might be suitable for non-pro use? I’ve heard some really nice demos of the Strymon Deco, as well as using the preamps on Tascam four track recorders.

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  • FMR RNLA
  • Roland Aira Torcido
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Styrmon Deco seems like a good option imho

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+1 for the strymon Deco
Adds some real decent character to literally anything.

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About low cost you can check plugins. There are tons of mixing and mastering plugins on Plugin Alliance.
Something like Neold V76 can add subtle distortion and harmonics by pushing the input gain.

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If you’re savvy enough, you could grab a couple of RATs for about $100.

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Check out the Colour Box. It doubles as a DI box if you want to throw guitars through it and has a wicked EQ.

Colour Box is nice but mono and not cheap.

I love the Heat on my master. Using the envelope to modulate the drive gives a very nice subtle effect.

You could also pick up an Alesis 3630 for under $50. If you’re any good at soldering you can make some mods to drastically improve it.

I absolutely love the demos I’ve heard for the Colour Box, but yeah, unfortunately mono only and too expensive to buy two.

I’ve used all the ones you mention and I think the AH is the most suitable of those. The others are excellent on a channel, but muddy up a master.
Take a stab at the RNLA.

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Boss BX series mixers are lightweight, super cheap, and can be abused in a similar manner to Tascam preamps. It can be hard to avoid clipping sometimes but there are some good sweet spots where it just adds a bit of fur to the signal. Used mine on the master outs of another mixer plenty of times.

Found a Mk1 for cheap enough on reverb, so I’ll give the Heat a shot.

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Check out the Warm Audio Bus Compressor. It’s less than the Heat, will offer great compression, and is useful as a drive/character box with the engagable Cinemag transformers even when not using any compression.

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FMR RNC (subtle)
FMR RNLA (more color)
ART Pro VLA (character can be added with tube choice)

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I’d go for this over the AH as well. Transformer saturation can’t be matched with other solutions, plus you get a “solid” bus comp that you can set and forget thanks to the HPF sidechain.
I wish they made a more portable non-rack version.

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Yeah, I’d 2nd this as well generally just for the compressor as much (likely more so) than strictly the ‘flavor’. That said, Heat is not a ‘bad’ choice, but generally not the only or best master bus tool. Keep in mind, hardware like the Warm Audio is going to be subtle… it’s the last 5% of what you’re likely looking for. You’re asking about external gear, but is that a strict requirement?

Personally, I’d go with plugins to start which would get you 95% there for less money and allow you to experiment more and learn your overall preferences before buying hardware. And that’s coming from someone who very much likes outboard hardware.

Here’s some plugin recommendations:

  • Sonnox Oxford Inflator – stalwart and long time choice, but for good reason. It just makes things (usually anything) sound better.

  • Fielding Reviver – don’t let the $29 cost fool you. Tons of vibe and flavor.

  • Plugin Alliance Vertigo VSM-3 – from mid/side subtle to destroyer of worlds and everything in between.

  • PSP VintageWarmer2 – another classic, but still often used here.

And there’s a bunch of others depending on the vibe/flavor you’re after… SoundToys Decapitator, Kush Audio Omega’s, Plugin Alliance HG-2, Fabfilter Saturn and the list goes on.

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essential! and low-ish latency (77 samples, so around 1.5-2.0ms)

other plugin favorites in similar veins:

You mentioned Kush Omegas, I’d say specifically Kush Omega 458a. Great harmonics, 5ms latency

Plugin Alliance Lindell 6X-500. Usually dirt cheap, and the transformer emulation is convincing. , 0ms latency
PEX-500 adds compression and a pullet EQ, a usable tone shaper.

WaveArts Tube Saturator V2 is very usable if you want to isolate frequency bands to saturate. Good if you can get it on sale (JRR Shop, sometimes)

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if you are looking at the buss comp, i’d look at the audioscape buss comp. BUSS COMPRESSOR — Vintage Pro Audio Equipment | AudioScape Engineering Co. handmade in the states, and the same price as the Warm. :slight_smile:

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and no transformers in the audio path or “variable” HPF SC, and less ratio settings :frowning:

Unfortunate, seems like a real cool company. I guess the compressor market is pretty competitive.

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