Serpent Audio: Splice MKII SA76-500 Serpent Audio: Splice MKII SA76-500
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Enter the Matrix

When I was a starry eyed, aspiring engineer – before I even knew how to properly use compression for all it’s worth… I knew about the revered 1176 compressor and what it had to offer. Shortly after that, I became aware of the drastic differences between the staple Rev D “Blackface” 1176LN and the extremely sought after Rev A “Blue Stripe” 1176 (which can go for $12,000-$18,000 or more… if you can find an original). I’d been using plugin emulations for a while but there came a time when I began working in professional studios, and I was fortunate enough to spend a great deal of time working with examples of both the original Rev Ds and a single, original Rev A. When I tried to fill this hardware niche in my personal studio, no matter what clones or recreations I tried, they all seemed to leave a void in my heart compared to the vintage units. Some of that magic and wow factor was missing, and I couldn’t quite justify dropping

$8,000+ for a pair of original Rev Ds or well over $10,000 for a Rev A. To my ears, even the official UA reissues (while nice sounding in their own right) were lacking what made the Blackface units so great, and the only real Rev A options I was aware of at the time were DIY, costing around $1,000 assembled. The other path was roughly $600 + soldering skills and I did not have the time to build one. I was determined to go on a quest to find the perfect, modern production 1176 units, but all of the units I’d tried priced between $600 and $2,000 weren’t doing it for me. I could seek out an original Purple Audio MC76 for my Blackface fix, but they are rarer than rocking horse poop these days due to parts being discontinued. As with my little SSL adventure, my 1176 quest seemed to end with a Serpent Audio unit… the rack mounted Splice MKII units I tried at Summer NAMM 2016 and now, the 500 series version dubbed the Splice MKII SA76-500.

BORN IN THE USA

The first thing I did when I was told that the SA76-500 units were identical in both sound AND general circuitry to the rack units (minus a couple small features, more on this later) was try to confirm. After much time trying to match settings between the 500 series and rack units, I found they did sound exactly the same at the exact same settings. Amazing. This would explain why the SA76-500s may be the (physically) heaviest 500 series units I’ve ever gotten my hands on, despite being only a singlewide unit they have more weight than any doublewide or even the rare triplewide units I can think of. This to me is certainly a testament of the circuit design, build quality, and sturdiness of the enclosure. It’s no surprise that these compressors and the whole Serpent line are being produced in the USA.

“It’s no surprise that these compressors and the whole Serpent line are being produced in the USA.”

During that hour of initial testing, I realized that these units had more 1176 ‘magic’ than any modern production unit I have ever used – and I have worked with just about every one out there. This is because when Mike at Serpent Audio finds that a particular component or transformer isn’t currently being produced, therefore threatening to alter the sound of the compressor… he has them custom built. Such great pride is taken in these custom components (for good reason), that Mike wasn’t able to share the details of the custom transformer used in the Splice MKII units. This is just part of the secret sauce that helps the SA76-500s stand out in the oversaturated crowd of 1176 reproductions.

FEATURE SET

With the sound quality right where it should be… it’s the next round of features present in the Splice MKII units that really take it to such great heights. For starters, you can hit two buttons to switch between full Rev A and full Rev D modes, completely altering the sound, gain, and circuitry. Not only this, but you can mix and match the two revisions, opting for Rev A input stage, Rev D output stage… or vise versa. Effectively creating unique 1176 opportunities never possible before. You get all of my favorite hardware compressor features: a sidechain, high pass filter, linking, wet/dry mix knob, transformer loading (to creating a darker, more vintage sound that also interfaces better with some vintage equipment), and an option to go to a 1:1 ratio to bypass compression.


“… it’s the next round of features present in the Splice MKII units
that really take it to such great heights.”

You also get some next level 1176 centric features such as an added 2:1 ratio (only ever seen with the Anniversary Edition 1176) and the option to engage the famed “all buttons in mode”, titled ‘Slam’ with the Splice MKIIs, and the ability to change the ratio once it is on. No longer are you stuck with the “infinite ratio” of the “all buttons in” A.K.A. “Brit mode”. Want to turn it down to a subtle 2:1 ratio and keep that coloration? No problem. Or how about a 1:1 ratio bypassing the compression altogether, just using the mix knob to dial in that beautifully blatant, “Brit mode” saturation? Done. This is truly a piece of hardware with plugin-like features and versatility. I have no idea how he fit it all into this tiny little enclosure.

“You also get some next level 1176 centric features such as an added 2:1 ratio (only ever seen with the Anniversary Edition 1176) and the option to engage the famed all buttons in mode.”

IN USE


Noticing an incredible amount of talent in local artist Celeste, I recently offered to take her DIY recorded and mixed EP, titled Bloom, to the next level. For one of her first times recording, she did a solid job and the production is top notch, with hints of new wave indie rock, blues/alternative rock like The Black Keys and Jack White, topped off with classic rock influences reminiscent of The Rolling Stones and The Who. This lo-fi style rock album seemed like a perfect place to really take the Splice MKII 500s out for a spin, naturally starting with a drum bus.

Celeste
Celeste Drum Bus (Leading Blackface Plugin) (Matched Settings/Gain)
Celeste Drum Bus (LOUD EXAMPLE WARNING) (Splice MKII SA76-500) (Blue Input Stage, Matched Settings, No Gain Matching for Reference)
Celeste Drum Bus (Splice MKII SA76-500) (Blue Input Stage, Matched Settings, -8dB Output Gain)
Celeste Drum Bus (Splice MKII SA76-500) (Full Black Mode, 2-4dB GR, 4-1, Slowest Attack, Fastest Release)

Combining the ultra aggressive, ultra punchy Rev A input stage with a Rev D output stage (which overall retains more low end than the Rev A output stage) made for a perfect tonality on the Bloom track Heavy Sleeper. To ensure the kick drum had even more room to breathe, I was able to engage the sidechain HPF and then dial down the mix knob to about 75% allowing me to achieve the ultra, in your face signature of the compressor whilst still letting some of the natural drum sound through, turning the simple drum loop into a massive, arena-worthy drum section. The rack unit actually has 5 high pass filter sections, but the fact we are given a single fixed high pass filter is enough to do the job nicely 9/10 times, and you save roughly $500 per unit while you’re at it. Just like the original 1176 units I have grown to know and love, I was able to set the slowest attack and fastest release on the drum bus for an almost transient shaper like effect across the bus that was so intense it would make John Bonham wince.

Combining the ultra aggressive, ultra punchy Rev A input stage with a Rev D output stage (which overall retains more low end than the Rev A output stage) made for a perfect tonality on the Bloom track Heavy Sleeper. To ensure the kick drum had even more room to breathe, I was able to engage the sidechain HPF and then dial down the mix knob to about 75% allowing me to achieve the ultra, in your face signature of the compressor whilst still letting some of the natural drum sound through, turning the simple drum loop into a massive, arena-worthy drum section. The rack unit actually has 5 high pass filter sections, but the fact we are given a single fixed high pass filter is enough to do the job nicely 9/10 times, and you save roughly $500 per unit while you’re at it. Just like the original 1176 units I have grown to know and love, I was able to set the slowest attack and fastest release on the drum bus for an almost transient shaper like effect across the bus that was so intense it would make John Bonham wince.

SNARE SOUND

I was also able to use these parameters to replicate what I consider the ideal Rev A snare sound, making the most of the extreme upper mid range enhancement. As with the vintage unit I am used to, the SA76-500 also carves out the low end (ever so slightly), accentuating that snap even more. Normally I use this on the parallel track of the snare group (when working with top and bottom tracks), but the mix knob presents the opportunity to try the compressors out right on the track, potentially saving you that trouble and the phasey baggage that can come with it. While I still ended up using them on the parallel track to grant me further control, it is really up to you to pick your beautifully colorful poison.

“I was also able to use these parameters to replicate what I consider the ideal Rev A snare sound,”

Something to keep in mind is the fact that the Blue input stage tends to add about 5dB of gain to the overall signal, while the Blue output stage seems to be more or less unity gain (within about 1dB) of the Blackface output stage. This can lend itself to some fun gain staging options to really drive the transformers exactly the way you want. The Blue Stripe output stage also seems like the stage in which you lose the most low end, with the Blue Stripe input stage making up for any potential losses with tons of saturation and punch. This allows you to play with the different revision matrix options to find the perfect balance of punch, color, low end, and upper mids for snare, in addition to kick, keyboards, and electric guitar. While I would normally use full Rev D if I was using an 1176 on kick, the Splice MKII 500s allowed me to experiment by adding the Rev A input stage… adding some extra color and saturation without costing all that much with regards to the bottom end. It is situations like this that ultimately made the Blue Stripe input stage / Blackface output stage my favorite on many applications where I wanted a source up close and personal. Comparing the results to my favorite 1176 plugins, the plugins sounded a little masked and hollow in retrospect… it is always reassuring to hear some extra oomph when auditioning hardware against its digital counterpart.

“… it is always reassuring to hear some extra oomph when auditioning hardware against its digital counterpart.”

VOCALLY SPEAKING

While I typically don’t use an 1176 quite as much on vocals as many other engineers, I do enjoy it from time to time, especially utilizing the classic pairing with my LA-2A or an LA-3A (or the Serpent Audio Chimera, to be reviewed soon). There is a reason this combination is synonymous with polished, “radio ready” vocals though, and this translates perfectly with the Splice MKII. It even seemed to carve away some low mid mud, just like a good Rev A!

Celeste Vocals (Bypassed)
Celeste Vocals (Leading Blue Stripe Plugin) (Matched Settings/Gain)
Celeste Vocals (Splice MKII SA76-500) (Blue Input Stage, Matched Settings, Gain Matched)
Celeste Vocals (Splice MKII SA76-500) (Blue Input Stage, Slam Mode, Compression Bypassed)
Celeste Vocals (Splice MKII SA76-500) (Full Black Mode, Cleaner Settings, Gain Matched)
Celeste Vocals (Splice MKII SA76-500) (Full Blue Mode, 2-5dB GR, 4-1, Slowest Attack, Fastest Release, Gain Matched)

“There is a reason this combination is synonymous with polished, “radio ready” vocals though…”


Mirroring the results with the previously tested applications, you are not just stuck with the traditional amount of 1176 saturation, aggression, and punch. While I could use also the same setting as the drums to get a present, up front sound, I was impressed with how uncharacteristically smooth and comparatively transparent I could get the SA76-500 to sound. At least versus the sonic signature I have learned to associate with a FET compressor of this type, which makes me believe stellar results could be had on acoustic instruments as well. FET compression by nature has a pretty extreme amount of total harmonic distortion, and while there are FET compressors that negate this by design somewhat (CAPI FC526, Empress Effects ECM 519, etc), this is one of the last compressors I would have expected to clean up so well.

Celeste Electric Bass (Bypassed)
Celeste Electric Bass (Splice MKII SA76-500) (Blue Output Stage, Settings Matched)
Celeste Electric Bass (Splice MKII SA76-500) (Full Black Mode, 3-7dB GR, 2-1, Medium-Slow Attack, Medium-Fast Release)

“… this is one of the last compressors I would have expected to clean up so well.”

While I have listed below some additional features I think would be nice, considering this is a singlewide 500 series unit with more features than most 3U rack compressors, it is borderline rude (if not delusional) to expect there to be room for anything else on the PCB. That’s one of the downsides to hardware… physics and electrical engineering both very much apply. That being said, this is basically a real life plugin with the amount of intuitive and unique features that have been crammed into this little miracle box. On all of the standard applications such as electric guitar, drums, and vocals I honestly can’t see myself using an original 1176 ever again. I know, words I never thought I’d say either. It’s like choosing the 15-year-old Mercedes S Class over the brand new supercar that goes 300 MPH, though not as many people have heard of it. Both nice options but put the two on the road next to

each other and see what happens. Then there is the whole slew of applications not suited for an original that get opened up to you with the Splice MKII SA76-500. Not once did I feel like I was missing a feature after I setup my DAW for the input and output metering, and as long as you remember which one of the 4 matrix options to recall when you shut the unit off and turn it back on, it’s smooth sailing. I am so impressed with this unit, to the point where Serpent Audio has earned my first ever full 5/5 rating. Out of the dozens of reviews I have written thus far, the vast majority of which have been on fantastic product. In my mind this unit is the golden standard, a monument of what can be accomplished and of why hardware is still more than relevant in the digital age. Be sure to vote for this little guy, since it received a well-deserved nomination for a NAMM Tec award.

CONCLUSION

While I have listed below some additional features I think would be nice, considering this is a singlewide 500 series unit with more features than most 3U rack compressors, it is borderline rude (if not delusional) to expect there to be room for anything else on the PCB. That’s one of the downsides to hardware… physics and electrical engineering both very much apply. That being said, this is basically a real life plugin with the amount of intuitive and unique features that have been crammed into this little miracle box. On all of the standard applications such as electric guitar, drums, and vocals I honestly can’t see myself using an original 1176 ever again. I know, words I never thought I’d say either. It’s like choosing the 15-year-old Mercedes S Class over the brand new supercar that goes 300 MPH, though not as many people have heard of it. Both nice options but put the two on the road next to each other and see what happens. Then there is the whole slew of applications not suited for an original that get opened up to you with the Splice MKII SA76-500. Not once did I feel like I was missing a feature after I setup my DAW for the input and output metering, and as long as you remember which one of the 4 matrix options to recall when you shut the unit off and turn it back on, it’s smooth sailing. I am so impressed with this unit, to the point where Serpent Audio has earned my first ever full 5/5 rating. Out of the dozens of reviews I have written thus far, the vast majority of which have been on fantastic product. In my mind this unit is the golden standard, a monument of what can be accomplished and of why hardware is still more than relevant in the digital age. Be sure to vote for this little guy, since it received a well-deserved nomination for a NAMM Tec award.

“In my mind this unit is the golden standard, a monument of what can be accomplished and of why hardware is still more than relevant in the digital age.”

Availability

The Serpent Splice MKII SA76-500 weighs in at $999 USD (€860 Euro + VAT) and you can find a dealer close to you by visiting the distributer’s page here

For more information follow this link

 

This unit not only breaks the mold of what an 1176 can be, but what a compressor in general, 500 series or otherwise can do. Feature-laden with everything you can think of, and some things no one has before this point.
  • Splice MKII features in a 500 series format
  • The best Rev A and Rev D recreations I have heard
  • An 1176 with tons of added versatility
  • Rev A / Rev D matrix resets when you power down
  • Transformer loading is engaged with an internal jumper cable
  • No input or output gain metering, only gain reduction

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

5 of 5

Michael Frasinelli

Studio Owner, Audio Engineer, and Producer based in Nashville, TN, mentored by and working closely with Grammy Award winning Producer, Engineer, and Musician Randy Kohrs. Highly active analog gear habit, with a plugin hobby on the side. DIY audio enthusiast with an interest in all things circuitry.

 

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