Meet the Retro STA-Level, a classic big hitter re-imagined for the modern studio.  We’ve been writing a series of posts about studio gear, featuring some of our favorite equipment.  Our intent is to educate DIY musician, independent producers and engineers about studio equipment and help them select an appropriate facility for their next project.  This week, we’d like to highlight another Rattle Room favorite…The Retro STA-LEVEL compression amplifier.

stalevelThe Retro Sta-Level Tube Compressor was modeled after the legendary Gates Sta-Level which gained prominence in the radio broadcast industry after its introduction in 1956. Today, these original Gates Sta-Levels are extremely rare and expensive, with models in working condition easily fetching over $3,000 on eBay for a single channel of compression!

Phil Moore, a designer and electrical engineer, had a longtime love of the Gates Sta-Level compressor. Realizing that interest in the compressor was increasing at the same time as supplies were dwindling, he decided to found a company called Retro Instruments that would recreate the Gates Sta-Level in a modern form. In addition to capturing the Sta-Level’s classic sound and design, he added a few improvements (such as improved tubes and new input and output connectors) that would make it even more appealing to the modern audio engineer. This new edition proved to be a hit and is now a staple at many major recording studios.

What About the Sound?

The sound of the Sta-Level compressor is generally described as colorful and hefty. We think the writers at Attack Magazine put it best: “[The Sta-Level] offers a steroid injection to limp subjects, morphing them into bigger, fatter and more aggressive beasts.” It can be used on nearly any instrument but is best known for adding its extra weight to vocals and bass guitars. Owner/founder Jaron Luksa likes to use it when tracking big rock vocals and as an insert on bass guitar for mixing.  It’s great at controlling the attack on signals, and can deliver over 20 dB of reduction before you start hearing any “grabbing” artifacts!

The Retro Sta-Level has been used on some of the world’s most famous productions. For example, famed engineer Sylvia Massey used it to get Johnny Cash’s vocal sound on his “Unchained” album.  She states, “These Sta-Levels are not plug-ins; they are living, breathing analog rack units that you have to make an effort to patch in … and it’s worth it.”  It was also used by Coldplay’s engineer Michael Brauer on their single, “Violet Hill”, as well as by Eric Clapton’s engineer Justin Stanley.

Justin Stanley

Michael Brauer

Sylvia Massey

If you are in the Los Angeles area, feel free to make an appointment to tour The Rattle Room and hear the STA-LEVEL for yourself!  Don’t forget to look over our full gear list and email us with any questions or to book studio time.

See you in the studio! – Team Rattle Room