FREE Bus Driver Compressor! A Review.

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Dontcrack.com just released a free compressor from Nomad Factory called the Bus Driver. It’s an emulation of a vacuum tube compressor/limiter reminiscent of an 1176 or LA2A. Nomad Factory wish to drive this similarity home with a few features, one of which being the ratio buttons that look similar to an 1176’s buttons. The other is the labeling of the Bus Driver as being “Model 1176 LA2”. Pretty obvious.

There’s a few things to note. First, this is only free for a limited time. It’s being given as a tribute to the late Bernie Torelli. Bernie is the founder of Nomad Factory, and he lost his fight with cancer on January 18th 2016. This plugin is being given away to honor one of the early pioneers of analog emulations, and this plugin doesn’t disappoint.

As a Nomad Factory fan and user, I downloaded this the instant I saw it. As soon as I threw it on a drum bus, I heard some very subtle compression happening. This was before I played with any of the controls. That’s when the magic started happening.

Turning the ratio to LIM, you can easily get 1176 style squashing from this plugin. However, it’s got its own character. To compare, I opened the Waves CLA76. Both units are set to default at 4:1, and the amount of gain reduction appeared to be pretty similar. However, the Bus Driver was a bit warmer sounding with less sparkle in the top end than the CLA76.

As I go comparing different settings of the Bus Driver to the CLA76, I notice that it can do a lot of the same things while retaining a different character. The Bus Driver is a warmer compressor with a pleasing character and saturation. However, this isn’t another 1176 clone. There’s also an LA2A component to this compressor, which means it works optically instead of with an FET circuit like the CLA76. So the difference in character is somewhat to be expected.

In terms of ease of use, this plugin couldn’t be easier. The compression knob dials in the amount of gain reduction you want, starting at zero where you have no compression. 10 gives you plenty of gain reduction, and the factory default is on 5 which is a nice middle ground. The ability to turn off the compression completely means you can use this in more versatile ways by incorporating the tube driver!

The tube driver incorporates soft clipping to prevent you hitting the harsh digital clipping that is undesirable. The more you push the tube driver, the more it breaks up in pleasing ways. This isn’t all out guitar amp distortion, but rather a nice over-driven saturation. And if you can turn the compression off on this unit, you are able to use it as just a saturation knob style plugin! Place it on your source, turn the compression to zero, and adjust the tube driver to taste! And if you’re not getting enough saturation, just increase the input knob!

But how does it sound on individual sources? Good question. I tested it on a kick drum first. I was able to get a decent amount of transient shaping with this. Just increase the input gain until you see the GR meter moving, then adjust the amount of compression you want with the compression and ratio controls. From there, if you want to add some harmonic color you can dial it in with the tube driver. At 4:1, the kick gained some punch and attack. With the ratio set to LIM, I was able to get a nice attack to come through on the top end of the kick while retaining the punch! This would be great for shaping kicks for rock, where attack is important to help the kick cut through the mix! A 2:1 ratio brings Overheads to life while retaining dynamic perception of cymbals. A little bit of tube drive can help bring some color to room miss as well.

On bass, I got a little more adventurous. I dig saturation on bass to give it depth in the mix, and the subtle saturation of the tube driver section may make this my new go-to for bass. I was able to get a nice warm amp-style drive that helped the bass stick through the mix without sounding unnatural.

I could go on and on with the various places I’d use this, but honestly I’ll just say that this thing is a beast and should be in your toolbox. Right now it’s free, and what a fitting tribute to a great man and the legacy he leaves behind. You can grab it now at Dontcrack.com for a limited time!