This time we reviewed Pulsar 1178 by Pulsar Audio – a FET compressor modeled closely on the original hardware with several twists, resulting in a delightfully modern interface and versatility.
The Pulsar 1178 is an emulation of the Urei 1178 compressor, known for its punchy and aggressive sound, thanks to the FET (Field Effect Transistor) design. In addition to capturing the tonality, Pulsar has added a stylish sidechain EQ, an optional saturation stage, and a mix knob.
The interface is resizable, modern, and convenient. It should make sense right off the bat, and the smooth behavior never lets your workflow become tedious.
With mid/side mode, saturation, and external sidechain, Pulsar makes this plugin tempting as a go-to compressor. Experimenting with the saturator can be very rewarding.
Pulsar gives this plugin plenty of added versatility while remaining faithful to the original sound. Also, you can get plenty of stereo movement out of this plugin with the inversed sidechain link and the mid/side mode.
Neatly categorized presets each with helpful mention of recommended gain reduction. There are some presets specifically for certain genres as well.
Value For Money
Despite the versatility, the hefty price tag makes it a questionable investment, especially if you aren’t interested in the added features. However, if you are in need of both a compressor and a saturator, this does feel like a considerable contender.
Sporting a beautiful, resizable GUI, the plugin offers a Sidechain EQ at the upper left. And at the upper right, we have a graph showing compression and input over time, as well as peak/RMS meters. We must say that both are very helpful additions. The EQ and the graph view can be resized using the handle at the middle, affecting the size of the other inversely.
On the left of the Sidechain EQ, you will find the various options available for the sidechain. The options include setting the sidechain source to Internal or External, an input gain for the external sidechain, and a slider to adjust lookahead or latency as you require.
Next, the lower section of the UI has the bulk of the parameters available in the original hardware.
There are two identical sets of controls at the top and the bottom for the Left/Right channel, or the Mid/Side, depending on which you select. A toggle switch lets you select various kinds of Sidechain options, which we will get into later.
The right half of the lower section has seen some upgrades compared to the original hardware. We have a pair of gain reduction VU meters and a saturation section. Below the saturation selectors, we have a small screw-shaped knob, “Cal,” which enables you to calibrate the input gain going into the saturator.
What we love the most about the UI is how clean it looks and the added graphic representation of the compression. The plugin stays true to the hardware, yet it’s not afraid to add modern elements to it, making it intuitive even if you aren’t familiar with compressors.
Other than the compressor itself, the saturator shines brightest. It is straightforward to use and sounds fabulous. Let’s have a quick look at all of the noteworthy features, though:
- You can have the signal processed in either left/right or mid/side mode, which wasn’t available in the original hardware. It works great for controlling the stereo image of a bus.
- The sidechain toggle switch lets you link the channels, unlink the channels (for independent processing per channel) or invert the channels. Inverting the channels makes the compressor compress one channel based on the audio of the other.
- There is a mix knob useful for quick NY/parallel compression. Since this is a FET compressor, it is more likely to be used on drums and bass, which could benefit greatly from parallel compression.
- There are 4, 8, 12, and 20:1 ratio options. The “All” button activates all the ratios at once, turning the compressor into a near-brickwall limiter with a saturated sound.
- The CPU usage is relatively low. It is not as light as a few other similar plugins we have seen, however — the CPU usage spikes significantly when you open the GUI of the plugin.
- When the sidechain source is set to Internal, the EQ acts like an input EQ. You can also turn the EQ on and off.
- There are four bands, each capable of being a peak, shelf, and cut-off filter.
- The cut-off filters have slopes adjustable from 6dB per octave to an impressive 48dB per octave.
- There are four kinds of saturation: Clip, Warm, Triode, and Tape.
- The Clip adds a clipper with a bright sound. And the Warm sounds like a transformer saturation. Similarly, the Triode is a tube amplifier saturation, and the Tape emulates the tape recorder saturation. Each is distinct and adds a unique trait to the sound, even without the compressor enabled.
- The calibration knob lets you control the saturation from barely noticeable to heavy saturation.
- There are separate real-time and offline oversampling options.
- Oversampling ranges from 2x to 8x. Higher oversampling rates eat a considerable amount of CPU, but they help remove artifacts, especially if you have high levels of compression or saturation.
1178 is the younger brother of the Urei 1176 compressor, which is one of, if not the most famous mono compressor unit of all time. The Urei 1178 is basically two 1176 in one, giving it stereo functionality. The Pulsar 1178 sure does have the classic sound of 1176 in it.
It sounds particularly well on drums, bass, acoustic guitars, and even vocals. Despite being related to the 1176 unit, the Pulsar 1178 is quick at catching transients. So, it could be used for shaping snares, kicks, and so on while also giving them a rich musical saturation.
Here’s an example with a Drum & Bass loop:
The loop has been treated with mid/side compression. The side has been brought up slightly, and the mid has been made punchy with a slow attack and medium release. A touch of Warm saturation gives it a nice character over the high frequencies. It certainly sounds more alive and interesting musically with the compression.
Let’s have a look at a few more examples:
Drums: (NY compressed)
Bass Guitar (dry):
Bass Guitar (compressed – no saturation):
Bass Guitar (compressed with saturation):
Acoustic Guitar (dry):
Acoustic Guitar (compressed):
The examples easily show the versatility of the compressor. The drums and the bass guitar both have punchy sounds after they are compressed. The drums, in particular, gain sparkly high frequencies and a thick body. The bass guitar also gains a lot of body, and with saturation, the bass guitar changes to a very rock-like tone.
In contrast, the plugin gently levels the acoustic guitar while taking away the sharp transients of the pick. It also brings up the body and tone of the sound well. And with the inverted channel mode, you could get a peculiar stereo response if you recorded the guitar in stereo.
Another one of our favorite uses for this plugin is for gently leveling a full mix. With the sidechain EQ set to focus on the lower frequencies, you can help bring up the high frequencies with a characterful sparkle. And if you are a fan of mild saturation on the master like we are, then the Pulsar 1178 is an open playing field.
There are plenty of presets available in the Pulsar 1178. They have been neatly separated into various categories, and finding one is a breeze. Each preset also has a recommended gain reduction amount in parenthesis. Most of the presets are sure to inspire you to create your sounds.
Value For Money
Features like the sidechain EQ, the saturator, and the great GUI are undoubtedly unique. However, for a modeled compressor, the Pulsar 1178 may seem a little over featured and overpriced. In particular, despite the great sound, the saturator may or may not appeal to everyone. Some people could already have their favorite saturators and are only looking for a compressor. They might prefer to find an 1176 plugin with stereo support instead, which is readily available at a lower price.
However, the compressor itself is, without a doubt, faithful to the original hardware and manages to be highly versatile. The Sidechain EQ feels modern and convenient. We would say combined with this, the GUI, the great-sounding saturator, the plugin does make up somewhat for its hefty price.
If you like the plugin, check the price here (trial version is available).
If you don’t have a FET compressor or a dedicated saturator plugin yet, we would definitely recommend you give this one a try. The GUI alone gives a lot of value to your investment.
Also, consider checking this video made by the creators themselves:
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K. M. Joshi is a multi-award-winning composer and sound designer, specializing in film, game, and TV audio. He enjoys making cinematic music, rock, blues, and electronica. Read more..