dbx has been a leader in compression technology, ever since their VCA compressor started the pro audio compressor market in the mid 70’s. Their equipment can be found in nearly every studio, live venue, and broadcast facility. While their effectiveness, uses, and pricing varies hugely across their current products, the entry level 266xs packs one hell of a punch at nearly half the price of a normal home studio vocal microphone. Providing two channels of gating/compression, each with their own sidechain inputs, and automatic compression modes, there are plenty of features to help out a starting engineer to learn about outboard compression. Not to mention the XLR/TRS options for inputs and outputs that allow for seamless integration in a studio setting or a musician’s touring rack.
The 266xs is advertised as a live sound compressor gate, and functions flawlessly as such. There’s little coloration or squashing with the unit, especially when using dbx’s OverEasy technology. OverEasy basically turns the compressor into a soft-knee unit that gives a smooth transition from uncompressed to compressed audio. The gates are clean and accurate, keeping out most bleed on a drum kit, or unwanted fret noise on string instruments. For any live performance/broadcast, I’d recommend the 266xs for it’s ability to work in real-time for a fraction of the price on other compressors/gates/limiters.
During the tracking process, I’ve found the dbx 266xs to work particularly well on bass and guitar. With bass guitar, the dynamics can get a little wild from time to time, so compression helps to control peaks as well as adding some punch to the audio. When running a guitar into Pro Tools, I’ll usually use a DI for software processing. Using a DI usually picks up every little sound from a guitar though and only gets worse with single-coil pickups. Adding the 266xs to the chain gets rid of any unwanted noise when using the gate, and can add some beautiful sustain to guitar leads. While vocals can be run through the 266xs, I found some loss of warmth, especially noticeable when using a tube mic or tube preamp. When driven hard with any audio source, there is some squashing which was expected from an entry level unit. Some compressors are able to add color when driven hard, but they can easily run 10x the price of the 266xs. The attack and release of this compressor can be set just as easily as other models, and provide a great hardware alternative to software compressors.
In the mix process, this compressor can be just as useful. If you’ve got too much bleed on your kit (maybe too much hi-hat in your snare drum?), you can easily apply a gate for a natural sounding suppression. The sidechain inputs make the 266xs into a great hardware effect unit, allowing you to pump the mix of any song you could desire. Many of today’s dance tracks will sidechain their kick drum to a synth or even the entire mix, and this unit allows a home studio to do that in an outboard format. By stereo coupling the 266xs (with a simple button on the front) you can evenly compress a stereo track. You could use it as an effect, or to compress your entire mix. Be careful of the latter though, too much compression will kill your track. As I’ve found with most gear, use sparingly unless you’re looking for a special effect from driving the unit.
I can’t stress enough how hard it is to find decent, inexpensive outboard gear. Unless you get a deal on a used or repairable compressor, you won’t be getting much for under $200. The 266xs gives you two channels of professional gating and compression for $150. The best part about this dbx compressor is that almost everything applies as you work your way up to higher level compressors/gates/limiters too. Go ahead and try one of these out for yourself. If you can’t find a use for it in your studio, it’ll fit in perfectly with any live rig.