As a recording engineer, gear designer, electronics dabbler, and overall geek I spend a good chunk of time thinking about gear, but occasionally something will happen that reminds me that while great gear is wonderful, sometimes you just gotta keep moving.
Yesterday, a buddy of mine dropped by the studio and brought with him a recent acquisition, a little 500-series compressor based, loosely, on the 1176. We ran material through it turned knobs and compared it with one of my modified revision F 1176's (I must confess, I prefer the liquidity of the sound of the class-AB 1176's over the more aggressive edge of the earlier class-A version... but I digress).
It was an eye-opening comparison, as the little 500 module performed quite admirably, sounding downright excellent in many applications. With a little careful tweaking of the 1176's more flexible parameters we were able to pretty much match performance between the units, though we both preferred my 1176's with their extended LF response and mildly smoother characteristic -- there was more of a bloom from fast release settings on the 1176). But the truth of the matter is that I would be quite satisfied using his 500 unit probably 90% of the time, if I didn't have my 1176's. I doubt the productions would suffer in any significant way.
The difference in price between these units is around $1200-ish on the market today, which makes the performance of little module even more impressive.
Sometimes we put on blinders, seeing only the gear that we have and forget that gear doesn't make records, people do. A useful, good-sounding device does wonders in the hands of a capable engineer. Likewise, killer gear in the hands of a novice has produced some of the most sonically appalling music I have been victim to hear.
Let us love our gear, but let us sharpen our skills as well.