The 3630 stereo compressor was ubiquitous as a cost-effective compressor- certainly if you were on a budget. In fact, according to Alesis, its "the most popular dynamics processor ever made". But lets face it, having been around for twenty years, its probably time for a freshen up, a new coat of paint and all that.
Back in the day, these were seen in live and studio racks all over, in fact a bit of research and I discovered that some intrepid souls were modifying them to increase performance. Word has it the 3630 was also the original sound of the Daft Punk pump...
We have the same two-channel, single 19", one unit rack format, with good connectivity - ins and outs on jack and XLR connectors, as well as send and return side chain connections for each channel.
A channel comprises of three stages: Expander/Gate with variable threshold and ratio, for cleaning up noisy signals or tighter control of drum sounds. Compressor with threshold, ratio, attack and release controls as well as auto/manual switching, and finally the output gain and Limiter - with variable threshold for final absolute control.
Each channel is identical and can be individually controlled or switched into CH 1 Master mode - in which case all Ch 1 controls affect channel 1 and channel 2 simultaneously (except for bypass).
The knobs are quite small, but there’s good status lighting with indicators for Gate (2 LEDs), Compressor threshold (3 LEDs), gain reduction (12 segment LEDs) and input output metering (8 segments), finally a single red LED indicates the Limiting. When its really working out, its quite a pretty sight - though it is unlikely to assits you in attracting the opposite sex.
Each channel also has a number of small, latching, backlit switches for Sidechain (internal/ external,monitor, SC filter ) SMART setting (for enabling auto soft-knee mode) , Manual/Auto attack and release, Metering (input/output) and Bypass. These, while certainly easy to see the status, are a bit fiddle to operate and require tip of the finger or fingernail pressure to make sure they latch.
With the gate/expander you to reduce general hiss or noise in the silent portions of a signal, right up to more drastic drum style gating using ratio, which works as a depth (or amount of reduction) control. The compressor can give subtle gain control to more exciting smack or pumping style compression. Though it seems to be more in favour of smack than pump to my ears. Finally the limiter allows you to really reign in any unwanted spikes and keep the final output manageable.
Look, this ain’t a classic compressor circuit so dont expect LA2A or Summit quality, but when driven hard, it is possible to get some quite characterful sounds. But if you just want a bit of control, it can deal with that too.
For the price, its hard to find fault, the hardware it sturdy - connectors are all steel panel mounted, its easy to see how much work each channel is doing and it sounds okay. My only gripe is the small latching switches are a bit fiddly.
At £99.99 / $149.00 its not that much more than some plug-ins - heck, its cheaper than many - and for real-world out of the box use, its hard to beat this value.