Handcrafted Labs – An ISLANDER – Parallel Vari-Mu Compressor


  • Vari-Mu Mastering Grade Compressor
  • Option to give your signal an analogue boost without compression
  • SE circuitry design


Islander – Vari-Mu mastering grade compressor with parallel compression. Simply put, you can compress signal hard and mix back some transients with uncompressed signal – all in one unit. Even if you’re not compressing at all, Islander’s tube chain and fancy transformers will give your signal an analogue boost resulting in character and depth your mixes definitely will benefit from.

Islander Design

When we started designing Islander our goal was rather simple and straightforward – to make something different. First it seemed like there’s no way one can make something that would stand out in full packed Vari-Mu segment of the market. But we believe we nailed it. Over 99% of Vari-Mu compressors currently in production are based on push-pull design. Islander is made on SE design. We do not claim that one of these designs is better over the other, since there’s enough fans of both. And our flagship Varis compressor incorporates PP design.

SE design has advantages and disadvantages, just as any other circuit design would have. One of the major disadvantages of this design is its headroom, which is lower than PP’s for 6dB over same conditions. But there’s a big advantage in it. The thing is that in PP design signal is split into two phases and then gets “glued” inside output transformer. But in SE design whole signal gets to the grid of the tube.

Islander Overview

In most Vari-Mu compressors signal and offset voltage is fed to the first grid of triode, pentode or heptode. There’s a contradiction in implementation of such a design, from one hand it would require a tube with steeper slope specification of anode grid, on other hand to get the lowest THD of amplified signal it would require a linear specification of anode grid. Eliminating this contradiction requires feeding signal to the first grid if triode and control voltage – to third grid, besides it eliminates parasitising interference through a side-chain of amplifier. Which is exactly what we did in Islander design.

In classic Vari-mu design with control on the first grid one has to deal with transient response distortion which occurs due to a rapid change of the offset voltage. It is eliminated by using tubes of the same type and connection of both anodes of these tubes to respective inputs of PP output transformer. And since Islander is build on a SE design, we use extra “satellite” tube which is used to keep constant anode voltage and prevent transition capacitor from recharging causing audible clicks. Thus change of curve and amplification coefficient of the tube is reached without offset voltage rapid changes which means no transient response distortion.

On the WET channel 6к3 (6sk7) and 7n7 tubes are used. On the DRY channel 6ж8 (6sj7) and 7n7 tubes are used.

Islander Technical Overview

Controls include knobs for:

  • Wet channel level
  • Dry channel
  • Attack
  • Release
  • Threshold

All knobs are stepped for easy recall. There are also switches of side chain filter (70Hz, 150Hz, off), feedback/feedforward mode switch, timings multiplier switch (x2) and Wet Bypass button. Central section houses stereo link switch as well as power button. On the face panel one would also find precision trimmers for input level fine tuning. Zero adjustment is used for precise tuning of compression levels on indicators when device is used in dual-mono mode.


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