On opening Presswerk for the first time, you'd be forgiven for feeling slightly daunted. U-he have placed every potential control for sound, timbre, function and response on a single GUI page, so there's no menu-diving required. It may turn off anyone looking for a quick-fix compressor, but such thoroughness is what it takes to achieve and have control of realistic analogue emulation. There's more to the story than saturation, though—U-he aren't just modelling classic tones, which the manual elaborates on in detail.
There's not enough space here to go into every section, so I'll choose a few highlights that go a long way to giving Presswerk its sound. First of all, the Detection section allows you to select between feed-forward (FF), feedback (FB) and interactive (INT). Essentially, this sets at which stage the compressor listens and reacts to the incoming signal. Suffice to say, FF can smack, whereas FB tends to be slower and more natural; the INT option essentially measures both and blends between the two, depending on the input signal. While all of this might seem like overkill, it's the kind of thing that happens under the hood on many other vintage compressor emulations and is just one of the ways that Presswerk stands out when it comes to sound shaping and control. Presswerk also offers M/S processing, allowing you to compress the mid and side signals separately. You can also unlink the left and right channels and individually adjust their compression.
Further along the chain, Presswerk is capable of compressing up to -60 dB at a ratio of 20:1, but it really comes alive in more subtle treatments. Similar to plug-ins like Waves NLS and Slate Digital Virtual Console Collection, Presswerk introduces a very pleasant saturation as you lower the threshold. Everything from a simple sine wave to a drum buss and full mix benefitted from the thickness and rounded textures of Presswerk, and with INT enabled and attack and release slow, it was one of the most natural and smooth compressors I've heard in the digital realm. However, if you are using any other analogue emulations in your mix, by the time the signal reaches Presswerk on the master, it can be overly saturated beyond warmth and into harmonic overkill. It is possible to overdo it within Presswerk, too, with saturation crossing the line between rounded and warm into muddy and inconsistent with only a few tweaks. This is the trade-off of having so much control over every element of the signal path, and it's a completely fair one. I recommend having the manual open for your first few projects using Presswerk for tips on using each control.
In an early version of Presswerk that I tested, different views were possible, mimicking Urei 1176, Fairchild and LA2A. Though those were scrapped for the final version, it gives you a good indication of what U-he were trying to achieve with Presswerk. The presets reflect that with the Vintage section offering Urei 1176, dbx 160, SSL 4000 buss compressor, API 2500 and more.
Presswerk sounds excellent and mimics the classics eloquently, but how does it respond to more modern production requirements? For loudness, Presswerk does a great job on the mix bus. Its auto-makeup function recovers the reduction in signal for the same perceived volume. As it's dependent on the signal being fed in, it's more natural than static makeup gain and can, along with the rest of Presswerk, very quickly get your track sounding big, fat and loud.
There are a few other features worth mentioning: the DPR (dual phase rotator) button further emulates classic compressors by shifting the phase of the low-mids to tame transients. While it's a subtle effect, it adds an oomph and is yet another string in the Presswerk bow. The dedicated saturation control is also a nice touch, though I found myself using dialing it back rather than adding more. Away from the mix bus, Presswerk can really be put to work on any material. It can be slow and smooth for vocals and lend a welcome harmonic thickness, or snappy and punchy on drums, adding heaps of weight. Presswerk also works excellently in parallel, allowing you make the most of the saturation and soft clipping without completely taking over the sound.
Presswerk is one of the most comprehensive compressors available. It might not be particularly transparent, but it adds tonnes of character and control to all types of signals. Its versatile envelope can be snappy as well as smooth and natural while the analogue warmth and saturation can benefit any mix. You need Presswerk in your plug-in collection—and luckily both the price and CPU hit are impressively low.
Ease of use: 3/5