Boffin Island Blog

Gear of the Week: Fairchild 660

Probably the most sought after compressor in the world, the Fairchild 660 has appeared on countless recordings and has been responsible for the sweetest sounds ever made. Let’s have a look inside…

Fairchild 660 Front

Boffin Island is responsible for servicing some of the most amazing audio gems ever created so I thought we should start some sort of “Gear of the Week” corner to feature some of these extraordinary pieces of kit that we have going through our workbenches on a daily basis. And what a better place to start than the Fairchild 660?

Designed by Estonian-born Rein Narma at Les Paul’s request and licensed by Sherman Fairchild, the Fairchild 660 is a single channel vari-mu compressor based around the classic RCA 6386 tube (as opposed to the two-channel Fairchild 670 model). About a thousand of the 660’s have been ever built and about 600 of the model 670’s.

Apart from the unique utilisation of the 6386 tube, the unit features a very unique DC side-chain which is responsible for the very forgiving nature of the compression that is often described as incredibly transparent even at extreme settings. To achieve this DC side-chain the design uses a few very heavy transformers which are responsible for the obscene 20kg weight of the unit (30kg for the Fairchild 670) not including the housing rack/frame!!!

Fairchild 660 Back

The unit usually shipped with a bare front and back which is quite insane because there is a live 350V rail on it!!! So please try not to poke this beast. This is why most of these units come in very different housing frames or racks because people had to improvise something over the years.

With fast attack response even by modern terms of 0.3 seconds to 25 seconds, the smooth operation gave the Fairchild compressor a place of honour in mastering suites around the world, including the famous Abbey Road studios where the unit was used on the Beatles recordings.

It wasn’t long before the Fairchild 660 was used in tracking application. It’s known be bring the x-factor magic to a vocal track, bass or anything else for that matter.  It is probably the only unit in existence that will always make anything sound sweeter.

Believe it or not, when transistor-based audio gear came onto the market, this old thing was regarded as obsolete, heavy, lumpy, unreliable and expensive and hence many were simply thrown away! Many urban legends circulate each telling a story of people finding these in dumpsters behind broadcast studios or people picking these units up for $100 in the mid-late-70’s. Indeed, Dan Alexander has a great scan of a 1979 used gear flyer listing the Fairchild 660 for $200!!! Today these babies go for about £12,000 if you can find one – but if you do, make sure it’s working!!!

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Boffin Island are lucky to have serviced several dozens of these over the years. We cannot name names here, but our clients include many of the professional studios, bands, producers and engineers we all know and love. Our man Dave Way has been in and out of these compressors too many time to count, cleaning them up, sourcing and replacing rare tubes, servicing and calibrating and god knows what else!

If you have a Fairchild 660 or a 670 in need of a service, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us for a chat or booking the unit in.

If you can’t find a Fairchild to buy, please contact Funky Junk. They might be able to help source one or perhaps suggest an alternative.