DOCtron Martin Stimming’s Instant Mastering Chain (IMC) review: the missing link in the chain of live rigs?
The world’s smallest analogue mastering chain might just be a vital component of your live setup – so long as you can afford its extravagance.
⊕ Compact size factor
⊕ Highly musical adjustments
⊖ Expensive and niche
⊖ Missing some key features such as gain meters for better indication of signals
⊖ Quality of finish – high-end end carbon body but. poor screen printing and knob quality
Clubs, venues, and festivals are the stomping grounds of DJ’s relentlessly cranking out music from their arsenal of playlists packed with hot demos and edits. Most anthems and classic tracks have been optimised, polished and maximised by a mastering engineer. But when it comes to electronic music performances, getting a live set to sound as loud and impacting as a mastered track is a cumbersome challenge. Five years ago, renowned electronic producer and performer Martin Stimming saw an opportunity waiting to be realised.
The Instant Mastering Chain is Stimming’s answer to the live act dilemma, created in collaboration with DOCtron in Mittelfranken, Germany. Stimming and DOCtron spent five years road testing different iterations of the hardware – many new audio products don’t get this privilege ahead of release, and the IMC clearly benefits from this extensive trial run.
Stimming’s Instant Mastering Chain is a compressor with a musical EQ and saturator. You can insert the mini mastering chain at the end of your live rig to ensure smooth, consistent and satisfyingly loud results wherever you play, with a whopping 2.5 LUFS increase at the same peak levels. Alternatively, you can use it as an insert at the beginning of the setup, with a send/return for sidechaining the compressor if you feel like going full Daft Punk or just want to carve a little more room and pump for your percussion.
The IMC is a modest 56 x 146 x 143 mm sleek black box, handmade out of rugged carbon fibre to minimise the weight to a mere 1kg. It feels sturdy and comes with one additional power supply. There are 10 dials on the front, with unbalanced inputs and outputs on the back, plus one send/return sidechain and power switch. It’s road-ready and seriously minimal.
The IMC has a true bypass and the signal flow is as follows: sound enters via the inputs and passes, first through a two-band EQ modelled on classic British console EQs; from the equaliser, the signal runs via a discrete operational amplifier, to an SSL-style bus compressor that takes care of the levelling of signals. Finally, the compressed audio signal passes through Lundahl transformers that can be configured using the drive dial, and the sound leaves the unit via the headphone output or the adjustable main outputs.
A special feature of the compressor is that it has feedforward and feedback modes, which can be operated on the front panel. Outboard hunters will welcome the option to choose the harder feedforward sound or gentle compression, exhibiting the versatility of the box away from the stage. After getting familiar with the controls, we eagerly set this up with our hardware sequencer and load up a live set project from last year.
If you are passing any form of percussion-heavy dance music into the IMC, you’ll immediately be introduced to a new thickness and presence of your music. All of the sound-sculpting sections respond very musically to different types of audio signals and adjustments but always allowed us to get a wholesome, visceral and pleasing result. We have provided some recordings of a dry signal and some settings of the IMC, maintaining the same peak levels across each recording. Take some time to listen for yourself and draw some conclusions.
We wish there were a few additions on the IMC, such as meters for the signal coming in and out of the device, and an operation LED. The build is solid but doesn’t sport a high-end tactile feel for the dials, knobs and switches. But, at least you know all the costs have gone into the quality components and carbon case of the unit.
If you have ticked off all the other boxes of high-quality gear on your wishlist, then this should be next in your shopping cart, particularly as a serious live act musician or studio producer. The investment in quality gear always tends to be steep and this box is no exception, but once you stop using equipment like this, you will realise that you’re missing a refined tool that adds sheen, depth and a nice amount of weight to your main output. The small footprint really means the Instant Mastering Chain is as handy to your production desk as it is next to you rocking the stage.
Sometimes, you’re not sure you need something until it’s gone. Is the IMC the missing link in the chain of live rigs? Yes. Do you need one? If you are serious about playing live and producing, yes. The price of €2,799 is no small fee and is definitely not your quarterly impulse buy but there are no directly comparable twin-in-one units out there to date, and the alternative is to lug around a full-size outboard setup.
- World’s smallest and lightest analogue mastering chain
- Super portable outboard gear (only weighs 1kg)
- Fully analogue audio processor chain
- British-style equaliser with dedicated bypass
- VCA based bus compressor with feedforward/feedback detector path
- Headphone out with dedicated volume knob
- Sidechain send/return via 6.3mm stereo jacks
- Dual-mono, unbalanced jack connectors for in- and output
- Road proof carbon housing
- Buy: DOCtron, Martin Stimming’s Official Site