The DBX 160A compressor is a very simple to use compressor that has been around for a very long time. The DBX 160 was first released as a single rack space unit in the mid 1980s as far as I can remember and it has remained pretty much unchanged since. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it seems to be the approach that DBX has taken on this little workhorse.
I first encountered the DBX 160 single rack units in about 1989 or so when I was working for a sound company. We used them inserted into the main buss for the L-R outputs for all types of shows, big and small. They were so easy to use!!! Only three knobs, killer metering, and above all else, they sounded fantastic! I have used these units on shows from 10 people to 30,000 people and they just always work! The input metering allows you to switch between monitoring the input level or the output level and you can use the output level control to make sure that the input level and output level are matched when you are hitting compression and need to do some gain make up. Very easy to read from 20 feet away even! Well that was then and this is now… Read on!
The DBX 160 has gone through several revisions since it first launched as the single rack space DBX 160X. The original unit could be chained together via a trs link cable on the back and the input and output connections were done via either TRS connectors or barrier strips. After a nice successful run, the 160X was replaced with the 160XT model that added XLR inout and outputs and a ground lift switch on the back of the unit and I think they also upgraded some of the electronics as they sounded just very slightly different than the original 160x. Other than a subtle model number change from the ‘X’ to the ‘XT’ model, most people would never know the difference.
Enter the 2000s and the DBX 160A. The first thing you notice between the 160A and the other older versions was that the stenciling on the face has been updated to look a bit more modern, and the switches on the front have changed and are more modern looking than the rectangular shaped block switches of the earlier models. From the visual stand point, not a big deal at all, just more modern.
However I had heard that they updated the VCA and some other fancy electrical stuff so that they sounded better and I would say that the new model sounded cleaner, but cleaner is not always better!