Compressor Pedal Reviews
Courtesy of Donner Rusk
First batch of pedals...
Alrighty, well this is tougher than I thought.
The differences in compressors can be kind of 'liquid'.... it can behave one way at one gain/comp setting and then be completely different at another and the more knobs the more probs....and it will be difficult to relate useful information any units usefulness will have alot to do with its application.
It seems there are two main comp camps: Chicken or Fish (or the country Chicken pickers and the Phish freaks or the squashers and the sustainers)
And are they looking for a true effect that is recognizable or something that sounds like a straight guitar, just leveled and sustained....
Every one of these so far sounds great into a TS10, I wish I would have found this out along time ago... I will never be without a comp again, and none of them is terribly noisy unless set up to do too much...
So it seems the differences come down to features , tweekability, true bypass, size and ease of use....... there is some EQ and tone difference..........anyway here we go......
Like with wine or beer tasting, you are supposed to start with the lightest first...
DOD Milk Box
- I assume its not true bypass. 4 knobs with 2 names each, but the control is over: level Threshold Tone (but its a high end expander) and Attack.....
- this one is a bit noisy if you start cranking the levels and thresholds, but it has a nice control for the high end and you can actually get a nice top end improvement which helps if you are trying to do the squashed thing and keep clarity and attack........and it will do the crazy squash thing that feels like Grandma pinching you cheek.......pretty good unit, Im suprised.
- Output and Sensitivity knobs and soft/hard attack switch, another nice suprise. this is really pretty quiet and will do a nice Phish fillet, it does kind of thicken the middle and take a hair off the top, great into a TS10.
- Gain /Gain Reduction/volume -
Second LED that shows comp level rising and falling (and Im a sucker for 'living' LEDs)
- this is a studio compressor in a pedal. its paterned after the old LA-2As that were and are in most pro studios.... this is very nice and will get an 'is it on?' gold star. This is not really for saturated chicken picking or sustain crazy Phishing, but it sounds real natural and is 'amplike' the way most Menatone pedals are described, very nice openess in the lower strings, almost more of an 'overeasy' limiting with some compression in there.... this would be a good one to just leave on, and maybe use a different comp for the 'Squishies'.
BJF Electronics Pale Green Compressor
- (Flak jacket on - check) Ok I'm going to make some people mad here. It can be noisy, and it does take off some top end. This has ALOT of options, but many of them get noisy. This would be fun in the studio because it will do everything!! But I dont hear the Dirt control giving any real dirt. Maybe its just that I hate that Noisegating sound alot, and if this isnt set just right (tone Dog - you got any frequent flyer miles you can jet over here on) it gets well noisy. BUT it also has a beautiful FAT sustain with some limiting that is addictive. There are great tones in this pedal, but it will take work. and it is taller than the regular Hammond box.....
AMZ P-Comp PROTOTYPE
- Ok let me just say up front Im biased. Im a treble freak and if the high end isnt right, I can live with out it. This pedal has very natural high end, and no filtering so you get out what you put in. This one also works very well with the tone knob, if you like to roll off some highs for effect. And after 1200 on the comp knob it will get you somewhere ino squishy land,,,,, but this is a straight forward set you compression level and volume and go.....its easy to make changes quickly................BUT if you like a rounded off very smooth sound, you may not need this.......also gets a "is it on' gold star.very quiet.
Carl Martin Comp/limiter
- Volume and Comp knobs
- This is Jack Ormans PROTOTYPE for a new compressor he is working on. This is not a finished 'production' model so in the picture you'll notice, no stomp or LED which will come later I'm sure. We are just checking out the sound quality anyway, and an excellent sound quality it does have. Very natural and low noise - on lower comp settings it's more of a great clean boost and then as you roll it up you get useful squishy, but not too crazy, a pleasant 'live' sound. No unattractive settings or crazy features. This is another one that would be a good 'just leave it on' pedal and also gets an 'Is it on?' gold star for transparency.... I think its ready for production Jack.
- This is the only one so far that has an attached power plug in. It also has a second LED that intensifies with the comp level (cool), but it lights even when the pedal is disengaged, so Im not sure about the Trubypass issue. But this will do the entire range of comp sounds, from clean limited boost to squash city.Bells and whistles, hi-fidelity. It seems just a little sterile by itself but has low noise and lots of comp options available.
On to the second round of tests, featuring the pedals shown in the pic with a green TS-10 included for size comparison.
Trace Elliot SMX Dual Comp
ART Levelar TUBE comp
Input/Low Compression/EQ Balance/HighComp/Output Knobs---- effect bypass and highbypass stomps
- Trace Elliot is now part of Gibson and I dont know if they still make anything like this.... Trace is known for there Bass and Acoustic stuff and this comp fits right in, will be great for both......but it also works really well for guitar....... the signal goes in and is split by two pass filters, the highs get a fast attack compression and the lows get a slow attack compression that are both variable and then you can balance the two ...this is very effective when playing chords with walking bass notes, you can deactivate the hi comp with the other footswitch, which almost gives it the sound of the highs and lows being separate guitars, interesting possibilities ... country and rockabilly guys would dig this..but again Im not sure if they are even still being built.....about the size of a Fulldrive2.........
Marshall Ed the Compressor
- Threshhold and Output knobs, Active/Bypass - Limit/comp - Auto/Fast pushbuttons, Wallwart only - NO stomp
- When engaged this unit is extremely quiet, in fact it is Dead, it crapped out on me and I cant revive it... bummer.
But I used this alot to record thru, everything- vocals, drums, bass, lots of demo time on this baby.....and these are just plain warm and fat... and was the poster child for the 'Isiton?' award, wish I could find this in a pedal.....R.I.P. old freind.......
EBS (Sweden) Multicomp 'True Dual-Band Comp'
- Emphasis - Volume - Attack - Compressor
- This pedal won a 'Best Bang for the Buck' award in a European magazine shoot out (do they call them 'Bucks' over there?). I can see why. It does the full range of compression tricks and is very low noise and solidly built. AND it has this other control called 'Emphasis' that allows you to dial between more compression on the low notes or high notes,,, very nice, sort of does what the Trace does by allowing squished bass notes and open treble or vice versa, very useful and would do most people just fine... or a great backup for snobs (Wink) I'm not sure if it's true bypass.
- Comp/limit and Gain knobs, 3 position miniswitch (normal-multiband-tubsim), active passive miniswitch,
2 internal pots Low/High sensitivity
- Ok I cheated, I had to look at the manual.
There is a little switch on the side to set for active or passive pickups, or if its in a bypass loop......
the mini switch changes from 'normal' (all-thru),, to multiband ( internal hi/lo sensitivity minipots allow individual adjust ment) and tubesim which gives it a nice fatter sound, if you have heard the difference between a solid state bass rig and a tube pre, its that sound,
n i c e........excellent tone throughout its range and the Tube sim setting is great for guitar.
Maxon RCP660 'Real Compressor'
- Input/Output controls, 6 faders for EQ and 6 faders for band of compresion...
- YIKES! This is compression to the extreme......most comps have the whole signal compressed and there are a couple that split it high and low..... Imagine an EQ pedal with 6 bands of EQ and then each one of those bands could be individually compressed....this it very cool for noise makers as you can get a sort of phase roll as the various comps do thier thing on each band and compress at different speeds, can be kind of trippy, or set the comps flat and use it as an eq,,,,, this could be useful for bass/keys.... but it is difficult to get much variation without changin the basic tone and not always in a good way.......as far as for guitar and just adding some nice compression,,,, I think this is one place where simpler is better...... but it would have its uses .... it is a little hissy but it does use a 9v adapter..... as Mr. Spock would say 'interesting'......
Analogman Bi-Comprosser (4knob)
- Sensitivity/Attack/Master/Sustain controls, Effect and Boost stomps, TUBE (10v included adapter)...
- This is interesting- it has a nice 'warmer rounded' sound (Internal Tube in the circuit) - very smooth on the peaks and plenty of natural sustain...but it is 'hissier' than most comparatively....and it also has a second stomp switch that gives a healthy level boost, I dont know if the boost is adjustable internally (the instruction manual is in Japanese).....I had always wanted a Levelar in a stomp format and this is pretty close..... lose some of the Hiss and make the boost adjustable and this would be a top contender.
- Attack/Sustain/Volume/Volume, 2 individual stomps - 2 Leds, internal bias pots
- This is two comps in one. Analogman makes a Ross 'Clone' called the 'Comprossor' and also a Dan Armstrong 'Orange Squeezer' clone called the 'Juicer'. Well he got them both into one stomp box and made some upgrades like recently putting the Attack control on the outside as the fourth knob.
3 of the knobs are for the Comprosser side- Attack/Sustain/Volume and on/off stomp - the Juicer just has the Volume and On/Off stomp (both have internal adjustments). And the two work independantly or together..... Sounds complicated and over-the-top? No, not once you get it dialed in. The Ross side is a well rounded, very quiet compression sustainer with some clarity and noise upgrades from the original. The Juicer is 'squash city' and a little noisy, but apparantly alot quieter than the original. Whats interesting here is the way they work together, which until I tried it sounded like trouble. But you can have two different comp sounds and then combine them into a squish fest that can be useful, especially when in line with overdrives (but thats another reference to come).... and I dig the paint job fersure.... only half an 'Is it on' gold star (for the Ross side, Juicer side has some 'pulp' issues, but it says this in the instructions so no suprise)
- Sustain & level knobs
- This is a straight forward Ross 'Clone' in a smaller box with a 3pdt stomp and Led for true bypass, and Robert Keeley uses some higher grade components in a few places to keep the back ground noise away and smooth out the wobble when using it at higher sustain levels.....it sound great and smooth with a slightly rounded top. If you like the Dynacomp or the Ross youll surely dig this.."Isiton" gold star - very quiet...and the top glows in the dark!
Toadworks Mr. Squishy
- Gain/Squish/Level knobs, Led truebypass
- Nice natural 'open' sounding compression without added sustain. More than a limiter, but not a squishfest for sustainaholics ( it says in the instructions its not a 'sustain effect'). The gain knob as its turned well up becomes a defacto tone control at the end by bumping up the bottom. Its a nice kind of strange in that you get the 'squish' but not the long unnatural 'squeeze', and this will be useful to some. This would also be good as a 'leave it on' and use another unit for the sustain punch-in if you like. Definite 'Is it on?' gold star- quiet.
Visual Sound Route 66 'American Overdrive'
- Sustain / Volume
- This is an Analogman Comprosser that is built to the specs of the Way Huge Saffron Squeeze.... the famed Ross compressor was made as an upgrade to the Dynacomp and the Saffron Squeeze was an upgrade from the Ross. I used to own a real Saffron years ago that I really enjoyed, but havent heard one since. This 'Saffron' is a bit warmer and smoother than the Comprosser reviewed earlier, but the difference is subtle. Anyway this is another fine option for custom comps and still cheaper than what the real Saffrons go for these days - (I got mine used for $80 when they were still availible new and laughed heartily as I sold it for 50% profit of $120..who knew).....
- Comp side has Sustain/Tone/Gain knobs
- This is a 2 in 1 unit that has an overdrive with its own stomp and a comp side with its own stomp and they can be used individually or together....I had actually heard someone playing one of these with a Bar Band awhile ago and remembering really enjoying his tone, smooth round and full. And thats how I would describe it still. This is a very useful pedal- I believe it is supposed to be a Dyna copy and a TS copy....but it sounds very good, it is a little noisier than the higher priced models, but it does have a TONE control that comes in handy.............
BARBER TONE PRESS
- Compression/Volume knobs, 9v adapter (insert type NOT Boss/Barrel type)
- This is called an Opto compressor, meaning that an internal light source is used to give the envelope that is 'read' by the unit to engage the compression ( sort of like the internal function of a Univibe if you've seen that, this is a bit different but thats the basic idea). It gives a nice smooth compression but not alot of sustain. It does add a hair of high end hiss and if you do lay into it for sustain it kind of 'wobbles' a bit as it releases. But in the middle normal compression area it is smooth and pleasant, and would be enjoyed by chickenpickers more than sustainiacs.......small size box and a nice bright blue Led.
Yes, the Keeley and the SS are similar, though I didn't think so at first... the SS doesn't get squishy really until you are past 2 o'clock on the knob... the Keely starts squishing befrore 12 o'clock and it comes on quicker... but you get very similar sounds but at different settings, they feel different working thru the knob changes, so it took me a while to figure this out ( as lame as that sounds)...both are very quiet
- Volume/Blend/Sustain, led, 9v
The unique option here is of course the clean blend control... and it works really well. The comp part is a Ross style with modern transistors and caps....very nice high end even before any clean is blended in. The clean part is a class A boost when no sustain is in. So this can be a clean booster or a compressor depending on how it is set. And then there is the option of blending the compressor and the clean to make it more natural, especially in the high end of the pick attack which is were alot of the unfavorable compression artifacts occur... and it seems to work well.
The Keeley seems a little warmer/smoother/thicker than the Rosser side, or you could say the Rosser has a little more 'clarity' than the Keeley... the Keeley, the Analogman, the Saffron Squeeze, and Ross compressor are all decendants of the Dyna Comp...
You could call Ross the first boutique upgraded Dyna I guess, and the Saffron the first Ross reissue/upgrade (true bypass-better transistor/cap selection)... last night I had the ones most people are curious about on the board and comparing them... getting the sound I liked best out of one and then seeing if the others could match it, and in many cases it was very close, in fact I had to stop it was weirding me out a bit....
HUMBUCKERS AND DISTORTION (unintentional)
Well Ive been playing these with the 335 (normal neck - duncan JB in the bridge) to hear some other layers in these units... alot of them distort when hitting chords hard, I was kind of suprised, even the Carl Martin and the Marshall got nasty when laid into with normal humbuckers.
The Pale Green took the abuse the best (or was hardest to make distort-maybe a 'pissed off Pete Townsend' for references), and the Oxygen and EBS held up very well here too...
The Ross group sounded the best when being abused, I guess because of the slight rounding on top. And of these the Saffron Squeezed Analogman stayed the smoothest... I can see why people like these- they are smooth and hard to make ugly....
This is the one place the Mena JAC fell on its face - butt ugly distortion - and the others weren't much better.
I can see now why people were asking about distortion charateristics - when I was playing normal with a strat I heard no distortion, and was scratching my head in a 'what distortion' pattern. The overdriving shall we say in the Ross group and especially the Keeley and SScomp were not far from a low tubescreamer sound... but again this was really beating on them with a humbucker guitar...
If you just play normal, you probably can ignore this part, as I said I had not heard any distortion until now, but if you play rowdy blues or harder , you may want to consider this side of them as well.
Pick Attack - yes that's why I did this rig in the first place. Some had a little 'false leading edge' .... it seemed on most that turning the compression level down abit usually took care of that. The Rosses are very smooth, partly because there is an EQ adjustment for this. The Pale Green has no adjustment so your top end is what is in the guitar. The JAC and Squishy have nice clear top ends as does the AMZ. The ones that had the problem were the ones that had attack knobs so that is adjustable... so yeah the high dollar ones don't have an attack control because it seems it doesn't need it or this can't be adjusted by lowering the compression... now if you want long squished out abnormally compressed tones, that is a different story.
The Jac and Squishy, though different, are both in the sound improvement and preservation fore, the JAC is more stable, the Squishy is cleaner. I would also consider the AMZ P-comp for that task if it is ever produced.... The PGC and Tone Press are great around overdrives.
And the Ross group are good all around to haves... even the lowly Marshall is a fine contender and I will have one of those at some point I'm sure. As I kind of said early on, at this level there arent many 'duds' and alot of it is personal preference and application issues.....none of them, not even the DOD, were 'get that off my board' crappy....but Ill try and help individual decision making/narrowing if I can...
Testing rig: maple neck strat into a silverface Deluxe Reverb on a Furman SPB-8 powered board and George L cables
Reviews written by Donner Rusk
Also see his Boost Pedal Reviews