When choosing a compressor pedal – there are many things to take into consideration, and of course, all kinds of different pedals to choose from as well. Let’s break it down:
What is compression:
Dynamic Range Compression (DRC) or simply compression is an audio signal processing operation that reduces the volume of loud sounds or amplifies quiet sounds thus reducing or compressing the audio signal’s dynamic range.
In other words, compression is used to make music sound louder without increasing its peak amplitude. By compressing the peak (or loudest) signal, it’s possible to increase the overall volume of the signal without exceeding, or ‘clipping’ its limits. The end result is that loud signals are softer and softer signals are louder.
It is not really an effect, but rather an audio signal processor.
History of the Compressor:
Before the invention of compressor/limiter, a sound engineer had to anticipate peaks or reductions in volume and manually lower or raise the input volume control (known as a fader) to prevent incoming signals from overloading and distorting the recorder or broadcast transmitter.
In the early 1930’s Bell Telephone Company and Western Electric introduced the 110A Program Amplifier which featured an automatic graduated compression and protection against over-modulation-in event of accidental changes in program level.
With that revolutionary piece of equipment, the age of studio compression was born!
1958 witnessed the Fairchild 670 into studio use and it became the grand-daddy of all tube-based compressors, due to its rarity, price, sophistication, and, above all, sound. Estimates vary as to how many were ever produced – somewhere between five hundred and a thousand – but regardless of original numbers, very few survive today. The remaining Fairchilds command an enormous price tag, making them probably the single most expensive piece of mass-produced audio gear.
What a compressor does for guitar tone:
The compression effect helps to smooth out differences in volume between notes, such as in quick runs played by chicken picking. It also fattens up the sound, giving more body and sustain to lead guitar lines, and can be used as a booster. Its “thickening” effect is especially appreciated in Nashville, where many country music guitar players who use Fender Telecasters use it to thicken the otherwise thin sound of the single-coil guitar; besides, the compressor’s lessening of the initial attack “gives the effect of a pedal steel player working his volume pedal”.
With all the great brands and features to choose from, how do you know which is the right pedal for you? The best way is to try them all out. Come visit your local Sam Ash Store and find out for yourself which compressor is best for you, and we hope this guide helps you in your search for the perfect pedal.
1MXR M102 Dyna Comp
First released in the 1970s, the Dyna Comp Compressor is one of the most popular compressors of all time. Whether you want to tighten up your signal, add rich sustain, or create the percussive and clicky sound heard on numerous hit records, this pedal is straightforward and easy to use. For these reasons, the Dyna Comp Compressor has been the secret weapon on countless pedalboards for years.
- Output knob controls overall effect
- Sensitivity knob sets compression
- In-line compressor evens out the signal to your amplifier
- Useful for increased sustain with stable dynamics
- Nashvile Standard
2Xotic SP Compressor
Xotic has its beginning in 1996, California as a bass manufacturer. Over time they’ve expanded their array of products to guitars, amplifiers, various accessories and of course, bass and guitar pedals – which helped them rise to fame in 1999 upon unleashing their well-known “Xotic Effects” product line. The new Xotic SP Compressor is a beautiful tiny device with superb tone quality and features a wide variety of compressor tones from vintage, to subtle, to modern and more. It is based on the famous Ross Compression – using OTA (operational transconductance amplifier). Complementing this compressor’s versatility are the internal switches, ranging from 1 to 4. 1 and 2 control the “Attack and Release”, respectfully. They determine how fast the effect engages, if turned down when you first hit your sound the compression doesn’t come right away, however if turned up you get an instantaneous effect – reminiscent of those sweet and snappy country sounds. 3 and 4 are in charge of high and low cut filtering – controlling the high frequencies and preventing distortion. Aimed at guitarists of all backgrounds, offering simple options to satisfy the newcomer and huge variety for the experienced user willing to play around with the limitless sound output possibilities.
- Dry blend knob
- Up to +15dB of boost
- Internal dip switch for attack control.
- Compact design is a powerful tool for the working musicians.
- True bypass for eliminating any signal interference when switched off.
- Can be used with AC adaptor (optional) or 9V Battery
The CS-3 replaced the CS-2 in 1986 and has since then been the only Boss pedal compressor available. This pedal will compress high input signals and boost low input signals to produce sustain. Boosting low-input signal means that noise will be boosted at the same time so it is easy to compress the signal too much and end up with a very noisy signal.
The CS-3 has been through a chip replacement at least once in its lifetime. Early pedals used a voltage controlled amplifier (VCA) DBX1252 but it was changed to a THAT2159 some time in the early 90s. The pedal was modified for the PSA adapter in 1997. Boosting low-input signal means that noise will be boosted at the same time, so it is easy to compress the signal too much and end up with a very noisy signal. So make sure to place this pedal at the bottom of your pedal chain. Boss has attained a well known reputation as a trusted company that offers top-level mid-range items at a fair and affordable price, with renowned build quality, strong components and a sound worthy of players of every level.
- The pedal comes in the classic Boss metal casing – practical, easy to use, sturdy as a tank, and even nice-looking. It’s a mono device with one input and one output, a LED status indicator and a large on/off foot-switch in the front. The tone is adjusted solely through four control knobs in the front.
- Not just a compression pedal, but also a sustain device, allowing for a variety of tones.
Controls at a glance:
- Level – As always, the Level knob controls the amount of effect that gets injected into your audio output. The more you increase it, the more compression effect and less clean guitar tone you’ll get.
- Tone – This knob controls the scope of tones that will get attacked by the effect. Adjust it based on sonic frequencies you want compressed.
- Attack – This one adjusts the attack power of your picking or plucking. If you want your playing articulation to gain more prominence in the mix, crank this puppy up.
- Sustain – The sustain feature adjust the length of the notes you play. Increasing this one leads to an increase of the whole signal tone.
4JHS Pedals Pulp N Peel
JHS announced in Spring 2016 that they upgraded their popular orange compressor, the Pulp-n-Peel to V4. The Pulp N Peel compressor is based off of the Dan Armstrong Orange Squeeze from back in the 1970’s. The original was a small box that was the secret weapon of many big players including Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, and Dire Straits. While the original had its shortcomings, JHS’s tribute to the original brings back that same tone of the Orange Squeeze with non of the shortcomings the Armstrong unit had. Because compression is now commonly used as an always on effect, JHS added a blend knob for parallel compression. This means that you can mix between the clean signal (that has all the dynamics) and the compressed. You can decide how much you want by dialing it in. All the way to the right is only the compressed signal and all the way to the left will bypass the compressed signal leaving you the other features the pedal has in tact. The tone knob can make your signal brighter or darker depending on what you are looking for. Also great for compensating a guitars darker or brighter tones before it hits the rest of your pedals. It’s probably one of the most versatile tone shaping tools on the market smooth-sounding parallel compression circuit offers you the power to blend in your ideal balance of compressed and uncompressed signal. You’re able to add a touch of grit to your tone thanks to the pedal’s Dirt mini toggle. Also, whether you’re a bassist sending your signal direct or a guitarist running the Pulp ‘N’ Peel on your pedalboard, the pedal’s ¼” and balanced XLR outputs have you covered. Improved detection circuit for smoother tones with added sustain.The V4 has been improved with greatly increased headroom and output on the volume control.
- Parallel Blend control that cuts or boosts high end
- Voiced to go from warm tone enhancement to gritty tonal foundation
- Low-profile gain control is safely located on the side of the pedal
- Works especially great on bass
- Increased output works as a fantastic full-frequency boost.
- Standard ¼” instrument input and output
- XLR/DI balanced output for going direct to the board or interface (Try it on acoustic and bass!)
- Ground-lift switch avoids unwanted signal interference
- High-quality buffer switch allows true-bypass or buffered operation for driving long cable runs
5Keeley Electronics Compressor Plus
Launched back in 2001, this take on the old Ross Compressor was arguably the breakthrough product that turned boutique pedal building into a serious industry.
The Keeley Compressor Plus is the first true advancement in their 2 and 4 knob compressor line. The new features are simple and straight forward. Now there is a simple Release Switch that is tuned for single coils or humbuckers. No more wondering if you have the attack or release set right. Your humbuckers will have all the attack and punch that they should. Their team designed a Tone Control which emphasizes the most sensitive harmonics that can be lost in compression. The Compressor Plus now sports a Blend Control that retains the peaks in your playing and, more importantly, the proper phasing of your guitar signal.
The Keeley Compressor Plus is a compressor with an expander/sustainer. Not only does it act as a regular compressor, limiting the peaks in your playing, it adds more and more gain as notes fade out. Now you have sustain. Nothing worse than a note or a bend that has died before its time. The Keeley Compressor Plus adds just the right amount of sustain and expressive bloom to your notes.
The new Release Switch on the Keeley Compressor Plus is designed to make it very easy to transition between single coil and humbucker guitars. Humbuckers have more average energy than single coils which can cause compressors to stay in “compression mode” for a lot longer. When this happens, any series of notes you play will sound dull. With the quick release of the new Compressor Plus, your humbuckers remain true sounding, and each note retains dynamic attack and definition.
The Tone Control is their own design taken from analog delays and other vintage effects. Those effects used an emphasis circuit to recover treble and highs after they went through the BBD or other analog delay lines. They took that circuit and made it into a full fledged tone control!
The Blend Control is a way of getting the peaks to come through while having sustain at the same time. So if you want sustain more than peak-limiting, this style of Manhattan Compression is for you! Keep all the peaks and transients with the Blend and Tone Controls while adding sustain on the back end. Nice.
- Made in USA
- Sustain, level, blend, tone; two-way toggle switch for fast/slow release
- True bypass, powered by 9V PSU (not supplied) or battery
- DIMENSIONS 110 x 68 x 51mm
6Wampler EGO Compressor Pedal
Released 2011, the Ego Compressor is everything a great compressor should be: flexible and transparent while keeping your tone intact.
One of the ways the Ego Compressor lets you have control over your tonal clarity is by the use of the “Blend” knob. The “Blend” knob is a dry mix, which sweeps between a fully effected signal to zero effect across the sweep of the pot. Your unaffected signal can be added back into your overall output. As little or as much as you want, the choice is yours.
The Ego Compressor, like the Ross & Dyna Comp, is an OTA (Operational Transconductance Amplifier) compression pedal. This style of compression is particularly well suited to guitar, having an organic quality that lends itself well to the instrument. Building off this solid foundation, the Ego Compressor forgoes the simplified 2-knob control set (Sustain & Level) by adding additional knobs for Attack, Blend, & Tone. Wampler has also taken great measures to ensure the Ego Compressor is as transparent as possible while remaining exceptionally quiet in operation.
- Hand-built in the U.S.A.
- High grade film capacitors and resistors picked for their superior sound and response
- Completely true bypass (via highly durable relay switching)
- Battery connection and 9v power jack (barrel plug like Boss)
- Top mounted jacks for tightly packed pedal boards!
- Power draw: 14mA
- Five controls – volume, sustain, attack, tone and blend
- Blend control allows you to get sustain only – no noticeable effect on the attack of the note (great for playing with distortion)
- Tone control adds in high frequencies giving you plenty of clarity and ‘jangle’
- 5″ x 4.5″ x 1.5″ (63.5mm x 114.3mm x 38.1mm) – height excludes knobs and switches
The Ego Compressor also has a soft-touch foot-switch with true relay bypass. Many guitarists favor these, and I personally like the feel of them. But a soft-touch foot-switch alone doesn’t completely solve the issue of “clicking” when you activate/bypass the pedal. Fortunately, the switching is fairly quiet due to the high quality relay Wampler chose and shouldn’t be much of an issue anyway if you’re the type who leaves your compressor on all the time.
Inside the pedal you’ll notice a few of the larger premium film caps Wampler uses as well as the NEC Japan EA2-5SNJ switching relay. It looks like tidy, mostly SMT construction on a reasonably thick PCB board. I’ve never heard of anyone doubting the build quality of the Wampler pedal.
7Walrus Deep Six Pedal
Last but not least, is the Deep Six from Walrus Audio. Located in Oklahoma City, Walrus Audio was founded in 2011 and boasts some of the most outstanding visual designs in the industry, and shows this talented group of artists and engineers obsession with detail. The Deep Six is a true bypass studio-grade compressor in stomp box form, inspired by the performance of the Universal Audio 1176 with the simplicity of the Ross and Dynacomp. Offering a Level, Sustain, Attack, and Blend control, the Deep Six will give you unmatched versatility at a price you can afford. The pedal can be powered from a 9V battery or DC Supply. Polarity will never be an issue as the Deep Six comes standard with a polarity correction circuit. The internal voltage is doubled to 18 volts giving you the maximum amount of headroom for your sound while maintaining a typical current draw of 8.9mA for extended battery life. The Deep Six also offers a Blend and Attack control which allows you to use the pedal with active pickups or humbuckers. The blend feature allows you to use high output instruments while truly being able to dial out any distortion that may be present.
Controls at a glance:
- Level Knob: This is used to set the Deep Six to unity volume. When maxed out, the Deep Six provides enough output to drive an amplifier or other pedals for added sustain and pleasurable tonal breakup.
- Blend Knob: This control mixes in the compressed signal with the original, dry signal. Running blend all the way down while adjusting your Level control will allow you to use the Deep Six as a volume booster. Turn the Blend control up to blend in the compressed signal. For high output signals (humbuckers), the blend control allows you to dial in more of the dry signal and dial out the distortion that most humbuckers impart upon a compressor.
- Attack Knob: This knob lets you adjust how fast the Compressor will react to your notes. Set it higher for punchier leads or lower for a more compressed, even sound.
- Sustain Knob: This is effectively your release control. For rhythm playing, you can run the Sustain control at lower settings so that the Compressor is more of a tone shaper. This will keep your sound and compensate for any variance in the velocity of your strumming. For sustained lead tones in the vein of Carlos Santana or Eric Clapton, turn up the sustain control.
- Compressor/Sustain Pedal
- Inspired by the UA 1176
- Level Knob for Juicing Gain into Amps
- Blend Knob for Dry/Wet Balancing
- Attack Knob for Transient Envelope
- Sustain Knob Similar to Release Control
- Internal Voltage of 18V
- Internal Polarity Correction Circuit
- True Bypass Circuitry
- Accepts 9V Batteries and Power Supply