Pedals

Confessions of a Compression Junkie

1

On this, the occasion on which I've put one up for sale, it seemed apposite to compose this compressor family portrait before it goes away.

(Had I been more foresightful, I would have taken the pic weeks ago when I had just gotten the Wampler Mini Ego, but still had the much-loved Xotic SP.)

What we see here are the even dozen compression pedals currently in my inventory - one remaining for sentimental reasons, the others just so good (and/or satisfying) that every time I attempt objective comparisons with the intent to scale back, I just can't let them go.

Top row, L-R: Aphex Punch Factory, Pettyjohn Crush, Origin Cali76 Compact Deluxe, Jackson Bloom, Empress Compressor.

Middle row, L-R: Wampler Mini Ego, MXR Studio, Diamond, EHX Platform Stereo, Effectrode PC-2A, Boss CP-1X.

Bottom row, front and center: the block-logo MXR Dyna Comp which sent me down this ever-dynamically-narrowing path, circa 1978 - but which by comparison to more modern designs, is hissy and utterly unsubtle in its rubbery embrace.


At any given time, three (and sometimes four) of these are on active boards, where they provide sonic options in behavior, the benefits of different placement in the signal chain, and/or the occasional pleasures of stacked compression.

While most of my pedals are securely secured to Temple Audio boards with the company's infernal and euphemistically named Quick Release Plates (which are neither easy nor quick), the compressor positions are uniformly velcro'ed, as are the pedals. (The positions are also large enough to accommodate the biggest pedals). I can swap them out in a jiffy.

At the moment, the Jackson Bloom, Diamond, and Boss CP-1X are in active duty. The Mini Ego (newest to me and entirely intoxicating) and wonderful Pettyjohn (more subtle in compression but dramatic in tonal enhancement) are alternating in the compressor position at my "test station."

Among the pedals there are representatives of OTA, VCA, and optical types, as well as various additional features. There's surely some sonic and behavioral overlap, but I maintain each does have its own personality. (Though nothing I say in this or subsequent posts should suggest I think the collection is justified on any objective criteria, or should be seen as anything but wanton consumerist self-indulgence.)

Most of these pedals are well reviewed, but one is generally bashed by critics. No matter. They all tickle my ear in one way or another.

But lest it seem I have no standards at all, I have sent as many compressors packing as I've kept.

The Paths Not Taken/Bachelorettes Not Chosen include: DOD Milkbox, Boss CS-3, Cooper Custom (local builder effort), Stigtronics (the pride of Bloomington, IN), Barber Tone Press, Strymon OB-1 (the only Strymon I've ever sold), Keeley Pro, Wampler Ego, Pigtronix Philosopher’s Tone, JangleBox, Maxon CP9+ Pro, and Xotic SP.

Most were rotated out for sonic / behavioral issues: grainy and artifact-ridden compression, audible surging/pumping during decay, and/or negative effect on tone (dulling or thinning). A few overlapped others or underwhelmed. For most, I simply found another pedal of the same general character which works and sounds better. (And one - the Pigtronics - is just a bad idea, badly implemented.)

The Maxon, however, had absolutely no bad habits, nor does it perform "just like" any other pedal. I'd kinda like to have it back for its preternatural unobtrusive smoothness - though I rarely used it.

Am I squeezed enough? Given that this list doesn't include my six rack compressors or the plug-ins I use when recording, of course. But that doesn't mean I'm done. At the moment I'm very curious about the Becos CompIQ StellaStella and Twain. Because, man - just lookit all the knobs!

And maybe something from FEA Labs, because dude! Hammerite! Additional metal panel on the front. Gorgeous machined knobs! (They're supposed to sound great, too.)


I may or may not have more to say in this thread about each of the pedals in the collection, their feature sets, why and what I enjoy about each. It's kinda hard to pontificate into a vacuum. But if anyone has specific questions or interest, I'm sure I can expand on ... compressing.

3

I sure love your reviews. Thanks.

4

No one will notice the difference unless it’s on vinyl.

5

My quest for a compressor pales in comparison to your flock, Tim. However I am proud to say I am now down to ONE -- a not-so-compact Oirigin Cali-76. I have parted with a Barber Tone Press, Carl Martin, Boss...... and.... who knows. The not-so-compact Oirigin Cali-76 checks all of my boxes.

6

Tim,

How come you don't have the best one? The Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer.

7

Admitting you have an addiction is the first step.

8

Does the Janglebox count as compression? It was done to simulate the McGuinn/Byrds Rick 12 sound.

So many pedals, so little time. Or you can Just Say No.

9

Oh, the Janglebox. Thank you for reminding me. I had that one too. Aside from its admittedly convincing Byrds trick (transistor radio, 1965), I thought it mediocre. That makes a dozen I've sent away, and a dozen I've kept (though one of them is for sale).

I come out even.

I don't know why I don't have an Orange Squeezer. I'm aware of its iconic status. Surely it doesn't do anything none of the others do, though?

11

The Maxon, however, had absolutely no bad habits, nor does it perform "just like" any other pedal. I'd kinda like to have it back for its preternatural unobtrusive smoothness - though I rarely used it. - Proteus

The CP9+ Pro is to my ear, the finest "PEDAL" compressor I've owned/used. The transparency, natural sustain (in the sense of letting your guitar's unique sonic character punch through in a thoroughly unadulterated manner), and "guitar" specific attack envelope, is something I've simply never attained from another compressor. It works beautifully with all my guitars through any kind of amp. No mean feat for any pedal - and especially so for compressors. Now, having said that, I do enjoy the sound of a good Dynacomp type for certain "vintage" tonalities - especially "chicken pickin'". But for my main money, the Maxon is king and will in all likelyhood remain on my main pedal board for the duration...

12

So, just to make sure I've got this right, the vaunted Maxon, for all its virtues, does neither the Janglebox's Byrds trick ("(transistor radio, 1965"), nor the Dynacomp's vintage tonalities ("chicken pickin'," etc.)?

13

So, just to make sure I've got this right, the vaunted Maxon, for all its virtues, does neither the Janglebox's Byrds trick ("(transistor radio, 1965"), nor the Dynacomp's vintage tonalities ("chicken pickin'," etc.)?

– Lacking Talent

I can't speak to the Janglebox's talent, but I would say that the Maxon and Dynacomp circuits are significantly different. Think of the Maxon as a unit that can control dynamics in the manner of a good studio rack mount, adding depth, clarity and sustain without too much coloration, unless you really start diming the controls. A kind of "weighted" subtlety is its strength. The Dyna is more of a "character" comp in my view. It puts an audible squeeze on the tone and adds kind of signature attack envelope, which works extremely well with the chickin' pickin' right hand work we all know and love. It can also give you a very classic sustain reminiscent of lots of 70s style rock/pop. With the Maxon, your chickin' pickin' technique still works a charm, but is more dependent on your actual playing. IOW, it tends to enhance your own innate style without trying to redefine it, if that makes any sense to you.

14

I’m surprised nobody ever talks about the Way Huge Saffron Squeeze, it’s awesome. Whenever I mention it anywhere it’s just crickets.

15

I feel like I should just be quiet so we can hear the crickets...


I'd never heard of the Squeeze till this mention, so I looked it up. It was apparently another 2-knob OTA-based Ross/DynaComp clone in its first go-round, discontinued by Way Huge. After WH's acquisition by Jim Dunlop, the pedal was resurrected and re-released around 2015, with somewhat quieter circuitry and more tweakability by virtue of more knobs. It got a lot of nice reviews at the time.

Thanks to the Ross and its many clones, copies, and tweaks, OTA designs were the first compressors I danced with (as they were for most guitarists, I imagine), and my ear is acutely adapted to their virtues (and vices). Eight (maybe nine) of the 12 compressors I've sent packing have been OTA types.

That I've had so many is a reflection of two things: the fact that something like 90% of the compressors on the market are variations of this design, and the secondary fact that I didn't realize that when I bought some of them and was sucked into the marketing. It's equally true that my ear was trained to expect OTA-type behavior as well. OTAs, no matter their transparency or smoothness, have a characteristic response envelope that just sounds like compression. (I doubt many people buy them and then take them back saying "I couldn't tell it was doing anything." Most of the other designs are capable of more subtlety, and do their work without calling attention to themselves.)

This is not to say that all OTA compressors sound (or even behave) exactly alike. There are absolutely worse ones and better ones. Part of my compressor evolution was squeezing down the OTA contingent in my collection to what my ears tell me are the best of that breed. For a time that was a tossup between the "full-size" Wampler Ego and the Xotic SP. Eventually I sent the Ego away because it was bigger and more expensive than the Xotic, I wasn't using it as my "main" compressor, and for the essential OTA squeezy behavior I liked the Xotic just as well.

And now I've parted with the Xotic, because I like the Wampler Mini Ego better than either of them. I A-B'd it for hours with the Xotic, and couldn't find anything the Xotic did better. The Mini has more controls on the face, including an Attack toggle which pre-selects two nicely optimized envelopes AND a tone toggle which seems to offer flat and brightened alternatives, both great-sounding. And in every test I did, the Mini just sounded clearer and more composed. I like it - and at its compact size, it's just about as much space as I feel I need to devote to OTA.

All of which is to say that an evolved and well-engineered OTA compressor is a fine and satisfying thing. If we can trust the reviewers (ie, they weren't just making nice to avoid annoying the Jim Dunlop empire), that's just what the Way Huge seems to be. I doubt that it transcends the inherent OTA character (I've never heard one that did, and none of the reviewers claim that for the Saffron), but I've no doubt it's a nice compressor, fully sufficient to the need.

If I run across one in the wild, I'll certainly listen to it with open ears, but given my long history with Ross-based comps, I won't be ordering one on spec.

It would also have to compress my socks clean off to overcome my visceral aversion to both "Way Huge" as a brand name, and the abominable typeface in their logo!

17

Woah! There's cool, then there's Billy with these incredible toys. Color me compres - er - impressed...

18

I feel like I should just be quiet so we can hear the crickets...


I'd never heard of the Squeeze till this mention, so I looked it up. It was apparently another 2-knob OTA-based Ross/DynaComp clone in its first go-round, discontinued by Way Huge. After WH's acquisition by Jim Dunlop, the pedal was resurrected and re-released around 2015, with somewhat quieter circuitry and more tweakability by virtue of more knobs. It got a lot of nice reviews at the time.

Thanks to the Ross and its many clones, copies, and tweaks, OTA designs were the first compressors I danced with (as they were for most guitarists, I imagine), and my ear is acutely adapted to their virtues (and vices). Eight (maybe nine) of the 12 compressors I've sent packing have been OTA types.

That I've had so many is a reflection of two things: the fact that something like 90% of the compressors on the market are variations of this design, and the secondary fact that I didn't realize that when I bought some of them and was sucked into the marketing. It's equally true that my ear was trained to expect OTA-type behavior as well. OTAs, no matter their transparency or smoothness, have a characteristic response envelope that just sounds like compression. (I doubt many people buy them and then take them back saying "I couldn't tell it was doing anything." Most of the other designs are capable of more subtlety, and do their work without calling attention to themselves.)

This is not to say that all OTA compressors sound (or even behave) exactly alike. There are absolutely worse ones and better ones. Part of my compressor evolution was squeezing down the OTA contingent in my collection to what my ears tell me are the best of that breed. For a time that was a tossup between the "full-size" Wampler Ego and the Xotic SP. Eventually I sent the Ego away because it was bigger and more expensive than the Xotic, I wasn't using it as my "main" compressor, and for the essential OTA squeezy behavior I liked the Xotic just as well.

And now I've parted with the Xotic, because I like the Wampler Mini Ego better than either of them. I A-B'd it for hours with the Xotic, and couldn't find anything the Xotic did better. The Mini has more controls on the face, including an Attack toggle which pre-selects two nicely optimized envelopes AND a tone toggle which seems to offer flat and brightened alternatives, both great-sounding. And in every test I did, the Mini just sounded clearer and more composed. I like it - and at its compact size, it's just about as much space as I feel I need to devote to OTA.

All of which is to say that an evolved and well-engineered OTA compressor is a fine and satisfying thing. If we can trust the reviewers (ie, they weren't just making nice to avoid annoying the Jim Dunlop empire), that's just what the Way Huge seems to be. I doubt that it transcends the inherent OTA character (I've never heard one that did, and none of the reviewers claim that for the Saffron), but I've no doubt it's a nice compressor, fully sufficient to the need.

If I run across one in the wild, I'll certainly listen to it with open ears, but given my long history with Ross-based comps, I won't be ordering one on spec.

It would also have to compress my socks clean off to overcome my visceral aversion to both "Way Huge" as a brand name, and the abominable typeface in their logo!

– Proteus

I have the new version, had it for years. It’s not dead silent, but neither are my single coil pickups lol. It’s real nice, I don’t use it all the time but the extra three knobs on it can really give a little extra push without having to use too much of the actual compression

19

I feel like I should just be quiet so we can hear the crickets...


I'd never heard of the Squeeze till this mention, so I looked it up. It was apparently another 2-knob OTA-based Ross/DynaComp clone in its first go-round, discontinued by Way Huge. After WH's acquisition by Jim Dunlop, the pedal was resurrected and re-released around 2015, with somewhat quieter circuitry and more tweakability by virtue of more knobs. It got a lot of nice reviews at the time.

Thanks to the Ross and its many clones, copies, and tweaks, OTA designs were the first compressors I danced with (as they were for most guitarists, I imagine), and my ear is acutely adapted to their virtues (and vices). Eight (maybe nine) of the 12 compressors I've sent packing have been OTA types.

That I've had so many is a reflection of two things: the fact that something like 90% of the compressors on the market are variations of this design, and the secondary fact that I didn't realize that when I bought some of them and was sucked into the marketing. It's equally true that my ear was trained to expect OTA-type behavior as well. OTAs, no matter their transparency or smoothness, have a characteristic response envelope that just sounds like compression. (I doubt many people buy them and then take them back saying "I couldn't tell it was doing anything." Most of the other designs are capable of more subtlety, and do their work without calling attention to themselves.)

This is not to say that all OTA compressors sound (or even behave) exactly alike. There are absolutely worse ones and better ones. Part of my compressor evolution was squeezing down the OTA contingent in my collection to what my ears tell me are the best of that breed. For a time that was a tossup between the "full-size" Wampler Ego and the Xotic SP. Eventually I sent the Ego away because it was bigger and more expensive than the Xotic, I wasn't using it as my "main" compressor, and for the essential OTA squeezy behavior I liked the Xotic just as well.

And now I've parted with the Xotic, because I like the Wampler Mini Ego better than either of them. I A-B'd it for hours with the Xotic, and couldn't find anything the Xotic did better. The Mini has more controls on the face, including an Attack toggle which pre-selects two nicely optimized envelopes AND a tone toggle which seems to offer flat and brightened alternatives, both great-sounding. And in every test I did, the Mini just sounded clearer and more composed. I like it - and at its compact size, it's just about as much space as I feel I need to devote to OTA.

All of which is to say that an evolved and well-engineered OTA compressor is a fine and satisfying thing. If we can trust the reviewers (ie, they weren't just making nice to avoid annoying the Jim Dunlop empire), that's just what the Way Huge seems to be. I doubt that it transcends the inherent OTA character (I've never heard one that did, and none of the reviewers claim that for the Saffron), but I've no doubt it's a nice compressor, fully sufficient to the need.

If I run across one in the wild, I'll certainly listen to it with open ears, but given my long history with Ross-based comps, I won't be ordering one on spec.

It would also have to compress my socks clean off to overcome my visceral aversion to both "Way Huge" as a brand name, and the abominable typeface in their logo!

– Proteus

I have the new version, had it for years. It’s not dead silent, but neither are my single coil pickups lol. It’s real nice, I don’t use it all the time but the extra three knobs on it can really give a little extra push without having to use too much of the actual compression

20

Yup. I tend to favor compressors with EQ myself. One-stop shopping.

21

Maybe it's my less sophisticated tonal palate, but I've been quite happy with my original Keeley Compressor and newer Keeley Compressor Plus. The only real issue that I had with the original version was a slight noise issue when using it with humbuckers, which is no longer a problem with the ability to switch between pickup types on the Compressor Plus.


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