A Compressor is another essential pedal in my chain, and also one of the few that is on pretty much all of the time. For those unfamiliar with compressors - they were originally a recording studio technology that evolved in the 50’s/60’s I believe. Compressors are essentially a type of EQ-limiter based on frequency amplitude manipulation - far from the rudimentary earlier clipping technologies - here you modulate / reduce the volume of your overly loud notes while simultaneously boosting the volume of your softer / quieter notes - so you end up with a more harmoniously even sound. There are several different types of compression technologies that fit into the following categories:
The benefit of compression is not just in evening out your sound, but as a by-product you get improved sustain - or how long a note rings out for. The most common pedals have typically 4 dials along the lines of - Level | Tone | Attack | Sustain. The more clever pedals have an additional ’Blend’ dial which allows you to set the degree of compression vs the dry signal, on other pedals this can be a ratio dial, rotary switch or toggle.
As is usually my way, I have tried to cover a broad selection of different sizes, prices and feature sets - and include several of the best-known and most highly regarded in this category. As I decided to limit this to my favourite 9, there are some obvious omissions - like the absence of well-known compressor brand Diamond. I also went for the Keeley Pro over the classic 4-pot or the new Compressor Plus. And I elected to go with the more advanced MXR Studio Compressor over the Dyna-Comp - otherwise this list should be pretty much as expected.
I own two of the pedals featured - the mini Wampler and Xotic. I started with the latter (Alchemy Modded version), but found I preferred the Wampler Mini Ego - which is now my current active. It used to be the case that you saw a Diamond CPR1 compressor on every other pro pedalboard, the trend now seems to be more towards Keeley, Wampler, Xotic and the Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Deluxe in particular - which is UK-made.
I like my compressors mini - which kind of excludes the top row for me - however brilliant those are, and if indeed you are a pro compressor user you might prefer the full-featured Empress and Keeley Pro pedals. I’m not really in the market for another compressor, but would not mind picking up the optical Pigtronix Philosopher’s Tone, as well as a Cali76 Compact Deluxe - as that seems to be the pro benchmark at the moment.
I’ve not attached any videos to this article as compression is tricky to discern at the best of times let alone via YouTube, and you only really get a proper feel for it when your’re trying the pedal out yourself within your own signal chain and in the comfort of your lounge / music corner / basement / hidey-hole - or wherever you typically stash your gear.
Pedals listed alphabetically by brand:
This clever compressor is something a little different - and trust tone genius Andy Timmons to push for it. He found himself needing 2 slightly different degrees of compression for different tracks, in the same way some players have separate short and long delay pedals. So he got those nice Danish fellows at Carl Martin to create a dual compressor pedal, where each channel shares Threshold and Response dials, but has its own Compression and Level dials. Certain players are finding they need to switch their Compressors on and off, which means they loose the tone-shaping / equalisation effect of the compressor. Much better to have a regular / high and separate lower setting - to retain your tone without saturating your signal path or draining it unecessarily.
This larger enclosure pedal is at home on numerous professional boards, although ovbiously too large for my liking - it has 5 dials - Input | Attack | Release | Mix | Output, and two toggles - one for Ratio and the other to switch the LED display options. You know what you’re getting with Empress, and they have a significant pro following - I have 3 of their pedals and they are all amazing. Everything Empress puts out is great, but boy I wish this could live in a smaller enclosure. This pedal also includes the rare but extremely smart ’Sidechain’ input.
Alongside Diamond, Keeley is the other brand which most readily springs to mind when considering Compression, and they have several offerings in this category - including the much lauded 4-knob version and newer Compressor Plus - both within the regular-sized enclosure. I wanted something to sit alongside and be comparable with the Empress Compressor, so I chose the Pro version - with its - Threshold | Ratio | Attack | Release | Gain dials and Knee and Auto toggles - the former of which has Hard or Soft options - to give you added punch / kick to lower frequencies. If you are in the market for a full-featured pro pedal, then you would likely be considering the Keeley Pro or Empress above - both of which are excellent.
I chose this over the 2-dial Dyna-Comp as I wanted to feature a more pro-level pedal, This one has 5 dials - Release | Attack | Input | Output | Ratio . It is also the only regular-sized compression pedal to feature a LED bar display (as far as I am aware) - like the Empress and Keeley Pro do at the larger size. The MXR Studio compressor is a really decent option, but somewhat overlooked somehow.
This UK-based Compressor Pedal specialist has kind of captured the pedalboard high-ground recently. The Cali76 Compact Deluxe is currently the most likely pedal to appear on professional players’ boards - pricey for sure, but pristine output. There are 6 dials - Dry | Out | In | Ratio | Attack | Release - in a near enough regular size pedal enclosure (slightly oversized). I’ve had my eye on this one for a while, but I’m not sure I want to sacrifice the extra pedalboard space this one takes up vs one of my minis. Definitely on the wishlist though.
This pedal is different to my existing two mini pedals in being of the optical rather than OTA variety. Slightly fewer controls than my others - Volume | Sustain | Treble | Blend - but still appealing. I will probably snap one up when the pricing gets closer to £100.
Trust TC Electronic to do things slightly differently - 4 kind of regular dials - Sustain | Level | Attack | Blend, but then a 3-way toggle with Spectra | TonePrint | Vintage - voicing options. Of course only TCE can bring you TonePrint - which essentially - via an app editor - allows you to dial in all kinds of additional parameters - irrespective of how many dials there are on the pedal. So you can effect your signal path in much more powerful ways than pretty much any comparable pedal. I am intrigued by this one, but somehow still probably would prefer the MXR Studio or Cali76 Dlx in the same regular-sized category.
So this is my current compressor of choice - the little brother to the regular-sized 5-dial Ego Compressor. 3 of the dials are pretty much the same - Blend | Sustain | Volume, with the other two being replaced by two-way toggles - Tone toggles between Regular/FlatEQ (left) and Bright (right); and Attack toggles between Regular/Slow (Right) and Fast (Left). This pedal sounds a touch more articulate than my now second favourite - Xotic Compressor - possibly it is just how I’ve dialled it in - in which case the Wampler is easier to dial in your preferred tone!
This was my original compressor - once again another Alchemy Mod with externalised toggles simplifying access to the internal dip-swiches - dips 1&2 when off are slow attack, both up mean fast - and variations are possible in-between, dip3 is High Cut Filter - which rolls of high frequency transients, and dip4 is an Input Pad which throttles the input signal somewhat to prevent unwanted distortion, Down positions are off, Up is on! Then you have 2 regular dials - Volume and Blend, and a smaller dial for Sustain/Compression. It makes a huge difference having all the switches on the outside of the pedal. And I still like the results I got with this one, I just somehow prefer using the Wampler Mini Ego.
As a short summary of events, I would say that my own preference is most definitely for mini compressors, and I will likely acquire the Pigtronix at some stage for contrast and comparison. I am currently not interested in the largest enclosure pedals, but like all the regular-sized ones featured - with the Cali76 Deluxe also relatively high on my seemingly endless pedal wishlist ...