Compressor for rather aggressive fingerstyle

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by sideFX, Dec 6, 2013.

  1. Hi all!

    As the title suggests, I'm gassing for a new bass comp.

    First off I should clarify that I've done much reading on Bongo's helpful ovnilab site and it was his reviews that led me to buy a Carl Martin Classic Opto comp 16 months ago as a decent mid-price option.
    I'm a total noob when it comes to compression though, and had quite a hard time setting up the CM [relatively] correct, lol even now I'm guessing my setup is not right cause when I play really hard on the E string it does this thing where momentarily it sounds loud and the next moment the volume drops significantly and the note sounds really chocked. I hope you get what I'm trying to say, I can't describe it any better :meh:
    [Btw I wonder if this is the dip-and-swell action I've read about in many bongo's reviews]

    When playing with a lighter touch though, it's working perfectly, tightening my sound in a nice way. But either way, I can't tell by ear when it's starting to compress, or how intense the compression is. The result of this is that I can't adjust the input-threshold right.

    Anyway, I've seen clips of the new mxr m87 bass comp and it doesn't seem to have this volume drop issue with similar playing style (heavy hitting right hand, really aggressive, like Flea's fingerstyle on BSSM). It also has the led metering which I think will be very helpfull.

    If I understand correctly what I need is a compressor that acts as a good limiter as well, with a high ratio, attack and release controls, fast attack, and which doesn't do the "volume-drop-thing" I mentioned above.

    So I've narrowed it down to the following

    MXR M87 bass compressor (pros: led metering, size, the cheapest of the bunch, cons: the fixed ratios, only very fast attack?)
    Aguilar TLC (pros: rave reviews, crystal clear, best limiter option?, cons: no metering)
    Markbass Compressore (pros: warmer tubish tone, one led metering, extensive controlls, cons: size, power supply)
    Empress Compressor (pros: led metering, tone? cons: not available in the EU, expensive, small max ratio?)

    Which one do you think will suit me best?
  2. negativefx

    negativefx complete hack Supporting Member

    Feb 18, 2013
    Fort Collins
    I play quite aggressively and the TLC works great for me. Haven't tried the other 3 mentioned but I did mod a bunch of guitar comps (dyna, keeley 4, mp forest green) and didn't like them anywhere near as much as the TLC.
  3. BFunk

    BFunk Supporting Member

    What you are talking about is called dip and swell. As I understand it, this is when the compressor over-compresses momentarily, then as the compression levels off rises the volume rises. It has a sort of boingy effect. I think the problem you could be that you want to set up your comp both as a normal compressor and a limiter. Limiter settings require high thresholds, fast attack, medium release, high ratios, and no make up gain. Normal compression has slower attack, medium to long release, moderate ratios, and possible some make-up gain. If this is what you want, I would say use two compressors, one for limiting and one for normal comp, or get one comp that does both. I think the FEA Labs Dual Engine Compressor Limiter would do the trick if you want to stay with a single pedal format. If metering is a must, you should also consider the Origin Effects Cali76. This is what I use and I think it is outstanding. Lots of attitude IMO. It can both compression and limiting, but not at the same time. I had the Empress which is an excellent comp too. It was just too subtle sounding to me.
  4. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    Yes and no. That is, yes it is the same root cause and effect, but when I mention it in reviews it's something that is inherent to the circuit design of the particular pedal I'm testing, so it acts that way at most settings.

    What it is is a very low threshold, a high ratio, and a slow attack. So the loud bit at the beginning of the note is before the attack time completes, and the bit where the volume drops and chokes is where the intense ratio squashes your signal down to the very low threshold.

    The release time is also a factor, as it determines how long your signal will stay dropped/choked before the comp opens up the volume again.

    I do think having a good visual meter is super helpful for working with/around this kind of problem.

    One of the problems inherent to almost all compressors, even super-expensive ones, is that they are not smart. They do not know to change their behavior when you go from lighter playing to more aggressive playing. As a result, settings that work for one style do not work right for the other style.

    A "soft knee" is one answer, and it may be the closest thing to a "smart" comp system. With a soft knee, lighter playing gets a lower ratio, and bigger peaks get a higher ratio. Even that system is not perfect in its results though.

    Dbx and Alesis make a few examples of VCA comps that explicitly have a soft knee feature (with a switch and lights and description in the manual). Many opto comps are inherently soft knee, but (a) not all of them do it well, as you've already found out; and (b) good luck finding one where the maker expressly spells out the soft knee performance in the product description.

    The other solution I recommend is to set your compression up for the aggro playing only, and let the gentler playing have little or no audible compression. That's what I suggest for the Carl Martin Opto: lower the input level until the squishing is acceptable and inoffensive.

    Funny--I just now re-read my review, and it says the CM Opto has "that classic swell action", and "the squash is not very 'natural' sounding when hit hard". :p

    So yes, you are right, it is time for a new comp for you! :)

    I'd narrow it down to the MXR and the Markbass; each has equal pros and cons IMO.
  5. BFunk

    BFunk Supporting Member

    Aren't there some compressors, like the FEA Labs one I mentioned, using adaptive release? It seems to me that this would take care of some of these issues.
  6. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    Adaptive release time is a nice feature, but would not significantly alter the OP's situation.

    However the DECL you mentioned is a great suggestion anyway since its dual engines accommodate different playing styles, if set up correctly.
  7. Thanks for the helpful input!! :)

    @bongo: in your review of the MB Compressore you mention that "It does a pretty good job as a peak limiter, although if you hit it with a strong spike over the threshold, the signal will "dip and swell" noticeably, which some people might not want. This can be avoided with a higher threshold or less extreme spikes in your playing, or you can use it as a cool funky effect."

    If I got this right, that's what my Carl Martin Opto comp already does and which I absolutely despise, so shouldn't I rule the MB out because of this?

    And I'm guessing you're not suggesting the TLC cause of the lack of visual metering (which is a serious con for me, although from what I've read I made the impression that it's one of the best performing limiters)

    And finally, every time I read your review on the MXR m87 I get the impression that although you've got it listed in your top-picks, for some reason it doesn't excite you that much, like it's lacking somewhat compared to others, I don't know, maybe it's just my (wrong) impression, but that's what this review feels like to me.
  8. Another thing I'd like to add, is that while I won't doubt that there are many wonderful and elegantly made, fine tuned pedals on the obscure/boutique/niche market (i.e. FEA Labs), it's rather hard for anyone living in eu to find them, and even if I do find some of them (ebay) they are rather pricey, so I cannot afford them... :(
  9. bkbirge


    Jun 25, 2000
    Houston, TX
    Endorsing Artist: Steak n Shake
    If you are using thresholds above 2:1 you are basically getting into limiting territory. You want a gentler ratio, a fast attack and a slow release, and set the threshold so your compression only starts when you want it to, not on every note. Set it so when you play "really hard" on your E string as you mentioned that it still sounds good to you.
  10. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    True, except (a) it has the one LED for a little visual help, and (b) it has about the widest ranging threshold controls I've ever encountered, so there's a lot of room for fine tuning.

    Contrast that against the MXR, where you need a robot hand and a microscope to set the threshold well, in spite of the metering.
    Then I have done my job. ;)

    The MXR is like a mid-priced new car. You can expect good performance from it, and support from the manufacturer, and decent resale value. It has some desirable features, and it will get you to work and back, and it's easy to park. It is not a luxury car, nor a sports car, nor a classic, nor a pink dune buggy with a raccoon tail on the CB antenna. :)
  11. BFunk

    BFunk Supporting Member

    I assume you mean compression ratios when you say 'above 2:1'. Since bass compression is typically in the 3:1, 4:1 range, I would say you are not correct. 10:1 is getting into the limiting range. 2:1 is more typically used for light vocal comp or bus comp.
  12. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    Is the Whirlwind OC available in your area, at a price you can reach?
  13. bkbirge


    Jun 25, 2000
    Houston, TX
    Endorsing Artist: Steak n Shake
    Well this starts to fall into the opinion rather bucket but for me a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio is definitely in the limiting range. A 2:1 buss or vocal comp is considered pretty extreme by most engineers though of course it's done all the time. It's all what you want out of the sound.

  14. bjelkeman

    bjelkeman Bass player wannabe Supporting Member

    May 9, 2013
    Stockholm, Sweden
    I found it very hard to read reviews and understand how different compressors behave and sound. I have an MXR M87, which I am selling, and have tried the Diamond, Empress, Forrest Green and Cali76 compressors. Wasn't really satisfied with the behaviour of any except for maybe the Cali76. I thought the others killed the dynamic of the playing too much.

    I ended up getting an EBS Multicomp, which are quite cheap second hand. I felt it was much more subtle in its compression, fattening up the sound a bit without killing the dynamic and more was I was looking for.

    I don't try to buy a compressor now without play testing.
  15. Nope, ebay only :(

    What about Empress? Good as a comp but not good as limiter?

    And when does Markbass do this dip and swell thing, only on extreme settings (if yes, what does extreme settings actually means?) or just operating as a limiter?

    sorry for the many questions, but since I'm upgrading to something good (twice+ the CM vallue) I have to make a wiser choice this time.
  16. bkbirge


    Jun 25, 2000
    Houston, TX
    Endorsing Artist: Steak n Shake
    You'll get your dip and swell by playing with the attack and release time. A longish attack lets the initial sound through and then the compressor limiter clamps on (dip depending on how much attenuation). The swell comes from the release time, a slow one is less noticeable while a fast release time lets the volume come back up rapidly. This is where the "sustain" in a comp comes from. Ratio and threshold of course affect it to. Threshold is at what volume does the attack/release action kick in and ratio is how much attenuation happens. A 2:1 ratio means if you have 2dB above your threshold then the compressor outputs 1dB in volume.
  17. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Banned Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    I have an aggressive finger style myself. I don't use compression at all. I simply play and use my fingers for dynamics. I do know how to lighten up when it is called for. I just let the FOH guy worry with it in the mix. A couple have told me I "give a compressor a workout" but they seem to handle it OK. It always sounds fine on stage without. I let my fingers do what they do, and the amp does what it does.
  18. Thanks for the input.
    Yeah, I'm aware of the basic stuff, and tried to set my comp knobs for threshold, ratio and attack right, but since there's no visual metering I can't understand by ear how much signal is being compressed!
    As I wrote before although I know how compressors work, it's impossible for me to tell by ear when the compression starts to kick in (i.e. the first peaks cross the threshold), or how much of the signal is being compressed.
    As far as the dip and swell thing, you seem to be advising me on how to achieve it, lol... well truth is I absolutely hate it, and I don't want my next comp to do it in any occasion. That's the thing stopping me from pulling the trigger on the Markbass, cause in his review Bongo says that it does it.
  19. I'm not even in a band at the moment (let alone perform live), and just recently (since spring of '12) decided to start playing bass again, after nearly a decade on hiatus. I know, I know... :bag:

    Nevertheless, I've been using a comp for the past 16 months and I like what it does to my sound on non extreme (non limiting) settings, that's why I'm considering upgrading to a more solid one
  20. bkbirge


    Jun 25, 2000
    Houston, TX
    Endorsing Artist: Steak n Shake
    To avoid it you back off your settings from when you first start hearing it. But you can start by having a faster attack and a slower release, a lower ratio and a higher threshold. You need to use your ears. Using a visual indicator often tells you very little, most of them are never calibrated correctly anyway.

    Start with a zero (or as close as you can get) attack and a very slow release. Play the bass and adjust threshold until you hear a difference. Back off of that until you don't hear a difference. Now leave it alone and play normally. If it sounds too dippy/swelly now then back off some of the controls, if it doesn't seem to do anything at all no matter what you play then increase some of the controls. Record these little experiments until you start to understand how the comp and settings are affecting your tone.