Compressors again - MXR M87 vs. EQD The Warden?

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by Impostor, Dec 16, 2013.

  1. Impostor


    Sep 29, 2008
    Hello the FX connoisseurs, I need some advice on compressors. I'll try to describe my aims and attitude to compression as fully as possible.

    Currently I'm using Humphry Audio Bass Smasher (that's a heavily modded Boss CS-3). I like its tonal transparency - it is not clinical, but its slight coloration doesn't alter the character of my tone. It sounds very musical to my ear - I use it with very moderate settings (the Sustain knob is mostly around 9 o'clock), so that it's rarely heard that a compressor is on. As long as I'd been playing only some structured, predictable stuff, it was fine - essentially an on/off device, but fine for me. But since I started playing more and more free improvisation in different settings and messing more with the onboard EQ, I encountered the limitation of the original Boss design, which is the same Sustain knob controlling both the input threshold and the ratio. There's no way to quickly and intuitively adjust the compression threshold in order to adapt to a change of the input level, and have the same good results - seems more like a 'hit and miss'. So in such situations I have to just keep it off. Clearly, the time has come to search for something more tweakable.

    As for the main question everyone in search of a compressor should answer - what do you use it for? For me, it is NOT to level up my playing dynamics. Rather, what I need from a compressor is to tighten up the sustain in different scenarios:
    1) the most obvious - to cut through a dense mix, especially with fast and busy percussion;
    2) I use compression before the octaver so that it doesn't loose track on longer notes;
    3) same with the fuzz - it behaves better if you feed it with compressed signal;
    4) same with ambient swells, fade-ins etc.;
    5) finally, I DO use the compressor itself as an effect. For example, boosting the mids on the onboard EQ and engaging compression when playing in the upper register delivers the tone reminescent of some oldschool jazz guitar (which is in fact compressed by the guitar amp with significant accent on the mids).

    The MXR M87 drew my attention, I watched several videos on youtube. Unfortunately, many demos utilize very high compression ratios, sometimes also with low thresholds, which results in oversquashed sound, yet it is very transparent tonally. Those rare moments when the reviewers used moderate settings sounded very musical to me, so I suppose it is possible to dial the 'right' settings for me. Unfortunately, I've lost the hope to put my hands on it before making the final decision, so I'll have to order online and then see what I get. My concern about the M87 is that the compression ratio starts with 4:0, and I may need lower ratios as well.

    I also listened to the A/B demos of the Aguilar TLC, and I always liked the uncompressed clips better. With the TLC engaged, I always had that 'now the compressor is on' feeling. It's a bit strange to say, but I found the M87 more transparent. The TLC is ruled out of the competition.

    I also watched an excellent demo of the 3Leaf Audio PWNZOR, and I found its dynamics and timing very, very musical. But, as much as I am impressed with it, I do not like the way it enhances the highs and kind of brings the bass to the forefront. I realize that this enhancement is in fact a highly valued effect, but I'm personally not into it. And, anyway, now it is discontinued.

    And now I suddenly stumbled upon The Warden by Earthquaker Devices. It is not a device specifically designed for bass, but it's got a very warm review from Bongo, and it seems to have wider range of usable settings (for me), because overall they are more subtle. There are not much videos, and they are all on guitar, I watched quite a few and got impressed with its timing characteristics - no matter how they tweak the Attack and Release knobs, the behaviour of the compressor over time is always very musical and smooth. However, it is hard to say anything about the tone. I don't mind a Tone knob (I have no worries with it on my Bass Smasher), I just don't have a chance to make a comparison. The only demo which includes a bass track (in a mix) is the wonderful demo by Just Nick on youtube. I like the unobtrusive compression heard there on the bass track, but the lack of bass-only A/B (on/off) demos is still a concern for me.

    So, my final choice is going to be among M87 and The Warden. Can anyone share some suggestions? Preferably from persons who tried both. Thanks!
  2. GroovinOnFunk

    GroovinOnFunk Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2008
    Burlington, VT
    Endorses SIT Strings
    Hey man, don't take this the wrong way, but I'd consider editing and consolidating your thoughts/post a bit. That post is much more verbose than it needs to be and you may find people more willing to actually read it all and respond if it weren't so long.
    Well done on being thorough and sharing all of your thoughts on compressors.

    Interesting that you prefer the M87 over the TLC. I prefer the TLC so I'm probably not the best person to give you advice other than condensing your original post... But that's just a suggestion, you certainly don't have to adhere to it.
    soong likes this.
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  4. GroovinOnFunk

    GroovinOnFunk Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2008
    Burlington, VT
    Endorses SIT Strings
    Also, regarding this statement: "The MXR M87 drew my attention, I watched several videos on youtube. Unfortunately, many demos utilize very high compression ratios, sometimes also with low thresholds, which results in oversquashed sound, yet it is very transparent tonally"...

    That's because the UREI 1176 off of which it's based is definitely more considered a limiter than a compressor. Even with a low ratio, it has a limiter-like action to it since the "attack" goes from light-speed, ridiculously fast to just a little slower than light-speed, and still ridiculously fast. It doesn't allow any of your transient attack to come through. That's my biggest beef with it. The fastest attack time for the TLC is 10x slower than the slowest M87 attack time.
  5. Impostor


    Sep 29, 2008
    Hey, thanks! :) This post is long, I admit. I started with the point that when anybody asks about compressors the first replies are like "Well, that depends on what you are into. What do you really want from compression?" So I just tried to clarify the thing as much as possible. When I had done with the post I realised that it ended up being longer that I'd intended, but I just left it as it was. In fact, having finished the post I almost came to a conclusion, thanks to organizing my thoughts and priorities in a written form. I realized that: 1) the ratio starting with 4:0 is a real concern to such a dynamics-purist as I tend to be; and 2) the two compressors whose action over time I found really musical - PWNZOR and The Warden - are both optical, and it's the attack/release behaviour which distinguishes optical compressors from the electric ones. I've never touched a real optical compressor in my life, but with regard to plugins (such as Waves C6) which allow to select between 'opto' and 'electric' behaviour, I've always found the 'optical' option sounding more natural - that is, more natural attack and release. So, I waited for reply the next day, didn't get any, and then I just ordered The Warden.

    And the next day you replied with the following sentence: "Even with a low ratio, it has a limiter-like action to it since the "attack" goes from light-speed fast to just a little slower than light-speed fast. It doesn't allow any of your transient attack to come through". And I just realised the mistake I could have made if I chose MXR. Because I DO want my transients come through. My main goal is to fatten the sustain, and in order to do that I need the opportunity to have the attack time long enough. So thanks! I think I'm on the right way. Can't wait for my pedal to come now...)
  6. eveilleu


    Oct 30, 2013
    Montreal, Qc
    So.. you need to compress your post.?
    triviani and soong like this.
  7. Impostor


    Sep 29, 2008
    Or maybe peak limit, as in social networks ;)
  8. eveilleu


    Oct 30, 2013
    Montreal, Qc
  9. frankegcbass

    frankegcbass Supporting Member

    Feb 8, 2012
    Philadelphia PA
    The Empress man. Great compressor. I actually love the boss sustain knob. But I really enjoyed the empress. It has 2:1 and its super tweakable. A good clean blend. And the slightest bit of color.
  10. Crabby


    Dec 22, 2004
    I have owned a bunch of them including the Diamond, Empress, Keeley 4 knob, Aphex Punch Factory, Tech 21, Dynacomp, MXR Limiter, and a few rack units.

    For me, the Empress is just a bit more complicated then I wanted it to be, The Diamond is beyond good and dead simple, but the PWNZOR gave me everything I wanted in the smallest package with a simple layout. I really hope Spencer at 3Leaf brings these back as its such a little box of "Win" in every way.
  11. RichSnyder

    RichSnyder Always groove.... Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2003
    Columbia, Md
    Take a look at the Wampler Ego Compressor.
  12. Impostor


    Sep 29, 2008
    Thanks guys! I've checked them out. The Empress is too pricey for my pocket and too big for my pedalboard. Wampler seems fine, but it has no separate input gain/threshold control, and that is exactly why I'm going to change the compressor. So, again, the best fit seems to be PWNZOR. I hope The Warden can stand up to it :)
  13. Rbrmfld


    Sep 26, 2015
    How did the Warden do on bass? I have one laying around
  14. Time to answer your own question and post your thoughts back here!
  15. I guess this explains the drastic settings on my M87.
  16. colantalas


    Mar 26, 2014
    I use the Warden, it definitely offers a lot of control, and it sounds great on bass too, not just guitar. I originally bought it as a holdover until I could get the Darkglass compressor but I like it so much I think I'm going to keep using it. I think it'll suit your needs very well. I mainly use it for fattening/coloration of my tone, which it does very well, but it can be dialed in a lot of different ways and can be very transparent. Most people around here tend towards compressors designed/marketed for bass but I'm very happy with my Warden.
    Rbrmfld likes this.
  17. Impostor


    Sep 29, 2008
    Well, for me it turned out to be too midrange (a lows-eater, in other words, especially for the B string), so I cut some A/B comparisons with the Humphrey Audio Boss mod, stayed with the latter, and shelved, then eventually sold The Warden. The A/B samples ended up on youtube, if anyone's interested -

    I'd been using the Humphrey Audio mod since then on until Keeley Bassist came out last year. The Bassist is ultra-transparent, and allows you to dial in any compression ratio from 1:1 to 1:inf. Sounds great for my style and instrument, and is super easy to use.
  18. MCS4


    Sep 26, 2012
    Fort Lauderdale, FL
    I tried both and prefer the Warden, although both are good. The M87 is more transparent, whereas the Warden has a slight tone coloration that can be made more or less obvious through settings of the Tone and Sustain knobs. Both are very flexible. However, despite M87 being technically more transparent, the Warden sounds more "natural" to me across a range of playing styles and plays better with the dirt pedals in my chain. It also works well as a limiter.

    FYI, the Warden does not lose any lows for me. However, since the Tone knob affects both highs and mids, if you turn the knob far past noon the lows are necessarily going to be less prevalent.
  19. Impostor


    Sep 29, 2008
    I guess you're right in your correction about how the tone knob on The Warden works. Since I haven't played with it for two years, I've already forgot such nuances.
    All in all, it's a good pedal, it just didn't fit me. Nevertheless, the M87 wouldn't either, because I found myself using the ratio of about 2:1 most of the time.
  20. Rbrmfld


    Sep 26, 2015
    I'm offshore right now so I can't, but in two weeks I'll be free lol
    Daniel Piper likes this.
  21. all good mate. I was being a little too cheeky.
    Rbrmfld likes this.