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Testing Compressors: Cali, Smoothie, Empress, Diamond, Keeley, FEA, Darkglass, Doc Lloyd, JHS & more

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by scubaduba, May 21, 2018.


  1. scubaduba

    scubaduba Supporting Member

    Dec 23, 2003
    Michigan
    Updated by a moderator on 10-21-18

    I’ve been on a journey as of late testing a wide variety of compressor pedals. Many I’ve purchased on my own, but as the shootout has progressed, other Talkbass members have shipped me their compressors to add to the test. I really appreciate that and I know many readers do too. Several manufacturers have shipped me compressor pedals to test too. Thanks to Ampeg, Amptweaker, Darkglass, Diamond, Dunlop, XAct Tone Solutions, Bogner, JHS, Foxpedal, Mad Professor, and others.

    One thing is for certain. Now is a great time to be a bass player. The amount of quality gear is incredible and this definitely translates to the world of compressor pedals. There’s a lot of differences in compressors but a lot of similarities too. Some are more transparent, others definitely add color. Some are all about punch and fattening, while others focus more on letting your instrument breathe while adding sustain and presence. Many today are bundling in tonal alterations in the form of side chains, onboard EQ, and dry/wet blend.Then there are the limiters and the squashers.

    After all of this testing to date, I don’t know that I’ve found the holy grail of compressors, but I really like aspects of many. I just might not be a one compressor guy.

    As for my personal preference, I should say I'm not into tone squishing or extreme limiting. I'm looking for just a little evening out and maybe a little bump in "oomph". I was a long time Diamond user but it's really more of a tone enhancer and I'm going for less color these days… I think. My goal with these reviews is to be as transparent as possible and not let much bias in. I’m also only using my ear to test but with multiple cabinets and several basses from a high output G&L L2500 to fretless Pentabuzz.

    Hope you find these reviews helpful and please do join the conversation.

    **The Reviews**
    Thanks to the mods for updating this first posting as compressors get added.

    Ampeg Opto Comp: Testing Compressors: Cali, Smoothie, Empress, Diamond, Keeley, FEA, Darkglass, Doc Lloyd, JHS & more

    Amptweaker PressuRizer: Testing Compressors: Cali, Smoothie, Empress, Diamond, Keeley, FEA, Darkglass, Doc Lloyd, JHS & more

    BBE Optostomp: Testing compressors: Cali76 CB, Smoothie, Keeley Bassist, FEA Optifet, Seymour Duncan Studio Bass

    Bogner Lyndhurst: Testing Compressors: Cali, Smoothie, Empress, Diamond, Keeley, FEA, Darkglass, Doc Lloyd, JHS & more

    Broughton Apex: Testing compressors: Cali76 CB, Smoothie, Keeley Bassist, FEA Optifet, Seymour Duncan Studio Bass

    Cali CB vs. Smoothie Suave Optical:Testing compressors: Cali76 CB, Smoothie, Keeley Bassist, FEA Optifet, Seymour Duncan Studio Bass

    Cali76 CB and fretless: Testing compressors: Cali76 CB, Smoothie, Keeley Bassist, FEA Optifet, Seymour Duncan Studio Bass

    Few more thoughts on Cali, Smoothie, and Keeley: Testing compressors: Cali76 CB, Smoothie, Keeley Bassist, FEA Optifet, Seymour Duncan Studio Bass

    Darkglass Hyper Luminal: Testing Compressors: Cali, Smoothie, Empress, Diamond, Keeley, FEA, Darkglass, Doc Lloyd, JHS & more

    Darkglass Supersymmetry: Testing compressors: Cali76 CB, Smoothie, Keeley Bassist, FEA Optifet, Seymour Duncan Studio Bass

    Diamond Bass Compressor JR: Testing compressors: Cali76 CB, Smoothie, Keeley Bassist, FEA Optifet, Seymour Duncan Studio Bass

    Doc Lloyd Photon Death Ray: Testing compressors: Cali76 CB, Smoothie, Keeley Bassist, FEA Optifet, Seymour Duncan Studio Bass

    EBS Multicomp: Testing compressors: Cali76 CB, Smoothie, Keeley Bassist, FEA Optifet, Seymour Duncan Studio Bass

    Effectrode PC-2A: Testing compressors: Cali76 CB, Smoothie, Keeley Bassist, FEA Optifet, Seymour Duncan Studio Bass

    Empress: Testing compressors: Cali76 CB, Smoothie, Keeley Bassist, FEA Optifet, Seymour Duncan Studio Bass

    FEA DB-CL (Dual Band Compressor/Limiter): Testing Compressors: Cali, Smoothie, Empress, Diamond, Keeley, FEA, Darkglass, Doc Lloyd, JHS & more

    FEA DE-CL (Dual Engine Compressor/Limiter: Testing Compressors: Cali, Smoothie, Empress, Diamond, Keeley, FEA, Darkglass, Doc Lloyd, JHS & more

    FEA OPTI-FET: Testing compressors: Cali76 CB, Smoothie, Keeley Bassist, FEA Optifet, Seymour Duncan Studio Bass

    Fermata (Xact Tone Solutions): Testing compressors: Cali76 CB, Smoothie, Keeley Bassist, FEA Optifet, Seymour Duncan Studio Bass

    Forest Green (Mad Professor: Testing Compressors: Cali, Smoothie, Empress, Diamond, Keeley, FEA, Darkglass, Doc Lloyd, JHS & more

    G-Lab BC-1 Boosting Compressor: Testing Compressors: Cali, Smoothie, Empress, Diamond, Keeley, FEA, Darkglass, Doc Lloyd, JHS & more

    J Rockett I.Q. Compressor: Testing Compressors: Cali, Smoothie, Empress, Diamond, Keeley, FEA, Darkglass, Doc Lloyd, JHS & more

    MXR M87: Testing Compressors: Cali, Smoothie, Empress, Diamond, Keeley, FEA, Darkglass, Doc Lloyd, JHS & more

    Pulp 'N' Peel (JHS): Testing Compressors: Cali, Smoothie, Empress, Diamond, Keeley, FEA, Darkglass, Doc Lloyd, JHS & more

    PWNZOR (3Leaf): Testing compressors: Cali76 CB, Smoothie, Keeley Bassist, FEA Optifet, Seymour Duncan Studio Bass and Testing compressors: Cali76 CB, Smoothie, Keeley Bassist, FEA Optifet, Seymour Duncan Studio Bass

    Refinery (Foxpedal): Testing Compressors: Cali, Smoothie, Empress, Diamond, Keeley, FEA, Darkglass, Doc Lloyd, JHS & more

    Seymour Duncan Studio Bass: Testing compressors: Cali76 CB, Smoothie, Keeley Bassist, FEA Optifet, Seymour Duncan Studio Bass

    Smoothie OTA vs. Smoothie Optical: Testing compressors: Cali76 CB, Smoothie, Keeley Bassist, FEA Optifet, Seymour Duncan Studio Bass

    Taurus Tux MK-2: Testing Compressors: Cali, Smoothie, Empress, Diamond, Keeley, FEA, Darkglass, Doc Lloyd, JHS & more

    Wampler Ego Mini after time in store: Testing compressors: Cali76 CB, Smoothie, Keeley Bassist, FEA Optifet, Seymour Duncan Studio Bass

    The Warden (EarthQuaker Devices): Testing Compressors: Cali, Smoothie, Empress, Diamond, Keeley, FEA, Darkglass, Doc Lloyd, JHS & more

    Whirlwind OC Bass: Testing Compressors: Cali, Smoothie, Empress, Diamond, Keeley, FEA, Darkglass, Doc Lloyd, JHS & more

    Best overall everyday compressor (my opinion)... so far: Testing compressors: Cali76 CB, Smoothie, Keeley Bassist, FEA Optifet, Seymour Duncan Studio Bass
     

    Attached Files:

  2. TheLopp

    TheLopp

    Dec 30, 2013
    I’m on tour right now in the US and last night I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the sound in my in ears until the very end of the show. I forgot to put my Cali76 CB on. It’s the only pedal that doesn’t gets on when powering up my pedal board.

    The signal goes through my Cali and the splits into two signals with a Lehle P-split into a Noble for clean and a VT Bass DI for a pushed tube amp sound. I didn’t now it affected my sound that much until yesterday, it makes a huge difference.

    I haven’t tried any Keeley compressor or the Smoothie but I own a Cali76-TX and the CB, Diamond, the Accountant, SpectraComp and a Milkbox. Different flavours but the CB is really, really good.
     
  3. tshapiro

    tshapiro Supporting Member

    Aug 25, 2015
    Jax Florida
    They're going to have to pry my Cali76 Bass from my cold dead hands.
     
  4. Spidey2112

    Spidey2112

    Aug 3, 2016
    After speaking with their customer support, it was a no-brainer...

    ... Keeley.
     
  5. petrus61

    petrus61 Supporting Member

    Might want to try the FEA Labs offerings for the next go round.
     
    onda'bass, Fuzzbass, azwhofan and 2 others like this.
  6. dannybuoy

    dannybuoy

    Aug 3, 2005
    England
    Don't discount the Spectracomp! It may be the underdog, but I prefer mine to my Cali CB and the RMI, Keeley, Diamond, and EBS contestants that proceeded it.

    It may only have one knob - but what a knob it is!

    Oh and don't forget to run that Cali at 18V if you can, it does clip a bit (although not in a harsh way) at 9V if you have the attack and/or HPF up high!
     
  7. scubaduba

    scubaduba Supporting Member

    Dec 23, 2003
    Michigan
    I'd very much like to get my hands on the FEA (any version). Anybody have one they'd like to sell me?

    I've used the Spectracomp before. Actually tried two different units. Both were far too noisy for my taste. Maybe I'll try another one and see if things have improved (or my taste has changed).

    Yes, I'm running the Cali at 18 volts.
     
  8. petrus61

    petrus61 Supporting Member

    I had an Opti-Fet posted in the classifieds up until a couple days ago, or else I would have! They’re amazing pieces of gear. Definitely go for it if you ever get the chance. Have fun in the journey down the compressor rabbit hole!
     
    scubaduba likes this.
  9. scubaduba

    scubaduba Supporting Member

    Dec 23, 2003
    Michigan
    Yeah, I saw that one. But I saw it too late. I'd really like to try the Opti-Fet.
     
  10. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    For day to day straight ahead transparent limiting I find the Keeley Bassist quickest to set and easiest to use. It’s very difficult to make yourself sound bad with it. That makes it ideal as a first compressor if you’re new to it, or as something that lives on your board for whenever it’s needed. Mine is one of the first things I’ll drop in my gig bag. Perfect for dealing with difficult room acoustics.

    The Smoothie is a thing unto itself. If you want a certain special sauce type of “smoove” and thickening, a Smoothie is hard to beat for the price. I’ve got one and I like it a lot.

    I don’t own any Cali compressors. But the ones I have tried were all uniformly excellent at what they do. Pricey, but worth it IMO.

    For a relatively higher end pedal compressor I use a Bogner Lyndhurst which packs a Neve designed transformer. It’s a little overkill buying one just for bass unless you’re recording with it a lot. But my SO is a guitarist. She’ll put the snags on it anytime I’m not using it, so it earns its keep. Surprisingly affordable and bordering on a bargain for what you get if you shop around. If round and warm and sparkle is your thing, it’s well worth checking out. It’s sometimes compared to a Cali. But it, like the Cali, each has their own vibe and feel so I wouldn’t consider either a substitute for the other. In a perfect world, I’d own both. Which is the fun thing about compressors. They’re each a little different. So if pursuing sonic and textural subtleties is your thing, a compressor is your baby.

    I have five compressors so far. And at least another three on my GAS list.

    It’s a sickness…;)
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2018
  11. dannybuoy

    dannybuoy

    Aug 3, 2005
    England
    I was fully expecting the same after reading Bongo's comments about the Hypergravity, but I was pleasantly surprised. Running at unity gain with the stock preset into a clean headphone amp and decent cans, I can't hear any noise whatsoever. YMMV with other Toneprints of course and it might be fussy on certain power supplies.

    One thing I always struggle to dial in right with compressors is getting it to do all of the following:

    - Even out playing dynamics
    - Not overly clamp down when a low note is played
    - Not let the high clack of a thumb slapped note end up over compressing everything to lose the power of the low end
    - A long enough attach time to add a little pop at the front of each note
    - Have the release time short enough so that I can hit a note hard without it obviously affecting the next note... yet long enough so I can play a long note without it noticably swelling up
    - Does not dull my high end or lose my low end
    - Adds no noticeable noise

    I put the Spectracomp at 9 o'clock and ticked every box on my list, then wondered why I had bothered with the frustration of trying to dial in the 6 knob compressor sat next to it. :roflmao:
     
  12. bass40hz

    bass40hz Cigar smoker, scotch drinker, American Patriot

    Aug 13, 2014
    Sussex County, NJ
    no endorsements but would love a few ;-)
    Send them all back and get an FEA DE-CL
     
    onda'bass likes this.
  13. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    There's a lot to be said for simpler is sometimes better. If someone really needs to get super persnickity with settings maybe they do need full control over each of the parameters, assuming they know what they're doing. But as Keeley says in one of their user manuals, there are some standard long established settings that "just work" and sound good.

    So unless you're doing some micro level sound sculpting in a recording studio, why bother dithering with a lot of knobs? Especially if you're talking about live performance. Any subtleties you're shooting for will go right out the door at stage volume levels.

    Like you I've learned to appreciate the value of not overcomplcating things.
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2018
  14. red_rhino

    red_rhino Gold Supporting Member

    That's one of the things I like about the Smoothie; simple, intuitive, and easy to get a good sound in a hurry. I like to have my sound dialed in before the third set. :thumbsup: The Keeley and the Cali both look easy to operate as well; probably sound great too. I just tried the Smoothie first and stayed with it.
     
    Rickter, bongomania and Mpike like this.
  15. Mpike

    Mpike

    Dec 10, 2016
    Florida
    I've been wanting to try a Cal76 but I love my Smoothie so much. Every time I start thinking it isn't helping me live I turn it off for a song and wind up turning it back on midsong. I also play with the tone knob from time to time to get some slight different tones out of it to keep it fresh.
     
    bongomania likes this.
  16. Aloe

    Aloe

    Apr 10, 2016
    Ukraine
    well, Spectracomp is indeed noisy (or at least notably amplifies the subtle hiss produced by guitar) when it's after 3 o'clock or something like this. this said, I happily sold my Markbass Compressore after buying the Spectracomp. the hiss does not bug me even in studio as my typical setting is between 10 and 12 o'clock.

    my main grief with single-band compressors (I had Compressore and MXR M87) is that they somewhat lose the low end (can be tweaked with post-EQ but makes pre-EQ like bass boost in my active bass not very useful). for this reason, I prefer multi-band compressors.

    this all said, compressor is a very subjective piece of gear. use the one that works for you and don't overthink this.
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2018
  17. deepestend

    deepestend Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 21, 2003
    Brooklyn via Austin and NOLA
    Guitar/Bass Builder and Social Media at Sadowsky
    Subscribed... I have been using a Bearhug compressor for the past few weeks and really like it. Has that nice combination of slight boost, roundness, and fatness... also helps you to sit nicely in the mix.

    I built one and then saw one come up on reverb and bought it: Bear Hug Compressor – NEW Version – 1776 EFFECTS
     
    scubaduba likes this.
  18. dannybuoy

    dannybuoy

    Aug 3, 2005
    England
    Actually if you're into tweaking this thing has a zillion adjustable parameters if you delve into the Toneprint app (I've never bothered, people with better ears than me seem to have already nailed the stock preset for my use!).

    Agree it is noisy if you crank the compression, but that's to be expected. Stock preset, knob at 9 o'clock, I get moderate squash and silence.

    With you on the multi-band approach, you really hear both the attack of low end thump and high end clack coming through much more. The Cali CB has the LPF which is a great way to fix the same issue but not quite as good a solution IMHO. However the EBS had headroom issues for me and the RMI multi band noticeable altered my tone, needed isolated power due to being a source of noise (probably the 9-18V doubler inside) plus it died within a few days so was returned under warranty!

    Surprised there aren't more multiband comps out there!
     
  19. Rickter

    Rickter Bassist for EverCross, Precision Bass Geek Supporting Member

    Nov 30, 2006
    Nashville, TN
    When I was doing comp shopping, it was between the Keeley Bassist and the Duncan Studio Bass. I went with the Duncan and have been perfectly happy. Sometimes the blend feature is where the magic is at, sometimes you can barely tell it's there, but that's just me.

    While the blend functions may not be a big deal currently, I'm a believer in "better to have and not need than to need and not have".

    To me the Cali would still be a major contender based on it's pristine nature, the tone sweetening it seems to do for everyone but especially for the addition of the HPF circuit.
     
  20. deepestend

    deepestend Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 21, 2003
    Brooklyn via Austin and NOLA
    Guitar/Bass Builder and Social Media at Sadowsky
    I really want to play the Keeley... glad to hear it get a good review here.
     
    scubaduba likes this.

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