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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 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Dec 23, 2003
    The Seymour Duncan Studio Bass arrived.


    Similar to the review on Ovnilab.com I agree that this is a lot of pedal for the money. The three way switch is a great feature and has more of a dramatic effect the higher you increase the blend (more dry signal). I do like the mid setting a lot unless I boost the mids on my active basses. Then I much prefer the full position. Low position is great for warmth and it really does boost the lows but only in correlation to how high you have the dry blend. Overall it is a colored compressor. Switch on full is most neutral.

    The attack knob doesn't really seem to do much. I guess I need to experiment more with it.

    This compressor is pretty easy to dial in though I would like it to have a threshold LED. Not sure about this one yet. It's ok but definitely wouldn't dethrone the FEA or Cali for me. At least I don't think so at this point. But I could be very happy with this one.

    Time will tell on all of these. The Studio Bass would be great for someone who wants a lot of features at a low price and a fair amount of versatility. I like the form factor and the top mounted jacks.
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2018
  2. scubaduba

    scubaduba Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Dec 23, 2003
    The compressors so far (along with a couple other favorites).

    cosmicevan and Fuzzbass like this.
  3. Modest_Moose


    Dec 26, 2014
    I've been following this thread closely as I want to upgrade from my MXR, any chance you can do a solid pros/cons of each in one write up? I've been wanting the Cali 76 CB but everything I hear is it's just not as good as the larger models. FEA are all out of stock of everything and nowhere in sight for me...The Smoothie and Keeley seem interesting choices too.
  4. scubaduba

    scubaduba Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Dec 23, 2003
    I need more time with these. I'm also mindful of the fact that what might sound great to one won't to another. What one is looking for in a compressor will be different than another. What I think is great another might not. As I spend more time with each I'll keep updating. There are some general points though.

    Form factor:

    Studio Bass for the win. Relatively small and top mounted jacks.

    Cali has top mounted jacks but the overall pedal is much bigger and much heavier (built like a tank).

    FEA takes up the most room.

    Easiest to dial in (IMHO):

    Keeley for the win by far. But it's the least versatile and not in the same league for compression. But it's fantastic at peak limiting. A great pedal to use live.

    Smoothie for second place followed by the Studio Bass.

    Cali and FEA require a lot of knob turning but that effort is worth it.

    Most punchy (IMHO):

    Cali for the win. It's got a great presence. It's also pretty bright. The HPF is great. I like the HPF almost all the way up.

    Smoothie as runner up. But you can also adjust it to be much darker with the tone control.

    Smoothest (IMHO):

    I'm going to go with the FEA. It is so smooth but not in a terribly dark way. It is probably the darkest of this bunch but there is just something about it that sounds so good. I like all the internal dip switches in the of position. It is very musical. It's really nice.

    Runner up is the Smoothie. But again, the tone knob can really alter the tone and liven it up.

    Studio Bass is next. I wouldn't really call the Cali or Keeley smooth. The Cali is pretty lively.

    Build quality:

    I don't think I'm a good judge but the Cali seems built like a tank. All of these would seemingly hold up just fine.

    Hope this helps.
  5. Waiting on my Keeley LA after a preemptive side-step to try an Ampeg Opto Comp. The Ampeg just didn't cut it- too "warm", almost muffled. I had high hopes for it (being only $99! Why not?). My DOD 280 clone had more clarity (with a hint of grit if you push it). While it isn't a great comp, it DOES have a certain feel when needed.

    I like all this talk about the Keeley being transparent. Coming from using a DBX 160 years ago (and more recently, a THAT modded Alesis 3630), we'll see what the "Little" Keeley can do...
    scubaduba and lowplaces like this.
  6. pickles

    pickles Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 23, 2000
    Ventura, CA
    So basically if you want something specific there are other choices, but the smoothie is pretty great at everything. I like it so much I bought a second.
  7. Modest_Moose


    Dec 26, 2014
    thanks so much this really helps a lot! I'm definitely leaning towards the FEA Opti-FET. I don't care if it takes a little time to dial in but everything about that pedal sounds fantastic. I prefer it to be a little darker, the warmth feature seems amazing, I love the side chain feature... Now It looks like I have to wait who knows how many months for one to turn up for sale...
  8. BurningSkies

    BurningSkies CRAZY BALDHEAD Supporting Member

    Feb 20, 2005
    Seweracuse, NY
    When it comes to compression more is more for a control set (I feel that way about envelope filters too). I'm not surprised that the Cali and the FEA win overall. There's enough parameter control to cover lots of territory fairly easily. And yes, It's the most over-built pedal I've ever held.
  9. BillyBA


    May 17, 2017
    Atlanta, Ga
    Not to derail but I have a question for Keeley owners. My Bassist is perfect when the threshold is set at 12. But it seems like a 1\16th turn higher makes nothing get compressed and a 1/16th turn lower makes everything hit. I would expect a lot more 'play' than that. Is that your experience? Defective pedal? Defective user? MIM P bass with Geezers.
  10. keatz


    Jan 19, 2011
    Had band prac tonight. First go with the FEA dual band compressor/limiter. So far with just a quick dial in and first impressions i prefer the Cali CB, but in saying that i still have alot of experimenting to do with the FEA. Ill have a good fiddle over the weekend and give it another crack with the band next week. Make no mistake, the FEA is a very good compressor and i think its a little more percussive and articulate than the cali, but the cali just has a grunt and pressence and feel that i just couldnt get out of the FEA tonight. I also have experience with the SD studio bass and agree that it is fantastic bang for buck and holds its own, but not quite the same class as the other 2. Will keep posted on the FEA dual band.
    The Mouse, scubaduba and geowis like this.
  11. jumblemind

    jumblemind I also answer to Bryan Supporting Member

    Aug 27, 2011
    I have two, and while they don't feel quite that finicky, that's about right with my experience. It does depend on your compression setting, and my lindy fralin's are prob lower output than those geezers. Either way, I keep all my controls at noon and it's perfect for me as a limiting compressor at the end of my chain. If I were to want more of a compression sound, something to set the tone at the beginning of the chain, etc, I would most likely choose something else.
    scubaduba and BillyBA like this.
  12. BillyBA


    May 17, 2017
    Atlanta, Ga
    Thanks for the response. Yeah, I mostly just want to even out string volume and keep everything smooth and the Keeley is working very well for me too. Just thought it was odd that the threshold was so tight.
  13. scubaduba

    scubaduba Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Dec 23, 2003
    I think I'll augment this list with the following.

    Best overall every day do-it-all generalist compressor:

    Smoothie for the win. It can do a lot. From warm and fat to more aggressive and punchy with the tone knob and interaction with sustain. It's pretty easy to dial in good sounds. Accepts high output active basses or passive with ease. It think its a very nice tool but doesn't necessarily impart that "tone magic" we talk about or have the uber smooth feel of the FEA Optifet. But it is very capable.

    Runner up. Probably the Seymour Duncan Studio Bass though I wish it had a threshold LED indicator.
  14. BurningSkies

    BurningSkies CRAZY BALDHEAD Supporting Member

    Feb 20, 2005
    Seweracuse, NY
    I natively wouldn't be the person who likes 'brighter' in my tone-set, but I too really like the Cali in a band setting, though I haven't had the FEA. I feel like you can sculpt your note envelope really effectively to get definition and punch without it coming across as compressed and unnatural. I actually like the buffer in the Cali too, whether it's on or off.
    geowis likes this.
  15. Modest_Moose


    Dec 26, 2014
    Is it the Tough or Suave Smoothie?
  16. scubaduba

    scubaduba Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Dec 23, 2003
    I'm using the Suave Smoothie.
    DirtyDuke likes this.
  17. Indiedog


    Aug 23, 2012
    Tucson, AZ
    This is a very valuable Thread. I have been mulling over these same units.

    Thank you!!
    31HZ likes this.
  18. Modest_Moose


    Dec 26, 2014
    Thank you, you have been extremely helpful for me as I search for a new compressor to upgrade what I have. Almost none of these are close by (literally none are available within 200 miles of me) I have been relying heavily on user reviews. I've heard the "tough" Smoothie is "better" for bass but I'm stoked to hear the Suave is also excellent. I feel like I'm completely torn between 3 very different pedals, the Smoothie, Cali76 CB, and I think the lead is the FEA Labs (but likely not getting one any time soon so realistically the Cali76 and Smoothie).
  19. scubaduba

    scubaduba Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Dec 23, 2003
    Check with @bongomania but I'm not sure one is inherently better than the other. I believe the tough and suave react differently with the attack settings. I prefer slow attack (letting more transient attack through initially) so the suave is my choice. So it is what you prefer that would guide which is better for you.
    GentProvocateur likes this.
  20. JoshC


    Nov 19, 2006
    Lancaster, PA
    Got my Cali76 today. I'm a pretty big fan so far. I've got a few high output basses, a Bongo and a Sabre, and the Cali brings them in line in a way the Diamond never really did. I can easily see this pedal being a mainstay always on type deal.

    BurningSkies and scubaduba like this.

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