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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. willsellout

    willsellout Supporting Member

    Aug 13, 2002
    Fort Wayne, IN
    Sweetwater Sales Engineer
    I like the Analog Alien guys. They are pro studio dudes who decided to build some pedals. They have a funky aesthetic but everything I’ve tried is pretty unique and awesome. They were actually just out to my work doing some training on their new pedal interface. Neat stuff.
  2. scubaduba

    scubaduba Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Dec 23, 2003
    Thoughts on the Pigtronix Philosopher Bass Compressor Micro:

    Yes, it is a tiny pedal. Yes, it thrives at providing clean sustain. If the combination of those two qualities is what you are looking for, well then look no further. The Pigtronix Philosopher Bass Compressor Micro is a sweet little tool.

    For the rest of us, here's the skinny.


    It runs off 9v supply (not included) with an internal, voltage-doubling circuit providing 18VDC power providing plenty of headroom for high output basses. Side mounted input/output jacks and top mounted power input. A bright blue LED illuminates when the pedal is activated. There is no LED indicating gain reduction. The circuit itself is an optical design.

    There are four knobs and all are very interactive. Before I comment on the functionality I'd like to highlight the knobs themselves as they are beautiful. Sporting an all metal design with etching they are not only very attractive but provide great grip on the small knobs. Very nice!


    Let's start with the Sustain knob. Pigtronix literature says the sustain control varies the threshold at which compression is delivered to provide subtle peak limiting all the way to "infinite clean sustain." Infinite is a stretch but I'd say with the sustain knob turned to 2:00 or higher there is more than enough sustain on tap to satisfy most anybody. Of course there is a lot of compression action at that point on the dial so that's where the Blend knob comes in to play. More on that later. With the Sustain knob set between all the way CCW to around 9:00 the Philosopher Bass Compressor Micro feels pretty subtle, until you turn it off. There is definite compression activity going on even at those low settings. Again, that's where the Blend knob comes in to play. At about noon there is obvious compression and it starts to feel more squishy for sure. Attack is significantly reduced. Some may like the feel very much, others might feel their style getting a little cramped. There is plenty of compression on hand. I'd say the entire range of the Sustain knob is essentially pretty strong to almost over-the-top. With higher levels of Sustain and Blend, your initial attack will feel highly squashed followed by an extended swell of sustain. Probably not the best option for those looking for a subtle compressor but excellent for those that like a lot of effect and want an inherent bigness in their tone. Higher output basses more dramatically impact the effect of the Pigtronix Bass Micro more where a passive signal feels more natural.


    The Blend knob allows a little or a lot of your clean sound to be heard in parallel with the optical compression. All the way CCW means a lot of your clean (dry) signal is put through. As you rotate the dial CW you are bringing in more of the effect. The Blend and Sustain are highly interactive and I spent a lot of time with these two dials set at many different scenarios. Frankly, it was a lot of fun to do so. With the Sustain dial at 2:00 or higher and the Blend knob at noon or higher you will be met with huge fat tone that is quite squished but very big with lots of sustain. Turning the Sustain all the way up (fully CW) and the Blend all the way up (fully CW) your signal is highly compressed with virtually no attack and totally squished. The more the Sustain and Blend are rotated CW the more the gain is increased so you will need to use the Volume knob to compensate. More on that later. I found a sweet spot with the Blend at 10:30 and Sustain at 10:00 which provided an inherent bigness but still felt quite natural. Another sweet spot with more effect was setting the Sustain to 1:00 or so and the Blend knob at 9:00 or so. In this case the Volume knob needed to be rotated more CW to bring unity level back.

    There is plenty of gain on tap though high levels of Sustain will require a lot of makeup gain. This is where the Volume knob is important to provide that necessary makeup gain. I found that with very low levels of Blend (as in all the way CCW to 9:00 or so) required a lot of makeup gain to restore unity levels. On the other hand, with higher levels of Sustain and more effect (Blend at noon or higher) will require pulling back the volume (more CCW). As mentioned already, the Blend, Sustain, and Volume circuits are highly interactive. Because of that fact, it isn't the easiest of compressors to dial in but worth the effort to find the magical sweet spots.


    There does not seem to be any loss of low end. In fact, with many settings of the dials the low end is augmented and big and pillow like. On the other hand, the Philosopher Bass Compressor Micro loses a lot of high end. I found myself boosting the highs at the amp or on the bass preamp to get some back. If you are looking for big, fat and smooth you'll dig the Pigtronix but if you like inherent brightness and upper punch, it isn't there. This is my biggest criticism of the device though I know there are many who dig this.

    Finally, the Grit feature. Pigtronix literature says the Grit circuit adds "harmonic distortion tuned especially for low-frequency domination." It definitely does provide a ton of breakup and I'd describe it as more fuzzy than smooth. I've read other reviews that are critical of the Grit circuit. At lower levels I found it to be pleasing, and more so with more effect added (Blend knob more on the wet side, or CW). Dialed in at more than 9:00 though it the Grit just became too much, too harsh, and overall dominant for my taste. Your mileage may vary of course and depending on your style, I feel like the Grit on this compressor is better tuned for Bass than other offerings from Pigtronix. I'd also say that if you are critical of other dirt pedals for getting too harsh in the high end, you might really like the Grit on the Pigtronix Compressor. Because of its inherent darkness, that high end buzz isn't there. But subtle, smooth OD it really isn't at all but the lowest settings.


    The Pigtronix Philosopher Bass Compressor Micro is incredibly quiet. No complaints in that department. It is tiny in the same size department as the Becos CompIQ Mini Pro Compressor or Wampler Ego Mini.


    The pedal itself is surprisingly heavy and solid feeling. The foot switch activates with a solid click and is true bypass. There is nothing that feels cheap about it.

    Retail Price: $119
    Last edited: May 11, 2019
  3. sonofshel

    sonofshel Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Memphis, TN
    I so much want to hear a bass sampling of this pedal but there is nothing to be found anywhere. The compressor would suit my simple minded need on gigs I’m sure but I’m really wanting to hear the eq, range and boost features as well. I believe I’d be set plugging this pedal into my Broughton Super Stack and CTC Locomotive with a HPF/LPF pedal at the end of the chain. For the money, I’m hesitant to splurge without at least hearing a bass guitar demo. My plan for now is to hold out and hope someone will post such and then in a few months give their 14 day trial a chance. Loved the review of this one @scubaduba ...enough to develop a lust for it...I won’t blame you for that though; you’re only doing us community service and for that, I commend you
    scubaduba likes this.
  4. Cracker7

    Cracker7 Supporting Member

    Jul 2, 2016
    Saratoga Springs NY
    If anyone is looking for a 3 Leaf PWNZOR, my buddy is selling one of mine on the verb. Just a heads up.
  5. berman3313

    berman3313 Supporting Member

    Jan 14, 2009
    The folks in Croatia ain't gonna be too happy to hear that!
    Besides - isn't that what the classifieds are for?

    Seriously, I've yet to "hear" a compressor demo that really demonstrates how THAT (any) compressor will sound with YOUR (my) rig.
    I will admit however, that I had to change underwear after watching and listening to the Smoothie review by Zach Rizer. Maybe I just need a Dingwall and Ovnifx!
    scubaduba and Low Down Brown like this.
  6. Rev. Cornelius

    Rev. Cornelius Supporting Member

    Jan 30, 2007
    Boston, MA
    I just received a Cali76 CB. Coming from using a Demeter Compulator all I can say is WOW. And while I have not tried it on my pedalboard (which uses a splitter and runs 2 separate paths, one with effects ending in a Mesa Subway + di and the other through a THDI and a OCSD) I have used it through an Ampeg PF-50T direct to the recording gear.

    And while I wish the attack and release were independent, i wouldn't trade that for the HPF and Blend. Now I am learning the relationship between the HPF and the A/R control.

    The hard part will be figuring out where to place it on my board. Currently, the Demeter is before the splitter but the Cali may not want to effect both paths.

    So the usual questions if the Cali is used on the effects path only. Before or after the B3K and Nemesis delay, after, between?

    All thoughts appreciated. Thanks
    Fuzzbass likes this.
  7. sonofshel

    sonofshel Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Memphis, TN
  8. sonofshel

    sonofshel Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Memphis, TN
    I’m definitely getting one and will report back...on with the motley
  9. StayLow


    Mar 14, 2008
    What are you wanting the compressor to do for you? That's the best place to start, I suggest.

    I only use a compressor to either 1. get more consistent response from dirt pedals in which case it's first in the path so I'd put it before the B3K, or 2. to prevent massive volume spikes by quirky/experimental noise effects in which case it goes last so if doing wild stuff with the Nemesis it "should" go after that box.

    In my case the intended function doesn't really offer me any choices for placement.

    May be the same for you if you look at it in that light.
  10. wouter12


    Apr 13, 2009
    I wonder what the compressor on the EBS Microbass 3 is going to be like....
    geolikezik and jdc866 like this.
  11. berman3313

    berman3313 Supporting Member

    Jan 14, 2009
    @scubaduba - any chance you want to start a “Guess the Compress” thread? Like downbeat’s Blindfold Test. Various looped licks are played (no slap, please) then run them through the flavor of the week compressors and see who is able to correctly identify the compressors based on your extensive reviews. JAT
  12. NKBassman

    NKBassman Lvl 10 Nerd Supporting Member

    Jun 16, 2009
    Winnipeg, MB, Canada
    lol. Of all the types of pedals to try this with, I think compressors would be the most difficult.
    Jim C, 40Hz, berman3313 and 2 others like this.
  13. H2okie


    Jan 30, 2014
    Jacksonville, FL
    I played around with the empress forever to find this. Then invariably tweet it away by fussing with the setting too much. I highly recommend the empress. But it is not fire and forget as when I travel it gets futzed with. I’d like to try something simple with just the one setting. I tried the GK plex for this purpose, but haven’t found it to check all those boxes.
  14. 600 Ohms

    600 Ohms

    Jan 4, 2012
    I prefer the GC-2 on bass. The Bassist is just too grabby for my taste. GC-2 to me sounds pretty much like I've got a 160VU patched in.
    scubaduba likes this.
  15. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member


    Difficult maybe even to the point of pointlessness since so much of what you hear depends as much on the player and the bass they’re using as the compressor.

    I have compressors such as the OC-2 that sound great with certain basses I own and not good at all with others. And I’ve tried compressors some people rave about that just don’t work for me - and vice versa.

    Give five players the same compressor and it’ll sound different for each.
    Jim C, NKBassman, frankzap and 2 others like this.
  16. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    Many do.

    I find it amazing what a difference a single capacitor value sometimes makes in how a circuit behaves.
    Last edited: May 21, 2019 at 8:52 AM
    Stellvia likes this.
  17. scubaduba

    scubaduba Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Dec 23, 2003
    While I didn't directly test the Bassist against the GC-2 I did test the Keeley Compressor Pro which is based on the GC-2 circuit and I preferred the Compressor Pro in automatic mode to the Keeley Bassist.
  18. Antman3820

    Antman3820 Supporting Member

    Feb 27, 2005
    Toms River, NJ
    I have both. Can’t go wrong with either.
    scubaduba likes this.
  19. 600 Ohms

    600 Ohms

    Jan 4, 2012
    If I liked the GC-2/Compressor Pro-type circuit for its fast attack, transparency and outboard-like behavior, would I also like the Cali76 for the same reasons? There are so damn many of these things, and I've noticed that bass players often like compressors for reasons I do not. I don't buy into the "sustainer" thing, but more for the peak-clamping capacity, for, say, a slap sound. A little squish, but not too much. I dislike the Ross-type thing for bass. Shouldn't impart much of a tone of its own. I've spent lots of time with real 1176s, but none but the big O.G. model have transformers in, a big part of why the 1176 is great in my view.
    Jim C likes this.
  20. deepestend

    deepestend Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 21, 2003
    Brooklyn via Austin and NOLA
    Guitar/Bass Builder and Social Media at Sadowsky
    Has anyone used the MXR M-132 Super Comp? Someone at work just gave me one.

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