Best Bass Compressor Pedals
Adding compression to a bass signal is kind of like sprinkling salt or pepper over your favorite dish. It might not be such a visible ingredient, but it will bring out the flavor in all the other components. Surely, it will not taste the same without it.
Compression is like that. It will bring a lot of elements in your sound that probably weren’t there before, and your sound simply won’t be the same afterwards. While it may not be such a distinctive effect such as distortion or delay, it can definitely be an essential component in a bassist’s pedalboard.
But perhaps you already know all that and you’re here because you want to know what the best compressor pedal is for bass, so here’s a quick overview of our picks:
- MXR M87 Bass Compressor Pedal with Attack > This 5-knob baby gives you lots of control and features a super helpful gain-reduction LED indicator
- Aguilar TLC Bass Compression Effect Pedal > An interesting boutique-type option with a pedalboard-friendly design
- EBS MultiComp Bass Compression Effect Pedal > A simple approach to the bass compressor, great for low range obsessives
- TC Electronic SpectraComp Bass Compression Effect Pedal > The tiny one-knob option, for those wanting to save as much pedalboard real estate as possible
- Boss CS-3 Compressor Sustainer Pedal > A reinvented classic, great for those who want to add sustain as well as sparkling compression. It’s also the cheapest ‘normal-sized’ pedal on our list.
- 1 Our Top Choices for bass compressor pedals in 2019
- 1.1 1. MXR M87 Bass Compressor Pedal
- 1.2 2. Aguilar TLC Bass Compression Effect Pedal
- 1.3 3. EBS MultiComp Bass Compression Effect Pedal
- 1.4 4. TC Electronic SpectraComp Bass Compression Effect Pedal
- 1.5 5. Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer Pedal
- 1.6 What does a bass compressor pedal do?
- 1.7 How to use a compressor pedal for bass
Our Top Choices for bass compressor pedals in 2019
The M87 is made by New York-based manufacturer MXR. They’ve been in the game since 1974 and are currently owned by Dunlop Manufacturing. Their version of a pedal compressor made specifically for bass is by far the most popular bass compressor out there.
The reason? It comes down to a good mixture of quality, simplicity and features. It’s one of the few compressors to feature a Gain Reduction LED meter placed at the top of the pedal. This provides you with a visual representation of how much the signal is surpassing the threshold, and therefore how much gain reduction is being triggered. It’s something you would expect from studio-quality rack compressor units, but not common on a little pedal that’s also beautifully designed.
As to ease of use, it’s probably the most intuitive since it gives you a lot of control in 5 carefully-placed knobs. Namely, these are Release and Attack, two separate potentiometers for output and input volume, and a ratio knob in the middle.
Further, what bass players love about this compressor is that it doesn’t color your tone at all. This is what we call transparency, it’s a subtle effect that’s probably not that evident, but you’ll certainly feel an increase in punchiness and balance.
Some of the professional bassists that use an M87 are Billy Sheehan, Marcus Miller and John Myung from Dream Theater.
Any die hard bass player should definitely consider this fine jewel from Aguilar before making a decision on compression. Aguilar is one of the top boutique names in the bass world, as they have been pretty much exclusively devoted to the bass guitar since being founded in the 80’s.
Thus, their take on the pedal compressor for bass should not be taken lightly. The TLC is built like a tank and colored in a modern deep steel blue. In terms of design, it’s got some extra points due to the input and output jacks being placed on top of the pedal, rather than on the sides. Depending on your pedalboard setup, this might be rather helpful, as it may definitely save you some space (wish more manufacturers thought of this).
As far as sound goes, the Aguilar is great for enhancing the lower frequencies, but does accentuate the bright thumps of the fingers or pick hitting the strings a bit too much. Granted, this might vary depending on each bass player’s individual technique, but it’s not something we noticed when demoing other models.
In the realm of controls, the TLC is pretty intuitive as well. It features a single level knob, attack, slope (which is just another term for ‘ratio’), and threshold knobs. To their credit, few other pedals feature a control for the latter, which is great if you want more control over gain reduction.
Among the pro’s that use the TLC, you’ll see names like Justin Meldal-Johnsen (has played with Beck and Nine Inch Nails), and multi-bass virtuoso Evan Brewer.
In case you’re not familiar with them, EBS is a Swedish manufacturer that’s also devoted solely to the design of professional equipment for bass players. They’ve been making the MultiComp since 1998 and it is actually their best-selling product. While it may not be the best-looking pedal compressor out there, it definitely makes it up with its versatility.
None of the bass compressors we demoed features different modes, which is something pretty useful to have if you like to have several styles of compression at your disposal. The switch mode lets you change between Tubeism, Multi Band, and Normal modes. The MultiComp also features an Active/Passive switch on the side, in case you use an active bass.
Naturally, several editions have been made since its inception in the late 1990’s. The most recent one is the studio version, which is the one we’re focusing on. Its main difference is that it features protection against voltage of up to 18V, so that lets you power the pedal not just with 9V DC current but with anything up to 12.
As to the sound, it really varies depending on the setting you choose, but overall we’d say it’s quite an aggressive compression. It really tightens the sound and lets you bring it to somewhat of an extreme, which is great if you’d like to emphasize very subtle nuances in your playing and produce very clear harmonics.
Plain and simple, the SpectraComp is the best choice if your main concern at this point is space. Pedalboards can get pretty crowded with time, so this pedal’s ultra-compact casing is a wonder if you’re faced with that problem.
Its size, however, was not the reason we first laid eyes on this tiny beauty in the first place. The reason was that it’s probably the smallest multiband compressor we’ve ever seen.
Multiband compression is simply a way of compressing in which the signal is split into different ranges (called bands) and compressed independently. It’s more common in studio racks or plugins where you can actually tinker with the amount of compression on set of frequencies. The SpectraComp’s processor is actually based on TC Electronics’ System 6000 studio processor.
I know what you’re thinking. What good is having that if the darn thing only has one knob? Well, a good thing about the SpectraComp is that it features TC Electronics’ Toneprint technology. In case you’re not familiar with it, that means you can add custom built effects as a preset to the pedal you bought. In short? More sound possibilities! And that’s exactly where the multiband aspect of this little guy (and its benefits on low-end preservation) can definitely make a difference.
Last, but very definitely not least, is a true classic from one of the oldest names in pedal history. The CS-3 is the modern version of the legendary CS-2. The latter isn’t manufactured anymore, which is the only reason we’re not talking about it instead (otherwise it’d be higher on this list).
The CS-2 is well-known for having a unique warmth when compressing and enhancing truly remarkable nuances in your playing. Juan Alderete has actually called it “the most important pedal of my career”.
These are highly-coveted and definitely possible to purchase if one has the time and patience to surf various used gear sites. Amazon even has some used ones occasionally, and we’ve seen them for as low as $100.
But back to the CS-3, the main difference is in terms of low end and voicing. For some reason, the new ones definitely don’t have the same feel and warmth as the oldies. That being said, it shouldn’t take away from the fact that it’s still a killer compressor. More than 70 pros use it (though the vast majority are guitarists) and it’s the only pedal on this list to feature a knob dedicated solely to sustain. That one will make your notes ring out for as long as you can look up “CS-2” on ebay for.
There are even some side by side comparisons on Youtube, and we’ve actually run tests with both pedals. We can say that both do a good job in terms of tightening and brightening the sound. Bottom line, the CS-3 is a very good bet if you’re not set on the nostalgia of that CS-2 sound. Also, the sustain on the former seems to be much more polished and accentuated.
What does a bass compressor pedal do?
In audio, compression is achieved by reducing the dynamic range between the loudest and quietest parts of an audio signal. In other words, boosting the quieter signals and attenuating the louder parts.
This effect is great for all sorts of audio signals, but bassists love it because it adds definition and character to the low end notes without muddying up the signal. As to the high notes, it makes them more noticeable and even preserves some of their low end, so your bass will rarely sound “thin” if you opt to play further down the fretboard.
In the word’s of The Mars Volta’s (and well-known compression enthusiast) Juan Alderete:
“A lot of times when you’re recording your sound gets very big and alot of times it gets into other instruments, like your low end might get into the bass drum area or your high end might get into the guitar or keyboard area… so, you compress it so it sits in its own little place in the mix… it tightens (your sound) up.”
How to use a compressor pedal for bass
As to how to start playing around with compression for bass guitar, the first thing is choosing a compressor pedal to begin with (we’re here to help you with this). Once you have it, it’s just a matter of getting it an adequate power supply, and deciding where to set it in relation to other effects you might be adding.
Compressors usually sit at the beginning of an effect chain, just after a tuner or any filter effects you might be using. Anything else, such as distortion, delays, pitch-shifters etc. should go afterwards. That being said, it’s more a matter of experimenting than following a particular formula.
Of course, if a compressor pedal is your first effect, you simply plug your bass to the input, the amp into the output, you power it on, and then play with the settings until you’re happy.
As you’ll see below, each pedal has its own different set of controls. Nevertheless, most compressors feature the same basic knobs which are some sort of level control, attack and release.
Always remember that in essence, you’re playing with the amount of compression that you’ll add to the signal, in order to alter the dynamics. Let’s take a look at each of these:
- Attack: determines how fast the compression acts, i.e. how fast it triggers the reaction of turning down the signal after you surpass a given threshold.
- Release: this is how long is the signal compressed once the signal goes back below the threshold.
- Input/Output level: this is usually added to compressors to make up in gain loss. Since the compression takes away some volume from the original signal.