Best Compressor Pedals – 2021 Pedal Reviews & Guide
Last update on 2021-01-07 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
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 , so here’s a quick overview of our picks:
- Our Top 10 List – Best Compressor Pedal in 2021
- 1. Xotic SP Compressor Pedal
- 2. Empress Effects Compressor Pedal
- 3. JHS Whitey Tighty Compressor Pedal
- 4. Boss CS-3 Compressor Pedal
- 5. Wampler Ego Compressor Pedal
- 6. Donner Compressor Pedal
- 7. JOYO JF-10 Dynamic Compressor Pedal
- 8. MXR M87 Bass Compressor
- 9. KOKKO Compressor Guitar Pedal
- 10. Behringer CS400 Compressor Pedal
Our Top 10 List – Best Compressor Pedal in 2021
The Xotic Sp compressor pedal is quickly becoming a pedalboard staple for many guitarists. Part of the appeal is that it works well across many genres.
It is based on the iconic Ross compression circuit, famed for its transparency. The best feature of the SP compressor, in our opinion, is the blend control because that’s not always found on mini-pedals.
The blend control lets you bring the unaffected signal back into the mix, creating a more natural tone. Internal dip switches work in unison to further shape your sound, along with a hi/mid/low compression selector.
The combination of those things helps the Xotic XP keep your dynamics in check without coloring your tone too much. It compresses your sound without flattening it, so it remains natural, and that’s the point of a transparent compressor.
The fact that the SP is a mini-pedal makes it even cooler because it’s easier to sneak onto your pedalboard with limited space.
It also has true bypass switching to ensure a clean signal when not active. We can see why the Xotic SP is fast becoming one of the most popular compressor pedals on the market. Whether it’s number one on your wish list or not, it’s unlikely that anyone would consider the SP anything other than one of the best compressor pedals around.
When most compressor pedals are going for the minimalistic approach, Empress Effects are doing something different.
Rather than taking the less is more approach, they added everything that you’d expect to find on a studio compression unit. There are five rotary knobs across the pedal, which are input, attack, release, mix, and output. It also has a 2:1, 4:1, or 10:1, ratio selector.
The idea is that having a full set of controls means you can be far more precise with your sound. While we can’t argue with that, it does have its ups and downs. The obvious negative is that it’s not as intuitive to fiddle around with on the fly during a performance. The upside is that when you get used to it, you can take your tone anywhere you want to.
One of the claims made by Empress Effects is that their compressor is truly transparent as a result of the extended controls. Again, that’s something we can’t dispute; it’s certainly more precise than most once you pass the learning curve.
Beyond the controls, it has a couple of features that we really like. It has an LED meter above the controls, which is fantastic visual feedback.
However, the most exciting feature is the dedicated sidechain TRS input. If you sidechain to other effects, you can do things like have the compression triggered by specific frequencies only. This feature is particularly useful for bass guitar.
The Empress Effects compressor is one of the best studio-grade compression pedals available on the market.
The JHS Whitey Tighty is a studio-grade FET compressor mini-pedal with a lot to say for itself. At first sight, the line drawing of a pair of tighty whiteys lets you know this is a bit of a loose cannon.
JHS opted for straightforward controls, given the limited space, but they managed to include a blend control, thankfully. In full, the controls are volume, compression, and blend.
The volume control lets you achieve unity gain or introduce a volume bump. Next is the compression control, which offers no surprises; it controls the amount of compression on your signal. The blend knob is something we love on compressors; it blends the pure and compressed signals to shape an overall sound.
In terms of sound, it can be subtle if you like, and the blend control does go some way towards maintaining a natural tone.
But, where the Whitey Tighty shines is in slamming the signal to the ground. If you want real transparency, there are better options. If instead, you want a pedal that will squeeze the life out of your tone but still has some versatility, this one’s a winner. It’s quite possibly the best compressor pedal for distortion. It’s also remarkably robust for such a small pedal.
Boss are old hands when it comes to effects pedals, and they tend to do an excellent job. Renowned guitarists across the globe swear by some of Boss’ most popular pedals.
This one is the CS-3 Compression Sustainer pedal, which funnily enough, compresses, and sustains your tone. It’s a four knob pedal with level, tone, attack, and sustain controls.
The most significant selling point for it is its versatility. It doesn’t shine in any particular area, but it’s excellent across the board. Anything from subtle compression, to a classic country twang, to completely smashed is readily available.
The CS-3 delivers exceptional low-noise performance, with EQ for precision sound shaping. The sustain is very smooth and natural, too, without degrading the original sound.
You can’t go wrong with a Boss pedal; high-quality and built to last. The CS-3 is no exception.
Here we have another compression sustainer pedal, this time from Wampler. The Wampler Ego Compressor Pedal, now in its second version, is a legendary guitarist’s tool.
Straight off the bat, we would go as far as to say if you want a pure transparent compression above all else, this is it. The Ego Compressor probably gets you closer to the squeeze you get from a cranked tube amp than any other pedal. If you find your sweet spot with the tone, attack, sustain, and blend controls, you reign in your dynamics without sacrificing your tone.
The blend control on this pedal has to be one of the most naturals we have heard. It flawlessly blends in your clean signal, and the sustain perfectly rounds off the sound. As good as it is for electric guitar, it’s also the best compressor pedal for acoustic guitar thanks to its natural qualities.
If you have ever used a Wampler pedal before, you will know that they are built to outlast the rest of your rig.
A nice update for the V2 model seen the input/output jacks moved from the sides to the front of the pedal. Keeping cables away from the sides saves valuable space on your pedalboard too. No doubt, the Ego Compressor is an absolute star.
The Ultimate Comp Guitar Effect Pedal is a cheap compressor pedal that punches above its weight. It’s perfect for beginners or anyone who wants a second compressor on a budget.
Donner has optimized its circuit specifically for the electric guitar. The result is that it delivers surprising performance, whether you are fingerpicking or shredding.
It has two compression modes, normal and treble. Both modes offer a smooth tone, full of natural character. Many cheap compressor pedals lose the character of the guitar and your playing; we are pleasantly surprised that this one doesn’t.
The tone and compression controls aren’t the most sophisticated or subtle. But, despite the lack of precision, the overall sound is impressive. Throw in the true bypass and solid construction, and you’ve got unbelievable value for money.
The JOYO JF-10 Dynamic Compressor offers the style of the classic Ross compression circuit on a budget.
This affordable compressor pedal is all about versatility. Depending on where you place it in your chain, it can serve many purposes. Throw it in after an overdrive pedal, and it will deliver as much silky sustain as you can handle. Or, as a boost at the end of your chain for solos.
Alternatively, if you just want it to even out your dynamics cleanly, it can do that, too. The three controls, sustain, level, and attack, provide a broad sonic palette. It probably takes a little more fiddling than more expensive pedals to find the sweet spot, but when you do, it doesn’t sound like a cheap pedal anymore.
Even with multiple effects and busy playing (lots of notes), every note rings true. Nothing is lost or overbearing, and to top it off, it has a fantastic true bypass. Lastly, and unimportantly, we love the color; the lime green casing looks fantastic!
Now for something a little different, a bass compressor. The MXR M87 Bass Compressor pedal is studio-grade bass compression in a pedal.
This average-sized pedal has a full range of compression controls. The five rotary knobs are for release, attack, ration, output, and input. The ratio range covers 4:1, 8:1, 12:1, and 20:1, which is extremely broad for a pedal.
The M87 prides itself on transparency, and never losing tonal character. Some bass compression pedals take a vintage P-bass and turn it into a generic, non-descriptive drone. With the M87, if you are lucky enough to have a beautiful bass guitar, you’ll hear every bit of its character.
MXR also introduced something called Constant Headroom Technology (CHT). The built-in CHT ensures that you always have plenty of headroom, so you are entirely free to dig in without fear of distortion. For added peace of mind, the LED gain meter displays clearly when the compression threshold is reached.
This pedal takes everything great about the bass guitar and lets you exploit it to the fullest extent. For that reason, it’s the best compressor pedal for bass.
With the KOKKO Mini Compressor, we are delving into the budget section of cheap compressor pedals. So, double cheap, in a sense, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a look. It’s all about what you get for your money.
The KOKKO Mini Compressor is fairly basic on the surface; it has three controls, sustain, level, and attack. There are a few negatives, so we will start with them, and get them out of the way.
The build quality doesn’t inspire too much confidence when you first get your hands on it. Its silver aluminum alloy casing doesn’t feel very substantial at all. The knobs feel cheap, for lack of a better word, but it’s a cheap pedal after all, so onto better things.
The mini compressor has a fully analog circuit and a reasonably broad range. So, the controls function better than they feel!
KOKKO pitch this pedal as suitable for guitar and bass, but in truth, it’s more suited to the guitar. In particular, country or slide playing. With slide guitar, it can fatten up your sound nicely while evening out dynamics. For country-style chicken pickin’, it adds extra clarity when needed.
In all honesty, there are a few complaints with this pedal until you see the price, and realize you are getting a decent deal. Because of that, it still sits amongst the best compressor pedals available.
Behringer is another name that has been around forever in the pro audio industry. They manufacture gear for all budgets and ability levels, all with the same pride in build quality.
The CS400 is a retro-styled pedal in a gorgeous surf green and black casing. It’s a four control pedal, level, tone, attack, and sustain. The attack and tone controls are very responsive, but in the right way, they aren’t too harsh to the touch.
What we like most about the CS400 is that it isn’t trying too hard to do things that it can’t. It takes the essence of what a compressor should be and focuses on that. Compression is bringing the lowest and highest points in the dynamic range closer together to create the ideal volume at all times; it does that remarkably well.
The compression is smooth, and the sustain is massive. It’s fantastic for adding some punch to your clean tones or rock solos alike. It’s also terrific for bass, mainly slap bass. At such a low price, it’s worth buying even if you weren’t looking for a new compressor. It looks great, and sounds excellent – job done!
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.