Even though compressor pedals are sometimes overused by over-enthusiastic guitarists, these pedals do convey a number of advantages to most guitar work. It not only beefs up the tone, but it also helps to balance the sound and provide a little bit of extra sustain. This means that it’s pretty much the same effect utilized by sound engineers in studios all over the world, the only difference being that the musician has the power immediately available for use on their board.
Once a musician has determined that they need one of these boxes on their pedal board, however, it’s not always easy to find one that provides the absolute best in sound quality. After all, there are dozens of different models out there, and not all of them are top-of-the-line pedals. Which is why we’ve decided to do the legwork and find out which compressor pedals are really the best and which ones can be left alone. With that purpose as our goal, below are the top ten compressor effect pedals currently available.
Best Compressor Pedals Reviews & Buying Guide
#10 Kokko Acoustic Compressor
This inexpensive compressor is designed for amateurs and professional musicians who need a cheap but effective compression solution. Using a full-analog circuit, this box has true-bypass capabilities and has a decent variance range that just about anyone can use to their advantage. It comes equipped with an anti-skid pad on its backside for stability and features an LED indicator that alerts the user when it’s on. Although it’s not the most durable compressor on the market, and can only be powered by an AC adapter that’s sadly not included with it, this pedal is still a pretty good bargain.
- It’s a fairly inexpensive compressor unit
- This box has true-bypass capabilities
- Features an LED power light
- Decent variance range
- Doesn’t feel very durable
- Has to be power by an AC adapter
#9 Boss CS-3 Compressor/Sustainer
The Boss CS-3 is designed to be a compression sustainer that allows the guitarist to get the most out of their music and deliver a response which has the appropriate punch and is at the same time has a balanced response. However, while that may have been the intention, this product is not entirely appropriate for the studio just yet. That’s because it has just a touch of background noise, which isn’t noticeable during play but would most likely become pronounced during recordings. That being said, there are some great features which can be found in this box, including several knobs for manipulating the input signal (level, tone, attack and sustain) and can be used with either a battery or AC adapter.
- This box feels very durable
- Can be powered by battery or AC adapter
- Four input manipulation knobs
- Handles compression well
- Not suitable for a studio environment
- Isn’t a true-bypass pedal
#8 MXR M132 Super Comp
Considered to be the compressor that can deliver a Nashville sound, the MXR Super Comp is able to pump up the guitarist sound in a way that feels natural and is seamless. Using the output and sensitivity knobs, the guitarist can obtain a nice clean compression that sounds good to the ear. Although it may be a bit louder than some people would like, it does juice up the guitarist sound very efficiently. This unit can be powered by a 9-volt battery or an AC adapter. It’s a nifty compressor for driving sound for country, folk, and pop songs.
- Provides a nice clean compression level
- Can be powered by both an AC adapter and a battery
- It may be a little louder than some guitarists would like
#7 Behringer Compressor/Sustainer CS400
Sustain and compression capabilities are brought together in this high-quality compressor that has a number of interesting features. It does an admirable job of amplifying quieter notes, and suppressing louder notes, so the output sound is nice and even. This model has dedicated attack, level, tone, and sustain that allow guitarists to shape their sound as they see fit. Another feature found on this unit is a status LED that shows whether the unit has a battery installed and is on. One thing that’s a bit annoying about this compressor is the fact that it has to be plugged in and has to have a battery installed in it for it to operate.
- This is an inexpensive unit
- Produces a nice smooth compression
- This unit has to be plugged in and has to have a battery installed to operate properly
#6 MXR M102 Dyna Comp
Operated with either a 9-volt battery or an AC adapter, this compressor is literally ready to be used just about anywhere. It produces a great constant output signal, although it does tend to color the tone with some guitars just a little bit. It’s also an extremely easy unit to operate, and produces a sound that compatible with the Nashville studio standard. It has two simple dials to operate, one for output and sensitivity, so the musician can shape his sound, but it’s not overly complicated to operate. Where this inline compressor really shines is to even out the audio signal from the guitar to the amplifier, and it can be counted on for that purpose.
- This inline compressor evens out the audio signal to the amplifier
- This unit is very easy to operate
- This unit colors the output tone a little bit
#5 Xvive Bass Pedal Distortion
Designed to hold up to excessive use, this durable stomp box can be used for a variety of different situations. This unit can be used in the studio or on the stage and works reliably every single time that it’s used. It’s an easy-to-use but powerful unit that has a compression knob, volume knob, overdrive knob and an on/off distortion toggle switch. This model has a dynamic range, provides decent sustain and is nice and compact. This unit will provide an increased sustain for all kinds of guitars, including bass guitars, and is quite simple to operate while playing.
- Doesn’t color output tone
- Durable & easy to use
- Its release is a little long
#4 JOYO JF-10 Dynamic Compressor
Although this compressor pedal doesn’t have a multitude of controls, it’s an easy-to-use unit that produces very little noise. It comes with three knobs for shaping the sound, and these controls include a sustain, an attack, and a level knob. The attack control is specifically designed to handle the needs of high-output pickups and bass guitars. This unit has a true-bypass design, and there is little to no tone loss from the sound input to the output. This unit is a recreation of the Ross compressors of the past and is also made with a highly durable design that allows them to be used on a regular basis.
- This unit is very durable
- It’s an inexpensive compressor
- Has limited sound shaping options
#3 Caline CP-10 Hot Mushroom
This unit not only in an exciting bright yellow color but has simple controls that are easy to operate. It has just a level knob and a comp knob and has a true-bypass design that minimizes tone loss. Although it can become a bit buzzy if it’s cranked up too loud, for the most part, this inexpensive pedal does a great job of producing a nicely compressed tone. Equipped with durable jacks and a sturdy foot switch, this unit is ready for either the stage or the studio and makes a wonderful addition to just about any pedal-board. And that’s probably why so many musicians have added it to their boards.
- Has a true-bypass design
- Simple to use
- This unit is very durable
- Has minimal tone loss
- Can become a little noisy if turned up too high
#2 Donner Ultimate Comp
This true-bypass compressor not only looks and feel durable, but it is actually very durable. It’s designed with a nice high-quality aluminum-alloy outer casing that can really take the abuse that length studio sessions can provide. And since it’s a true-bypass unit, it doesn’t color the tone as some other compressors do. This unit is also inexpensive, so it can be easily added to any board without too much expense. Equipped with two different modes and three control knobs, this unit can also be used by the musician to shape their sound and even it out. It’s a nice comp pedal that will be appreciated by many musicians.
- It’s a true-bypass pedal
- This unit is inexpensive
- It’s extremely durable
- Provides an excellent level of compression
- It’s natural compression may not be appreciated by musicians looking for a more dynamic comp
#1 Xotic SP Compressor Pedal
This comp pedal not only has a very durable design but also looks pretty cool on just about any pedal board. Of course, the real value of any pedal is how well it performs, and fortunately, this unit also gets high marks in that department as well. It’s a true-bypass pedal, so there’s almost no tone coloring, and it has a very nice sustain level. And although it can be a little bit noisy when pushed to its upper volume limits, for most situations it provides a nice, clean tone variance. It only has two control knobs, volume, and blend, so it’s also extremely easy-to-operate and allows the musician to concentrate on their music and not their compressor pedal.
- It’s a true-bypass pedal
- Has a durable, high-quality design
- Has a very nice sustain level
- This box can provide good tone variance
- It can become a little noisy at higher volumes
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Compressor Pedal Buying Guide
Anyone who’s ready to make the jump and buy a compressor pedal is going to find one that has the features they need it to have. And that requires knowing specifically what to look for in a good pedal. Below are some of the basic specifications to consider when purchasing one of these pedals for a pedal board.
Commonly Used Terms
There’s a number of different terms that are thrown out by pedal manufacturers, which is great for sound engineers but it sometimes leaves many of us wondering what these terms actually mean. Below are some of the more common terms used to describe the features, performance or functions of a particular pedal.
- Decibel or dB: This term basically refers to the volume level of a sound.
- Threshold: This term is used to show the sound level at which the compressor will begin to apply its signal.
- Ratio: This tells the user how much the volume of the sound is reduced once it has reached its threshold.
- Attack: This term tells just how fast the pedal will kick in after the threshold has been reached. This is always measured in milliseconds.
- Release: This term tells just how fast the pedal will stop the signal after the sound has dipped below its threshold. This too is measured in milliseconds.
- Headroom: This term is used to describe how much of a difference there is between soft sounds produced and loud sounds produced. In other words, it’s the compressor’s dynamic range.
How It Works
With a firm grasp of the technical terms used to describe the process, we can now go into a simple explanation of how a compressor works. When the signal comes into the compressor pedal and reaches its threshold, the volume of the signal will be reduced based upon its particular ratio. For example, if a compressor has a 10 to 1 ratio (10:1), then for every 10 decibels the signal is above its threshold level, the compressor will only allow a single decibel to come out the other end. Therefore, the signal is said to be reduced by 9-decibels. If the compressor has a ratio of 20 to 1 (20:1), however, then only 1 decibel will come out of every 20-decibels above the threshold.
The user can set the ratio level to their particular needs. The higher the ratio they choose, the more compressed the signal will be. It should also be noted that as the signal drops below the threshold, it takes the volume down with it. This is usually compensated by using a make-up gain to pump the volume up. Compression tends to even out a sound, too. And that’s just a way of saying it eliminates many of the peaks and valleys that would otherwise be in the signal. Of course, too much compression is a bad thing and can cause some real sound problems, as we’ll investigate below.
Some compressors have a knob called Blending, and the purpose of this knob is to combine the signal input back together with the compressed signal. This allows for what’s known as parallel compression. Parallel compression can be used to great effect when used correctly but can result in signal pumping if used incorrectly.
Why Too Much Compression Is Undesirable
Some artists have a tendency to try to push out more volume by increasing the compression. This usually produces an undesirable effect, however, when it’s overdone. what ends up basically happening is the dynamic range of the piece gets crushed. There’s just no variation in the sound and that can make it sound flat. And that’s never a good thing.
Properly Using a Compressor
Although it’s not the intention of this guide to tell anyone how they should use their compressor pedal for the best effect, there is some consensus among sound engineers and professional guitarist about when it’s appropriate to use a compressor. Most of them would agree that the compressor pedal should be used at, or very near, the beginning of your effects board. They should be used for clean tones or tones that are just slightly driven. However, it’s sometimes best to use a compression pedal after Wah pedals, although there are guitarists that use it either way.
Of course, this is only a general rule and like many other rules regarding pedals, is not intended to be written in stone. Probably the best way to determine if a particular setup is going to sound good or if the tones are going to become saturated is to test the setup and see if it sounds good. If a particular setup work, regardless of where the compressor is placed, then it should be used the way its set-up.