Compressors can be rather hit and miss for most of us low-enders: some players swear by them as they give them a smoother, even response, while others claim that a compressor simply robs their playing of dynamics and subtlety. No matter which side of the compression fence you sit, there’s no denying just how many pedals and rack-mountable compressors there are out there. Occasionally, a role-specific pedal comes along that gets us all talking, though, and this offering from Canadian manufacturers Diamond may just be one such example.
A quick look at Diamond’s website shows a fine selection of effects units: this particular pedal is a bass-specific version of the company’s original optical compressor. Bassists were quick to point out the limitations of the original compressor when using active or extended-range instruments, so the company set about rectifying the issues and came up with this refined pedal. Utilising top-notch circuitry for improved signal headroom and low noise, the pedal comes with an 18V adapter and a simple but effective control layout.
Comp sets the compression threshold at which the effect comes into play, based on the level of the instrument signal; EQ is a ‘tilt’ style EQ control where a centre frequency is selected using the selector switch (250/900 Hz), and turning the control in either direction boosts either the low or high frequencies (left/right of the centre point) while reducing the level of the opposite frequencies; Volume adjusts the overall output of the affected signal. This last control allows the pedal to act as a signal booster for those occasions when the bass signal really needs to be pushed to the fore.
The simple design and layout makes it very easy to hear the effect that small adjustments have on your signal and tone and, to be honest, Diamond couldn’t have made it any simpler. In practice, the pedal works very well indeed: sonically, it’s very impressive. Some compressors have a reputation for being quite noisy, but this is where the quality of the construction and components makes a big difference, in comparison to other pedals already on the market. Despite having only three controls (OK, four with the switch), the player has a comprehensive range of settings to experiment with, as small adjustments seem have a large impact on the sound.
Fingerstyle lines sound tighter and fuller, without any loss of clarity in the top end, and a rich sustain seems to occur no matter what your playing style. However, it’s the slappers among us, and those of a percussive persuasion, who can really benefit from this pedal, as it brings out all the high-end notes that can sometimes go amiss or sound smothered by the low-end performance of your instrument. Going from a clean signal without the pedal, to bringing the pedal into play, highlights what a dramatic change this pedal offers. The frequency options of the EQ control have been intelligently selected so that it’s not simply a ‘top and bottom’ effect, but those ever-important mid-frequencies can also be tailored.
This really is a quality product, and it comes as no surprise that players of the calibre of Paul Turner are turning to it for inclusion in their FX setup. At around the £150 mark it’s not cheap, but its build quality and performance – not to mention a five-year guarantee – certainly make it worthy of consideration. Let your ears be the judge, but we were suitably impressed.
Switching to the Aphex Xciter, this offering from the US is ruggedly constructed, simple to use and intuitive: sonically it hits the bullseye. The metal casing is solidly put together, although the raised stomp button section and groove pattern make it look a little cheap, and despite the grooved controls being made of plastic, they feel sturdy and operate smoothly. The pedal can be powered by either an adapter (not included) or a 9V battery, which is accessed via an easy-access plastic cover on the underside.
Quarter-inch input/output jack sockets on either side are accompanied by a balanced DI socket on the rear, that also offers phantom power should your mixer offer that as an option. An exciter is supposed to add depth and tightness to your tone while bringing harmonics and a degree of clarity to the fore, so the controls on offer are no surprise. The low frequency selector offers a range between 80 and 250Hz while the high frequencies range from 700Hz to 7kHz: both boost controls range from 1-10. The Harmonics control pinpoints a specific type of harmonic character to be affected by the controls, but despite being labelled Acoustic Guitar/Bass/Electric Guitar, don’t be fooled into thinking the Bass setting is the only useful one to us bassmeisters, as the other two settings throw up some interesting results.
Tested with several different basses, the results were equally impressive despite the different tonal characteristics of each instrument. Using a couple of active basses that have flexible EQ systems, the pedal beefed up the underlying bass response while smoothing out the top end. Interestingly, although there is no mid-frequency control, you can affect the low and high-midrange by turning the lo-frequency control up to full, the hi-frequency control to its minimum setting and then adjusting the boost controls as required until you find a sweet spot.
Using the pedal with a passive Precision, the natural tone was drastically improved and offered the player a very distinct change from the natural tone and signal. The midrange bark was tightened up in a positive way while the top and bottom sounded almost supercharged, giving the Precision a modern tone while retaining its classic characteristics. The low end sounded smooth and subtle, with a greater degree of note articulation. Slap players will certainly find a use for this pedal on their pedalboards, as it manages to raise the low frequencies without necessarily raising the signal level, making slaps and thumps sound more transparent and focused while D and G-string plucks have greater warmth.
Switching between the vanilla signal of each bass and the affected signal, the differences were quite startling as it radically improves the sonic detail of your playing. Be in no doubt, this pedal may well offer a sonic nirvana for players looking for that missing something in their tone. Actually, it’s so effective and sounds so good, that you may find yourself unable to turn it off. Some players might look at the pricetag and think that it’s quite a lot of money for a tone shaping pedal – but we reckon it could be a very worthy investment indeed.