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What are the best compressor pedals for bass players?
What are the different types of bass compressor pedals?
Here are the absolute best ones you can find!
There are two types of bass players in the world – those who use compressor effects pedals and those who are eager to point out why “real” bassists don’t need them. The latter typically resembles Nelson from The Simpsons, lurking in forums and sneering at everyone’s (lack of) technique and dynamics.
Pfffft. Bass compressor pedals don’t destroy your dynamics. Not the ones in this roundup anyway.
Treat them right and they take your tone to the next level, giving you the right amount of consistency in dynamics without destroying the groove. That’s something everyone can appreciate, especially a gigging bass player consistently subjected to sub-par PA systems.
I have owned and tested numerous top-notch compressor effects pedals. Life was easy back in the 2000s. Most of the comp-stomps were two-knob operations.
My Precision bass guitar romanced the iconic Diamond BCP-1. All was good, but not for too long.
For whatever reason, the ensuing decade saw a flurry of spec’d out bass compressor effects pedals.
From simple comps (read: vintage LA-2A style) to tube compressors like Markbass Compressore, and futuristic units with metering and 5 classic compression parameters. Too much GAS, not enough time.
Cut to 2021 and my current rig sports an FEA Labs Opti-FET and Empress Bass Comp. But consider this post an amalgam of my epiphanies as I traded and tested a bunch of the top bass compressor pedals until the tone hound in me stopped howling.
Hopefully, this round-up will lead to the missing link in your bass guitar rig.
What are the Best Bass Compressor Pedals in 2021?
MXR M87 Bass Compressor (Our Pick)
EHX Bass Preacher (Best Value)
Empress Bass Compressor (Premium Option)
Darkglass Electronics Super Symmetry Bass Compressor Pedal
Aguilar TLC Compressor
Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Bass
The Empress Bass Compressor is my pick of the litter. The construction quality, smooth response, detailed metering, and analog circuit make it apt for every situation.
It is clean and dead quiet but equally capable of tone coloration. Yeah, it costs a pretty penny, but the compressor still offers an excellent cost-benefit ratio.
Markbass Compressore gets second preference among the top compressor pedals. It adds ‘bigness’ and spatial depth thanks to the tube in the circuit.
The comp is versatile and has interactive/responsive controls. Think smooth compression action and warmth (but not dark). Consider the Darkglass bass compressor if you don’t agree with Compressore’s size and awkward power requirements.
I could recommend FEA DE-CL or Opti-FET in a heartbeat were it not inappropriate for this roundup. Firstly, it takes us into boutique pedal territory that may alienate most readers. Secondly, I was on an 18-month waitlist before my order was shipped. So, consider this petty payback!!
With the TL;DR laid down, here are the reviews of the best bass compressor pedals in 2021.
MXR's M87 Bass Compressor puts studio-grade bass compression right on your pedalboard! You'll love how the M87 puts you in complete command of compression functions, thanks to attack, release, ratio, input, and output controls.
The MXR bass compressor (M87) is universally admired as one of the most transparent compressor effects pedals. It’s famed for its clean performance and tight low end.
The M87 promises studio-quality compression in a regular-sized enclosure with True Bypass and Constant Headroom Technology (CHT). The versatility, size, and price make it one of the top compressor pedals in today’s market.
Constant Headroom Technology™
Compression Ratios – 4, 8, 12, and 20
True Bypass switching
Powered by 9V battery or adapter
The MXR bass compressor features 5 controls: Attack, Release, Ratio, Input, and Output. Ratio can toggle between 4:1, 8:1, 12:1, and 20:1.The ‘Output’ knob allows you to compensate for the loss of volume.
The metal enclosure is ROBUST and the array of 10 lights function as a gain reduction meter to check how long, how much, and how fast the compression is being applied to the signal.
In use, the M87 is versatile with recording-quality sounds. It can serve a variety of needs from subtle, transparent compression to squashed tones. The lows are tight and there is never an occasion when headroom becomes an issue.
It doesn’t have the warmth of the Compressore, the magic color of Diamond BCP-1, the sexy/sleek appeal of the Super Symmetry, or the studio-grade appeal of the Empress and Cali76. But the MXR bass compressor unapologetically plants its flag in the middle ground.
It can do a reasonable job of imitating all of those pedals without breaking the bank.
The only drawback is that the battery isn’t easy to access if you need to replace it during a gig. MXR could take a clue from Aguilar’s ‘battery drawer’ design here.
The top three reasons everyone loves the M87 are a) it is easy to set up, b) it is reasonably priced, and c) it’s easy to make sense of. Expect classic control parameters, a transparent signal, and subtle tone enhancement with full lows.
If you aren’t a tone hound, the MXR Bass Compressor will get you what you want with basic settings.
The Bass Preacher is a sturdy compact-sized compressor effect pedal in a small die-cast enclosure. It is the bass version of the EHX Soul Preacher with tweaks to suit a bass guitar.
The dimensions are identical to M87, features true bypass, and has a 9V DC power requirement. An LED indicates if the pedal is on/off but there is no visual metering.
Gain reduction and input metering
Compression ratios – 2:1, 4:1, and 10:1
The Bass Preacher is not overloaded with features but what it does, it does well. It’s a pocket-friendly workhorse for a bass player who prefers simple operation and a hint of fat color. The Volume knob controls the gain and Sustain controls the overall compression applied to the signal.
The 3-way attack toggle switch determines the speed at which compression kicks in. The dynamic range is modest and it has limited adjustments compared to the big dogs.
It’s easy to find a sweet spot for gentle-to-moderate compression. The action is smooth without any cut in the lows or mid scoop. The compressor response works well for slap-and-pop funk and rock.
I could even wrench chiming harmonics with max sustain and slow compression speed on a GWB1005 bass guitar. The pedal isn’t low-noise though and there is a loss of dynamics with aggressive compression.
It becomes more apparent when the makeup gain is high. It’s not something you’d pair with highly dynamic bass. After all, this is our ‘budget’ pick.
Other than the noise in some settings, the EHX pedal is ideal for a bass player who needs a bread and butter bass comp for under $100. The Wampler Mini Ego or Keeley GC-2 would be a better choice if you want more control.
The Empress Bass Compressor reminds you how it’s feasible to get studio-quality compression in a delightfully small enclosure. Color me biased, but the pedal is the best bass compression pedal you can find in a pedal format.
It’s new-gen, versatile, and highly regarded in the community. But high regard comes with a high price – and two color options (blue and silver).
Analog Signal Path
Gain Reduction and Input Metering
Compression Ratios – 2:1, 4:1, and 10:1
True Bypass Switching
The Empress Bass Compression pedal features five controls – Input, Output, Attack, Release, and Mix. In addition, you have two 3-way toggle switches – one to select the ratio and another for tone color.
The admirably large LEDs are easy to spot on stage, making this one of the best compressor pedals to visually track what the compression is doing.
The attack and release are responsive and when set to 10:1, it can do a reasonable job as a limiter. The pedal also sports a sidechain loop jack (Send/Return) to alter the compression circuit response.
It also has a variable HPF (20Hz to 300Hz) to filter the low frequencies via the Sidechain HPF function.
Tone-wise, the Empress bass comp is as clean and natural as it gets. The sonic character is transparent and there are no dips or swells in the smooth action.
Noise is rarely an issue, no matter how much you tweak the settings. There is a hint of sparkle in the top-end, which makes it vastly different from other ‘warm’ compressor pedals on our list.
The addition of the Tone + Color switch stops this pedal from sounding generic or sterile. The 2-way switch adds mild harmonic distortion with either a mid-range cut or an upper-midrange boost.
This is the key difference from the original Empress Comp released in 2011, which is now being phased out.
Instead of telling you what’s great about it, let me put it this way – the only reason to not own this bass compression pedal is if a) the cost if prohibitive b) the size is not right for your pedalboard, or c) you prefer tube-warmth or a specific tone color other than what the Empress pedal offers.
The TLC controls feature four knobs – Threshold, Attack (10 to 100ms), Slope (ratio control), and Output. All knobs have a wide range of responses. The Slope knob is ratio control from 2:1 ratio to infinity:1.
You can dial compression ranging from smooth ‘n subtle to high-squeeze. There is a ‘pop’ and fullness in low-to-moderate ratios. The lows sound focused and tight.
You could actually fault it for sounding ‘too transparent.’ as there is no tone coloration or top-end zing of any kind. It will thicken the tone but there is no noticeable warmth.
If you A/B it with Darkglass Super Symmetry or Markbass, it tends to sound ‘sterile.’ This isn’t a bad thing per se. Some players enjoy transparent compression and others want tone coloration. Maybe you already have a pedal in your chain for adding color and there’s no need for anything else.
Choose your poison. However, the Aguilar compressor pedal is unarguably one of the most capable pedals on this list when it comes to compression and limiting capabilities.
Overall, the Aguilar Bass Compressor delivers a lot of value for the price. The things that work in its favor are the low noise levels, enclosure size, peak limiting functionality, and wide range of effects.
It’s an ultra-transparent and high-utility bass comp with a reasonable price tag. And, it fits well in any bass guitar rig.
5. Darkglass Super Symmetry Bass Compression Pedal
The Darkglass bass compressor is on the larger side, the same as the Empress and Markbass pedals. It features six knobs – Compression Ratio, Blend, Input (controls threshold), Output (Volume), Attack, and Release.
The Blend allows for a clean/parallel mix that can be used for compression adjustment or reclaiming the natural bass tone in aggressive compression settings.
The highs are tempered and dark, which results in a warm and organic tone. The blend function can change the character to a certain degree, which gives the Darkglass bass compressor an edge over other compressor effect pedals.
Compared to the transparent M87 or warm Compressore, Super Symmetry is darker and fatter. The Empress has better highs and clarity, while the SS has fuller lows.
The Compressore is a retro-looking tube bass compression pedal with true bypass. It is bulky, robust, and surprisingly lightweight. The control panel features six knobs in an intuitive layout.
You get Gain (0 to +16dB), Ratio, Attack (2 to 50ms), Release (100 to 750ms), Threshold (Input Level), and Volume. There are 2 LEDs – one to indicate the pedal is on and another with variable intensity to track compression.
The ‘color’ is in the dark/fat realm, similar to Darkglass Supper Symmetry but more creamy and subdued. It has tremendous potential as ‘always-on’ compression for dub, hip-hop, mellow funk, or neo-soul bass lines.
There is no signal degradation when the compressor pedal is off. The visual metering isn’t as sophisticated as the competition but it gets the job done.
There is ample headroom when you put this compressor pedal through the paces. More importantly, the noise level is incredibly low for a tube compression pedal.
I used both versions – the original and a newer version released in 2019. The 2.0 pedal weighs less and is more streamlined.
The Cali76 bass compressor is a high-end pedal inspired by the Urei 1176 designed by Bill Putnam. The Cali isn’t the first to attempt this feat, but it does the best job of recreating the iconic experience in a stompbox format.
There are several Cali76 compressor effects pedals, some with a custom-made output transformer and others without it. All of them are top-tier.
The pedal is truly tour-de-force in terms of construction and dynamic range. The control panel features four knobs – Input, Output, Dry, and Ratio. The ratio range is 4:1 to 20:1.
You can track the amount of compression via the jewel-like LED meter. The LED light switches from orange (below threshold) to orange (moderate) to yellow (max compression) to give you a visual reference of the gain reduction being applied.
This pedal can be powered by a 9V DC adapter or 18V DC for better headroom if your pedalboard permits.
The lows are marginally attenuated, giving the overall tone a crisp character. The action is smooth, and then some. Despite heavy compression, the natural tone is rarely compromised.
The footswitch is buffered bypass but switching is soundless and the noise floor is dead quiet. Again, the Cali76 is transparent, but with enough brightness to avoid sounding sterile.
Here are a few things that go against the Cali76 bass compressor: It’s not the best pedal for clinical or surgical precision. And the jewel lamp LED is pretty but not detailed or responsive.
The Deluxe version has separate knobs for Attack and Release, whereas the Compact Bass version doesn’t.
The controls are heaven for tweakheads, but a blend function would be greatly appreciated. None of it is a deal-breaker, but nitpicking is mandatory at this price point.
Show me a bass player and I’ll show you a Cali76 on a GAS list. Studio-grade compression, tour-grade construction, and “Class-A” sound. It’s not that the Cali76 bass compressor does what other pedals can’t…
…It does it slightly better, with the controls being more responsive, adjustable, and the sounds are inspiring. The price is astronomical but once you witness it, you can’t deny that it’s one of the top compressor pedals out there.