Fairfield The Accountant: The craze this year is for pedals in a "micro" box size like the Hammond 1590A, and Canadian boutique brand Fairfield Circuitry surprises us with this one, based around a JFET feedback comp circuit.
It has only minimal controls due to the small size, but these controls actually provide a wide range of response. There is one 3-position toggle for Ratio, another 3-position toggle for Pad (reduction of input level), and an output volume knob.
The ratios available are 3:1, 6:1, and 12:1, marked 0, 1, and 2 respectively by the switch. By cutting your input signal level, the Pad effectively raises the threshold. Position 2 has no cut (0 dB), position 1 cuts the levels by 8 dB, and position 0 cuts 16 dB. These toggle numbers are a bit confusing, but think of them like a knob going from 1-10: a higher number is "more", a higher ratio and a stronger input. The lightest compression is found at Ratio 0 and Pad 0, and the heaviest squashing is at Ratio 2, Pad 2. Remember that Pad at 0 is not 0 dB cut. Oh yeah, and the Ratio toggle doesn't go 0-1-2, it goes 0-2-1. Just to make you insane.
It doesn't lose any high or low end; at the heavy squashing settings the lows and low mids get clipped enough to seem scooped or cut a bit. At most positions the envelope has character and the tone is colored, not at all the sort of clinical transparency and precision you might expect from something called The Accountant. Really the Empress should have been named Accountant, and the Fairfield should have been named Angry Midget Brawler.
It distorts some if you hit with strong peaks, and distorts all the time at the Pad 2 setting. The good news is that this distortion sounds really nice, a light growly biting overdrive--it is definitely a bonus rather than a defect. At the lighter settings there's not so much of this drive and color, it approaches clean and smooth, but overall I would suggest this pedal to somebody who wants extra tonal character and bite, NOT to someone who wants a transparent volume control. At Ratio 2, Pad 2, the envelope is chewy and squidgy, like high-stepping through swamp mud, with a lot of grit.
At the Pad 0 and 1 settings there is a little extra hiss, a white noise; it's not too bad, but noticeable. This is unfortunate because you want to use the Pad to reduce or eliminate distortion. It sounds more like static ground noise rather than the usual rising whoosh associated with turning up the "sustain" knob of most compressors. This noise disappears at the Pad 2 setting, which (with the strongest input level) is where you would expect line noise to be most audible.
My favorite setting by far is Pad 2, Ratio 1. This has the least noise, the most consistent grinding drive, and a useful medium amount of compression. It reminds me very much of the Durham Sex Drive. Leaving Pad on 2, Ratio 0 gives a nice biting fat tone boost with minimal compression.
Again the housing is the micro size, and the construction quality is pretty good. It is unpainted, bare aluminum; the markings are hand-stamped into the metal. There is no LED to indicate the amount of compression. It runs on standard 9V DC, with no battery option due to the size, and the footswitch is "true bypass".
Price in USD: new $150, too soon to say what it will go for used.
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