Extensive compressor reviews and FAQ

Madbean Afterlife: This is an optical comp built as a DIY project, it is not a finished product from a manufacturer. The actual item I'm reviewing here is the "Ghost Note" built by Jon Patton; it's the Madbean Afterlife with a threshold control added on. With that knob (labeled "Sensitivity") at 12:00, it's the same as a stock Afterlife. The Afterlife itself is basically the John Hollis Flatline circuit, with some small refinements. Here is the Madbean project page. Here's the original Hollis schematic, and with a search you can find many forum topics expanding on it.
The basic unit has just two knobs, for Sustain and output Volume. Sustain controls the amount your signal is boosted going into the compression component. The added Sensitivity knob replaces one resistor (R7) in the circuit that sets the responsiveness of the gain reduction; this is actually not so different from using the Sustain knob to change input gain, but using the two controls together gets a wider range of possible response. The basic Madbean design works with most medium-output guitars and basses, but the extra control allows it to also accommodate very high or low output instruments, or provide even lighter to heavier squashing.
The action is smooth and even, with no exaggerated dip or swell. The attack and release seem somewhat quick, but the action is so smooth that it's actually hard to say exactly how long or short those times are. It doesn't clamp down instantly with a brick wall on hard peaks, but it does catch most moderate peaks pretty quickly. It's best in the light to medium strength range. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for players who need more exacting or extreme control, but as a general-purpose compressor that adds sustain and smoothness, it works very well for most playing styles.
There is no loss of highs or lows at all, and the tone is close to transparent. There is also very little noise, at any setting.
Because it's a DIY project, the quality and nature of the construction, cosmetics, bypass, etc. are entirely up to the individual builder. It runs on standard Boss-type 9V DC. The Madbean circuitboard is small enough to fit in a 1590A (micro) housing, and the Patton Ghost Note is in that size, so however you build or buy one it's a strong contender for "best micro compressor". It has less noise than the Xotic SP, and with the added Sensitivity knob it also can be dialed to suit a wider range of input levels; but on the other hand the SP has Blend and Attack/Release controls, so it's up to your needs for which compromises are most acceptable in this small housing size. I recommend the Afterlife very, very highly for clean, basic compression.

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