Broughton Apex: This VCA comp comes from an up-and-coming maker out of Canada. VCA designs, made popular by dbx, are known for clean, precise sound and action. They make it easier to select a more specific ratio and threshold than most other types, particularly in comparison to the OTA designs used for at least 90% of pedal comps on the market. The Apex uses the same chip family as dbx, from "THAT Corp".
Controls include Threshold, Ratio, Gain, and HPF. Threshold and Gain both cover a very wide range, allowing use even with extremely low or high output instruments. The Gain has extra power on tap if you want to use the Apex as a compressed clean boost. Ratio goes all the way from 1:1 to infinity:1, allowing it to do everything from the lightest touch to the strongest hard limiting. It works very well as a peak limiter. It does not have attack or release time controls, but the built-in times are suitable for a decent ordinary range of uses.
HPF stands for "high pass filter", and this filter lives in the sidechain of the compression detector circuit. Its purpose is to adjust the amount of low end that the circuit hears, in order to avoid the compressor over-reacting, and either swallowing your highs or gutting your lows. It does not affect the audio path, so it doesn't cut or boost the lows that pass through to your amp-- only the amount that they get compressed. With a few different basses I found that it just needed a tiny adjustment in the 25 to 45 Hz sweep of the knob in order to get good results; any higher setting ended up allowing too much of the bass peaks to pass uncompressed, causing clipping later in the chain. My favorite setting was just a small tweak up from 25 Hz, say around 30. But it's good to have a wider range available, for guitarists.
The frequency response is flat, not cutting or boosting highs, mids, or lows differently. Tonally it is fairly transparent, not providing any "tone magic", but also not adding unwanted coloration at most settings. This circuit design does dull your highs under heavy compression, just like the dbx rack units do. The noise level is quite low, not dead silent, but lower than average.
It has a really useful and responsive row of LEDs to indicate the amount of compression. This is a great feature, especially for people who are not yet accustomed to using their ears alone to find good compression settings. The construction and cosmetics are pretty good, it runs on standard Boss-type 9V DC, and the footswitch is mechanical true bypass. The housing is about the size of a Boss pedal. It has top-mounted jacks (all jacks at the back end instead of the sides) which helps tighten up your pedalboard space.
Price in USD: new $180, used about $160. I've added it to my "top picks" page as a good value and an effective limiter.
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