Extensive compressor reviews and FAQ

Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Bass and Compact Deluxe: Origin made a huge splash with their introduction of the Cali76 and its TX and SlideRig variations. Those pedals are fantastic--but they are actually huge. So now Origin has put out a series of small-sized versions, including the two that I'm reviewing here, and there was much rejoicing across the land. But are they as good as their big brothers?
Short answer: they are excellent on their own terms, but they don't sound identical to the Cali76 TX (the transformer version that I recommend). The TX has a rich and colorful quality in the highs and mids, while the Compacts have a very clean precise sound up there. Additionally, the Bass model has a filter in the sidechain which can allow the lows to sound fuller and more powerful. So just as I commented in my review of the Cali76, it doesn't sound exactly the same as the device it's modeled on--but it might actually be better in some ways, depending on your purpose.
Even though I describe the Compact's tone as clean and precise, it is not sterile or dull. It has a great strength and "pop", the sort of subtle improvement in sound that we want from a high quality preamp. It's similar to the Empress and Diamond in that way. The lows below 50 Hz are cut a bit, and the highs are boosted slightly, so it tends to have a tight, bright sound. The noise floor is very low, even at strong compression settings.
The Bass model has a knob labeled HPF, for High Pass Filter. Its purpose is to fool the compression sensor into reacting less strongly to peaks in the lows, in order to get a bigger, bassier sound. It actually works by turning down the lows (allowing highs to pass) in the "side chain" signal path that triggers the compression; so it does not turn down the lows in the audio path that you hear. So even though I mentioned some of the lows being cut, this filter in the sidechain can give your sound some of the "bottomless" quality that I described of the Urei 1176.
The difference between the "Bass" and "Deluxe" versions is that the Deluxe one has separate knobs for attack and release times, while the Bass one has the HPF and just one knob that adjusts both attack and release together. While there is value in having separate time controls, personally I really like the HPF feature, enough so that I'm happy to compromise on the attack/release times. There are three other Compact models currently, including one Cali with fewer controls, and two based on the Sliderig; I haven't tried any of those yet.
The other knobs onboard include In (input level), Out (volume), Dry (clean blend), and Ratio. The input control has a nice wide range, making it suitable for high or low output instruments. The ratio control also has a wide range, and it incidentally affects the threshold as well, so you can fine tune the threshold by adjusting the In and Ratio knobs together. The clean blend does its job well, and is a good way to bring back some natural dynamic sound when using heavy compression.
The action is natural, with no noticeable artifacts or squashing effects. It works quite well as a peak limiter, though turning up the HPF of the Bass model will reduce its ability to limit peaks in the lows. The large jewel on the face is an LED meter showing the amount of compression. It has three stages: red (signal below threshold), orange (moderate compression) which varies a little bit in brightness, and yellow (intense maximum effect). Unfortunately it is not a very responsive meter, and mainly just serves to show over/under threshold, like the Keeley Bassist. This is OK, better than no metering at all, but it's a disappointment compared to the excellent detailed metering of the original large-size Calis.
In addition to testing it against the Cali TX, I also AB'd it with the SuperSymmetry, Smoothie, DECL, and M87. The most extreme difference was between the SuperSymmetry and the Cali Compact; where the SS has a dark, soft, smooth sound with a tad more low end, while the CC has a bright, hard, punchy sound with more highs. The Smoothie is a bit warmer and smoother than the CC, with MUCH more low end, and a tone control, but the CC is punchier and also better at peak limiting. The M87 has a crisp articulate sound, similar to the CC, but it is not as well constructed, and lacks the blend function. The DECL is more versatile, both functionally and tonally, while the CC has more aggressive "pop".
The housing is the width of a Boss but a bit longer, so it's not quite as compact as the MXR sized pedals, but it's less than 1/3 the size of the regular model Cali76. Also the jacks are all mounted on the back end, so it fits tightly on your pedalboard. The construction quality is excellent, and the pedal is heavy and robust feeling. It runs on 9 to 18V DC; I didn't notice an audible difference between 9 and 18, but you might get better headroom with the higher voltage.
Price in USD: $379 new, probably will be only a little less than that used.


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