Exar BC04: This pedal comes from Poland, from a brand that has been around for many years and is well-known in Europe, but is very rarely seen in the Americas. You will note that Exar pedals look exactly like Jacques pedals; the reason is that Exar manufactured the housing bodies for Jacques, although Jacques electronics are different on the inside. They make bass and non-bass-specific compressors; this review is of the bass version.
This is a heavy squashing effect, not a subtle compressor. It is moderate up to about 9:00 on the sustain knob, and from there it goes to insane squeeze. The sustain from this pedal is incredible! It's one of the best sustainers I have heard. The sustain doesn't last forever, but its volume and clarity are powerful for the duration of the note. As each note decays, it swells louder and stronger, for a dramatic "singing" effect. This is great for Palladino or Kumalo style fretless bass. It also pops harmonics out super dramatically.
The downside at such a high-sustaining setting (say above 12:00) is that the beginning peak or "hump" of each note is flattened in an unnatural way, which can make it sound kind of gutless and thin for that first moment. So if you want a strong initial thump/punch, you have to turn the sustain to a much lower setting (I like 8:00, but it will depend on your bass). The good news is that even at high sustain settings it is not very noisy. Of course it amplifies any noise that's already in your signal path, but the pedal does not add much noise of its own. At low sustain settings the background noise is very low. It will limit moderate spikes, but it's not quite a "brick wall" limiter.
The tone is neutral, not very colored aside from the effects of heavy squashing. It makes your instrument sound really thick. I love that effect, but even at low settings it's probably more compressed than some people would like. There is no loss of low frequencies when the tone knob is at 12:00 or lower. The high end can sound a bit wooly, not crisp or bright unless you turn the tone knob to the high side. The tone control is a tilting EQ, which means turned to one side it boosts lows and cuts highs; to the other side it cuts lows, boosts highs. It's the same type of EQ used in the Ashdown and Moen comps.
The construction is mixed: the body is rugged and the circuit is well-made with good components, but the knob caps and footswitch plate are cheap plastic. It's a little bit smaller than a standard Boss pedal. The footswitch is "true bypass", using a relay instead of the usual 3PDT switch. This gives you the benefits of true bypass without the popping noise. It runs on standard Boss-type 9V DC.
As a point of disclosure, shortly after I wrote this review Exar contacted me about becoming their representative in the Americas, and I agreed. I was associated with the brand for about two years. Unfortunately they closed their doors at the end of 2012, so this pedal is discontinued.
Price in USD: used $50-$100, no longer available new.
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