FEA DE-CL: This is the newest comp pedal from FEA, using an optical compression element like the previous models, but striking out into new territory in all other ways. The "DE-CL" stands for Dual Engine Compressor Limiter. It actually centers on just one opto-coupler device, but it is triggered by two completely independent mechanisms, one of which is optimized for peak limiting. It also features a "Warmth" control for dialing in extra harmonic content.
The first engine (or stage) is a full-range compressor that by itself can be set for anything from the lightest smoothing to medium or heavy squeezing. This engine is "on" whenever the pedal is engaged. The second engine is fixed at an infinity:1 ratio, and it operates in addition to the first one, with its own on/off footswitch. In this way you can set the first engine for your all-purpose general action, and then stomp the second stage on when you are about to play in a more aggro way that needs limiting or heavy squashing. Both engines have their own on/off LEDs, as well as LEDs that indicate signal over the threshold. They also have their own make-up gain knobs, so you can set the ideal output level both with and without the limiter engaged. When you switch on the limiter, its gain knob takes over, and the other gain knob is deactivated. Both stages also have their own threshold knobs; normally you would want to set the first comp engine's threshold lower and the limiter's threshold higher, for the most natural response--but you can also break the rules and set the thresholds in other ways, for interesting effects.
Using the two stages together creates a more complex dynamic slope of response than a traditional compressor. Additionally, the release times are "adaptive" or "program dependent", meaning the compression will release more quickly or slowly depending on whether you play more staccato or legato. The aim is to offer more control over the envelope than a typical comp, without losing the original feel and natural quality of your notes; I feel that it succeeds pretty well at this.
The limiter section is quite effective. For hard peak limiting I found it's best to set that engine's attack knob to its minimum (fastest) position. The rest of the range of that knob is useful if you want to use the limiter section for heavy compression effects instead of cleanly capping peaks. The trickiest part about setting up this pedal is finding the balance of threshold settings between the two stages, for your individual tastes. All I can advise is to experiment and be patient. Personally I tend to like the first comp stage LED to light up for about 60 to 70% of the time that I'm playing, and the limiter LED to light up only 25% of the time (depending on how I'm playing, of course).
There is no loss of highs or lows, and it has a brighter, much livelier sound than either the Opti-FET or the Dual Band Comp Limiter. If you tried the Opti-FET and felt it was too dark or syrupy, the DE-CL is a better choice for you. UPDATE: Previously I had written "it is not as noise-proof as the other FEA models" however FEA has done a major rework of the power and ground system inside the pedal, and it is now utterly noiseless. All newly-produced DECL's have the noiseless system, for those of you on the waiting list. In case you are considering buying an earier one used, don't worry--it is not actually noisy. It's just that the newer ones are even better in that regard.
With the "Warmth" knob at its minimum setting, the sound is very transparent and high fidelity. As you turn it up, it adds upper harmonic content and transient distortions meant to emulate a thick/fat-sounding amplifier. Up to about 9:00 the effect is very subtle, just "warm". From 9:00 to 12:00 it becomes thicker and more textured, with gradually more audible soft clipping. And above 12:00 it turns into a weird sort of overdrive. Most people will prefer the lower range, say below 11:00, just before the clipping becomes really noticeable; but it's also good to have the rest of the stronger range available as a creative effect. This function inherently adds extra compression, so as you turn up the warmth, you'll probably want to raise the threshold and/or lower the ratio on the first comp stage.
As with all FEA pedals, the construction quality is excellent, far above what most supposedly premium pedal makers get away with. It runs on standard Boss-type 9V DC, which is boosted internally to 18V for better headroom. The bypass footswitch is "true bypass", and the limiter footswitch is an optical device that operates silently, no pops. All in all this pedal is another winner from FEA; each of their comps has a unique place for individual purposes, tastes, and tones.
Price in USD: new $265, used $215-$250
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