VFE (VonRutter) White Horse:
This updated review is of the current (June 2013) version of the White Horse. It's an optical comp pedal with a wider range of controls than many others, and it includes an overdrive. VFE has made a few versions of this pedal over time, as well as producing some custom-shop units, so if you are considering buying a used one just bear in mind they are not all exactly alike.
The key to understanding this unit is that it boosts your signal across a fixed threshold. The Sustain knob increases this gain, and there's a trim pot on the inside which adjusts the gain range. The more your signal is boosted, the more intensely it is compressed. VFE chose to give the Sustain knob a super wide range, meaning you can boost the gain far, FAR more than most people would ever want to, for extreme squashing. With an average bass guitar signal, you will get the most natural and unobtrusive sound with the Sustain knob at or near minimum (fully counterclockwise).
The Blend knob mixes the compressed signal with your original uncompressed signal; this allows you to get the sustain or squashing effects while retaining more of your dynamics. The more you turn up the Sustain knob, the more you may want to turn the Blend counterclockwise.
The Drive knob controls how much of the signal is sent into a MOSFET clipping stage, instead of into the opto compressor stage, so that the clipping is basically a second (parallel) type of compression system. The Drive and Sustain knobs are very interactive. At low Drive settings it has a warm, dark, thick sound; turning it up a bit more gets a furry edge, becoming more noticeably a light to medium overdrive up around 12:00; and near maximum it gets quite distorted. There's no easy way to switch between clean and dirty sounds, because you'll need to adjust the output Level knob, as well as probably the Bass and Sustain knobs, to make up for gain differences when adding the overdrive.
The Response knob controls the attack and release times together. Because the nature of this specific compressor means your signal will be over the threshold most of the time, the noise floor will swell up very noticeably whenever you pause for a long rest. Choosing a slow (clockwise) Response setting will help you keep the levels more consistent, with less "pumping" and less intrusive swells of noise.
The Bass knob is a high-pass filter, meaning it cuts lows. So this is useful for cleaning or tightening up a muddy or boomy low end; but if you don't want to lose any lows, set this knob to maximum (fully clockwise). This filter only affects the compressed signal, not the clean signal side of the blend. When you turn up the Drive, it can result in some huge boomy peaks in the lows. The compressor circuit will not cap those spikes off because much of the signal has been sent to the Drive stage instead; so you can use the Bass knob to help reduce those boomy notes.
There is little to no loss of highs or lows generally, although the tone can get dark during heavy compression or overdrive. With the Sustain and Drive knobs at minimum, the tone is fairly clear and uncolored. The higher the Sustain setting, the more it will audibly affect your tone--but it's hard to describe that change... it just sounds more squeezed. The pedal itself is not noisy, but it does inherently amplify any existing noise on your line in a big swell/wash when you let a long note trail off. This type of comp is not well suited to hard peak limiting, as it is not fast or precise; instead it is better at adding sustain and keeping your levels generally more even. With the Drive at a light-medium setting it also does a good job of emulating the thick, dark, squishy sound of some vintage amps.
The construction quality is quite good, though the graphics are a bit homemade looking. It's in the small MXR-size housing, and it runs on standard Boss-type 9V DC. The footswitch is "true bypass".
Price in USD: new $159, used $80-$110.
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