ART Levelar: This is a one-channel line-level tabletop unit, not much bigger than a pedal. It can also work with an instrument-level signal, plugging your guitar or bass straight in, but you can expect more noise when feeding it lower input levels like that; it works best with input from a preamp. It is a "tube comp" of the standard variety, having an optical compression element and one 12AX7 tube as a make-up gain stage. It can be found for very cheap prices, but it actually sounds quite good, so I rate it an excellent "bang per buck"!
There is a small amount of hiss, which does swell up on the tail of a sustained note, but it's no worse than most solid-state comps. The highs and lows are pretty decent, not the deepest or brightest, but good. The tone is a bit dark and muddy-sounding. There can be a little click on the attack, depending on the input you feed it, but the action overall is smooth. It doesn't have the extreme fatness or gooeyness you might hope for from a tube device, but the noise level is much more acceptable than you usually find with exaggerated fattening effects.
The Threshold knob and the simple LED metering are very useful features for getting the right level of response. The only attack/release time control is a button to switch between "Auto" and "Fast"; the auto setting(attack/release time changes automatically based on your input signal) works pretty well for general playing, but it's not perfect for everything. The ratio control is also limited to a button that toggles between "Compress" (~2:1) and "Limit" (~6:1). Both settings are equally useful and good-sounding, but only for moderate non-extreme compression. It's not really going to work as a hard peak limiter.
The construction is a bit cheap, but not flimsy--it would probably survive if you dropped it. It can fit in a rack space, but it would need to be attached to some sort of shelf. The bypass switch (a button, not a footswitch) is not "true bypass", but the bypassed signal quality is pretty clean. It requires a 9v AC wall wart power supply.
Price in USD: used $15-$40, no longer available new.
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