Daring Audio Phat Beam: This is a new brand/maker of pedals, and the Phat Beam is so new that some aspects of it are still being refined. Consequently, there will probably be updates to this review in the future.
The key point of interest with this pedal is it features a steep filter stage along with the compression. This filter can be applied to the overall audio signal, for tone shaping; or it can be used in a sidechain, changing the compression response without affecting the tone. Combining the functions in various ways can produce a range of both subtle and extreme effects. It also features separate compression and limiting controls, and a blend for mixing the effected signal with your clean signal.
The filter is not a dynamic "wah" effect--it's more like an EQ that just cuts either the highs or the lows. You select the frequency cutoff point using the "Shape" knob, and you select whether it's a high-cut or low-cut filter using the "High" switch. The LED by the switch lights up green when it's in high-cut mode, and red when in low-cut mode. The filter can be effectively bypassed by setting the Shape knob to not cut any frequencies. The switch labeled VCA selects whether the filter is in the audio path or the sidechain; when the LED is "on", the filter is in the audio path (as a tone effect).
For an example, if you have the filter in sidechain mode and low-cut mode, then only the highs of your signal will trigger the compression. This doesn't mean the lows are uncompressed, but rather it offers a very different dynamic response than a standard compressor--and you can use the various sidechain settings to dial in your own unique response action. And again, in this mode the filter is not cutting the lows or highs that you hear, it is only affecting what the compression circuit "hears" and reacts to.
My favorite setting actually has the filter in the audio path, cutting the highs. Then I use the blend to bring back my clean signal into the mix, and the result is a super fat, deep, thick tone. The thickness is accentuated by the compression on the filtered part of the tone. My knob settings are: Blend 12:00, Shape 1:30, Limit 2:00, Comp 9:00, High switch lit "green", and VCA switch lit "on". This setting by itself is worth the price of admission--I could happily glue the knobs there, and have this one super fat tone available in my arsenal. Using the same blend idea but in low-cut filter mode, you can tame a boomy low end and give the highs more presence and edge.
This compressor is designed so that your signal is always over the threshold, which makes it great for people that want more sustain and a smooth even sound; but it won't quite suit people who want perfect transparency, or who just want to control their biggest signal peaks. If you have a high-output instrument, you can expect to be compressed quite heavily with this pedal. So even though it's based around a VCA circuit (like dbx or Symetrix), its action has more in common with vintage optical designs: more smoothness and consistency, less crispness and punch. There is an internal trim pot that adjusts the amount of gain feeding into the dynamics sensor, in the sidechain; turning it to the lowest-gain setting provides lighter compression and less noise, while cranking up the gain results in zero dynamics and tons of sustain. Naturally, more sustain = more noise, as with most other compressors.
The "Limit" knob is a threshold control for a separate limiting circuit. Fully clockwise is where the threshold is highest (meaning the least limiting), and as you turn the knob counterclockwise you lower the threshold, until it starts limiting where you need it. The limiter can do a pretty good job of clamping down on big peaks, but only when there is also some compression applied. With the comp set to minimum, the limiter has to be set to a very low threshold in order to do its job. I found the best results with the Limiter knob at around 3:00 and the Comp around 9:00, given an average instrument signal.
There is no loss of highs or lows (aside from the inherent function of the filter), though under heavy compression the highs could sound dark or dull, just as with dbx comps. The compressor is a little bit noisy--not bad, just average, similar to many other pedals. The noise can be minimized by setting the gain trim pot to minimum, setting the filter to cut the highs, and generously blending in the clean signal... but that rules out a huge percentage of the settings you might be interested in using. Fortunately for me, the "favorite" setting I described above falls into this description, and has hardly any noise at all.
The construction quality is quite nice, clean and robust. It runs on standard Boss-type 9VDC, and the footswitch is "true bypass". If you like to sculpt your sound, and you want a new tool for an interesting new voicing, then the Phat Beam should definitely be on your radar. If you are looking for pure transparency or simplicity, then it might not be the one for you.