Extensive compressor reviews and FAQ

Schalltechnik_04 Pumpernickel: This is a DIY project; the plans are online, or you can order a kit from the designer in Germany. It is a VCA type comp, based around a THAT chip which comes from the dbx family tree, and its sound and functions will be familiar to dbx users.
 
Like the dbx 160A, this pedal has controls for threshold, ratio, output volume, and a switch to select between hard knee and soft knee. On the dbx that switch is called "Over Easy". The pedal also has a nice long row of red, yellow, and green LEDs showing the amount of compression. The Threshold has a very wide range, and is augmented by a toggle switch that cuts the input by 9 dB, so it will work with any high or low output instrument. The Ratio goes from 1:1 to infinity:1, with 4:1 marked at the midpoint. The 160A goes "past infinity" into a range of negative compression (expansion), but most people won't miss that feature on the pedal. Neither device has attack or release knobs; the times are preset, but the times they use are good all-purpose settings.
 
Unlike the dbx, this pedal has a Blend knob, for mixing your original clean signal in with the compressed signal. This helps bring back tone and dynamics that may be lost when using heavier compression, which has always been a problem with the dbx units. That, plus the input level toggle that helps avoid clipping, makes this pedal actually much better for the typical bassist than the 160A itself.
 
The tone is clean and uncolored, with no loss of highs or lows, and no scoops or humps in the middle. The action is smooth and even, with no squishy or swelling effects. The noise floor is very low, I didn't hear any added noise even at very strong settings. It does an excellent job as a peak limiter, for even the most extreme player.
 
Compared to the MXR M87, the Pumpernickel has better control over input and threshold, and it has the blend, but the M87 does have attack and release knobs. Compared to the Keeley Bassist/GC2, the Pumpernickel has better metering, plus the blend, while I think the Keeley could be more robust and reliable. The tone is similar between them; with no blend I slightly prefer the MXR, but with the blend the Pumpernickel allows the most natural sound.
 
Since it's a DIY project, the construction quality will depend on your own skill and the parts you buy. If you buy the kit from Schalltechnik_04, the parts they provide are good quality. The footswitch is a relay based "true bypass", and the housing they provide is the size of a Boss. They sent this pedal to me fully assembled, so I can't comment on the difficulty of the assembly or the instructions. But it looks pretty straightforward, with just a couple of SMT components to make things tricky for a beginner at soldering. I feel the resulting pedal is overall a bit better than the immediate competition (Keeley Bassist, Maxon CP9Pro+, MXR M87); so if you don't mind working on a project, I think this is a very good use of your time and money.
 
Price in USD: The kit sells for about $53 USD, plus about $20 for knobs and a raw drilled housing, plus postage from Germany (see the Schalltechnik_04 website). I have no idea what it might go for used, because it will depend on how well it was assembled and decorated.
 

 

 
 
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