Retrospec Squeeze Box: This is a fairly hard-to-find discontinued unit, designed to be similar to the Urei LA2A in a pedal format. It uses two 12AT7 or 12AU7 tubes for gain, and an optical compression element.
It actually brings your signal up to line level before the comp stage, and then the output signal can be left at line level, or reduced to instrument level as needed for your application. It also has a mic-level DI out, so the Squeeze Box can be used as a front end into any recording channel or FOH while also running into an amp head or directly driving a power amp.
The tone and action of this unit are legendary; one person described it very well as sounding like "being hit over the head with a heavy rubber mallet". It is punchy, fat, warm, and really nails the classic Jamerson-type recorded tone. The sound is simply fantastic, and there's no loss of highs or lows. There is a tone knob which can either roll off the highs or enhance them notably to counter the tendency of heavy compression to "swallow" the highs. Luckily, turning up the highs with the tone knob does not raise the noise level.
However, like most other tube comps, this pedal can be susceptible to electromagnetic interference so it will be a bit noisy in certain rooms. But in my work room it is less noisy than the EHX Black Finger. Aside from the potential noise issue, I feel the tone, action, and build quality of the Squeeze Box are far superior to the EHX. The sound is just classic vintage thump. The nearest thing in current production is the Effectrode PC-2A, but unfortunately I never got a chance to A-B compare them directly.
It's very large for a pedal, and has a built-in AC cord; it can run at either 120 or 220 volts. The chassis is quite rugged and cool-looking. The footswitch is not true bypass; the bypass just switches off the compression circuit, so your signal is still running through the other tube gain stages. That means it sounds very good when bypassed, but not transparent.
This unit has been discontinued for a long time. About once a year, for the last several years, Retrospec has announced that the Squeezebox is "back in production" or "coming soon", but it has been a false promise every time so far. I hope one day it becomes a reality, but I'm not holding my breath. The designer's name is Ken McKim, and the company's most recent email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Here is the Squeezebox schematic.
Price in USD: $400-$700 used, no longer available new.
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