Extensive compressor reviews and FAQ

Sonuus Voluum: This is an analog compressor, limiter, gate, tremolo, and volume pedal, with digital memory and controls. I don't know about you, but for me that is super exciting! All of its effects can be used in any combination, and they can be controlled by your dynamics, by its wah-style treadle, or MIDI input. Plus they have just given it a built in tuner.
 
Since it has 100 memory spaces, you can not only create several different useful volume-related effects and recall them quickly, but you can also copy them in any order and repetition you please. This allows you to step one by one through the various different programs you want to use throughout a set list at a gig, for example.
 
The first thing I discovered is that it can be finicky about sharing a non isolated power supply (a daisy chain power cord). It could get quite hissy depending on which other pedals were also on the daisy chain, while it was fine with some others. So generally you will want to give this unit its own isolated supply. It also wants at least 500 mA, so some low-current outputs from an isolated brick may not work well--though I have been using a 350 mA wall wart with no noticeable issues so far.
 
Because this device packs so many features into just a few buttons and one rotary encoder knob, it requires you to actually read the instruction manual, and spend some time learning how to use it. Since I'm such a compressor person I thought I could probably figure out the basic controls without reading the manual, but that did not go well. The controls, and how to access them, are not intuitive at all. Each function is hidden in a sub-menu behind a general category selection, and even those general categories are a bit obscure. The functions are identified with a three-letter code on the clock-radio style LED readout, and some functions only become accessible when the up/down buttons are blinking. However once I dug into the system and learned what to look for and how to get there, it became reasonably easy to adjust settings.
 
The compressor stage is very smooth and natural, with no artifacts or weird action. It is capable of strong squeezing if desired, but it's never a squashy effect. Make-up gain is automatic, so you will not have big changes in output volume as you change the amount of compression. There is an overall volume control though, so you can set the level that the automatic gain will go to for each program. Other controls include threshold, attack, release, and ratio, and they all have useful ranges. They don't specify what the maximum ratio is, but a graph in the manual suggests it goes from 1:1 to about 8:1. It's excellent for general dynamic smoothing.
 
The tone is quite transparent. There is zero loss of highs or lows, and no alterations in the middle. It can be set for guitar, 4-string bass, or 5-string bass, optimizing the compression response for each of those ranges. In the guitar setting the lows are slightly attenuated and the highs are slightly boosted, but even that setting sounds fine on bass. The noise level is quite low, but it's not "totally noiseless", and the automatic make-up gain means stronger compression necessarily amplifies your existing noise floor more (as with most other compressors). Occasionally when I would change a setting it would make a brief digital whine sound; this only happened a few times. Because all of the volume effects are done using just one VCA circuit, it does not increase the noise when you use more than one of the effects at once.
 
Normally I hate noise gates, and I frequently rant about how bad they are, even in high-priced devices. But this one is quite good! It has the features that it needs to actually serve your musical sound rather than chopping it up. Specifically it allows you to set the degree that the signal will be attenuated, so it can have a much more unobtrusive effect than other gates which only flip between 0 and 100%. It also has controls for the attack and release times, allowing you to tailor the gate action very precisely to your playing style. I really enjoyed being able to use stronger compression, which would normally come with higher noise, and have the noise get out of the way between notes in a non-obnoxious manner.
 
The LFO tremolo effect is amazing. It comes with so many parameters for shaping and triggering the wave that I can't list or explain them all here. I like being able to just fade in some tremolo any time, using the treadle, while the pedal is also doing its compressor job. The volume pedal function has a neat feature in that you can select different curves for the volume change along the movement of the treadle. It's not something I'd use the word "amazing" for, but it works great, and again it's nice to have a volume pedal ready to use any time, from the same device.
 
The limiter is the only function that I see as a letdown. It does not use the same volume control engine as the other effects, it is just a diode at the end of the signal path that clips everything over a set level. I found it hard to hear (or see on a meter) any gain reduction from the limiter unless I chose an extreme setting and ran extreme peaks through it. There was a persistent buzzy distortion, and I found it hard to tell exactly what was making this sound: the diode, my headphones, or the preamp in between them. If it was the diode, then that's an unfortunate side effect; if it was the preamp or the headphones, then where was the limiting? The diode does clip, and in addition to threshold the limiter has a control for varying the symmetry of the clipping, for different overdrive results. So that could be a way of turning a defect into a feature; honestly however I couldn't hear the difference between various settings, and it left me frustrated. Unless you absolutely have to have some peak limiting, and you don't mind some distortion with it, I would just leave the limiter switched off.
 
Just recently they added a tuner! It works exceptionally well and quickly, and it has no trouble with an open low B. It isn't quite as sensitive as the Sonic Research Turbo Tuner that I usually use, but some people say the Turbo is way too sensitive anyway. I am really pleased with both the quality of the tuner and the fact it means one more pedal eliminated from the pedalboard (making room for other effects).
 
There is one group of LEDs to indicate the amount of compression, and another group to indicate the position of the treadle (for example to show your volume level). They also serve to indicate the strobe action of the tuner. Several other individual LEDs indicate the selections in editing mode.
 
You can connect the Voluum to your computer via USB, and this allows firmware updates, file sharing, and editing settings on your computer screen. I had really hoped that the software would make adjustment of settings more transparent and accessible, but unfortunately the software just displays the exact same controls that are on the pedal itself. So there's a lot of room for improvement there, and I hope they develop a better software user interface in the future. The one nice element is the software does display some graphs for visualizing your settings, such as the volume pedal curve--though the same graphs are in the manual. The pedal can also send and receive MIDI controls.
 
It runs on 9V DC, at either polarity, or it can also run on AA batteries or USB--though USB power can be noisy. The housing is large, but not any bigger than it needs to be for the treadle and controls. You can select either true bypass or buffered bypass. The construction quality is very good, though I'd worry about the durability and lifespan of the buttons and the rotary encoder. There are many more parameters and features of this pedal than I can even cover here; this review just hits the main points.
 
To sum up, I think the Voluum is terrific, and I recommend it. It easily justifies its price, between the versatility and quantity of its effects, and how well most of them work and how good they sound. I hate the user interface for adjusting settings, and I'm disappointed by the software, and very disappointed by the limiter. But those negatives are well outweighed by the positives. The compressor, volume pedal, tremolo, gate, and tuner all get top marks, and each competes pretty strongly against the boutique equivalent in individual pedals--which would add up to around $700 as separate purchases. When you add in the ability to program settings into memory, and update the system via downloads, there is much winning all around.
 
Price in USD: $299 new, probably $220-$250 used.
 
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