If you play bass guitar, you’ll know some techniques create louder sounds than others, e.g., if you use the slap and pop technique, you’ll be louder than when you use two fingers to walk around bass lines. Or if you choose to use a pick in some songs and not in others, the volume of your playing will alter as a result.
These fluctuating volumes cause problems when performing live as the sound technician has to engineer according to the loudest sound you make. This means they have to set your level quite low, making your quieter playing a bit too quiet.
The solution is to use a compressor pedal. Compression normalizes the sound coming from your bass guitar, making your louder notes quieter and your quieter notes louder – this results in a better, more balanced bass sound.
In this article, we’re going to review the best products on the market and recommend our favorite bass compressor pedal from the dozens of models out there.
At a Glance: Our Choice of the Best Bass Compressor Pedal on the Market
- MXR M87
- DigiTech Bass Squeeze
- Aguilar TLC
- EBS Multicomp
- Electro-Harmonix Bass Preacher
- Xvive XB1 Bass Squeezer
- TC Electronic SpectraComp
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
Ok, here’s what we’ll cover. Jump to a part that grabs your interest, or carry on reading the entire thing (recommended).
- What is a Bass Compressor Pedal?
- Buyer’s Guide – What To Look For When Buying One?
- Product Round-up and Mini-Reviews – Bass Compressor Pedal
- So, Which Should I Buy?
What is a Bass Compressor Pedal?
Bass compressors are effects processing units that reduce the dynamic range of the signal coming from your signal chain. Any bassist will have inherent dynamic inconsistencies, even if you’re Bill Wyman – using one of these gizmos irons out the sonic differences in the bassist’s playing.
These small stomp boxes are inserted into your line between your pedals and your amp. Along with EQ, they’re often thought of as essential for bass players because they give you controllability over your sound.
The more you gig, the more likely you’ll find yourself playing in venues with poor in-house equipment. These gizmos give you control over your volume limits – the other alternative is to take your own PA system (hardly ideal).
Although they are sometimes used in recording studios, it’s more common to see used in gigging and live performance situations (you’ll find most studios have rack-mountable compression units already built in for ultra high-quality signal compression).
Clarity and Consistency
Clarity and consistency are right up there with good rhythm when it comes to the essentials of playing bass in a band. If your volume is up and down and all over the place, it’s going to distract both your band members and your audience. This isn’t conducive to a good performance.
Balance Out Your Slap Bass
If your bass technique relies heavily on slapping and popping, then a compression unit will help to keep your normal finger-style playing volume in line with those sections. They are often used to balance out slap bass style playing and can also be handy for eliminating the dynamic contrast between playing with a pick and walking with your fingers.
They can also compress your entire signal chain if you put one at the end of your signal chain (after all other effects have been introduced).
Analog vs. Digital
People assume analog pedals are always better than digital pedals. However, the preference is mostly personal. Analog ones offer a more natural sound as they deal with the signal rather than an emulation of the signal, and are more common than digital compressors (despite the growing availability of the digital variety). But don’t let that put you off buying a digital one. They tend to be more affordable than the analog type with the added benefit of reducing static noise. They’re often easier to use too, thanks to their built-in settings and automatic controls.
Buyer’s Guide – What To Look For When Buying One?
Decent pedals allow you to tweak more than just the attack and sustain – they give you options over volume and tone. These greater options come at an increased cost but should be seen more as an investment in the quality of your sound
So what to look out for when purchasing one of these gadgets? Let’s take a look.
Threshold, Ratio, Release and Attack Controls
These four controls are a must if you want accurate controllability over your dynamic range. Although threshold and ratio are the main ones to make compression happen, having control over the attack and release time of your effect is essential. It can be the difference between sounding natural and sounding, well, compressed.
Some pedals can support multi-band compression, or at least parallel compression, giving you much more freedom to simulate the effects of a professional studio recording session in the middle of the street when you’re out busking with your bandmates for the day.
True bypass is a favorite feature on any pedal because it routes through a clean signal to your amplifier when the pedal is turned off. True bypass is merely the lack of a buffer amp: meaning that the signal passes through from input to output without going through any circuitry in between.
9V Battery Option
It can be handy to have a 9V battery option on some pedals, sure. But on one of these stompboxes, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be using it anywhere other than on a stage. And on a stage, you’re going to have plug sockets for all of the other equipment.
Product Round-up and Mini-Reviews – Bass Compressor Pedal
This MXR M87 has a wide range of adjustable settings, which means that it can be intimidating for a beginner but also makes it worth considering if you’re a little more technically minded. While it’s not the easiest piece of kit to master, spending a little time either doing some research online or talking to a friendly sound engineer will let you get the most out of it.
It’s a favorite and professional product, and its stompbox size means that it will fit neatly into your pedalboard.
An LED meter lets you see exactly how much compression is in effect while you play. It also allows the natural sound of your playing to come through and has good potential for use as a limiter if needed.
The only downside is the price. They are expensive, so if you are on a budget, it might be better to take a look at some of the cheaper options first.
- LED lets you see exactly how much compression is in use as you play.
- Ratio, attack and release knobs, as well as separate input and output dials, give you excellent control over your compression.
- It has a sturdy casing that can survive many stomps.
- It’s priced quite high compared to other products.
- Can take some time to get used to.
DigiTech Bass Squeeze
The DigiTech Bass Squeeze works very differently from the MXR. Instead of manually controlling your attack and decay, the Bass Squeeze allows you to set your high and low band frequency, with the rest being taken care of by the software. While this dual-band capability is useful, and easy for a beginner to understand, you may prefer to have control over these things yourself.
Its sturdy, metal casing means that you can trust it to last, and the option to plug into an adapter or power off a 9V makes it pedalboard-friendly.
It’s reasonably cheap which is good news if you’re on a budget. Also, its simple controls won’t require an in-depth understanding of how they interact with each other, and the large foot pedal makes it easy to turn on and off.
- High and low band frequencies are easy to set and to understand. This feature is well suited to those who play high up the fretboard, as they can achieve a clear high end and low end.
- Large foot pedal makes it easy to switch on and off.
- The sustain control can also achieve a distortion effect.
- Attack and decay are controlled automatically, so you have less control than you might like.
- It weighs more than you might expect.
The Aguilar TLC gives you four versatile controls; level, threshold, attack, and slope. It is very transparent, which makes it an attractive option for bassists not wanting to lose their natural sound.
This pedal keeps it simple and visual while allowing you a high level of control over your level of compression. It’s also small and sturdy. It even rivals a professional rack compressor, giving you extremely subtle compression or ridiculously overpowered dubstep-style ‘wobs’ without destroying the tone of your guitar.
The easy to remove battery compartment makes it ideal for ‘on the go’ usage, so you’ll be thankful for this if there are ever any issues during a gig. Wide spacing between the knobs means you are unlikely to adjust them when activating the pedal accidentally.
The only downside is price (it’s not cheap) – but its capabilities reflect the cost.
- Compresses your bass without altering the tone.
- There are four knobs enabling versatility and controllability.
- It’s small, sturdy and reliable.
- Unlike with the MXR M87, there’s no LED to track your compression with visually.
- It comes with a high price tag.
Here’s Leslie Johnson test riding one:
The EBS has a well-deserved reputation. It features dual-band compression, which cannot be overlooked in terms of how useful this is for players who go up and down the fretboard. The controls are a little different from the other products on this list, and let you switch between three modes (multi-band, normal and tube).
There is also the option to switch between active and passive modes, depending on what level of output you’ll be producing, this versatility can be instrumental. For a dual-band compressor, the EBS is one of the more affordable options without losing quality.
Any downsides? Well, a maximum compression of 5:1 in dual-band modes means that it has limited functionality as a limiter if you have a heavy slap technique. And the lack of manual controls over your attack means you won’t be able to play with the effects as much as you would with some other products on this list. The EBS is good at what it does, but not much else.
- Like the Digitech Bass Squeeze, there are dual bands of compression. This is great for those players who use an extensive range of notes, passing through high frequencies as well as the low ones.
- Includes true bypass, so your signal won’t be muddied by leads passing through it.
- Produces a bright tone that doesn’t sound compressed.
- Although there are just two knobs, knowing how to set them can take some getting to grips with.
- There’s a lack of manual control over the attack.
- The maximum compression is 5:1 which might not be sufficient for your requirements.
Electro-Harmonix Bass Preacher
A two-knob compressor, with a three-setting switch for attack, gives you a fair degree of flexibility while still fitting comfortably into the ‘stomp n’ go’ category of pedals.
It’s one of the most straight-forward to use on this list, so if you’re starting out, take the opportunity to try this one out if you get the chance so you can have an understanding of how they work. It’s a great way to get your feet wet without being overwhelmed by all the fine-tuning options available on other pedals. The very reasonable price makes it a realistic first option for a new bassist too.
If you’re a more advanced player or have a preference for being able to control every element of your sound, you might be disappointed by the lack of additional settings.
The Bass Preacher also uses a three-mode switch for attack – instead of a fully adjustable knob – which means you are stuck with preset levels that may be ever so slightly off target for your particular needs. Lack of multiband compression could cause problems if you a more of an active than a passive bassist.
- Easy to use with attack presets and just two dials: volume and sustain.
- Includes true bypass, so your signal won’t be muddied by leads passing through it.
- You have limited control over your sound options due to the lack of knobs.
- There’s no multi-band compression.
Xvive XB1 Bass Squeezer Micro Pedal
The Xvive XB1 is one for those who like to keep things simple. The pedal compresses your dynamic range according to how far you adjust the large dial in the middle. It’s a budget and eco-friendly option too – great for those who are conscious of their carbon footprint.
Its size is a plus for those who are short on space. It’s tiny – this won’t take up much room in your pedal board.
If you’re a more advanced player or have a preference for being able to control every element of your sound, you’ll be disappointed by the lack of additional settings. And as with most micro stompboxes, there’s no option to power off a battery. This pedal doesn’t boast any other features either, but for the price and size, it’s superb.
- Very small, easy to use and budget friendly.
- Includes control for overdrive so that you can play with your sound.
- Kinder to the environment than larger pedals.
- There are just three controls, so this pedal would likely frustrate the more seasons user of compression.
- Doesn’t feature true bypass, so your chain’s signal may be affected by the inclusion of this pedal.
TC Electronic SpectraComp
Just like the Xvive, this pedal is tiny. However, it’s a little less easy to use. To get the most out of this pedal, you’ll need to combine it with the app or software that goes with it. If you’re well into tech and gadgets, this will suit you, but if you want a toy to function independently, then the Xvive is a more appropriate micro pedal.
One big plus is the size – it’s tiny. It will take up hardly any room. The very reasonable price makes it a realistic first option too, or ideal for a bassist on a budget but to get the most out of this pedal, you’ll need to use the App that goes along with it.
- Extremely small – with just one knob and a footswitch.
- The software used to control the compression has a lot of options.
- Includes true bypass, so it won’t mess with your signal when it’s not in use.
- The output volumes changes when you adjust the pedal.
- To use this pedal requires additional software and apps, making it not as user-friendly as it might first seem.
So, Which Should I Buy?
There are two options here that stand out. Firstly, the TLC is a powerful compressor that handles a wide range of frequencies very well and hands over control to you of virtually anything you could need. It’s only real downside is the lack of multi-band capability.
Because of that, I would also recommend the EBS multi comp, as it possesses this additional functionality while still retaining a fair level of customizable settings, even if it lacks the versatility of the TLC.
Either way, both still produce a very natural sound and are also able to work reasonably well as limiters without clipping your aggressive, active playing.
If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly – as well as an eco-friendly – option, then the micro pedals by Xvive and TC Electronic are both great ways to go.
Whichever pedal you choose is right to compress the sound from your bass and other pedals, we hope that it will enable you to deliver your sounds with the clarity they deserve!
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.