Best Bass Compressor Pedals for Reducing Dynamic Inconsistencies

If you play bass guitar, you’ll know some techniques create louder sounds than others. For example, if you like to slap and pop, these will be louder than when you use two fingers to walk around bass lines. Similarly, if you choose to use a pick in some songs and not in others, the volume of your playing will alter as a result.

Another thing which can affect volume is the use of effects pedals. Wah, for example, can fluctuate quite dramatically in volumes.

bass guitar being played

So what’s the problem? Well, these fluctuating volumes cause problems in live performances, as the sound guy (or girl) will have 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 to this is compression. 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.

At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 8 Best Bass Compressor Pedal On The Market

PREVIEW PRODUCT FEATURES

MXR M87 Bass Compressor

MXR M87 Bass Compressor
  • True bypass
  • Clever LED meter
  • Potential for use as a limiter if needed
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Digitech XBS Bass Multi-Band Compressor Pedal

DigiTech Bass Squeeze
  • Simple to use
  • Large foot pedal
  • Good value
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Aguilar TLC Bass Compression Effect Pedal

Aguilar TLC Compressor
  • Four versatile controls; level, threshold, attack and slope
  • True bypass
  • Ideal for ‘on the go’ usage
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EBS EBS-MC Multi Comp True Dual Band Bass Compressor Pedal

EBS Multicomp
  • Features dual band compression
  • Switch between three modes (multi-band, normal and tube)
  • Nice variety of tones
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Electro-Harmonix  Bass Preacher Bass Compressor/Sustainer Pedal

Electro-Harmonix Bass Preacher
  • Three setting switch for attack
  • Small and sturdy
  • True bypass
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Xvive Bass Pedal Distortion,Compressor,distortion,Overdrive Effect Pedal True Bypass B1

Xvive XB1 Bass Squeezer​
  • Extremely easy to use
  • Idiot proof one dial does everything
  • Eco friendly option
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TC Electronic Bass Compression Effect Pedal (SPECTRACOMPBASSCOMPR)

​TC Electronic SpectraComp
  • Needs to combine with app or software
  • Very small
  • Ideal for a bassist on a budget
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Note: The links above take you to more information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon. If you do purchase something we get a small commission, which has absolutely no effect on the eventual price that you pay.​

In this article, we’ll deep dive into bass compression effect pedals and describe for you what they are, how they work, and how to choose the right one for you.

Here’s what we’ll cover. Jump to a part that grabs your interest, or read from the top (recommended).

What Is A Bass Compressor Pedal?

We talk a lot about compression in our article about compression for guitars, so head over there for a deeper understanding of the effect compression has on your signal.

As mentioned, bass compressor pedals are effects processing units that reduce the dynamic range of the input signal coming from your signal chain (i.e. your guitar and any other pedals you’re using). Any bassist will have natural dynamic inconsistencies – by using a bass compression pedal those inconsistencies in the bassist’s playing are significantly reduced.

These small stomp boxes are inserted into your line between your pedals and your amp. Along with EQ, a compressor is often thought of as an essential bass pedal. They give you controllability over your sound.

Why Use A Compressor For Bass Guitar?

Live Performance

The more gigging you do, the more likely you’ll find yourself playing in venues with poor in-house equipment. A compressor that gives you a lot of control over your volume limits will be a huge asset to you by giving you some form of control without having to spend a fortune (and without needing to lug around your own PA system everywhere).

Although these pedals can be used in a recording studios, it’s more common to see used in gigging and live performance. 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 bass compressor will help to keep your regular finger-style playing volume in line with those sections. Compression pedals are often used to balance out slap bass style playing. They can also be extremely useful for eliminating the dynamic contrast between playing with a pick and walking with your fingers.

Compress Your Whole Signal Chain

​If you have other pedals (such as a bass octave pedal), adding a bass compressor at the end of your pedal chain will help to compress the overall signal after all other effects have been introduced.

 

guy look sad playing bass guitar

Is a Bass Compressor The Same As a Guitar Compressor?

You might be wondering why bass compressors are sold as separate products to guitar compressors. Don’t compressors just compress?

Both types of compressor share similar features, but there’s two key differences. A bass compressor deals with lower frequencies, therefore the range is lower than you’d find on a guitar compressor. Also, bass compressors have more controllability on the attack than guitar compressors.

Analogue or Digital Bass Compressor Pedals. What’s the Difference?

Analogue Bass Compressor Pedals

Many people assume that analogue pedals are always better than digital pedals. However, the preference is largely personal. Analogue compressors can offer a more natural sound, as they deal with the signal rather than an emulation of the signal. These kind of compressor pedals are far more common than digital compressors, despite the growing availability of digital pedals.

Digital Bass Compressor Pedals

Digital bass compressors can often be more budget-friendly than analogue compressors, and they have the added benefit of reducing static noise that analogue pedals can cause. Digital pedals are also often easier to use, due to their built in settings and automatic controls.

Buyer’s Guide – What To Look For When Buying A Bass Compressor Pedal

Decent pedals allow you to tweak more than just the attack and sustain, but 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 (although the rest of your equipment also contributes, for example a well made and maintained guitar will allow you to be much more precise in terms of what signals you are generating before they get to the compressor).

There are some key features to look out for when buying a bass compressor pedal….

Must have’s:

Threshold, Ratio, Release and Attack Controls

These four controls are a must if you want true 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 important. These can be the difference between sounding natural and sounding, well, compressed.

Compressor pedals are probably the only pedals which you don’t always want to sound like they’re working.

Nice to have’s:

Multi band compression

Some pedals have the capability to support multi-band compression, or at least parallel compression, giving you much more freedom allowing you to simulate the effects of a professional studio recording session in the middle of the street when you’re out busking with your band mates for the day.​

True Bypass

True bypass is a feature that’s popular on many pedals because it enables a clean signal to be routed to the amplifier when the pedal is turned off. True bypass is simply the lack of a buffer amp: meaning that the signal passes through from input to output without going through any circuitry in between.

Stuff you don’t need:

9V Battery Option

It can be handy to have a 9V battery option on some pedals, sure. But on a compressor, 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. Powering these pedals off of 9V batteries would be a waste of money and would be unnecessarily un-green.

How Do You Use A Bass Compressor Pedal?

So, now you know how bass compressor pedals work, and have some idea of what to look out for when buying one, how do you actually go about including it in your setup?

Where in the Signal Chain?

Compressor pedals should go at the end of your pedal chain, after all of the other effects. This will reduce the differences in volume between any other pedals that you use, and make your playing clearer and more smooth. Your (now second to) last pedal can go into the input, and the output can go to the amp / speaker.

Of course, you will then need to set your settings. There’s no ‘set’ way of doing this, and you might have no idea how many decibels your highest sound is. If this is the case, trial and error is a perfectly acceptable route of learning.

Ok let’s dive into our mini reviews.

Best Bass Compressor Pedals – Product Roundup and Mini-Reviews

1. MXR M87

MXR M87 Bass Compressor

This compressor 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. Whilst 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 this compressor.

It’s a popular and professional product, and its stomp box size means that it will fit neatly into your pedalboard.

An LED meter lets you see exactly how much compression is in effect whilst you play. It also lets the natural sound of your playing 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.

Pros:

  • 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 sturdy casing that can survive many stomps.

Cons:

  • It’s priced quite highly compared to other compression pedals.
  • Can take some time to get used to.

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2. DigiTech Bass Squeeze

Digitech XBS Bass Multi-Band Compressor Pedal

This compressor works very differently from the MXR. Instead of manually controlling your attack and decay, the Bass Squeeze allows you to set your Hi and Lo band frequency, with the rest being taken care of by the software. Whilst 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 this pedal to last, and the option to plug into an adapter or power off a 9V makes it pedalboard-friendly.

It’s fairly cheap for a compressor 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 this compressor easy to turn on and off.

Pros:

  • Hi and Lo 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.

Cons:

  • Attack and decay are controlled automatically, so you have less control than you might like.
  • It weighs more than you might expect.

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3. Aguilar TLC Bass Compression Effect Pedal

Aguilar TLC Bass Compression Effect Pedal

An analog bass compressor that 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 whilst allowing you a high level of control over your level of compression. It’s also small and sturdy!

This pedal rivals a professional rack compressor, allowing you to have extremely subtle compression or go for 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 of this if there are ever any issues during a gig. Wide spacing between the knobs means you are unlikely to accidentally adjust them when activating the pedal.

It’s not a cheap pedal, but the cost is reflected by its capabilities, but even so you might want to leave this purchase to a later date when you’ve made enough money from your gigs to pay for it first, as even the best compressor won’t pay for itself.

Pros:

  • Compresses your bass without altering the tone.
  • There are four knobs enabling versatility and controllability.
  • It’s small, sturdy and reliable.

Cons:

  • Unlike with the MXR M87, there’s no LED to visually track your compression with.
  • It comes with a high price tag.

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Here’s Leslie Johnson test riding one:

4. EBS Multicomp

EBS EBS-MC Multi Comp True Dual Band Bass Compressor Pedal

One of the most popular compressors, the EBS has a well deserved reputation. It features dual band compression, which cannot be overlooked in terms of how useful this can be for players who go up and down the fretboard. The controls are a little different from other similar pedals, allowing you to switch between three modes (multi-band, normal and tube) which gives you options for different styles of playing.

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 extremely useful.

For a dual-band compressor the EBS is one of the more affordable options without losing quality.

True bypass when not in use means that it won’t distort your signal without having to remove the pedal from your chain completely. Even high levels of compression will not result in large ‘noise’ production.

Any downsides? Well, a maximum compression of 5:1 in dual band mode 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 mean that you won’t be able to play with the effects as much as you would with other pedals. The EBS is good at what it does, but not much else.

Pros:

  • Like the Digitech Bass Squeeze, there are dual bands of compression. This is great for those players who use a large 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 transparent tone that doesn’t sound compressed.

Cons:

  • 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 to your requirements.

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5. Electro-Harmonix Bass Preacher Bass Compressor/Sustainer Pedal

Electro-Harmonix  Bass Preacher Bass Compressor/Sustainer Pedal

A two knob compressor, with a three setting switch for attack gives a fair degree of flexibility, whilst 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 just starting out in the weird world of compressors, take the opportunity to try this one out if you get the chance so you can have an understanding of how they work.

This pedal is easy to use, and a great way to get your feet wet without being overwhelmed by the amount of fine tuning options available. The very reasonable price makes it a realistic first option for a new bassist too.

True bypass allows you to not worry about interference when it’s not in use as well. It’s small, sturdy and – most importantly – effective.

Any downsides?

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.

Also the Bass Preacher 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 multi band compression could cause problems if you a more of an active than a passive bassist.

Pros:

  • 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.
  • Much more budget friendly than some other compressor pedals.

Cons:

  • You have limited control over your sound options due to the lack of knobs.
  • There’s no multi-band compression.

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6. Xvive XB1 Bass Squeezer Compressor Micro Pedal

Xvive Bass Pedal Distortion,Compressor,distortion,Overdrive Effect Pedal True Bypass B1

The Xvive micro pedal is one for those who like to keep things simple. The pedal simply compresses your dynamic range according to how far you adjust the large dial in the middle.

It’s a budget friendly and eco friendly option too – for those who are conscious of their carbon footprint.

It’s size is a plus for those who are short on space. It’s very small – 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 pedals, there’s no option to power off a battery. This pedal doesn’t boast any additional features either, but for the price and size.

Pros:

  • Very small, easy to use and budget friendly.
  • Includes a control for overdrive, so you can really play with your sound.
  • Kinder to the environment than larger pedals.

Cons:

  • There are just 3 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.

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7. TC Electronic SpectraComp Bass Compressor

TC Electronic Bass Compression Effect Pedal (SPECTRACOMPBASSCOMPR)

Just like the Xvive, this pedal is tiny and inoffensive.

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 very small. It will take up hardly any room and also leave a smaller eco footprint.

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.

There is no option to power this pedal off a battery either.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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.

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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 whilst still retaining a fair level of customisable settings, even if it lacks the versatility of the TLC.

Either way, both pedals 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 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.

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