Best Compressor Pedals Of 2018 – Buyer’s Guide And Reviews

After dozens of hours testing by our team of experts we've opted for the Xotic Effects SP Compressor as our favourite compressor pedal. If quality is the most important thing for you, and you don’t want to have to spend all day tweaking this dial and that dial, this pedal is a fantastic choice due to its simplicity and overall ingenuity. 

The Xotic Effects SP compressor pedal uses operational transconductance amplification, which is a fancy way of saying it’s a method of compression that sounds really good. The controls are fairly standard, giving you up to +15db boost, attack and blend controls.

The pedal also has a very interesting look. Despite the simplicity at first glance, this pedal is definitely worth the price due to the sheer quality of compression in such a small package. 

Our Pick

Xotic SP Compressor Pedal

Packs a lot of punch for its size

Xotic Effects SP Compressor Pedal

Despite the simplicity at first glance, this pedal is awesome due to the sheer quality of compression in such a small package.

If you absolutely must have sidechain capabilities, you can’t go wrong with the Empress Effects Compressor. This also has some of the most versatile compression options of the whole bunch, making it a very attractive option for those with the budget.

Budget Pick

BEHRINGER COMPRESSOR/SUSTAINER CS400

The best value for money

Behringer CS400 Compressor / Sustainer Pedal

An excellent budget friendly compressor pedal. Punches far above its weight class.

On the other hand, if all you need is something cheap and cheerful to help you clean up your sound a little and don’t want to break the bank, the Behringer CS400 is your best bet.

The MXR M76 is also fairly simple, although offers more a more hands-on experience with exceedingly good sound quality.

If you simply cannot stand the way that modern compressors sound, and want to get the true sound of a tube compressor, the Black Finger is king. Unlike most tube compressors, it can use up to 300 volts and the two optical compression methods give very different attacks. 

Why the compressor pedal is an essential bit of kit

The humble compressor guitar pedal is perhaps the most overlooked and underrated guitar effects pedal. Veteran musicians will appreciate their versatile and un-intrusive impact, but since compression pedals aren’t as obvious as say, overdrive pedals, they tend to be forgotten about by those building their pedal collection in the beginning.

In many cases, a compression pedal should actually be the first pedal you ever buy. The only exception to this is if you’re playing a particular genre of music that genuinely cannot be performed without the right type of effect front and centre.

For example, you can play blues music clean or dirty, but have you ever heard a metal track that didn’t feature any distortion at all?What should you look for in a compressor pedal?

What makes a good compressor pedal?

Beware of the mysterious overtone. Whenever you have more than one note playing at the same time, you’ll also be hearing a mysterious overtone. I won’t terrify you with the complexity of what these are, but it’s worth knowing that the interplay can cause some notes to be lost in the mix.

Make sure each instrument has a clear place. A common technique in EDM music production is to use sidechain compression, so that all of the music seems to pulse with the drum beat by rapidly adjusting the volume between beats. 

Smoothing out errors in playing ability. A compression pedal won’t automatically make you play the right notes, but they can fix inconsistencies in how forcefully you pluck each string in an arpeggio or chord. They can also help you to avoid losing notes in a wall of sound when playing rapidly such as with sweep picking.

Using the highest notes on your guitar. This can often lose a lot of volume compared to playing the same lick in the middle. A compressor pedal is able to boost those higher notes so that you can use them just as freely.

There are plenty of situations in which a compression pedal is useful beyond these four of course, but as you learn more about them you’ll get a better idea of how you can implement them yourself. If you want to find out more, watch this extremely informative video that’s beginner friendly: 


At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 5 Best Compressor Pedals On The Market

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.

Ok let's look at each product in more detail...

1. Empress Effects Compressor

Empress Effects Compressor Analog Compression Guitar Effects Pedal

Compressor pedals aren’t usually super exciting, but this particular example is one that stands out as one of the best compressor pedals. It offers a lot of features you wouldn’t expect to find outside of a studio or software compression.

Alongside all of the standard controls and being able to quickly switch between three of the most commonly used compression ratios, you also get parallel compression options, separate input and output monitoring and adjustment and blending controls. The sound quality of the Empress Effects Compressor is excellent, having minimal tone colouration and true bypass. 

What we like:

  • Wide range of unique controls
  • Can sidechain
  • Tone transparency

What we weren't so keen on:

  • One of the most expensive compressor pedals
  • Very wide construction
  • No battery power options

Let's take a look at this product...

2. Xotic Effects SP Compressor Pedal (Editor's Choice)

Xotic SP Compressor Pedal

  • ​Excellent tone and true bypass
  • Can be battery powered
  • High range of compression options, from subtle to full dynamic compression

  • ​No sidechain input
  • One of the more expensive compressor pedals
  • Can amplify background hum or noise audibly

Let's take a look at this product...

3. MXR M76 Studio Compressor

MXR EQ Effects Pedal (M76)

As with most elements of audio engineering and music production, the level of sophistication and quality that can be achieved in a studio is on a very different level to what you’ll typically be able to reproduce live without having a very expensive and carefully controlled environment.

The MXR M76 compressor pedal is a valiant attempt at making sure you can tap into this wherever you are. If you’re going to be playing in small venues without huge budgets to spend on their sound systems, this pedal is one that you’ll be glad you have.

In terms of what it offers, you have all the standard controls along with separated input and output levels. You also get excellent visual monitoring and a large range of compression ratios. 

  • ​Each note is clear thanks to the Constant Headroom Technology
  • Individual input and output levels gives you fine tune control
  • Very clear visual monitoring with a ten-part LED setup

  • ​No sidechain options
  • Expensive, but fair for the quality
  • No 2:1 ratio option

Let's take a look at this product...

4. Behringer CS400 Compressor/ Sustainer (Budget Choice)

BEHRINGER COMPRESSOR/SUSTAINER CS400

The CS400 from Behringer is an excellent budget friendly compressor pedal, providing excellent value for money. One thing that stand out is that, although this pedal may not be the absolute best of the best, it punches far above its weight class.

Pedals which cost 8 times as much will perform at a similar level at moderate settings, although you will begin to notice the difference as you turn everything closer to the max. 

  • ​Tone control lets you highlight different frequencies.
  • Large stompbox style on/off switch makes it easier to use
  • Battery power option

  • ​No sidechaining
  • Not as effective for bass guitars
  • Can cause undesirable noise

Let's take a look at this product...

5. Electro-Harmonix Black Finger Tube Compressor

Electro-Harmonix Black Finger Tube Compression Pedal

Possibly the most interesting compressor pedal you’ll ever see, and we don’t make that statement likely. It’s one of the few genuine tube compressors, giving a very distinctive character to the compression without spoiling the tone you’ve been painstakingly perfecting. There are a lot of different sounds you can get from this thing, although the actual controls are fairly limited.

  • ​Effective with bass or guitar
  • No unwanted noise
  • Simple to use, but very flexible

  • ​Repairs can be expensive if one of the tubes breaks
  • Needs a specific type of power cable only supplied by Electro-Harmonix

Let's take a look at this product...

Image Credits:

Featured image source: Art Bromage / CC BY-SA 2.0

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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