If you need to go over compression basics, check this article first.
This article is a subjective comparison of two prominent bass compressor pedals. The content below is mostly subjective; so I won’t bother typing “this is just my opinion”, “YMMV”, etc. after every other sentence. Consider them applied.
Both compressors offer similar functionality; such as:
- Compression (DOH!)
- Dry signal blend
- Input threshold adjustment
- Compression rate setting
- Attack / release times
- HPF (High Pass Filter) on the side chain
Therefore; both could satisfy the average player looking for a quality compressor. Now; let’s evaluate their differences.
Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Bass
Cali76 CB is one of the most cherished compressor pedals on the market, which stood the test of time in terms of popularity. It is a fully analog pedal.
Sounds really, really good. Makes any bass sound fuller, clearer and more articulate simultaneously. This is like the P-Bass of compressors: Does one thing, but does it well. Even the G string sounds nice and full through it.
The input threshold of this pedal is compliant with low signals (passive basses), and the noise floor is relatively low.
HPF is an extremely useful feature to let the lower strings breathe, and Cali76 CB lets you set it easily via a knob. Just turn it until the low strings sound good.
If you have other slender pedals (like Aguilar), Cali76 will happily stack side-by-side with them; saving some space on your board and making up for its footprint.
FET mode colors your signal and has a certain flavor to it; which fattens the sound but might flatten the high mids (Marcus nuances). If you prefer transparency or want alternative modes (such as VCA), Cali76 CB might not be the best choice.
The jewel lamp on the pedal is a visual indicator on how much compression is being applied. Although this is more than enough for most players; if you prefer a more obvious VU meter type of indication, Cali76 CB simply doesn’t have it.
Better use it on 18V, it doesn’t sound as good on 9V. Might be hard to get with some power supplies.
Cali76 has a big footprint and is not the lightest pedal ever, it will occupy some space and add some weight on your pedalboard.
Darkglass Hyper Luminal
This is a relatively new pedal, but quickly became very popular. It has a fully analog signal path controlled by a digital side-chain; so it allegedly provides best of both worlds.
Versatility is the selling point of HL. You get three distinct compressor flavors: BUS (transparent VCA), SYM (dark Super Symmetry) and FET (harmonically rich 1176). You can even connect it to your computer and modify detailed compression parameters via the DarkGlass Suite app.
Default compression rates are:
- BUS: 1.5 – 2 – 4 – 10
- SYM: 25% 50% 75% 100% (the Super Symmetry is an extremely unusual circuit)
- FET: 4 – 8 – 12 – 20
Leds on the pedal serve as a visual indication on how much compression is being applied. This might be helpful for beginners, or if you need to set it up silently just before a gig or something.
This pedal requires 9V of power; which is pretty standard and easy to fulfill. Voltage is increased to 18V internally, so you still get a high headroom. The mA requirement is relatively high, but can be handled by decent power supplies.
This is a relatively small and very lightweight pedal. Weight-wise, I can’t tell if it is on my pedalboard or not.
FET mode doesn’t sound as good and full as the Cali76 CB.
This pedal has a relatively high noise floor.
I think that this pedal was designed with active basses and hard-hitting pick players in mind; because input sensitivity is relatively low. With a passive bass, you need to crank the compression pretty high to make it react – which raises the signal noise.
Although DarkGlass HL has a HPF option, it can only be set through the DarkGlass Suite app. There is no knob for that on the pedal. If you want to change the HPF value right before a gig, you’ll be sorry.
I recommend the Cali76 CB if you…
- … want to use it with any bass
- … like harmonically rich & colored FET compression
- … simply want to sound better with minimum effort
- … don’t like signal noise
- … don’t mind the size, weight and power requirement
I recommend the DarkGlass HL if you…
- … don’t use (any) passive basses, or have a hot signal somehow
- … prefer BUS (VCA) or SYM (Super Symmetry) compression over FET
- … want alternative compression modes
- … want to play with parameters from your computer
- … don’t mind signal noise
My choice is DarkGlass HL at this time due to its versatility. BUS mode is great on my ’70s Jazz Bass, FET mode is great on my ’60s Precision Bass, and SYM mode is great to fake a P sound on my Jazz.
But if I needed FET only, I’d prefer the Cali76.