Best Compressor Pedals 2019 – Reviews and Top Picks

“Compressor pedal? Really?” I get it, it’s not the most popular option among the amateur musicians. If you are up for a gig or a studio recording, you need to make sure every guitar tone sounds flawless and you can’t do it without a compressor. It is a real magic wand which evens out every guitar tone, adds richness to the sound and this oomph some guitars might lack. There are a bunch of different options on the market, some hi-tech, others vintage, some that work perfectly with rock and metal axes, and also some that are sustained beasts. Give them a try; you’ll be surprised how much these little monsters can enhance the sound and improve your performance.

  • Xotic SP Compressor Pedal
  • Rating:
  • Controls: Volume, Blend, Hi / Mid / Lo compressor level switch
  • Bypass: True Bypass
  • Power requirement: 9V Power Supply, 9v Battery
  • Sockets: Input, Output, Power
  • TC Electronic HyperGravity Compressor
  • Rating:
  • Controls: Sustain, Level, Attack, Blend; Spectra / TonePrint / Vintage switch
  • Bypass: Switchable True or Buffered Bypass
  • Power requirement: 9V Power Supply, 9v Battery
  • Sockets: Input, Output, Power
Name
Controls:
Bypass:
Power requirement:
Sockets:
Price
Name
Controls:
Bypass:
Power requirement:
Sockets:
Price
№1
Sustain, Tone, Attack, Volume, Blend
True Bypass
9V Power Supply, 9v Battery
Input, Output, Power
№2
Volume, Blend, Hi / Mid / Lo compressor level switchShow More
True Bypass
9V Power Supply, 9v Battery
Input, Output, Power
№3
Sustain, Level, Attack, Blend; Spectra / TonePrint / Vintage switchShow More
Switchable True or Buffered Bypass
9V Power Supply, 9v Battery
Input, Output, Power
№4
Input, Attack, Release, Mix, Output; Ratio switchShow More
True Bypass
9-18V Power Supply
Input, Output, Sidechain, Power
№5
Level, attack, ratio, comp
Buffered
9V Power Supply, 9v Battery
Input, Output, Power
№6
Volume, Sustain, Attack; Status LED
True Bypass
9V Power Supply, 9v Battery
Input, Output, Power
№7
Level, Tone, Attack, Sustain
Buffered
11mA at 9V DC
Input, Output, Power
№8
Output, Sensitivity
Buffered
Dunlop ECB003 AC Adapter or Single 9 volt batteryShow More
Input, Output, Power
№9
Sustain, Level, Attack
True Bypass
DC 9V battery
Input, Output, Power
№10
Level, Tone, Attack, Sustain
Buffered
9V Power Supply, 9v Battery
Input, Output, Power

Let’s kick it off with a high-end Wampler Ego Compressor pedal. It’s definitely on the pricey side, but it deserves it with all of the technical and sound control capabilities that it has. It includes 5 control knobs: sustain, tone, attack, volume and blend. What’s unique about this comp is its tone knob. Don’t be confused, it doesn’t change the guitar tones, it ensures that the compressed tone remains bright.

Controls:
Sustain, Tone, Attack, Volume, Blend
Bypass:
True Bypass
Power requirement:
9V Power Supply, 9v Battery
Sockets:
Input, Output, Power
PROS

Versatility

Bypass & blend features

Immediate sound response

Cons

Complex

Price

Don’t be misguided by the looks of the Xotic SP. It might look small, but it’s a real beast. It might not be as flexible and feature heavy as other compressors, but with the three-way control switch, internal DIP switches, boost/compression and blending options this is a wicked option that will suit any axe.

Controls:
Volume, Blend, Hi / Mid / Lo compressor level switch
Bypass:
True Bypass
Power requirement:
9V Power Supply, 9v Battery
Sockets:
Input, Output, Power
PROS

Mini-pedal format

Solid flexibility and sound

Boost and compression options

Cons

Lacks features

In a few words – this tiny high-tech beauty is one of the best compressor pedals for guitars there is. TC Electronic has taken compressors to a whole new level with making the HyperGravity a digital compressor. It contains three different compressors in this tiny little body. The best thing yet is a TonePrint option, which allows loading the pedal with as many algorithmic compressions as you want.

Controls:
Sustain, Level, Attack, Blend; Spectra / TonePrint / Vintage switch
Bypass:
Switchable True or Buffered Bypass
Power requirement:
9V Power Supply, 9v Battery
Sockets:
Input, Output, Power
PROS

TonePrint function

Digital compressor

Versatility

Surreal compression abilities

Cons

Pretty complicated to use

This is an extremely powerful, advanced machine, overall a fantastic addition to a sound chain of any self-respecting professional musician. Empress studio-style compressor includes three predefined switchable ratios (2:1, 4:1, 10:1), as well as a truly versatile control system. It also offers LED-based metering.

Controls:
Input, Attack, Release, Mix, Output; Ratio switch
Bypass:
True Bypass
Power requirement:
9-18V Power Supply
Sockets:
Input, Output, Sidechain, Power
PROS

Studio-style

Three switchable rations

LED metering

Single Analogue path

Cons

Real tricky to use

Price

Boss does know what it’s doing when it comes to comps. The CP-1X is, probably, the best in their line due to the Digital-Multidimensional processing, which means that it can analyse guitar’s signal and apply pedal’s effect that is best suited for this particular instrument. In addition to the hi-tech core, it also has a classic Boss 4-knob control layout and 18-volt internal electronics.

Controls:
Level, attack, ratio, comp
Bypass:
Buffered
Power requirement:
9V Power Supply, 9v Battery
Sockets:
Input, Output, Power
PROS

Boss Multi-dimensional Processing

Gain reduction indicator

Smooth sound

Cons

Short battery life

This compressor pedal includes three controls volume, sustain & attack, with the last one offering three different attack options (Fast, Med, Slow). It may seem like not much, but it’s surprisingly powerful due to powerful.

Controls:
Volume, Sustain, Attack; Status LED
Bypass:
True Bypass
Power requirement:
9V Power Supply, 9v Battery
Sockets:
Input, Output, Power
PROS

Three attack options

Lifelong sustain & smooth sound

Easy-to-use

Cons

Produce noise at larger volume settings

A reliable classic Boss CS-3 is a high-class pedal equipped with Level, Attack, Sustain & recently added Tone controls. It won’t break the bank, but it will give you a high-end quality instrument.

Controls:
Level, Tone, Attack, Sustain
Bypass:
Buffered
Power requirement:
11mA at 9V DC
Sockets:
Input, Output, Power
PROS

Impeccable sound

Smooth sustain

Ability to compress the loudest sound

Price

Cons

Unwanted noise when set up incorrectly

A legend in the guitar world MXR M102 Dyna Comp has been considered as one of the best compressor pedals for guitars for a long time. DynaComp is one of three main lines of pedal compression, which defined the “Nashville guitar sound” for years and is still one of the most popular choices for guitarists, that prefer vintage single coil guitars. It includes only two knobs: output and sensitivity. Simple, straightforward and classy.

Controls:
Output, Sensitivity
Bypass:
Buffered
Power requirement:
Dunlop ECB003 AC Adapter or Single 9 volt battery
Sockets:
Input, Output, Power
PROS

Classic Dyna Comp Squash

Vintage sound

Simplicity

Cons

Less versatility

JOYO JF-10 is simple, straightforward and reliable comp ideal for beginners or guitarists on a budget. For only $30-40 you get a solid compressor with straightforward controls (Sustain, Level, Atack). LED-meter and True Bypass.

Controls:
Sustain, Level, Attack
Bypass:
True Bypass
Power requirement:
DC 9V battery
Sockets:
Input, Output, Power
PROS

Suitable for high-output Active pickups

Great for beginners

Price

Cons

Less versatility

Smooth compression and infinite sustain for less than $30 – pretty solid deal I’d say. It’s the most versatile budget-friendly option on the list with 4 control knobs – Level, Tone, Attack & Sustain; LED status indicator and suitable for most guitar styles. It also has a plastic casing, but it’s still very durable. Don’t be misguided by the low price, this is probably the best price to quality option there is.

Controls:
Level, Tone, Attack, Sustain
Bypass:
Buffered
Power requirement:
9V Power Supply, 9v Battery
Sockets:
Input, Output, Power
PROS

Versatile

Clear sound

Abundant sustain and smooth compression

Affordable

Cons

Noisy

Plastic casing

Buyer’s Guide – What is a compressor pedal?

If you are new to the guitar world you might be confused with what the pedals even are, why there are so many of them and what are they even for?

Well, you aren’t wrong, there are a lot of different types of pedals and it is, indeed, confusing. Boosting pedals, Chorus pedals, Tremolo, Analog/Digital Delay, Reverb, Compressor and many others. A lot, I know, but not as difficult as it seems. If you want to read on what they all are – check here. I’m here to tell you about compressor pedals though – probably the most essential of them all (even though guitarists tend to overlook how important they are).

“Why” you might ask? Well, are you familiar with the fact that some strings on the electric guitar sound louder or quieter than others? Its simple physics, thinner strings don’t put out as much volume as others. What compressor does, it “compresses” the guitar signal normalising the dynamic range of the audio input signal. In simple words, it makes every note pretty much equal in volume. It also normalises, sharpens and clears out the tones. Plus, it can improve the tones making them thicker or more “punchy”. And! It can also improve the sound sustain. Crucial for those guitars that don’t have enough of it. Comp also boost the guitar sound, squeezing out as much volume as possible.

Do you need one?

I would say – absolutely, even if you are just starting. Honestly, I think it’s the most underrated guitar gadget there is.

Yes, comps are mostly used in the studios to control the sound dynamics while recording tracks. But the thing is, comps are like a first aid kit for the guitars. We all know that every guitar, even the best one might have some sound flaws and compressor helps you to balance the sound and enhance the guitar tone. It’s great for powerful sonic attacks and metal shredding, because it evens out the sonic abuse. It’s also very helpful for fingerstyle and picking, as it makes every string sound evenly.

Compressor pedals: How to Use 101

The compressor pedal might seem to be an Aladdin’s lamp for a guitar, but it’s rather tricky to use properly. The first question is what the comp is connected to. Basically, it is the connection point between the guitar and the amp. In a long guitar signal chain compressor goes right after guitar, then all other pedals you might be using, and then the amplifier.

Nest, you need to know the core elements of the comps which are: first up you need to know what core elements of the compressor are:

  • Input level – a key element which defines the range of signal that the compressor reacts to. Setting up the input is the most important thing you need to do when getting the comp. Correct input level means that the comp will actually work. The wrong setup will result in unwanted noise and buzz;
  • Threshold – it’s the starting point (sound level) where the compressor starts working;
  • Ratio – ration refers to the amount of compression applied to signal. There are several compression rations (4:1, 6:1, 10:1 etc). For example, 10:1 ratio means, that it takes 10dB (decibels) above the threshold for the signal to be turned down so they would only be 1dB above.

Next, do learn what control knobs do and what they are for (read that more on that in the next section below). Here it gets a bit tricky, because some control knobs have different names, but have the exact same meaning. Once you understand what they mean it’s mixing time.

Control options

  • Volume/Level – controls the output level of the compressed signal;
  • Attack – controls how quickly the compressor response the signal (how fast it starts working)
  • Release/Sustain – opposite to the attack, it controls how much time it takes for the signal to return to normal sound. Or, in guitar terms, it determines the length of the sustain
  • Sensitivity – you may find this one on some compressors (like MXR M102 Dyna Comp), and it basically means the combination of ratio, threshold, attack & release;
  • Ratio – see above;
  • Tone – is a very recent addition to the comps (you can find it on Wampler Ego Compressor) and it means a high-end EQ boost, that adds brightness to the compressed tone.
  • Blend (Mix) – allows blending the compressed and dry signals.

Types of Compression Pedals

There are few classic compressor types (see the list below). You might want to take a look at that if you know what genre you are playing and it will help you to choose the compressor by identifying its key features:

  • Optical – this one uses light-sensitive resistor (LED) to adjust the gain according to the guitar signal. It produces the most natural guitar sound by softening the attack;
  • VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier) – probably the most common comp type. Gain is controlled through the conversion of guitar signal to DC voltage. VCA are the most versatile and really fast compressors, as they offer a wide range of attack/release options, with rapid response to the changes in tones, while maintaining surreal control (good for metal, rock genres which use fast sonic attacks);
  • FET (Field Effect Transistor) – iconic comp inspired by the studio classic. It gives richer, deeper gain reduction and has a tendency to add some wicked distortion to the sound (good for reggae and blues);
  • Valve (Tube) – the earliest compressor design the Valve comps produce very smooth compression and fat, warm, “vintage” sound loved by country players (and Beatles fans).

True Bypass vs. Buffered Output

There are a lot of misconceptions regarding the True Bypass. Some believe that compressor must have it, but in reality, there aren’t that many true bypassers on the market. The reason being is that causes more issues than it may seem. But what is a True Bypass after all?

In a few words, a True Bypass pedal ensures that when in bypass mode (off mode), the guitar signal is routed directly to the amp without any interference from the compressor. It literally bypasses the effects’ circuit maintaining the original tone of the axe. Sounds great, but in reality, it poses a few annoying issues. Like they can add some switching noise.

That’s why buffered outputs are more common. Technically, it works as a preamp due to the additional buffer circuitry, which supports both signal quality and level, with the additional benefit of low output impedance. They do have kind of a bad reputation though, due to some badly produced options on the market, which, indeed, compromise the tone of the guitar except for doing what they are supposed to. A well set-up and flawless buffered comp (like Boss CP-1X) is a great option.

Conclusion

Comps can do really great things to your axe and be a major help at any gig, evening the tone and making your guitar sing just like it would in the studio. If you are still doubtful, you can go for a cheap but wicked Behringer CS400. For just $30, it will forever change your mind. In case you are looking for something fancy, powerful and modern, the Wampler Ego or TC Electronic HyperGravity is my personal favourite.

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By Max Hudson
    about author

    My name is Max Hudson, born and raised in Chicago. I'm 30 years old and like many other people, I discovered guitar in my teens and have never looked back since. It has quickly evolved into a passion and has given me a creative outlet, something to redirect my time and unlimited energy toward. I want this website to be a handbook for players of all skill levels. It can become a starting point for your new hobby, where you can find the right instrument, get tips for playing effortlessly or anything else music related.

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