Learning how to use a compressor can really enhance the sound quality of your bass playing. The good news is that there is model for almost every different kind of needs. Whether you have a generous budget or you are just a beginner, there is something for you just around the corner. The problem is knowing which model is best for what. This is what the guide will be for: guiding you through the best bass compressor for the money.
Empress – Best bass compressor for studio recording
If you have a big budget and don’t mind spending it to get the best sound, then the Empress compressor is for you. It produces studio quality music without coloring the bass guitar.
Let’s talk about more about the sound quality because it is the number one reason why you will be paying more than $200 for it. It adds so much to your music, making it sound more full bodied and warm without taking away the crisp notes that you are playing. You have to listen to it to appreciate what a good bass compressor can do to improve the sound.
For those who have an aggressive finger style of playing your guitar, you will love the Empress because it cuts down on the pops and clicks that will result from your playing. This is in fact one of the ways to test how good a bass compressor really is i.e. ask your friends who have solid finger style to have a go. The bad compressor will reveal themselves instantly.
Another great feature is the sound leds. Using these as signals, you will be able to know what is going on inside the compressor and that is very useful during live performance.
The compressor is also very versatile as it can handle almost any signals you pump into it. While the instruction has a setting for bass players, you can play around with the different tones until you are happy with the sound quality. For example, I played a lot with the blend control to make sure the dynamics sound right. If you like versatility, you will love the Empress compressor.
The only downside is probably the high price tag but you can what you pay for.
MXR M87 bass compressor review
If budget is any issue then the next choice will be the MXR M87 bass compressor. Like the Empress compressor, the MXR M87 bass compressor pedal will also not affect the color of the sound. Similarly, it has led lights to keep you in the loop of what is happening inside the compressor pedal. For example, it can be set up such that when you are playing the E note correctly, it will light up.
Versatility is also another similar strength of the M87. It has enough control dials to give you options for fine tuning the amount of compression you need. Some used it to keep the peak volume consistently while others used it to reduce the pops and clicks hisses
For the actual sound quality, the Empress compressor just edges out over the M87. It is hard to pinpoint the difference but I would the music sounds richer and more full bodied when the guitar is plugged in the Empress. This is not to say the sound coming from the M87 is lousy but relatively, it is a step down from the Empress.
The advantage though is you pay about USD70 less if you buy this compared to the Empress.
Below is a more detailed comparison between the two:
MXR M87 vs Empress compressor
Both compressors are actually pretty close in terms of features so on the surface, it seems to make more sense to buy the MXR M87 since it is the cheaper option of the two. However, even though every feature is the same, the Empress compressor just do everything better and M87 is like trying to play catch up. On its own, you will feel that M87 is a good bass compressor. It is but when you do a head on head comparison, the sound you get from the Empress is just better. Between the two, I will always go for Empress if the additional USD70-90 is not a problem.
To nitpick, here are some minor differences
- Size: Empress compressor is about twice as big as the M87. If space is a factor in your gig, then the M87 will be a better choice
- Availability: The M87 is mass produced and can be slightly purchased. The Empress compressor will have a slightly waiting time if you happen to want to it when it is running out
Aguilar TLC compressor review
A compressor that is close to the price of M87 is the Aguilar TLC compressor. Let’s take a look at how the 2 models stacked up against one another:
MXR M87 vs Aguilar TLC
The biggest difference between this and the M87 is the coloring of the sound in the mid range area. If you have the chance to listen to both, look out for it. This is why I placed as the third choice.
However, the Aguilar TLC does add clarity to your sound by compressing certain unwanted elements. The MXR M87 does this as well but to a lessor extent. In this aspect, I would say the Aguilar nudges slightly ahead
Below are other similarities and differences.
- Control setup: In this aspect, the Aguilar TLC is good a compressor as they come. It has control set up just like a racked compressor so those who are familiar with the latter should be pretty comfortable using this.
- Led lights: The Aguilar TLC doesn’t have the led lights that the MXR M87 and the Empress have so that is a big discount
- Attack control: The Aguilar TLC has more options for attack control and can be set up for really fast attack times Here is a comparison of both models’ attack times that I got from talkbass forum (M87: 20uS – 800uS, TLC = 10mS – 100mS). From the timing, you can see the Aguilar has almost 10 times faster attack timing
- Peak control: While the M87 loses to the TLC in attack controls, it works much better to limit your peaks
At the end of the day, both compressor are good quality pedals that will improve your sound.
Summary of what to look for
After reading through the above, you might be confused on what to really look for. Here is a quick summary
- Transparent or colored: This refers to whether the compressor will add color to your music. If you prefer to be total transparent, go for Empress or MXR M87
- Led lights: Some hate it for the distraction while others love it for the visual cue.
- Level of controls: All the three models featured here have high degrees of control so versatility is there
- Size: Affects your set up in any live performance event
At the end of the day, you can’t go wrong with any of the 3 models mentioned here. The difference I have highlighted is like splitting hairs but that is what a good review should do right?