Ottawa, Ontario-based Empress Effects
doesn’t rest on its laurels. Founder and
electronics wiz Steve Bragg heads up a five-person
outfit that struck gold with their
Superdelay, Phaser, and Multidrive pedals—
stompboxes that have developed a loyal
cult following. Their newest creation, the all-analog
Compressor, is built to deliver studiograde
performance and studio-style features
in a stompbox. The design places an emphasis
on tone control and transparency that you
don’t see in a typical stompbox compressor.
My Kingdom for a Ratio Control
Most of the definitive stompbox compressors
feature a much simpler control set than
the Empress, so many guitarists may have
never encountered some of the features it
offers. But it can be a very intuitive pedal
once you’ve dedicated a little time to exploring
its potential. And the five knobs and
two switches enable you to explore myriad
variables, and then shape and squeeze your
sound with relative ease.
Three different compression ratios—2:1,
4:1, and 10:1—can be applied using the
3-way switch at the top left of the case. An
adjacent 10-level LED meter shows the
amount of input volume, gain reduction, or
both at the same time, depending on how
you’ve set a second 3-way switch.
Guitar input gain is adjusted via an
Input control, and compression is shaped
using Attack (the speed of the compression
reaction), Release (how fast the compressor
lets go of the signal), Mix (which lets you
blend straight and processed signals), and
Output controls. Empress even included
the ability to shape the compressor signal
with an outboard effect—such as a high-pass
filter to keep the compressor from
affecting hard-hit lower notes on a bass—
via a 1/4" side-chain jack. A 9V power
supply is required to run the unit, so you’ll
have to ditch your batteries in favor of a
The Empress’ New Tones
With a Fender Blacktop Telecaster and
Fender ’65 Twin Reverb reissue, the
Compressor’s transparency was readily
apparent. But the unit’s ability to improve
note definition was equally impressive.
Savvy guitarists and studio engineers often
use compressors to enhance note separation
in chordal passages, and at the 4:1 ratio
setting the Empress yielded a discernible
yet subtle improvement without spoiling
the magical Telecaster-meets-Twin tone.
Switching to the 10:1 compression ratio left
me floored at some of the poppin’ country
tones that were emanating from my Twin.
The real treat of the Compressor is the
effectiveness of the Attack and Release controls
and how well they worked together.
Their effect can be subtle if you’re accustomed
to listening for things like the
amount of midrange grit and high-end cut
in your tone, rather than how smoothly the
sustain decays. But once you get a feel for
how these two controls tailor those aspects
of your sound, you’ll be amazed by how
you can fine-tune your tone to a stage or
studio environment—or even a different
guitar and amplifier combination. It’s a
highly adaptable tool.
As fun as the Compressor is, it has the
potential to be a little daunting to a player
who hasn’t worked much with compression.
Musicians who’ve invested time with
home recording rigs will probably be more
comfortable learning the pedal’s capabilities.
But a little time spent with the instruction
manual and some practice with various
amp/guitar combinations at different volumes
will reveal this pedal’s utility.
Empress’ blue-sparkle box is not only a
great pedal compressor, it’s one of the best
on the market today. The amount of control
is fantastic—even if it presents a bit of
a learning curve—and the tone is exceptionally
transparent . Players who haven’t
yet discovered what compression can do
for their tone are in for a treat. Spending
an hour with the Empress may leave them
wondering how they lived without it.
only total control over your compression will suffice.
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