When I hear players express confusion or frustration about compressor pedals, it tends to be less about a sacrifice of dynamics (the devil’s bargain in any compressor) than a lack of control and perceptible benefit. But with its 6-band EQ, wet/dry mix control, relative transparency at flat levels, and relative quietness, J. Rockett’s I.Q. compressor has the ability to be super subtle or powerfully transformative. You’ll rarely find a compressor that can so drastically alter the timbre of your instrument or lend so much creative control of the compression effect.
The heart of the J. Rockett’s flexibility is the six sliding boost/cut frequency controls. Each is illuminated when the effect is on. The six frequencies under your control are 100 Hz, 200 Hz, 400 Hz, 800 Hz, 1.5 kHz, and 3.2 kHz, and each slider gives you 18 dB of boost or cut to work with. As you can imagine, the EQ and boost profiles you can create within that scheme can be pretty radical or specific depending on your need.
The EQ section is situated before the compressor in the circuit. But the simplicity of the compressor section itself means you’ll need to use the EQ to do the lion’s share of the tone shaping. There are no controls for attack or release, and like the Ross and DynaComp, it uses a two-knob control scheme to control overall output and the wet/dry mix. That means the compression ratio and, to some extent, the attack and release are fixed. But just as on the Ross and MXR units, those limitations leave a lot of room for tone sculpting. And as it turns out, they are well tuned for the dynamic nature of the EQ section.
In our experience, J. Rockett’s pedals are very well built, and the I.Q. is no exception. The enclosure is stout, heavy, and crafted from thick-gauge steel. The knobs, which look like the cool colored aluminum alloy used in Maglites and old BMX parts, turn with a smooth, satisfying resistance. It takes real intent to knock them from their settings once you’ve dialed them in. The circuit itself is a busy one—no surprise given that a 6-band EQ, booster, and compressor circuitry dwell within the compact pedal—and just abut every last millimeter of available space in the PC board is occupied by a component. The tight quarters mean the top-mounted jacks are board mounted, but you need not fear. The light artillery armor that makes up the I.Q.’s shell means the components are well shielded from knocks.
The coolest thing about the I.Q. is how interactive the EQ and compressor are. But that also means you’ll need to invest in some practice to suss how they work together. Even at a minimum wet/dry mix setting and with the EQ controls set flat, you still hear slight compression and a shift in the tone profile. You’ll also have to kick the pedal volume up to about 2 o’clock to reach unity gain. But watch the volume carefully as you boost various EQ bands. You’ll need to adjust it accordingly if you don’t want a drastic boost in output—a function the I.Q. performs quite capably.
In general, the mix knob is subtle—increasing the compression in small increments as you move through its range. In the dryer half of its range, the effect of the control is especially subdued, but that enables the kind of hyper-specific shifts that work well in a studio environment. In the wetter half of the mix knob’s throw, the compression effect becomes much more audible and tactile, evening out pick attack irregularities in a smooth, organic curve. At flat EQ settings, it lacks the surreal bloom that you can extract from pedals like the Boss CS-3. And though quick-picking flurries take on some of the same concise attack and release you’d expect from a DynaComp, the J. Rockett feels subtler and more natural.
Extra sustain, too, feels more natural coming from the J. Rockett. But extracting more sustain from the I.Q. highlights the versatility and symbiotic nature of the EQ. I summoned a nice combination of sustain and top-end detail from various Fender single-coils by arranging the sliders in a gentle ski-jump shape—a slight bump in the 100 Hz and 200 Hz sections and a gentle dip and curve upward in the high end from there. The setting induced beautifully lingering finger-vibrato tones and subtly dovetailed and chiming arpeggio tones.
More radical settings are a blast. The 18 dB boost is considerable, and maxing all the EQ controls and putting the signal through an amp at early stages of break-up creates monstrous, Godzilla-stomp volume and presence that lends mega-tonnage to bonehead riffs. Better still are extreme midrange scoops and high-end bumps, which can make single-coils lacerating in a mix and add combustibility and oxygen to muddy humbuckers.
These more extreme settings also highlight another magical facet of the I.Q.’s personality: It’s very much at ease with a fuzz out front. And in this application, the J. Rockett can transform a fuzz pedal radically. I placed it after my Wattson FY-2—a throaty, buzzing Shin-Ei Companion clone that sounds fantastic, if occasionally one-dimensional. But by using the compression to smooth the fuzz’s output and the EQ to reshape the Wattson’s tone profile, I could sculpt manically buzzing, thin, scathing, and meaty variations of the FY-2 flavor to fit precisely into any nook of a band or recording mix. This capacity alone, which expands on the functionality of a simple EQ pedal in very musical ways, will be worth the price of admission for many.
The I.Q. won’t be for everybody. Some will miss precise control of attack and release. Some might find the compression too subtle or the interactivity of the controls a bother. But for players that look to compression beyond its most obvious and cliché applications, the I.Q. is a tone-sculpting tool with the power to rival outboard studio gear. The sonic sum of this pedal’s parts are impressive, indeed.
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