Empress Effects Compressor Pedal Review
October 18, 2011
Empress places an emphasis on tone control and transparency that you don’t see in a typical stompbox compressor.
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 wall wart.
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.
skip if statement here
Street $249 - Empress Effects - empresseffects.com
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