Broughton Audio Josh Wah, Low+High Pass Filter, and Apex Compressor Reviews…
Toronto-Based Broughton Audio is the brainchild and one-man operation of Josh Broughton, a bassist and electrical engineer with a vision to produce high quality, handmade effects and signal processing pedals designed specifically for the needs of bassists. His evil genius level prowess has resulted in what many praise as among the finest offerings out there for bass tone shaping and effects. Since his pedals are built by hand in limited run small batches, there is a lot of intrigue and mystique around his pedals, and are highly sought after on the used market. I was pretty thrilled when Josh agreed to send me three of his more recent offerings: The L+HPF, Apex Compressor, and JoshWah. Each arrived showcasing exemplary build quality and robust feel, right down to the click of the jacks, smooth turn of the knobs and slick paint jobs. I have been having way too much fun putting these through their paces and am happy to report that the reputation is well warranted.
When I asked Josh about the L+HPF, he told me “it was designed as a one pedal gig fix no matter what the venue. Often times bassists find themselves in a venue with an unruly sub bass resonance, or a high frequency slap back. The L+HPF allows the user to vary the cut-off frequency of the lows and highs to correct for these acoustics, and even offers a clean, quiet gain control to make up any extra gain needed. The L+HPF is also an effective EQ for shaping other effects, as well as an effective cab simulator when going direct to a mixing console”. While that sums it up nicely, I will add that the overall effect of the H+LPF is to narrow down the particularly wide footprint of an electric bass tone, helping to “pocket” your tone in just the right spot amongst a busy mix. With the high cut (LPF) and low cut (HPF) knobs, you can locate just the right bandwidth to slot your bass sound between the kick drum and guitar, for example, or you can use it to tighten up a loose and flabby low end, or conversely, to remove string noise and zing without crushing your musical upper midrange. Personally, I find that my hi fidelity rig can sometimes sound “too” full range and wide, or a little bright for some applications. The catch is that cutting treble on most onboard bass preamps or amps can affect the center frequency of the treble EQ, but leave frequencies above that EQ point intact, resulting in some dips or peaky unevenness and a less balanced overall tone. The H+LPF lets me shave off the highs, emulating a vintage amp. It can crudely be thought of like a passive tone control on a Jazz or Precision bass, which is a welcome addition for those with active basses and traditional 3 band equalizers, with fixed EQ points.
Ultimately, this pedal is simple and effective, allowing one to powerfully shape the sonic footprint of their tone, and offering clean gain to make up for any volume lost in the process. I have been using an HPF on my bass rig for a couple years now, in an effort to tighten up the low end by removing subsonic frequencies that can cause stage rumble, limit an amp from producing those power hungry subsonic lows, and protect my cabs from the potential ravages of sub-octave effects. The filters are 12db per octave, which isn’t quite as steep as I am used to, for making surgical adjustments to taming low end, but that being said, it sure works as advertised and tightens up those lows as you roll up the HPF. This is a great pedal for someone who uses a hi-fi rig with the characteristically extended bandwidth, looking for a one box solution to get them in the vintage tone multiverse.
Broughton Apex Compressor
The Apex compressor is a great sounding comp, optimized for bass, and including some very thoughtful and usable features for bass. Josh says: “The goal of the Apex was to provide a high fidelity, transparent, low noise, easily tunable compressor for the gigging bassist. An internal charge pump gives the Apex a huge amount of clean headroom suitable for nearly any signal level. The VCA chip gives fast, accurate, and clean compression. The side chain HPF allows the bassist to remove ultra-lows that may trigger the compressor too much, giving equal and natural compression across the entire range of the bass. The wide range dB compression meter indicates exactly how much compression is going on.” Uh, what he said. But seriously, the beauty of the Apex lies not only in its clean operation and excellent sound quality, but its variable ratio (from 1:1 all the way to infinity:1), and the HPF sidechain. It took me a minute to wrap my head around it, but essentially, it allows a certain amount of low end to pass through, uncompressed, while affecting the frequencies above the cutoff point. I found it worked great set around 40-50hz. The result is a powerful sound with plenty of transients, but still provided that slight cushion on the upper frequencies that I look for in a clean compressor. Like the L+HPF, the build quality and design is exquisite, and a 7 LED metering row helps a whole lot in getting the setting tweaked for best results. The gain control offers up to 20 dB of clean gain, to offset any attenuation from compression.
I’ll just say: I have used a bunch of high end compressors in the last few years, most notably, the Empress, Demeter, and Diamond compressors, and the Apex certainly contends strongly with this list. I was able to coax a handful of great tones out of it, from a clean “fat boost” sound, to a more vintage-voiced compression sound with slight midrange bump. Between its usable range and its great sound quality and low noise, there is a lot to love about the Apex and users are sure to be rewarded the more they tune into its broad capabilities.
The Joshwah is the least straightforward of the 3 pedals reviewed here, but with all that complexity comes a crazy spectrum of great and usable bass sounds. I think of the Josh Wah as something of a 1 click “lead channel”, a combination envelope filter and fuzz pedal, with all kinds of cool and weird things happening at the intersection of the two. Capable of producing familiar clean envelope filter sounds with a fast release time, as well as full on fuzzed out synthy tones dripping with distortion, the Joshwah is one of those pedals you really have to get to know, in order to appreciate the scope of its capabilities. As Josh says, “The LPF topology retains all of the lows while giving a wide ranging sweep of the mids and highs. The Sense knob gives a wide range of sensitivity for practically any bass. The gain knob can add in harmonics for a more pronounced filter effect, all the way to a full on distorted synth type sound.” What can I add? Well, that it’s a LOT of fun, for one thing. I had a blast dialing up different amounts of fuzz laden bubbly filter sounds, and because each knob is reactive to the settings of the others, it is seriously deep. Like I said above, I ended up using it as a one click solo channel, with a little envelope effect, a touch of grit, and a slight volume bump. This worked great for switching between clean bass tone for ensemble playing, and all the texture, color and gain I wanted when it was time to step forward and solo. Overall, a very compelling and desirable range of sounds for bass, all lurking on one deceptively intricate pedal.
Broughton Audio effects are sold direct through Broughton’s website, which features lots more info about their pedals, as well as some links to great video demos. For more info, visit: www.broughtonaudio.com