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Review: Empress Bass Compressor

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Review: Empress Bass Compressor

Review of the Empress Bass Compressor…

Compressor pedals seem to be contentious territory for bassists.  Some players swear by them as the glue that helps keep their levels stable and consistent, while others feel they squash their dynamic range and limit their ability to play with nuance and touch.  I like certain compressors for their ability to fatten up my sound and bring the bass forward, acting as a bit of a “fat boost” if you will, but I don’t want to hear coloration, or any pumping or squashing. So, for me, it’s critical to have control over the various compression parameters to ensure that I’m getting all the attributes I want, and nothing I don’t.

There are a lot of compressor pedals available that are suitable for bass, which can most simply be broken up into a couple of different camps: The simpler vs the more complex, and the transparent/clean vs the more voiced/colored units.   I’ve owned a handful of compressor pedals over the years, bass-specific and otherwise, and it’s taken me a minute to figure out exactly what I like.   When I first got into compression, I understandably gravitated towards the simpler ones, some of which sounded darn good.  While the 1 or 2 knob comps are less overwhelming and typically harder to get a bad sound out of, the cost of simplicity is lack of control over individual factors affecting behaviors like attack, decay, threshold, ratio, etc. The flipside of course is that the more complex compression pedals require a working knowledge of how a compressor works. Thankfully, users who spend the time to learn how to dial in the parameters to their liking are rewarded with results that best suit their preferences.  

As far as the ‘transparent vs. voiced’ question, I’ve gone back and forth over the years.  There are some REALLY good-sounding compressor pedals with built-in desirable coloration that sound fantastic. Personally, my journey with compressors has led me to look for units that have studio-level transparency with a high degree of adjustability and some key features that allow me to indulge my very finicky degree of preference. My best results seem to come from getting voicing and coloration from other effects or preamps specifically for that purpose, so that color is not automatically tied to the compression effect.  Others like to achieve both goals with one pedal. Your mileage, as always, may vary.

To that end, and to get to the point, I have been using the OG Empress Compressor for the last several years with great satisfaction.  The original dark blue Empress is just a classic.  It checks all the boxes for the versatility I want while sounding transparent and clean.  The huge bank of LED’s is fantastic for level setting, and the whole package just plain works like a charm.

Naturally, when Empress announced they were releasing a new bass-specific compressor in a smaller chassis with top-mounted jacks and some bass-specific features, I was all in.   

Review: Empress Bass Compressor

So too was the rest of the market it seemed, and the initial couple of runs went quick. It took me a while to finally get my hands on one, and I’m happy to report that it was well worth the wait.

Like the original Empress Compressor, the Empress Bass Compressor has an Input knob to control how hard you drive the compressor as well as an Output level to get the desired amount of signal coming out of the pedal. I like setting the input so that it is engaging the compressor but not slamming it and setting the output to roughly match the bypassed signal so that it plays nice with input-sensitive effects downstream.  Like the original, the Bass Compressor has great LED metering: One set to show how much signal is coming in, and one to show the level of gain reduction (how much compression the unit is generating).

Dedicated Attack and Release knobs allow you to precisely control how fast or slow the compressor latches on to and releases your signal, effectively allowing you to sculpt how the pedal responds, and how long it holds on to your sound before letting go. This is where a lot of the character of the compression is controlled.  

One of my favorite features of both the new and old Empress Compressors is the Mix knob, which lets one fine-tune how much of the sound is affected; perfect for the guy like me who doesn’t really want to hear the compressor working and ultimately wants a subtle effect.  The Sidechain High Pass knob is one of two new standout features that set the Empress Bass Comp apart from the original.  In a nutshell, as you turn this knob up, it allows more of your low end to pass through unaffected, with compression applying increasingly to the low mids and mids.  This is great for those who want to tame their upper frequencies while retaining a full low end with less gain reduction in that register. Those who feel that compressors mess with their dynamics will appreciate this control, as it lets them feel the impact of the bass as usual but can help wrangle the transient spikes in the treble and upper mids.   In conjunction with the Mix knob, these two controls offer a great way to increase the subtlety and transparency of the Empress Bass Compressor while still retaining the effect.

A 3-way switch allows users to choose between a subtle 2:1 compression ratio, a more standard 4:1 ratio, or a more extreme 10:1 ratio. I would prefer a ratio knob offering more granular control over ratio, but I’ve actually never found myself struggling to find the right choice with these 3 settings, as they’re very well chosen for light, medium, and heavy compression settings.  The other 3-way switch controls the other new standout feature, the “Tone and Colour” setting, which essentially transforms the Empress into a more colored compressor on demand.  While the middle setting offers the flat transparent sound I am used to, there are gentle mid-scoop and mid-bump settings, which are really well voiced and not too overt, but shift overall tonality in a musical and effective way.  This makes the Empress Bass Comp compete strongly in both the “transparent” and “voiced” compressor camps.  One could argue that because it does both very well, its double threat capability makes it a no-brainer.  

Lastly, like the OG Empress comp, the Empress Bass Compressor features a 1/8” mini-input jack for sidechaining. This is the old studio trick of triggering your compressor not by your input signal, but from an external source.  One classic application for this would be using the attack of the kick drum to compress the bass signal, sometimes used to create dynamics and space for the kick drum by ducking the bass signal when the kick drum hits.  This is just one example though:  the sky is truly the limit for all the creative ways this can be used on stage and in the studio.

Review: Empress Bass Compressor

Overall, the new Empress Bass Comp is a slam dunk.

It took everything I loved about the original, added some fantastic new bass-specific features, put it in a smaller, more pedalboard-friendly format, and gave it a sharp makeover.  The build quality seems even better than the original, with more robust feeling pots and jacks and a wicked royal blue sparkle paint job (also available in silver sparkle).   Kudos to Empress for taking something great and truly making it better for bassists.  The new Empress Bass Compressor retails for $249.00. 

For more info on the Empress Bass Compressor, visit online at empresseffects.com/products/bass-compressor

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Review: Minuendo Lossless Earplugs Live 17dB

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Review: Minuendo Lossless Earplugs Live 17dB

Minuendo Lossless Earplugs Live 17dB…

Minuendo Lossless Earplugs Live 17dB – Hearing protection has always been front and center on my mind because I love music so much, I cannot imagine my life if I were unable to hear.

You might remember back in 2021, we had a good look at the Minuendo Lossless Earplugs featuring adjustable protection. This system has a lot of very good features but there was always the question of how much sound attenuation to choose.

Now, the great folks at Minuendo have come up with a new version of their earplugs that has a set 17dB noise reduction. You still get a lot of the great features of the adjustables but you just don’t have to think about the specific sound level. In addition, this new version of earplugs comes at a very attractive price point.

For more information, visit online at Minuendo.com

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Gear Reviews

Review: Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp

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Review: Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp

Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp: A Tribute to 90’s Iconic Sounds

Disclaimer: This pedal was kindly provided by Joyo for the purpose of this review. However, this does not influence our opinion or the content of our review. We strive to provide honest, unbiased, and accurate assessments to ensure that our readers receive truthful and helpful information.

In the realm of bass preamp/DI pedals, capturing the essence of iconic tones from the 90s can often feel like an elusive pursuit. However, the Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp emerges as a great option for bass players seeking to replicate the signature sounds of that era, particularly the revered tech21 SansAmp. With its robust feature set and compact design, the Tidal Wave offers a faithful homage to classic rock tones and low-gain distortions, all while providing modern conveniences for today’s bassist. Let’s delve into why the Joyo Tidal Wave stands out as a versatile and budget-friendly tool for both stage and studio.

Specs:

Measuring at 130 * 110 * 50 mm and weighing 442g, the Joyo Tidal Wave strikes a balance between portability and durability, making it ideal for gigging musicians and studio enthusiasts alike. With a power consumption of just 100 mA and a working voltage of DC 9V, the Tidal Wave ensures reliable performance in a variety of settings.

Controls:

At the heart of the Tidal Wave’s versatility lies its comprehensive control set, allowing bass players to sculpt their tone with precision. Key features include:

– Level: Sets the overall output volume of the pedal.

– Blend: Blends the dry signal with the cab-emulated signal, offering seamless integration of the pedal into any setup.

– Presence: Controls the dynamics of the high upper-mids, crucial for shaping drive tones.

– Drive: Introduces low-gain distortions and classic rock sounds into the clean tone.

– Treble, Middle, and Bass: Provides a 3-band EQ with frequency selectors for bass (40Hz – 80Hz) and mids (500Hz – 1KHz), offering ample control over tonal shaping.

– Middle Shift and Bass Shift: Allows for further fine-tuning of midrange and bass frequencies.

– Ground Lift: Helps eliminate ground loop noise in certain setups.

– DI Attenuation Switch: Adjusts the level of the DI output signal.

– LED Light Switch Control: Allows users to customize the ambient lighting of the pedal.

Performance:

True to its inspiration, the Joyo Tidal Wave excels in delivering classic rock tones and low-gain distortions reminiscent of the tech21 SansAmp. Whether you’re seeking gritty overdriven sounds or pristine clean tones, the Tidal Wave offers unparalleled flexibility and sonic versatility. The inclusion of a headphone out, XLR DI out with cab simulation, and throughout for the original bass sound make the Tidal Wave a versatile tool for both stage and studio applications. From practicing silently with headphones to crafting quality recordings in an ampless setup, the Tidal Wave delivers on all fronts with clarity, definition, and unmistakable character.

Pros:

The Tidal Wave boasts an array of advantages that set it apart from its direct competitors:

– Headphone Out: Transforms the pedal into a convenient practice tool.

– Size and Weight: Compact and lightweight design for easy transportation and setup.

– Rugged Construction: Durable build quality ensures longevity and reliability.

– DI and CabSim: Offers professional-grade direct recording capabilities with authentic cab simulation.

– Familiar Tones: Faithfully replicates the classic rock sounds of the tech21 SansAmp.

Cons:

While the Tidal Wave excels in many aspects, it does have a few drawbacks:

– Plastic Knobs: Knobs may feel less premium compared to pedals with metal controls.

– Cab Simulation Only on XLR Output: Limited cab simulation functionality may require additional routing for certain setups.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, the Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of classic rock tones from the 90s. With its faithful homage to the tech21 SansAmp, comprehensive control set, and modern conveniences like headphone out and XLR DI with cab simulation, the Tidal Wave offers bassists a versatile  tool for sculpting their sound with precision and finesse. Whether you’re seeking to replicate iconic tones from the past or forge new sonic territories, the Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp is sure to inspire creativity and elevate your playing to new heights.

Available online at Amazon.com

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Gear Reviews

Review: Joyo Scylla Compressor

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Review: Joyo Scylla Compressor

Joyo Scylla Compressor: When Quality meets Budget-Friendly

Disclaimer: This pedal was kindly provided by Joyo for the purpose of this review. However, this does not influence our opinion or the content of our review. We strive to provide honest, unbiased, and accurate assessments to ensure that our readers receive truthful and helpful information.

In the diverse landscape of effects pedals for bass guitar, finding a compressor that strikes the balance between performance, versatility, and affordability can often feel like a daunting task. 

However, amidst the sea of options, one pedal stood out as a true diamond in the rough – the Joyo Scylla compressor. Despite its wallet-friendly price tag, the Scylla boasts a great array of features and controls typically reserved for pedals with much higher costs. Let’s take a closer look at why the Joyo Scylla is turning heads and earning praise among bassists on a budget.

Specs: The Joyo Scylla compressor measures in at 109 * 72 * 48 mm and weighs a mere 234g, making it both compact and lightweight – perfect for gigs or studio sessions where space is at a premium. With a power consumption of just 100 mA and a working voltage of DC 9V, the Scylla is efficient and versatile, compatible with a wide range of pedalboard setups.

Controls: What sets the Scylla apart from its direct competitors is its comprehensive control set, offering bassists a good amount of flexibility in shaping their sound. With six knobs, the Scylla allows for a very precise adjustment of key parameters:

  • Input Gain: Adjusts the amount of signal being fed into the compressor.
  • Output Volume: Controls the makeup gain after compression, ensuring consistent output levels.
  • Compression Ratio: Unlike traditional compressor pedals with preset ratio options, the Scylla features a continuous knob, allowing for seamless adjustment from subtle compression to limiter-like effects.
  • Attack and Release: Determine how quickly the compression engages and releases, offering a range of tonal possibilities from punchy and aggressive to smooth and subtle.
  • Output Tone Control: A unique feature not commonly found in compressor pedals, the tone knob adjusts the coloration of the compressed signal, adding warmth or brightness to your bass tone.
  • LED Light Switch Control: Allows users to customize the ambient lighting of the pedal, adding a touch of visual flair to their setup.
  • Performance: In practice, the Joyo Scylla delivers where it matters most – in sound quality and performance. Whether you’re aiming for a tight, punchy bass sound or smooth, sustained notes, the Scylla excels in providing transparent compression that enhances your playing without sacrificing dynamics. The granular control offered by its knobs allows for precise tailoring of compression settings to suit a wide range of playing styles and musical genres.
  • Pros: The Scylla’s strengths lie in its granular control, versatility, and compact design. Its sturdy build quality and diminutive size make it a welcome addition to any pedalboard, occupying minimal real estate without compromising on functionality. However, perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Scylla is its price point. Despite offering professional-grade features, the Scylla remains accessible to bassists of all budgets.
  • Cons: While the Joyo Scylla excels in many areas, it’s not without its drawbacks. One notable omission is the lack of metering, which may pose a challenge for users seeking visual feedback on compression levels. Additionally, the plastic knobs, while functional, may feel somewhat less premium compared to other pedals. 
  • Conclusion: In conclusion, the Joyo Scylla compressor emerges as a great option in the world of budget-friendly effects pedals for bass guitar. Its comprehensive control set, transparent compression, and compact design make it a compelling choice for bassists seeking professional-grade performance without breaking the bank. From its intuitive interface to its thoughtful touches like the tone knob and customizable LED lighting, the Scylla delivers a level of versatility and functionality that belies its modest price tag. For bassists looking to elevate their tone without compromising on quality or affordability, the Joyo Scylla compressor is a clear standout.

For more information, visit online at joyoaudio.com/product/265.html

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Bass Videos

String Instrument Humidifiers

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String Instrument Humidifiers

String Instrument Humidifiers

After living in some very humid parts of the country for decades, we moved to a dryer, much sunnier location. As a result, I started noticing some fret sprout on my string instruments and recently did a video on fret sprout correction.

It occurred to me that I should take a more preventative approach to string instrument humidification. Of course, I turned to my instrument maintenance experts, Music Nomad Equipment Care, for a solution and they suggested their Humitar series. (Note: They sent two press samples and I purchased the remainder online.)

Join me as I look at these useful tools for keeping my string instruments in tip-top condition.

The Humitar series is available online at Music Nomad Equipment Care, as well as Amazon.com

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Bass Videos

Review: CrystalBright Rombo Picks

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Review: CrystalBright Rombo Picks

CrystalBright Rombo Picks

PR Sample

Playing bass with a pick is still a touchy subject in our community. I believe you should be able to use whatever you need to get your sound. Even though I mostly play with my fingers, I like to check out innovative new picks that might have something new to offer, sonically speaking.

Judith and Carlos from Rombo recently contacted me about a new material called CrystalBright that they have been researching for the last 12 months and offered to send some prototype picks. After trying them out, I put together this video with my findings.

For more info check out @rombopicks

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