What is the Best Compression Pedal for under $100?
Boring, but Vital
Compression - yawn! The boring, sensible effect of the Guitar World.
When I was grunge rocking for teenage kicks, all I wanted to play with distortion or delay effects. Now, twenty years later, I probably spend more time playing with Compression than any other effect*
*With the possible exception of my growing obsession with EQ ;-)
Without Compression my mixes sound like a collection of musical sledgehammers, intermixed with distant pin drops lost in the din. With Compression my mix settles down, takes form and a song begins to surface.
It's been a long road learning about Compression, with much more to come. I find the more I learn, the more reward this vital effect gives me and my music.
What is Compression?
Put simply, Compression makes the loud stuff quieter and the quiet stuff louder. It is used to make Audio 'sound nicer' to our ears. Let's use a 'real world' example to illustrate what we mean :
You're sitting at home watching your favorite TV Show (for me, Dexter at the mo') or your favorite sport (Formula One), when all of a sudden 'BOOM!' the adverts* come on and you're deafened. This audio signal needs some Compression.
*Important Note : Adverts are intentionally mixed 'louder' to get our attention. Loudness Vs Volume is an odd, murky world, which I shall attempt to explain a little further down this lens.
All modern audio recordings are Compressed, from DVDs to CDs to Kindle Downloads. We, as listeners, are very spoiled by this and, as a consequence, have no patience for poorly or uncompressed audio. It is, therefore, essential that you use some form of Compression when playing and / or recording music.
What is the Best Compression Pedal for Under $50?
Quick Tip : What is Compression?
Compression makes the loud stuff quieter and the quiet stuff louder.
How does Compression Work?
Basically Compression works in one of two ways :
1. Downward Compression : when the volume of an audio signal exceeds a specific level (referred to as the 'threshold'), a reduction Gain is applied.
2. Upward Compression : when the volume of an audio signal drops below a specific level (once again referred to as the 'threshold'), an increase in Gain is applied.
Downward and Upward Compression are used together to 'squeeze' the average volume of an audio signal to produce a more 'uniform' or 'nicer' sound.
The Top Rated Compression Pedal for under $50
Behringer : Company Profile
As I write more of these lenses focused on Guitar, Studio and Audio Kit, it has become clear that Behringer are the current Market Leaders in low cost, affordable audio equipment for musicians.
From Guitar Pedals to Mixers, Audio Interfaces to Multi-Effects, Behringer time and time again pops up with popular, highly rated equipment that features heavily in Customer Feedback generated, Top Ten Lists focused on the lower price ranges.
Behringer products do, however, attract as much negative customer feedback, as they do positive. Many customers report their extreme disappointment at the overall 'sound quality' of Behringer Products, claiming that they are in no way of a proffessional standard.
It is difficult to know how to take this most polorized collection of Customer Reactions :
Are the negative reviewers simply expecting far too much, for such a low price?
Are the positive reviewers simply unaware of what 'real pro quality sound' is, or are they simply looking for a low cost, average quality piece of kit to do a 'non pro job'?
What is clear, though, is that whereas Behringer Products feature heavily in the Top Ten Lists of low and affordable price ranges, they hardly feature, if at all, in the Top Ten Lists of the higher price ranges. This would suggest to me that Behringer are targeting the aspiring and hobby musician, not the Pros.
You can decide to make of this, what you will. I think it's worth bearing in mind, when decided exactly what Behringer kit will do for you, and for how long it will meet you growing expections as a musician and / or technician.
Are Behringer Products any Good?
How would you describe Behringer Products to a Friend?
Quick Tip : What is Downward Compression?
Downward Compression makes the loud stuff quieter.
The Behringer DC9 comes with a fairly straight forward set of controls : a standard stomp box foot switch turns the unit on and off ; the compression itself is controlled by a pair of knobs, 'output' and 'sensitivity'.
The 'Output' determines, as you might expect, the amount of signal that the unit sends out, once compression has been applied. This allows you to use the Behringer DC9 as, effectively, an additional volume control. The ability to vary a Guitar's volume by hitting a switch with your foot, can come in very handy if, for example, you want your Guitar Solos to be louder than your Rhythem Sections.
The 'Sensitivity' determines the degree to which the compression is applied. To give you an idea of how this would work in practical terms, on their own site, Behringer have a Strummed Acoustic Guitar playing with the sensitivity set at '12 Noon' and a Plucked Electric Guitar playing with the sensitivity set all the way at '5 o'clock'.
The simple 'three switch' nature of the DC9 is, in many regards, no bad thing : certainly it'll make the unit easier to 'navigate' on a badly lit stage. It does, however, suggest the degree to which a Guitarist can customize the DC9's compression is limited.
The Behringer DC9 also features a LED that serves as both a 'on / off indicator light' and battery* check.
*The Behringer DC9 can run off either a 9v Battery or the Behringer PSU-SB DC Power Supply. Neither the power supply or the battery are included. To add to this frustration, according to customer reviews, changing the battery involves unscrewing and taking off the whole back panal of device. This is not something you'd want to be attempting five minutes before playing a gig.
Behringer claim the DC9 is built for long-lasting durability, from top rate parts. On the face of it the DC9 looks solid enough, with a solid stomp box on/off switch and the standard Guitar Jack In / Out. This is backed up on the inside by a True Bypass. This allows the Guitar Signal to pass through the DC9 with the bare minimum of signal lose when the compressor effect is not in use.
Customer Feedback reports that upon closer inspection, the Output and Sensitivity Knobs are flimsy in construction. This would be a source of concern for me, as it's very easy to give the controls on a stomp box a good wack by accident (the DC9 is, after all, operated by your foot).
What I do find encouraging in this regard is that Behringer have kept it simple. It's far more feasable for a company to build a solid, simple product at budget prices than a complex one.
Quick Tip : What is Upward Compression?
Upward Compression makes the quiet stuff louder.
Let's take a look at some of the stand out quotes from both positive and negative customer reviews for the Behringer DC9.
Postive Reviews :"For the price, it packs a punch. Sturdy construction. I would definitely recommend at least for home/recreational use."...taken from 5 Star Review by Amazon Customer David W. Voss"The Behringer DC9 Dynamics Compressor Pedal greatly enhances the sounds of every other pedal on my pedal-board, plus I get a volume control knob that allows me to drop my amp output level to below where to amp is set."...taken from 5 Star Review by Amazon Customer SeBoNegative Reviews :"It knocks all the low frequencies out of my guitar signal..."...taken from 1 Star Review by Amazon Customer Donny King"...when this pedal is on it severely sucks the bottom end out of your sound."...taken from 2 Star Review by Amazon Customer Aaron Faletto
Quick Tip : What is a Compression Threshold?
The Threshold is the point at which Compression is applied.
A selection of videos featuring the Behringer DC9 : the first is a straight demo. The second consists of a review of sorts (along with much rambling) and the third is a review, but not in English.
*The Behringer DC9 has proven a little difficult to find videos for. This is a surprising as the cheaper products tend to have more reviews, not less. I'll keep an eye out for more and add then to the lens if / when they appear.
Pros & Cons
Pros :CheapSimple to UseCons :Loses Bottom EndFilmsy?Conclusion :A great little practice pedal at a very afforable price.Loses too much bass for some styles of music or musical tastes.Ideal for Beginners and / or Guitarists on a budget.Gigging professionals may need to look higher up the food chain.
Is the Behringer DC9 a Good Buy?
Would you buy a Behringer DC9?
How do I change the Amount of Compression?
Typically Compression is controlled by four main variables :
1. Threshold : as we've already mentioned, Threshold is the point at which Compression is applied. The Threshold is set in dB and, depending on the individual Compression Device, should come as a pair of Thresholds : one for the Downward Compression and one for the Upward Compression.
2. Ratio : this refers to the amount of compression applied, once the Threshold is met. The higher the ratio*, the more the volume will be decreased.
*A very high Ratio is considered to be Limiting, not compression
3. Attack : determines how quickly* the compression is applied.
A very high / quick rate of Attack is consider to be Limiting, not compression.
4. Release : determines for how long the compression is applied.
By varying these four controls, we can tailor our compression to suit our needs. For example :
A small difference between Thresholds, paired with a high Ratio, quick attack and slow release will give us a very 'flat sound'.
A large difference between Thresholds, paired with a low Ratio, low attack and quick release will preserve much of the original dynamics of the audio signal.
The above examples are a little simplistic, but for the sake of explanation we'll allow them.
What is the Best Compression Pedal for under $100?
Quick Tip : What is Compression Ratio?
Ratio refers to the amount of compression applied.
What is the Difference between Compression and a Limiter?
We have already touched upon this above : a Limiter is an 'extreme' form of compression. Compression becomes limiting, when the ratio applied is high and the attack is quick. Let's try to put that into more real world terms :
Your band (The Spit Wads) have recorded a live multi-track demo and you're mixing it on your trusty DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). Fame and Fortune beckons and the Music Industry is just around the corner offering to steal all your earnings and ruin your private lives, leaving you shattered remains of your former selfs (that's Rock n Roll baby!). Your sure fire hit single, 'Baby, you're so hot you make me poop myself' features a ripping Guitar solo from your Lead Axe Master ('Diaper Face') that's currently several billion times louder than anything else in the mix (he is a Lead Guitarist, after all). It's time to lay down some Compression like the hardcore Rock n Roller you were born to be :
Your first attempt lays that Compression down like napalm (all together now, 'We love the smell of mixing in the morning!'). You use a Compression Ratio that so high, Steven Hawkins would get a nose bleed thinking about it. Your Attack rate is so savage is makes Junk Yard Dogs look like Poodles. Preparing yourself for Rock perfection (or Stairway, as we refer to it), you listen back to your mix : you're greeted by a heavily clipped, flat as a pancake Rock eunuch, with more digital artifacts, processing and pitch phasing than a Simon Cowell produced Greatest Hits Album. 'In the name of all that is Hendrix, what I have done!', you exclaim to the heavens.
When I was a Art College learning to be a Filmmaker, the Sound Technician told me never use a Limiter. It's a rule I have stuck to ever since. Limiters are ugly, heavy handed devices that should only, if ever, be used as a weapon of last resort : this would include Live situations where going above a particular volume level is an absolute 'no no'. For example, a Limiter could be used to protect a set of Speakers and / or the ears of the audience.
Compression, on the other hand, is a more delicate and subtle device that should be used to 'curve' the audio signal closer to way we want to hear it.
*Remember, there are no 'magical buttons' in this game. A compressor can only do so much for us. There will be occasions, where we have to go back a record the audio again. It is when this is not possible, that we have to make more drastic changes using effects. This is never ideal and will always have a negative effect on our recordings.
The Top Rated Compression Pedal for under $100
MXR Dyna Comp Effects Pedal
Let's take a look at the Number One Top Rated Compression Pedal for under $100 : the MXR Dyna Comp Effects Pedal.
Built by Dunlop, the MXR Dyna Comp Effects Pedal is a chunky looking metallic hunk of a pedal. The pair of fat plastic control knobs and metal stomp switch, give the MXR Dyna Comp Effects Pedal a solid, durable, 'built for gigs' feel. The simple design and confident red, single color scheme make me feel as though I can trust the MXR Dyna Comp Effects Pedal to do what I want, when I want it to do it.
In terms of functionality, the MXR Dyna Comp Effects Pedal could not have kept it more simple : standard Guitar jack in and out sockets provide the expected, uncomplicated connection. As I've already mentioned, the MXR Dyna Comp Effects Pedal is activated / deactivated by a squat, metal stomp switch. The MXR Dyna Comp Effects Pedal offers Guitarists two variable parameters : output and sensitivity. The absence of any additional controls removes the chance of breaking them, when coming down foot heavy onto the stomp switch.
*Dunlop's own user manual helpful and simply breaks down how to set up the MXR Dyna Comp Effects Pedal. I've broken this down into bullet points, which you can find below.
How to Set Up the MXR Dyna Comp
1. Set Output to 2/32. Sensitivity to Zero3. Adjust Output, so Volume is equal with Pedal on/off4. Select your level of compression :i. Vary Sensitivityii. At same time, play loud & softHigher Sensitivity = closer loud & soft volume5. Adjust Output :i. normally equal volume is bestii. Louder good for solos.
Let's take a look at some of the stand out quotes from both positive and negative customer reviews for the MXR Dyna Comp Effects Pedal.
Postive Reviews :"All you have to do to use this is set the maximum output level and the sensitivity and you are on your way to sweet sustained tones for lead or rhythm guitar."...taken from 5 Star Review by Amazon Customer Jay Riemenschneider."This pedal does not mess with your tone and adds no undesirable noise."......taken from 5 Star Review by Amazon Customer Orly.Negative Reviews :"Compared to the vintage Dynacomp* the new model seems quite weak."...taken from 2 Star Review by Amazon Customer Dean Bielanowski."Lacks fine adjustment... too touchy on volume..."......taken from 3 Star Review by Amazon Customer Blue Jack.The MXR CSP028 '76 Vintage Dyna Comp (which I assume the Amazon Reviewer is refering to) costs around $100 - $150 (depending on the deal you get) more than the MXR Dyna Comp Effects Pedal. The observation the reviewer makes is no doubt correct, but it is to be expected that a significantly more expensive product (particularly in the same range, by the same company) would be of higher quality.I personally don't find this type of observation helpful, as it seems to me the reviewer is stating the blindingly obvious. However that is only my opinion, others may well find it useful to understand how the MXR Dyna Comp Effects Pedal sits within the Dunlop range.
Quick Tip : What is Compression Attack?
Attack determines how quickly the compression is applied.
Videos - Reviews and Demos
Here we have a selection of videos I found on youtube relating to the MXR Dyna Comp Effects Pedal : the first video is a typical review / demonstration. It uses voice over and audio samples to match a serious of moody, slow motion close ups of the MXR Dyna Comp Effects Pedal. The audio and video quality is high, making this a useful video to check out.
The second video is once again a fairly typical review / demo video, but features a straight to camera demonstration of a Guitarist actually using the pedal and talking about it. Once again the video and audio quality is high, making this another very useful video to watch.
The third video is, yet again, a review / demo. The presenter of this video has a nice, easy talking style making the review easy to watch, understand and follow.
The fourth and fifth videos are both produced by Dunlop themselves : the fourth taking the form of a general introduction to the MXR Dyna Comp Effects Pedal. The fifth video is a demonstration of the various settings on the MXR Dyna Comp Effects Pedal, using a Fender Telecaster.
Pros and Cons
Pros :Solid BuildSimple to UseReliableAffordableCons :Perhaps too simple?A little weak?Conclusion :A simple, durable Compression Pedal built for reliable live performance, avaliable at an affordable price.Better Compression Pedals will cost you more.For the money, you can't see to go far wrong with the MXR Dyna Comp Effects Pedal.
Is the MXR Dyna Comp a Good Buy?
Would you buy a MXR Dyna Comp?
What is the Difference between Volume and Loudness?
Uh. This is a tough one. Prepare yourselves for headaches.
Let's start with the easy one first : Volume refers to the level of sound pressure and is measured in dBs or decibels. Volume is a quantifiable and finite measurement.
Loudness refers to how an individual perceives / hears a particular noise. Loudness is not finite, it varies from person to person. Once again, let's use a real world example to help understand what we mean :
In my previous incarnation as a Filmmaker, I made one or two ultra no budget films. I'd usually shoot in the countryside, as it's quieter and therefore cheaper (less takes lost to ambient noise). All of my Actors came from London, a loud city full of car honks, sirens and shouting and find themselves in the supposedly super quiet countryside. The London based Actors, however, did not perceive it as quiet, they heard every cow 'moo', every distant Tractor engine ; oddly, even the quiet seemed loud to them.
The London based Actors found the countryside to be loud, because they were not used to the sounds of the countryside. Their brains could filter out Police sirens and roar of Tube Train to the point where, they barely noticed them. Betsy the Cow was a different matter, however.
When considering Loudness on opposed to volume your own ears are going to be your best tool. There are devices that 'indicate' loudness and can be found on more expensive Mixers and Mixing software. I am unsure as to how well these work. I would advise you to use them as a guide, to help inform your own senses and instincts.
Behringer DC9 Vs Dunlop MXR Dyna Comp
Attack of the Clones
You may or may not already know that the Behringer DC9 is a 'clone' of the Dunlop MXR Dyna Comp, but what does that mean?
*Does that mean that every time you use the Behringer DC9, you have to sit through two hours of stilted dialogue and mind numbing tedium just for the privedge of watching Yoda get his Lightsabre out?
No. It means that the Behringer DC9 is basically the same pedal as the Dunlop MXR Dyna Comp, but with cheaper componants :
The two pedals have, broadly speaking, the same characteristics of compression and, therefore, the same strengths and weaknesses in terms of the effectiveness of that compression.
*For example : both the Behringer DC9 and the Dunlop MXR Dyna Comp reduce the 'bottom end' of the signal. The consequence of this, is that your Guitar may sound a little too 'lite' for your tastes.
Personally I like the tone of my Guitar and Bass Guitar to be 'very seperate', if that makes sense. I tend to play my Guitar lite, often muting / not playing the low E string (only using it sparingly for effect). I find this way, the Bass Guitar sound really stands out, clean and precise, rather than being 'muddied' by the Guitar sound.
*I should point out that this is only my personal take, other Guitarists (including far, far better ones that I) will, no doubt, have very different opinions. I do, of course, also vary the way I play, depending on the song I am playing : rocking out will always require a considerable amount of 'low E rattle and hum'.
I would describe both the Behringer DC9 and the Dunlop MXR Dyna Comp as great little 'pop' Compression Pedals : lite and funky. The difference between them comes down to the quality of the componants, and how much that difference is going to effect your playing experience.
*For example : several customer reviews of the Behringer DC9 reported that 'Sensitivity / Output Knobs' were filmsy, whereas reviews of the Dunlop MXR Dyna Comp reported being able to operate the Dyna Comp's Knobs with their feet. This demonstrates a 'real world difference' between the two pedals, in terms of usability.
As with so many things in life, the Behringer DC9 Vs Dunlop MXR Dyna Comp Comparison comes down to a simple truth : you get what you pay for. The Dyna Comp is going to be more durable, reliable and robust. That being said, if you are on a budget and / or a beginner, looking to buy a bunch of different pedals to learn your craft*, the Behringer DC9 could be a very good option.
*Beginners looking to learn about a lot of different effects pedals, might want to consider a low cost Multi-effects Pedal / Board. Swing by my 'What is the Best Electric Guitar Multi Effects Processor for under $500' Squidoo lens for more information.
Quick Tip : What is Compression Release?
Release determines for how long the compression is applied.
Behringer DC9 Vs Dunlop MXR Dyna Comp - Video of the Clones
Here's a really useful pair of videos, I found on youtube, that compare the Behringer DC9 with the Dunlop MXR Dyna Comp.
*Word of Warning : When searching for material on the Internet, I always impressed by how generous people are with their time, talent and knowledge. The maker of these videos is a fine example, but he does tend to use the occasional 'naughty word'. Like me, many of you will not be bothered by this in the slightest, however I thought I add a quick word of warning for those of you who do find that kind of language offensive.
Behringer DC9 Vs Dunlop MXR Dyna Comp - Poll
How would you compare the Behringer DC9 to the Dunlop MXR Dyna Comp?
Do I Have To Use a Compression Pedal / Processor?
No. You do not have to use an actual compression device, but you do need compression. Compression can take different forms :
1. Pedal / Processor / Software : A piece of kit / virtual kit designed specifically to act as a Audio Compressor. Prices can vary from less than $50 to more than $5,000.
2. The Fader / Volume Knob : you can do Compression yourself by using the Fader on the Mixer or Volume knob on Amp / Floor Pedal to compress your own audio signal. On occasion this may well be easier and more straight forward, than messing about trying to set a Compression Device.
3. You / Your Voice / Your Hands : similar to #2, you can act as your own 'live compression device' by concentrating on how your playing your Guitar / singing the song etc. You can do this by trying to avoid extreme variations of volume. It is possible to create a dynamic, without shoving it in people's faces.
If you're playing the Guitar, play the soft bits a little less soft and the hard bits, a little less hard. It's not rocket science and it could save you hours (and therefore dollars) in the studio trying to put it right after the fact.