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Becos CompIQ Pro Stella Compressor Review

I began my review of the Becos CompIQ Mini Pro by saying it may be little, but it is not short on features.

Well the brand new Becos CompIQ PRO Stella Compressor is the Mini's big brother, and is jam packed with even more features. You'd be hard pressed to find another compressor with this many features baked in anywhere, let alone one in a smallish Hammond 1590B enclosure. The Becos CompIQ PRO Stella is a similar size to the Keeley Bassist or MXR pedal.

It is an all analog and hand built in Romania. It features a THAT Analog Engine® and is a transparent sounding compressor.

Alright, here's the functionality roundup.

Connect a 9-12 volt center negative power supply (or connect a 9-volt battery inside the enclosure) and stomp the true bypass foot switch and a plethora of tweaking is at your disposal. This is a good thing so read on.

When activating the pedal, the 0db LED lights green indicating the pedal is powered up.

First, adjust the Ratio knob from a range of 1:1 (all the way counterclockwise) to infinite:1 (all the way clockwise). At approximately 9:00 you've dialed in a 2:1 ratio for some real nice mild, transparent useful (but very subtle) compression. Noon is approximately 4:1 and that's where I found I liked it most. You get more noticeable feel when digging in, but still pleasantly transparent. At 3:00 you've dialed in more like 10:1 which is getting pretty aggressive. It doesn't feel overly grabby, but the Stella is definitely clamping down. It isn't a dip and swell type feel. Anything higher than 3:00 and you are in limiting territory — This is especially true when you dial in a low threshold. At levels this high, you will definitely need to dial in more gain to make up the volume drop. No worries, there is plenty of gain on tap.

The Threshold sets the signal level after which compression is applied. Essentially, compression is only going to be applied to a signal that crosses the threshold you've dialed in. Turning counter clockwise lowers the threshold. Set low (more clockwise) the compression will kick in sooner to even very quickly to even the smallest signal. Set higher, you'll let plenty of signal through. There is plenty of range to work with a wide variety of inputs. I had no issue with headroom at any time. Becos says that when the Threshold is set higher, CompIQ Stella can be used with line-level signals.

The Attack sets the time needed to reach the highest level of compression (set by the ratio control). Further clockwise slows the attack, meaning letting more transient attack through. Turning counter clockwise speeds the attack, meaning clamping down sooner according to the ratio set. The range seems fairly wide and useful. I tend to prefer moderately slower attack so I set the Attack around 2:00.

The Release sets the time needed for the compressed signal to return down to the input level and is set according to a scale of milliseconds per decibel of compression. Turning clockwise slows the release, meaning holding the compressed signal longer. Turning counter clockwise speeds the release, meaning releasing the compressed signal faster. I found a sweet spot for me at about noon.

The Gain sets the make up gain because as you compress a signal you effectively drop the output signal. So as more compression is dialed in you'll need more makeup gain. There is plenty on tap (+20db) but be aware that adding more gain does re-amplify a low signal which can add noise. That being said, the Stella is quiet overall.

The Tilt EQ gives you control of a gentle correction circuit where turning counterclockwise increases lower frequencies (+6db) wile proportionately attenuating higher frequencies (-6db) around a set frequency point. Turning clockwise, the opposite occurs by elevating higher frequencies and attenuating lower frequencies. If you are familiar with the Diamond compressor or Mad Professor Forest Green compressor it works in a similar fashion. I don't think the EQ is quite as dramatic as either of those, but is very useful and manages to function without highly coloring your tone. It is a real nice option and I found I liked the knob dialed in at about 11:00 for some subtle fattening of my tone.

Now let's talk about the mini switches.

The Soft/Hard Compression Knee switch allows you to select a harder more obvious compression or softer more subtle compression. When set to hard (flipped up), compression kicks in with a sharp corner making the compression more obvious. It's real nice and punchy. When set to soft (flipped down), the compression is applied more progressively with a soft corner curve. It is definitely more subtle and smooth. Think of it as more gentle when set to soft. Frankly, I can't decide which I like better. Both work great for the intended purpose.

The SCF switch controls a side chain filter and has three positions: Normal (N), Low (L), and Deep (D). In Low position, more of the lower frequency (an additional -12db@90hz) is freed up to prevent triggering compression kicking in too early. Nice! In the Deep position, even more of the frequency spectrum is freed up (-12db@200hz). Normal is essentially full signal being processed by the compression engine though by design, it has an attenuation of lower frequencies below 1KHz which allows the compressor to act with a short delay and let lower frequencies pass through without triggering the compression right away. Nice! Folks, this is a really cool feature. With a 5 string bass, set to Deep the compressor was obviously letting my B string through virtually untouched and much of my E string too. Great if I wanted that sort of feel, and I liked it. I like the Low setting quite a lot too. That said, set to Normal is very pleasing too as a full range compressor. I'd counsel most users to start with the switch in Normal position to understand how the compressor is reacting. But then the flexibility is there to adapt your low end. Because of this, the Stella allows for no loss of low end.

The EQ pivot switch chooses the EQ frequency point for the Tilt EQ function. In High (flipped up), the pivot frequency is set around 1KHz. For the guitarist, this is probably the best choice. For bassists, you'll want the switch set to Low (flipped down) where the pivot point is set around 330Hz. I definitely preferred the switch in the downward position.

The Timing switch also has three positions — Manual, Auto Fast, and Auto Slow. In Manual (M) mode, you control the attack and release via the respective knobs as outlined earlier. In Auto Fast (F) and Auto Slow (S) positions, you activate an automatic dynamic timing circuit which automatically adjusts to your playing dynamics. Think of it like this. Shorter percussive style is handled with smaller times, while longer more fluid playing is handled with longer times. Becos says Auto Fast timings are generally 5-7ms for attack and 70ms for release. Auto Slow timings are about 10-15ms for attack and 100-220ms for release times. This feature is much like how the Keeley Bassist functions. Those adverse to knob twiddling will appreciate the auto feature. If you are one, I'd suggest starting with the pedal on one of the auto positions while you dial in the rest of the compressor.

But wait. That's not all!

There's a Dry/Wet mix which allows you to blend the input clean signal with the output compressed signal. A parallel compression. In the middle the mix is 50-50 and does wash out much of the compression feel. When set to 100% dry, the Stella acts like a buffer. I found I liked the knob set to about 10:00 with compression ratio lower than 4:1 and around 11:00 when I had ratio set at 4:1 or higher. The little knob is small but it works fine. A little tweak goes a long way though.

Then there is the Tape Saturation circuit. First thing to note is that the SAT control effects the dry line only. The intent of the circuit is to emulate vintage studio tape saturation prominent in the 60's. Essentially, you get a form of distortion happening when high amplitude signals are recorded on magnetic tape. To my ear, it sounds really good. You can dial in a mild but very warm sounding mild overdrive thing going on. It can be very subtle or relatively bold. The more clockwise you turn the Tape Sat dial, the more harmonic content is introduced. It is quite pleasing across the entire range — if that is your thing. The intent here is to saturate the dry signal which you mix in with the wet compressed signal. So you will use the Tape Sat dial in coordination with the Wet/Dry mix dial. If you use Chorus, I bet this would be a pretty sweet combo. Even if you aren't the type who digs OD on bass you might find you like it in this application. Even the slightest inclusion of harmonic content mixed with the compressed signal does something sweet to the overall tone and tends to fatten the sound. At max saturation the dry line sounds like a Germanium overdrive.

The Level dial is used to compensate for the reduction in volume as you increase tape saturation. With the Tape Sat dial set to zero, turning up the Level dial acts as a boost for the dry signal. At first you might not realize you need it but it comes in very handy as you increase the saturation.

Crack open the pedal and you'll find a couple of red jumpers which serve as Low & High cut filters that work in tandem with the Tape Saturation circuit. What's the point? Well, they are useful when lows seem to saturated (creating a fuzzy sound or when highs seem to brittle. If both jumpers are removed then both the high and low cut filters are enabled meaning only the mids and high-mids are affected with maximum saturation. You're going to get something like a tube screamer overdrive. So you have the flexibility of manipulating how the saturation effects the highs and lows by using or removing the corresponding jumper. The circuit board is marked with which jumper is low cut and which is high cut. You can see the two tabs on the left side in the pic below.

My prototype CompIQ PRO Stella included dip switches that will not be present in the production version. These dip switches effect the germanium circuit and allows you to take out a semiconductor to reduce the threshold after which the signal starts to clip. Different combinations of dip switch positions offered different saturation characteristics. In the end, it was determined that the switches sound best in a position that closely resembles the Strymon DECO tape saturation pedal. Frankly, the Tape Saturation dial and corresponding Mix dial and Level dial offer more than enough flexibility. While I had fun playing with the dip switch positions I tend to agree with the decision of Becos to eliminate this in the production run. Becos told me they might offer it as a mod later on, dependent on the volume of requests. It is a lot of compressor already.

Oh. Let's not forget the compression display. A 6-LED display provides feedback for the amount of compression applied to the input signal. The first 5 LED's are green with the -16db LED lighting yellow and the -20db LED lighting red. As indicated earlier the 0db LED lights green indicating the pedal is turned on. I know many prefer compressors with visual compression indication and this one delivers.

Whew. That's a lot.

I'm not aware of any compressor on the market that packs this much punch in terms of functionality. I suspect some might be turned off by the number of dials and switches and LED's. For that audience, I trust my description of features has been helpful to inform and make it easier to understand just what each function performs. I will say it all works together coherently. I appreciate that each dial is clearly marked with information in the full counter clockwise position and full clockwise position.

In terms of feel and tone I'd put the Becos CompIQ PRO Stella Compressor up against the likes of the Keeley Compressor Pro and Empress Compressor for sure. It has a similar inherent transparent quality to it. It offers more controllability and versatility than the Keeley Bassist and does a great job of subtle compression all the way to harder limiting action. You get clear transparent compression. Like the Becos CompIQ Pro Mini your tone stays the same, but comes out better. The tilt EQ brings a tone shaping angle that the Keeley an Empress both can't touch. The saturation circuit is a whole new twist. The JHS Pulp 'N Peel also has an OD type circuit but it isn't as flexible as the Stella. With slight saturation added and blended well with the compressed signal you'll get into Diamond compressor territory. In general, I think the Becos is quieter than the Keeley Compressor Pro at higher gain levels.

Some may wonder about the size and placement of the mini dials. They work just fine. When stomping the foot switch I didn't feel as if I was going to inadvertently hit the dials. I supposed it is possible but the stomp switch is elevated enough that it shouldn't be a problem. I guess I do wish those dials could be larger but I'm not sure how it would be possible without making the pedal considerably larger.

The enclosure is a Hammond brand 1590B and looks and feels great. Input and output jacks are side mounted, as is the power input. The knobs are plastic but rotate with a solid feel.

This new offering from Becos is a highly versatile and pedal board friendly compressor. I said this about the Becos CompIQ Pro Mini but it's worthy of saying again here. There is a whole lot of versatility in an amazingly small package. Also like the Becos Mini the enclosed manual, while just folded paper, is probably the most helpful descriptive language I've seen included with a compressor pedal. I spotted some good info on the Becos web site that might be helpful, including frequency graphs of the side chain filter.

At a MSRP of $276 there is a lot to like. In many ways it has raised the bar for compressor pedals. The words "Pro Compressor" on the face of the compressor is appropriate. From my perspective, Becos has done it again.

I recommend this one.


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