Seems like there is a lot of buzz around this compressor. Within mere minutes of more Apex inventory becoming available at BroughtonAudio.com, they are gone. Rightfully so. There is a lot to like about the Apex — Especially for the price.
• Huge headroom
• Tons of gain on tap if you need it
• Ratio dial: from basically nothing to limiting
• HPF (more on that later)
• Gain reduction metering (more on that later)
• Nice form factor with top mounted jacks
To my hear, the tone is pretty transparent along the lines of the Empress and maybe to a lesser degree, the Optical Smoothie comps.
I can see where users who love the Empress but want a smaller form factor would be attracted to the Apex.
That being said, the Empress (to my ear anyway) is more "open" sounding for lack of a better word. The Apex might be a little smoother. It's all in how you have the threshold and HPF dialed in though and this is where things became challenging for me. The threshold knob doesn't seem to effect the amount of compression audibly all that much till you hit the 2:00+ position unless you have a really hot output bass feeding it. That in coordination with the HPF knob is where you see the gain reduction meter take effect. With the HPF all the way counterclockwise the perception is letting in way more bass to the output. I perceive more low end and the compressor isn't using as much low end to trigger the compression. That's cool, but don't expect the gain reduction meters to show compression is happening unless you turn the threshold up to the 3:00 or higher position.
Rolling the HPF more clockwise between 100 and 45 and the compressor seems to react more toward a fuller spectrum of frequency as you would expect. But highs trigger the compression more than the lows still so while I found real nice tones on my A and D string, the notes on the G string felt more choked. It's tricky to get things balanced. I also did not care for ratio higher than 4:1 or 5:1 on the Apex as I perceived I was losing definition in my attack. I really don't know how attack and release are being handled. I'm guessing it is acting at moderately fast attack and somewhat fast release until you increase the ratio higher than 5:1. I don't really know though. I definitely prefer compressors where I can set the amount of attack at least. The Keeley Bassist has some "magic" dynamic attack and release logic and to my ear, it works better than that of the Apex.
Regarding the metering. I used the Apex and Empress side-by-side and dialed both in so the output tone was as similar as possible and feel was as similar as possible. Ratio was set to 4:1 on both. HPF rolled all the way clockwise to let full frequency effect the triggering of compression. The Empress LED's were far more dynamic and reacted more dynamically to playing. The Apex sounded more "compressed" if you will. Maybe that is a good thing in the Apex's favor. I think the Apex is working more than the LED's let on. Both sounded great. I'd be happy with either. Roll the HPF back to 215 or so and you perceive more big bottom end which is really cool, just don't expect the LED's to light up except for on your higher strings and higher notes. The LEDs react to how you have the HPF set. Compared to the Cali76 CB, the HPF on the Apex has more effect. It is much more subtle on the Cali. I also like that the APEX marks the frequencies on the face of the pedal. That really helps.
As a limiter, the Apex works well. It will really even things out and make virtually every note the exact same attack and perceived volume.
I think in summary I'd say this is a really, really cool compressor.
It is not quite the set-and-forget I was hoping for and all of the dials really interact with each other and the interactions significantly effect how the compressor is reacting and what you will hear. If you want big bottom through (not letting the compressor overly tighten your bottom end), the Apex can do that in spades. That's probably one of the things I like best about it and the HPF is definitely the differentiating feature it has going for it.
Quality of the pedal seems great. The compressor is definitely quiet along the lines of the Smoothie and Empress. Noticeably quieter than the Cali76 CB. Compressor enabled LED is white which is refreshing from the blinding blue many manufacturers are using. Has a true bypass switch.
Here's a pic along with other compressors so you can see pedal size. It is taller and deeper than the Smoothie.
Retail price: $180