Cali76 TX vs. Compact Bass Compressor Review

    Updated: Feb 10

    I suspect this might be one of my most sought after reviews. The legendary big box Origin Effects Cali76 TX (with transformer) compared to the newer, smaller Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Bass. Does the CB in a smaller package compete with the big box TX? At the time of writing, I believe this is the only published review directly comparing both side-by-side.



    The Cali76 TX is based on the legendary Urei 1176 FET compressor. Sure, other manufacturers have attempted the same thing, but Origin Effects has really tried to stuff the real workings into a pedal enclosure. That means the pedal is large. It isn't exactly pedalboard friendly though it certainly can be made to fit.


    The Cali76 Compact Bass is clearly an attempt to produce something of the same tonal feel but in a considerably smaller package. At the same time, several controls have been changed up to cater to bass players.


    Both the Cali76 TX and Compact Bass can be operated at 9 volts up to 18 volts. The TX has the ability to operate with an iron core transformer. The transformer only engages when the pedal is powered by 18 volts. I spent considerable time playing through the TX at 9 volts and 18 volts. Cutting to the chase, don't buy it for use at 9 volts. It is meant to operate at 18 volts and that is where it shines. At 18 volts it is more lively, and interesting. More of that "studio tone" we all seek.


    As a general statement to frame the comparison I'm going to come out and say both of these compressors are fantastic in their own right. In fact, I would think most anybody would find much pleasure in using either. They really do sound great and perform well.




    There are two additional switches on the TX. It has a balanced DI/line output (TRS 1/4" jack) and there is a switch allowing you to toggle between mic/DI level (low) and line level (high). At the high setting and with the output volume turned up, the pedal really can drive a power amp.


    The "PAD" switch can be used to drop the signal by around 28dB, and this should give the user enough range to be able to plug into both line-level, and mic-level inputs. The "GND" switch (ground-lift) can be used to cure hum.


    There's a switch for high or low headroom inside on the circuit board. Adjusting this switch allows you to select a more clean and dynamic sound, or a very squashed and dirty sound. It is important to note that results from the headroom switch vary depending on which output you are listening to and also how strongly you drive the input. It sounds more complicated than it really is in practice. Yes, you have to open the cover to adjust though.


    The Cali76 TX truly offers a huge variety of configuration and tweaking potential.


    However, they do not sound identical and that is not a bad thing. The Cali76 TX comes across as sweeter in the mids and highs, maybe a little rounder. The Compact Bass is more neutral or, dare I say, sterile in the highs and mids. It is still very musical, just not as sweet. It is subtle, but there is more harmonic content in the overall tone and feel of the Cali76 TX.


    The Cali76 TX is the more "colorful" of the two but the Compact Bass would be a better option if you are looking for ultimate clarity and precision. For slap style, I prefer the Compact Bass. Finger style? This is where things get complicated. On all but the B string of a 5-string bass, I'd opt for the Cali76 TX. It is just a more interesting flavor, probably due to the transformer. It is more rich and full. But, the HPF side chain control of the Compact Bass if killer. It allows you to really dial in how you want the compression to effect your lowest of lows and it works so well. Frankly, it is an addicting feature that might ultimately eliminate the big big compressor for 5-string players. The lows are always more squashed when playing through the Cali76 TX.


    Let's look at the controls on the TX.


    The "INPUT/COMP" control allows the user to vary the gain of this preamp. Turning this control clockwise increases the overall gain of the pedal. This also increases the amount of compression. The guitar will become increasingly more touch sensitive. Too much gain and the preamp will clip and distort. Compression is greatly reduced at lower gain settings as much of the signal entering the compressor section falls below the compressor's internal threshold. Signal level must exceed this threshold in order to initiate gain-reduction. In this scenario only the signal-peaks are compressed.



    The Output control simply varies the level of signal present at the pedal's output jack. This can be set in order to keep the overall effected-level close to the, dry (bypass) signal. Alternatively, the level can be increased to help project more and produce an overall volume lift.


    The Attack control determines the time taken for the compressor to react to the presence of a signal, i.e. the delay from the instant when you play the note, to the moment the compressor actually reduces the gain. The longer the Attack time/delay, the more pronounced the beginning of each note will sound.


    The Release control determines the duration of any gain reduction. This would be measured from the time that compression is triggered to the point that the compressor has returned to its idle state. For maximum effect when processing guitar, the Release must be set so that the compressor responds fully to every note played. If so, the release time must be short enough for the compressor to fully recover in the short time between one note ending and the next note beginning


    Both controls work very well and provide a wide and useful range. I always like having independent control of both attack and release in particular. You will notice the Cali76 Compact Bass has a combined Attack/Release dial. More on that later.


    The Ratio control allows the user to adjust the amount of gain reduction applied for any given increase in guitar signal. At the lowest ratio-setting, doubling the input signal (an increase of 100%) will result in the output increasing by 19%. At the highest ratio-setting, the output would rise by only 3.5%, for the same increase in input signal. The latter case represents "Limiting". As was the case in the Urei 1176, changing the ratio setting also varies the threshold level of the unit. This helps to keep the output at a consistent level, regardless of settings.


    Ratio can be dialed from 4:1 all the way to 20:1. At the higher range it performs well as a limiter.


    When operating the Cali76 TX at 9 volts the pedal bypass mode can be selected internally by changing the positions of four internal jumper connectors."True-Bypass" can be obtained with all four jumpers in the lower-position. A low impedance, or buffered bypass, mode can be selected by moving all four jumpers to the upper-position. In buffered-bypass, the pedal will ensure that signal integrity is preserved even when driving long cable runs. Jumpers can be simply pulled away and pushed back into place. Again, you must open the case to adjust the jumpers.


    When actively engaged, through the use of an 18V supply, the transformer-board effectively buffers the signal at all times, even when the unit is bypassed. Any saturation/overdrive experienced with the "GAIN" switch set in the "HIGH" position, will also be audible with the unit set to bypass - just like driving a Urei 1176 with the compression bypassed/defeated. Whether that is good or bad is for you to decide.


    Let's look at the controls on the Cali76 Compact Bass.


    The most notable changes compared to the TX are the Dry blend, combined Attack/Release, and HPF controls. Origin Effects says

    "the single combined Attack/Release control provides a continuous sweep of useful settings while avoiding combinations that can result in ugly distortion artifacts creeping into the lower registers."

    It certainly works in that way and does the job but I prefer separate Attack and Release controls. There is a useful range though and I think in practice most would be satisfied with this arrangement.




    The Cali76 Compact Bass allows you to rein in the amount of compression applied to the lowest frequencies via a variable-frequency high-pass filter placed in the compressor's sidechain. This is the secret weapon of this pedal and I really like it. With the HPF control dialed in, the compression ratio effectively becomes frequency dependent. In practice, this means your low strings will sound less choked and having more life. Low notes have an weight and presence while your higher notes remain controlled. For slapping this is real nice.


    The Dry blend allows you to mix your dry signal back in with your compressed signal for true parallel compression. It works very, very well. You'll get tone thickening and increased sensitivity of the Cali76’s 1176-style compression, while retaining the natural attack and dynamic expression in your playing.


    The combination of the Dry blend and HPF helps make the Compact Bass get more fat and punchy at the same time.


    Turn the Ratio control clockwise to increase the compression ratio. As was the case in the Urei 1176, changing the ratio setting also varies the threshold level of the device. Dial in lower ratios for more subtle, or softer compression. You'll have to use the Input dial in conjunction with the Ratio dial to manage the overall threshold of the device.


    Origin Effects doesn't publish the ratio range but it feels quite similar to the TX.

    The Compact Bass can also be run at 18 volts and with basses (or any instrument with higher gain) you will want to run it at 18 volts. The Compact Bass had a tendency to distort when being used with some of my basses with preamps. It otherwise sounds no different, but there is a lot more headroom at 18 volts.


    Build Quality


    Both of these compressors are built with the highest quality standards. They are heavy and have a robust feel. Jacks are located on the top of both.


    Metering


    The Compact Bass has a single "jewel" LED that illuminates red indicating the pedal is activated. That same LED also has three additional stages of illumination indicating threshold/compression. Red means the signal is below threshold. Orange indicates moderate compression which varies a just a little bit in brightness. Yellow indicates intense maximum effect.


    It works, but isn't ideal. It is enough to give you a general idea of what is happening and is certainly better than nothing. But it pales in comparison to the magnificent threshold metering on the big box TX.


    The TX LED metering is outstanding.

    It is easy to read and has a wide range from attenuation of 1 db all the way to 31 db. It is highly responsive and allows you to easily see the interaction between attack and release and overall gain reduction. The best in the business.


    The TX also has a green led that illuminates indicating the pedal is activated.




    Footswitches


    The Compact Bass has a soft switch which I prefer. The TX has a more typical foot switch with audible click.


    Power


    Both operate at 9 volts to 18 volts. The Compact Bass will have more headroom at 18 volts but otherwise sounds quite the same as when operated at 9 volts. The TX has the added benefit of the transducer and pad/gain switching. It truly sounds better operated at 18 volts having a more lively sound.


    Additional thoughts


    I suspect the large size of the Cali76 TX will preclude many from even considering it. I can see that. If you have the room on your pedal board, or don't care about size, you owe it to yourself to give the big box TX a try. It really is a killer compressor.


    On the other hand, the Compact Bass is no slouch and really shouldn't be looked at as a lower class compressor. It should be thought of as its own unique beast. It is different than the TX yet there is a lot of inherent DNA between the two. Both are in the same sonic spectrum and feel.


    Of the two, the TX is the more organic and smooth feeling compression engine. I hear the Compact Bass as more "raw" and brighter and probably more punchy. Neither is better, just different. I supposed some would describe the TX has having that elusive "studio tone" we talk about.


    Noise level for both is quiet, but not silent. Both will be plenty quiet to satisfy all but the most scrupulous consumer.


    I find the Cali76 TX faster and easier to dial in. Much of this is due to the separate Attack and Release control and compelling threshold metering. But, finding the sweet spot between highs and compressed lows when using a 5 string bass is tricky. It is easy for things to feel to squishy down low. That's where the Compact Bass shines.


    I found myself constantly tweaking the dials on the Compact Bass. Sometimes just because they were there and curiosity rules but also because they are all so interactive that twisting one effects the other.

    This is both a blessing and a curse.


    So which should you buy?

    I'm sure my readers want me to come out and state which is the better device. I just can't do that because there isn't a better compressor here. There is a better option based on your needs though. In many ways, you can hear the similarities between the two. They are obviously cut from the same cloth.


    If I only played guitar or a 4 string bass I would opt for the TX, all things being equal. It just sounds more interesting.


    But for 5-string bass players you need to try the Compact Bass. It by no means clinical or boring. There is an inherent brightness and punchy feel that I'm sure will please many. And the ability to really dial in your low end is addicting. That and the Dry blend are killer aspects of the Compact Bass.




    So, if I had to choose just one? Hmm.... I'm going to say the Compact Bass by a slim margin.


    This is a case where having both really is a compelling proposition. Yeah, they aren't exactly the bargain priced devices, but they really are fantastic compressors. Some of the best available today.


    This is one of those cases where I say go try them both if you can. Don't take my ear for it!


    Cali76 Compact Bass Retail Price: $329


    Cali76 TX Retail Price: Discontinued (but currently in limited run release) $639


    OriginEffects.com



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