The NiCompressor was the final pedal design from founder Nicholas J.P. Harris before he tragically passed away in 2016. The team at Catalinbread took the prototype, made a few tweaks, and brought the design to market. It is said the goal was to create a device that users would leave always on in their signal chain. Note: Catalinbread was purchased by musicians and studio owners Kyle Sears and Brandon Rush in 2020.
The NiCompressor is based on the 1970's classic "The Choker" compressor from Loco Box. I would like to get my hands on one of the original The Choker pedals sometime. It is said to be a similar design to the Ross compressor but voiced differently and maybe more "hi-fi" and subtle.
Catalinbread's own literature says The Choker is "capable of achieving exceptional compression dynamics while keeping higher-frequencies intact" which the result being a tone that is more full and fat sounding. Catalinbread has sought to expand on this with the NiCompressor. It is a FET based, transistors and op-amp design.
The most obvious example of design tweaks are the boost only bass and treble EQ controls.
Turning either dial clockwise boosts treble and bass. I found the treble boost useful, especially on bass to open up the tone. I didn't care for the frequency of the bass control as much for bass but fine for guitar. I found increasing the dial made my bass tone more muddy but the treble boost added a nice sparkle. The pedal is inherently dark sounding so adding some treble helps make it feel like it is opened up with more detail. I contacted Catalinbread and they told me the neutral position for both the treble and bass dials is all the way counterclockwise. That said, even with no treble or bass boost added (the dials all the way counterclockwise) the pedal is not transparent. It is noticeably colored and darker sounding as soon as it is activated.
The Gain dial is there to add some grit to the tone. It does, sort of. It isn't dramatic and it isn't all that pleasing. What it does do is add a lot of noise to the signal. How it performs is strange. The amount of gain added in the first 1/2 of the dial is not nearly as much as the second half. And the amount of noise (hiss) added is more in the first 2/3 of the dial than in the later 1/3. In fact, the overall circuit is the least noisy with the gain dial between 2:00 and 3:00. After 3:00 it gets very noisy and before 2:00 there is always audible his, unless you keep it around off to 9:00. Strange.
The Volume dial is there for makeup volume after compression is increased.
Lastly, the single dial labeled Compression. To my ear, as I rotated the dial more clockwise it seemed like the amount of compression was increasing but also that the device was getting more sensitive to the input signal. In other words, that the threshold at which the compression was being applied was lower as you rotated the dial clockwise. I reached out to Catalinbread for an explanation of the design. Sure enough, they confirmed the Compression dial controls threshold and ratio which increases from 1:1 to infinity:1. Attack timing is fixed with a 4.8ms and a 350ms release, so increasing the Compression knob doesn't change those parameters. The fact that the ratio supposedly extends to infinity:1 does not mean that the NiCompressor makes for a good limiting device. It isn't. I'm skeptical of the ratio figures. It certainly does get more squishy as you rotate the dial but it doesn't clamp like an all-on limiter would.
As mentioned already, this is not a transparent sounding device.
It is inherently dark sounding, even with no treble and bass boost added. It is very smooth but not necessarily in a good way. What I mean is the whole thing feels more like an EQ pedal than a compressor. As a compressor, the NiCompressor it is not versatile at all. If you can tolerate the added noise, switching on the NiCompressor will make your tone fatter sounding.
I especially like it with slap style bass as the compression knocks of the peaks with a nice scooped sound and punchy feel.
The Catalinbread NiCompressor is more about effect than control which isn't necessarily a bad thing but you should no this going in.
Sadly the pedal is noisy which is really too bad because it is otherwise a fun device.
It is definitely one of the fullest sounding compressors I've experienced. With bass guitar, you will likely want to boost the treble dial to at least 9 :00 - 10:00 to restore some definition and clarity to your signal. A little of the bass dial goes a long way before things get muddy. However, with guitar, the bass dial is more useful.
There is a single LED that illuminates when power is applied and the pedal is activated by the foot switch. Input and output jacks are side mounted as is the 9 volt, center negative power input. You can get the pedal in a black and silver case or white and black case. Quality seems good enough. I personally prefer top mounted jacks.
Overall, the NiCompressor isn't one that would make my recommended list. It feels unfinished and quirky. Notably, the gain control, noise level and inherent highly colored tone which is not necessarily a good kind of color. It's muddy but if you like dark and full you might like it. Pros: • Full sounding • Colored (if that's your thing) • Simple compression control (which might also be one of its negative traits) Cons: • Noisy • Quirky gain control • Highly colored, even with the treble and bass controls all the way counterclockwise • Lacking versatility • Side mounted jacks Retail price: $249 though no longer featured on the Catalinbread website. Catalinbread.com View all compressor reviews