There is much excitement and anticipation for the new Darkglass hybrid compressor so I wanted to get some thoughts out there as soon as possible.
I spent the better part of a day playing through the pedal with four different basses (G&L L2500, Pedulla fretless, Sire P7, and Tobias), a Genzler amp head through Genzler cabinets, through the Genzler amp with earphones, and through my Shift-Line Olympic MKIII with earphones. My cans of choice were Beyerdynamic DT770 which are high quality and sonically quite flat in terms of frequency response.
There is a lot of variables to test in this compressor so what I am publishing here are my initial thoughts. No doubt I will be spending a lot more time with this pedal in the days ahead. I know many of you just can't wait to read more about it so here it goes.
The pedal itself is very sexy. Dare I say the best looking compressor I've laid hands on.
Reminds me of some sort of device you'd see on an episode of Battlestar Galactica or something. </NerdComment> It is quite small and light weight but solid in build construction just like all Darkglass products. If you have experienced the former Super Symmetry (or any other Darkglass product) you know how the casing looks and feels. Definitely quality. Input and output jacks are on the side, as is the power jack. On the left side is a USB port which is used to connect the Hyper Luminal to a PC or Mac to use with the Darglass software Suite. More on that later.
The LED's are just plain awesome. There is really nothing like it in the compressor market. The gain reduction meters are familiar for anyone who used the Super Symmetry. But Darkglass has upped the game with more blue LED's to indicate ratio setting and compressor mode. The On/Off LED is blue as well.
I suspect some wonder how the width of the pedal compares to the now discontinued Super Symmetry. With right angle EBS cables the pedal measures 3 11/16 wide which is very close to the width of the Super Symmetry (which has top mounted jacks).
A major departure from traditional pedal design, the Hyper Luminal uses touch sensors for ratio and compressor models.
In my experience they work very well. You won't inadvertently change a setting by accidentally touching one. The sensors require some force applied before the buttons respond. There is no tactile response, you just need to push the defined area with some force.
There are four knobs: Blend, Time, Output, Compression.
Blend mixes your clean and compressed signal. All the way clockwise is complete effect and adding more dry as you rotate counterclockwise.
Compression knob sets the overall amount of compression and effects the internal makeup gain. The perceived volume becomes quite a bit louder as you rotate clockwise (especially past noon).
Output sets the output volume of the unit. There is plenty of gain on tap but it does add noise to the noise floor as you rotate clockwise especially past noon.
The Time knob sets both the attack and release together. By default the knob is configured in an inverse relationship meaning all the way counterclockwise is minimum attack and max release (compressor clamps more quickly on initial transient but waits longer to release) and all the way clockwise is max attack and minimum release (compressor waits longer to compress initial transient but releases more quickly). You can use the Darkglass Suite to fine tune these settings. For example, you can set the Time knob to a fixed release meaning the knob will only controls the attack. Or you can set the Time knob to a proportional setting where Attack and Release are controlled proportionally. This means all the way clockwise is slowest attack and slowest release, vice-versa when turned all the way counterclockwise. With all compressor types you also have the option of setting the Time knob to fixed Attack meaning the Time knob will only control release timing. Pretty nifty indeed.
The Darkglass Suite also allows you to fine tune the attack timing and release timing. See screen shot. I think some of the real magic comes with being able to adjust the digitally controlled high pass filter (HPF) to prevent lower frequencies from triggering the compressor. Want more bottom end, less compressed? Just set your HPF frequency point. I found a real nice sweet spot at between 120hz and 140hz.
Other nice features of the software Suite include the ability to save your compressor pedal setup as a backup to easily load later if you need to. You can also restore the pedal to original manufacturer settings with the click of a button. Unlike the TC Electronics Spectracomp software I have had absolutely no issues with the Darkglass Suite. It loads fast and just plain works.
So how does it sound? Well, there's a lot of variety baked in. Super Symmetry mode will be familiar to anybody who has used a Super Symmetry before. It has that same darker tone with perceived highs rolled off. Does it sound exactly the same? Can't say for certain but probably very, very close. Ratio settings are the same original range of the Super Symmetry.
FET mode is modeled after the legendary 1176® which is renowned for its transient impact and heralded for use on bass and drums. FET mode has some grit and energy to it that I quite like. This mode reminded me most of the Taurus Tux MK-2 I recently reviewed which has grit and a super punchy vibe. Maybe a bit like the punch of the Mad Professor Forest Green, the brightness and “pop” of the Cali76 CB, or maybe even a bit of the vibe of the Diamond BCP-1. There are 4 ratio settings: 4, 8, 12, 20 and Darkglass even accounted for the famous "all buttons in" mode of the 1176® which results in a real big tone and added harmonic content. Don't think all out distortion or OD but more "big". I don't have an 1176® to compare to but I quite liked how things sound in FET mode. This mode does have the most inherent noise floor though, especially as you increase ratio and then turn the Compression knob Clockwise and even more so as you add in more dry signal. The "all buttons in" mode is enabled when all four ratio LEDs are lit and really is unique. It does become more explosive. With my already aggressive G&L L2500 FET mode extended it’s inherent rudeness to a whole new level in a pleasing way. I definitely plan to spend more time in this mode. FET mode is the most capable as a limiter.
Bus mode is modeled after the Solid State® Logic Bus Compressor. Again, I don't have one to directly compare with but the Hyper Luminal in this mode just sounds really, really good. Not sure how to describe it. More punchy for sure but in a smooth way. Not really aggressive but wider and more articulate. There are 4 ratio settings: 1.5, 2, 4 and 10. I found myself gravitating to ratio 2:1 and 4:1 most for real nice subtle smoothing out with added sustain and punch. It takes higher rotations of the Compressor knob and lowered rotations of the Time knob to trigger the gain reduction compared to the FET mode. With the same G&L L2500 in bus mode the bass tone sweetened out without losing punch or excitement. Nice.
I suspect most customers will buy the Hyper Luminal for the BUS and FET settings and I prefer both to the Super Symmetry setting. But that Super Symmetry setting is there for the time when you need a bit more woolly and vintage sound and feel. The Super Symmetry mode has the lowest noise floor.
Having all three modes and so much control with the Suite makes this compressor highly versatile.
With the array of flashing lights does come the need for a little more juice to power the pedal. It runs on standard 9 volt DC adapter with center-negative plug but Darkglass says the pedal has a current draw of 250ma. That might make create a bit of a challenge for some pedal board power supplies. I ran the pedal off two 100ma ports on my CIOKS DC5 using a parallel cable combing the sum of the current of the two ports creating 200ma. I never encountered a problem but the manual states the pedal has a 250ma requirement. The Hyper Luminal does double the voltage internally meaning 9 volt is doubled to 18 volt creating more headroom. I had no issues with any of my basses.
It is not the most quiet compressor ever but far from the noisiest either. I A/B tested against the Diamond, FEA DB-CL, Taurus Tux, Cali76 CB, and Mad Professor Forest Green and the Hyper Luminal had similar noise floor to the Cali76 CB at comparable gain settings. But understand it is probably not an issue for all but the most picky and sensitive users.
There's a lot to like for sure and the Hyper Luminal definitely forges a new path. You get a very well made tool with a whole lot of versatility and it really sounds great. A whole lot of compressor here and an interesting approach with digital control of an analogue circuit. The touch sensitive buttons are unique and the LED's are flat out cool. There is nothing like it on the market and I think a major progression in compressor pedal architecture. The Darkglass Suite customizations bring things to a whole new level.
No doubt Darkglass has a hit here. You can dial in smooth and controlled, more aggressive and punchy, and really anything in between. Those looking for more of a limiter will find ways to dial the Hyper Luminal to satisfaction too. The gain reduction LED's help you understand what is going on with the compression as you train your ear. Really nice piece of gear here.
Nice price too at $249 retail.