The Donner Ultimate Comp is a little compressor in size and it also costs just a little. It is often said that sometimes good things come in small packages and is this the case here? Let's take a look.
There are other small form factor compressor pedals on the market including the Becos CompIQ MINI Pro Compressor, Becos CompIQ Mini One Pro Compressor, and Pigtronix Philosopher Bass Compressor Micro and the Donner fits right into this mix. The Donner Ultimate Comp has a quality feel to it, notably because of its weight. It is surprisingly hefty feeling for its small demeanor. All knobs turn with a precise feeling and the switches act solidly.
There are 3 dials, one toggle switch and the on/off foot switch on the face of the pedal. Only one of them, the Comp dial, effects the compression circuit. I inquired of Donner asking about the technical specs, especially the range of ratio effected, but they declined to answer. To my ear, the single Comp dial is an interactive adjustment of both threshold and ratio simultaneously. That's not necessarily an uncommon function in some compressor designs but I'll admit I'm skeptical when I see it implemented.
I tend to find the ratio and threshold controls to be two of the most important elements for dialing in the kind of compression I like. On the other hand, I'm sure many musicians would opt for simplicity if implemented well.
The Comp dial has a wide range from nearly unnoticeable and transparent all the way to limiting territory. Where I was most impressed is how well the compressor performs at more extreme settings where the Comp dial is at 1:00 or higher. At these settings it is most definitely squashing the signal quite significantly, but at first I found myself wondering if it was doing anything at all. That is until I started digging in and attacking the strings of my bass guitar more aggressively. I then realized that, wow, it was really compressing my signal but in a very natural way without any dip and swell and with little unwanted added noise. It was evening out my attack very well. It sort of tricked me at first, in a good way. The Ultimate Comp is excellent for slap style on bass where it does a fantastic job of evening out the slap and pop yet doesn't really ever feel choked. On the negative side after 2:00 or so on the dial you can get the device to distort. Depending on the output of your instrument, you may or not see it as an issue. I doubt anybody with a passive instrument would have any reason to complain but an active bass with hot pickups and a heavy hand might. However, it is really only noticeable after 2:00 or so on the dial. At that point you are getting more into extremes and the comp is working to limit all of this heavy input. At 1:00 and lower there are no issues at all. It isn't uncommon for compressors to distort under conditions like this but it is something to be aware of.
The sweet spot for me was between 9:00 and noon where I found the Donner to be very transparent and obviously compressing, but in a very natural way.
It was in this range that I found the compressor to be aiding my playing in a good way without being in the way. I would gladly leave it on all the time.
The Level knob is there to help regulate volume. With this build, as you turn the Comp dial clockwise the volume dramatically increases. In practice, if you set the Comp dial to noon or less you will find yourself increasing the Level dial. With the Comp dial rotated to noon or higher you are going to find yourself backing off on the Level dial. In any case, I never found myself turning the Level dial past about 10:00. If you are looking for a boost pedal, you could definitely use the Donner for that purpose. There is plenty of gain on tap. Frankly, more than enough. The Tone dial acts like a tilt EQ allowing you to add or subtract frequencies. Starting at noon, the EQ function seems to be in its most neutral position though I heard a slight increase in brightness unless I had EQ just behind noon. But rotating the dial counterclockwise introduces more lower frequencies and cuts highs. Rotating the dial clockwise does the opposite. A little goes a long way. I enjoyed this function with guitar, but not so much with bass. In my opinion, the EQ is better suited for guitar. With bass, rotating the dial counter clockwise gets too complex in the mids and makes things muddy. Rotating clockwise, things get brittle fast. However, I do see use cases on instruments that are overly bright or possibly with bass guitar where you might want just a little more bite. Just a little tweak of the dial might suit you well. It isn't nearly as dynamic as the tilt EQ in the infamous Diamond Bass Compressor though. The toggle switch located between the Level and Tone dials lets you select a more traditional compression feel in the upward Normal position or a significantly treble-boosted effect by flipping the switch to the downward position. I found little use for the treble boost position with guitar or bass.
The Donner compression foot switch incorporates true bypass circuitry. There is a red LED that illuminates when the pedal is activated. Power requirements are 9v with center negative tip. Case is aluminum. Input and output jacks are located on the sides with power input on the top. There is no room for a battery inside. The Donner Ultimate Comp certainly lacks many features of other compressor pedals such as attack and release knobs, threshold control, and independent ratio control yet it still manages to do a great job of delivering great sound and natural compression. It is certainly not one of those "tone magic" devices but it isn't trying to be.
It seems its mojo is staying out of the way by not entirely killing your dynamics while nicely boosting or attenuating notes without noticeably deviating volume level.
Compared to the Becos CompIQ Mini One Pro Compressor, the Donner lacks the superb multi-LED gain reduction metering, has no dry/wet signal balance, and has no independent threshold control switch. Compared to the Becos CompIQ MINI Pro Compressor the Ultimate Comp lacks the gain metering, wet/dry signal balance feature, and also a hard/soft knee control, and full threshold dial. Given the choice, I'd prefer these features but the Donner costs just a fraction of the price of these two. That said, all of these compressors are similar in the sense that they aim for transparency, and clean natural compression.
Do good things come in small packages? In the case of the Donner Ultimate Comp, I'd say yes.
It costs just $38 bucks but packs a punch above its weight class. I'd recommend it for cases where you want to level out your playing in a transparent way on a budget. It does a great job of keeping your playing in check. Build quality seems nice and the circuit is overall very quiet. I was pleasantly surprised but this little one. It is not perfect, but especially considering the price point, I think this is a solid option to consider. Pros: • Price • Build quality seems high • Intuitive controls (albeit limited) • Form factor allows for easy pedalboard placement • Nice clean, transparent compression • Versatile enough to be an always on device, or activate for heavier limiting
Cons: • Limited functionality (especially lacking independent ratio, attack, release and threshold controls) • Some distortion at more extreme settings • No battery operation • EQ circuit is certainly useable though not overly impressive
Retail price: $37.99 DonnerDeal.com