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DSM Humboldt Clearcomp 1078 Compressor Review

Here we have a new compressor offering from DSM Humboldt, the company that brought us the Simplifier Bass Station. Like the Simplifier, the Clearcomp is clearly a quality device. DSM Humboldt describes the Clearcomp as a "transparent compressor featuring unique Dynamic Threshold technology." Additionally, they say "DSM offers a new DT Topology which dynamically modifies the threshold with a fixed gain reduction, achieving a natural and transparent compression effect, with lower noise floor, less coloring and higher dynamic range." That's a mouth full. What does that all mean and how does it play out? Read on.

There are six dials, one toggle switch, foot switch and LED meter on the face of the pedal. Think of the Compression dial as means to control the input gain of the compression engine. The higher you turn the dial (clockwise) the more gain you are delivering to the compression engine. The net effect is more signal hitting the circuit therefore making the compression engine more sensitive to your input signal. Though it is labeled Compression, it is not technically controlling the amount of compression though how you have this dial set substantially impacts how the rest of the compression engine responds. The Ratio dial adjusts the gain reduction ratio, from slight compression (1:2) to full limiting (1:20). The Clearcomp can be dialed in to be very squishy. The Attack dial controls the attack time, from 5ms to 100ms. Rotate the dial more clockwise for a slower attack time and more natural feel by allowing more initial transient through. The Release dial adjusts the length of time the gain reduction is applied, from 30ms to 3s. Rotate more clockwise for slower release and more sustain. The Blend dial allows you to blend the compressed signal with the unaffected (dry) input signal. I typically like compressors that allow control over dry and wet signal. Rotate the dial more clockwise for more compressed signal and less original (dry) input signal. The Level dial sets the output level of the compressor. There is plenty of gain on tap. There is a 3 position toggle switch that sets the starting point of the "dynamic threshold" on either HI, MID, or LOW. Typically, having control over the point at which a compressor kicks in is referred to as "threshold". In other words, once a signal crosses the threshold set, the compression engine engages. This is true for the DSM Humboldt Clearcomp but you have only three predefined settings. If you are playing a bass guitar with preamp you will want the threshold set to Hi or possibly Mid. Playing a passive instrument or instrument with low output in general, you will want to select Low threshold to ensure the compression engine receives signal to compress.

This is where things get sticky. There is a high level of interactivity between the Compression dial and Threshold toggle.

For example, you could set the Threshold to Hi but set the Compression dial to 2:00. Doing so essentially is telling the compression engine to not get easily triggered but on the other hand, the input is being driven hard, thereby sending a strong signal to the compression engine. The result is more active compression. The converse is also true. You also get a substantial volume increase as you rotate the Compression dial clockwise which means you are definitely going to need to compensate by turning the Level dial counterclockwise. Small changes in the Compression dial make dramatic changes to how the rest of the circuit responds which makes dialing in the compressor challenging. You could also set the Ratio dial to a more extreme setting but set the Compression dial to 7:00 and the Threshold toggle to Mid. Though the ratio is high, the overall net result is not necessarily highly aggressive compression due to how low the input level is. You really need to experiment. The Clearcomp is one of those devices that will react quite different with each instrument.

Having seen photos of the LED meter I must admit I was quite interested in seeing how it worked in real life.

The pictures made it look cool. DSM Humboldt describes the meter as "a multicolor 5-stage LED bar graph to visualize the resulting envelope level in real time." It is essentially a gain reduction meter. There are three colors — green, yellow, and red. The idea is that lower levels of gain reduction are green, then yellow with aggressive compression indicated by red. And well, it is lackluster. I'm not impressed. In reality, the meter does a poor job of indicating low levels of compression and when it does, the green color and intensity is frustratingly difficult to see. It seems too often the whole bar graph simply lights up as seen in the photo below. Note: I turned the ambient light down in the room when I took the photo to help the LED bar graph better show.

It is not nearly accurate enough. It's the best example of a gain reduction meter being a gimmick on any compressor I've tested to date. Too often it simply lit up like the above with little difference. So how does the DSM Humboldt Clearcomp 1078 sound and function? The short answer is as described. It is definitely transparent. So much so that I'd call it sterile. It can be difficult to dial in. It can certainly be used as a limiter. It is very utilitarian in tonal execution. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but other than limiting peaks, I honestly preferred my tone without the DSM Humbolt engaged.

To my ear, it sucked warmth out of my guitar and bass. Lows are lost which made me dial in more of my dry signal to compensate.

It does nothing to enhance tone, which again, is not necessarily a bad thing. There is a red LE that illuminates when the foot switch is engaged. The pedal can run on 9V to 18V, 100mA. 18 volt offers more headroom though I found no issue with headroom running of a 9volt Onespot power supply. The Clearcomp feels sold — it has a nice weight to it. The dials all turn with authority and nice resistance. It is an obviously quality build. Input and output jacks are side mounted and the power input is located at the top. DSM Humbolt literature says the Clearcomp offers "a brand new topology to guarantee both: transparency and low noise." Well, the Clearcomp is quiet — there no issue with noise floor. I'm not exactly sure what makes this device a radically different topology and there are plenty of other transparent compressors on the market that are also quiet.

On that note, with so many other great compressors on the market today, I'd skip the DSM Humboldt.

It's not that it doesn't work. It does. But it is a boring compressor that doesn't do anything great and can be tricky to use. Pros: • Quality build • Quiet • Transparent Cons: • Sterile sounding • LED meter • Tricky to dial in • Boring Retail price: $269 View all compressor reviews


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