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Emerson Custom Duke Silver Compressor Review

Here's another new pedal from a lesser known manufacturer that hand wires all their products.

Hand built in Bixby, Oklahoma the Duke Compressor deserves attention and I'm glad I got my hands on one. It certainly would be considered unique in a crowded compressor market. The first batch shipped in early September.

The pedal is packed very well and the initial presentation is captivating. The Duke comes packed in its own box which is packed in a larger branded box. Surprisingly, there is no user guide. There was no other box candy included (no stickers, rubber feet, etc.).

The Duke Silver (maybe a little Parks and Recreation fandom thrown in?) is pretty transparent but offers a whole lot of tone tweaking. There are seven knobs neatly presented on the face of the pedal along with a beautiful paint job. It really looks great in person; much better than in photos.

It appears to have a fixed ratio, and it is pretty low. Maybe in the 3:1 to 5:1 range though it feels dynamic. When you are playing with less force, the compression seems to breathe more. Attacking the strings harder seems to alter the aggression at which the compression react. Emerson says the Sustain knob essentially serves to control the speed at which compression is applied. To me, it is really more like setting the threshold at which compression is applied. This isn't a compressor for limiting or squashing your signal. Turning the Sustain knob clockwise feels and sounds like it is lowering the threshold at which compression is being applied. The range isn't huge, but there is plenty of variety there to be found. I really liked the knob set between 11:00 and 1:00... with dry signal blended in.

The Level knob serves to restore gain lost during compression. I think there is enough gain on tap to satisfy most any scenario.

The Attack knob is marked with an A and sets the speed at which the compressor clamps down on the signal. Rotating more clockwise is faster Attack. I found I liked the Attack best between 8:00 and 10:00 to let some of my transient through. But the Attack has a great feel across the whole dial. With Sustain turned up past 1:00 and the Attack past 3:00 things get pretty grabby, but that's where the Mix Dial comes in to play.

The Mix dial is marked with the M and allows you to blend in your dry, uncompressed signal. I really like compressors with parallel option like this. Rotating all the way clockwise is full wet and rotating all the way counterclockwise sounds pretty untreated, or fully dry. The Mix knob is highly useful in dialing in your perfect compressed tone. With higher Sustain levels and faster attack, you'll probably want more dry signal to restore some dynamics. But you'll get a punchy feel when set this way.

Well, all of these mentioned controls are fairly standard with compressors today. But how about throwing a full EQ with boost and cut into the mix. Emerson says the EQ is post-compression circuit and it really works well and sounds fantastic. It's like having a compressor and equalizer pedal in one unit.

Each EQ dial does just what you think it would. Boosts or cuts each frequency range, providing a full +/1 15db. Each band is tuned to sound quite good for bass.

If you are the type that wants to bring in more top end, no problem. Want to squish your signal but then bring back some booty? No problem. Want to be more up front in the mix? Dial up the mids. It really doesn't take long to dial in something sounding really good.

OK, but what is it not? It isn't a limiter. It isn't the most versatile in terms of being able to control the release timing or ratio of compression. It is not a great option for those requiring heavier levels of compression. I think it makes for a real good subtle smoothing effect that is easy to dial in with bonus points for a nice EQ.

It can be full and fat, to big and punchy, to bright with jangle. It's all there.

It is pretty quiet but not as silent as compressors like the Effectrode or Diamond for example. There is some white noise but it is not a problem.

It would be natural to compare it to the likes of the Diamond or Mad Professor or Becos or the JHS Pulp 'n Peel all of which have a tone knob . The EQ on the Duke Silver is flat out more versatile than the tilt EQ of the others because you get a full three bands of tweaking potential. With the EQ set fat (all dials at noon) the Duke Silver is more transparent and uncolored than the Diamond or Mad Professor. With the EQ set flat, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of loss of highs or lows. Still sounds like your instrument, until you start tweaking the EQ.

I found myself liking the threshold a little lower than I normally do, blending in more dry signal, and boosting the bass EQ to about 1:00, cutting the mid EQ to about 11:30, and tweaking the treble EQ to taste. Very nice full, fat and punchy finger style. I can see where some people might like having two of these on their board with EQ points set differently for different tones. Hmm... now there's an idea.

It does have a tendency to distort with high output basses when the Sustain dial is at 3:00 or higher with Mix dial at 3:00 or higher.

But most people won't likely be setting things in that range anyway.

Input and Output jacks are top mounted as is the power supply. Requires 9 volts with center negative pin. There is no battery option. Foot switch is true bypass and there is an LED that lights white when activated. There is no gain reduction/threshold LED.

It seems to be a well made pedal. Knobs all turn with nice resistance.

I think the Emerson Custom Duke Silver is taking a different path and I quite like that. I can see this one being an always on type device.

Retail price: $199


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