I can see where some will look at this pedal and immediately rule it out because of the fact there are 11 knobs, two foot switches and a toggle switch. It is a bit daunting.
With all those knobs comes a lot of versatility. You essentially have full control over two compressors in one smallish pedal format. Pretty radical actually.
The DB-CL I am testing is one generation old but I believe it to be identical other than the newest version has the speckled paint job. It is the only one I was able to find. It appears to be of high quality and has substantial weight to it. The case is the size of the original Diamond (pre Bass Comp JR size).
In addition to the knobs and switch are three LEDs: • A power on/off LED that lights blue • LED for each compressor (Lo band and High band) that light an orange color as your signal crosses threshold. Note: the LED does not indicate release.
The pedal has side jacks and top mounted power which is 9 volt with onboard voltage charge pump that allows the circuitry to operate at 18volts from a single 9 volt power supply. No issue with headroom here. HI and LO/FULL output jacks are configured so the outputs of the individual compressors may be routed to different amplifiers or effects. In other words, you could route highs to one amplifier and lows to another. Using only the Full/Low output is a blend of both.
There is a foot switch to activate or bypass the pedal (true bypass) and a foot switch to activate or deactivate the hi band only.
There is a Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release, and Gain control for each compressor (Lo band and High band).
Ratio on both channels has a range of 2:1 to 7:1. This allows for nice subtle, smooth compression to stronger control though not the uber squashy compression like devices providing up to 20:1. For most conventional uses, a high of 7:1 should be more than sufficient. The FEA website says both bands exhibit soft-knee compression at lower ratio settings and hard-knee at maximum ratio settings. To my hear, I hear this to be readily apparent.
Threshold has a nice wide range and provided me more than enough control of selecting the point at which the signal gets compressed.
Attack on the Lo channel provides a range of 2ms to 0.15s and on the high channel, 2mS to 48mS.
Release provides for .1s to 1.2s on the the Lo channel and 33ms - 533mS.
Gain provides plenty of gain and is unique in that you are able to independently control the gain of both compressors.
Some of the magic comes by way of the Frequency knob that essentially allows you to set at what frequencies are routed to the Lo vs. Hi band compressor. Pretty nifty.
I found a nice sweet spot at about 9:00 which I'm guessing is somewhere around 100hz. So not only are you able to independently control the level of compression for each band you can optimize each band by routing the frequency range you desire to each.
The low band additionally has a switch allowing you to toggle between Compressor and Limiter modes. When flipped to limiter the low band's ratio is set at infinity:1. It works quite well but with that high ratio don't expect a lot of initial transient strength. But as a limiter, it works well.
So how does it sound?
The FEA DB-CL has a nice smooth, tight sound and feel to it. I could definitely tell when the pedal was on or off.
It's not that it adds a ton of fatness, but it aids articulation and presence for sure. It doesn't seem to lose lows or highs. I found I really liked a little higher release and ratio on the lo band to tighten up the bottom and aid sustain and then a lower ratio and faster release time on the hi band for articulation and punch. That's the beauty of this dual band compressor with independent controls.
I found these settings to suit me real well: Lo band Threshold at 1:00 Ratio at 11:00 Attack at 8:30 Release at 1:00 Gain at 1:00
Hi band Threshold at 2:00 Ratio at 9:00 Attack at 9:30 Release at 9:00 Gain at 11:30
Frequency at about 8:30 or 9:00.
It's not as dark sounding as the FEA Opti-Fet I reviewed earlier but the FEA DB-CL is not the brightest either (think Cali or Taurus Tux or even Empress). It is a nice neutral smooth tone that lets your instrument shine while providing nice control of both highs and lows. It doesn't really add coloration per se (think Diamond, Doc Lloyd, Pulp N Peel, Forest Green). If you are looking for tone fattening or coloration this isn't the compressor for you.
It's not a tone magic device.
It does't really have a raw side in any range of controls (think Darkglass Hyper Luminal in FET, Taurus Tux, EBS Multicomp in Tubesim, Effectrode). For clean and articulate "presence" this thing is fantastic offering far more control than the Keeley Bassist and even the Empress).
The knobs turn with authority, the LED's work great to tell you want is going on, and the control provides a ton of flexibility. True, the LED's on the Darkglass Supersymmetry, Darkglass Hyper Luminal, and Empress offer more information, the fact that the FEA has an LED for each compressor works quite well and is helpful in understanding how the pedal is compressing. Don't let all the knobs scare you. It is daunting at first, but with time you can really dial in a sweet tone. The pedal is very, very quiet.
I can see this as a great compressor for people with many different instruments that react differently in the highs and lows. The FEA would allow you to dial in a config that suits the balance of highs and lows on each bass.
For example, I really like how I can keep my lows tight and punchy while smoothing out the highs on an overly bright bass like a G&L L2500. Your mileage may vary but this is a pretty compelling offering from FEA.
Retail price: $345