Free the Tone is a Japanese company led by Yuki Hayashi, the owner and president. Each Free The Tone pedal is handmade and certainly boutique quality and feel. Mr Hayashi even hand signs each Silky Comp. All of the lettering on the pedal is hand written.
Product packaging is superb. The compressor pedal comes neatly seated in a formed box that makes for a strong unboxing experience. Not that clever packaging makes for a killer compressor, but it is nice to see amidst all of the generic white boxes out there.
Check out the product presentation.
The user manual is pretty useless though. It doesn't provide much at all in the way of control operations or suggested configurations. Very vague.
You might recognize the name Yuki Hayashi as the once designer of guitar pedals for Providence, another Japanese Pedal manufacturer. Unlike pedals from Providence, Free The Sound claims each of their pedals feature a proprietary soldering technique that promises greater sound fidelity. The way the circuit boards are placed in the enclosure it is hard to see much of the soldering work.
The user guide says the proprietary soldiering technique is able to
"provide a special natural sound with a smooth and glossy silkiness that will change your concept of compressor pedals up till now."
With a name like Silky Comp, is it safe to assume the compression style is smooth and transparent? Does it provide a special natural sound? Is there secret sauce baked in to deliver a smooth and glossy silkiness? Read on.
The Free The Tone Silky Comp has just 3 controls and they are highly interactive.
The Level dial is pretty self-explanatory adding in makeup gain as you adjust the Attack and Sustain dials.
If you are familiar with compressors or have used many different compressors you will find the Attack and Sustain dials unconventional. That said, what you get when adjusting the dials is exactly what the English words Attack and Sustain mean.
Turning the Sustain dial more clockwise definitely delivers more sustain. In fact, there is so much sustain on tap you might never want it turned all the way up. To my ear, this dial is impacting both the ratio and release effect of the compressor. It definitely feels more squashy as you increase the sustain and the release time is definitely longer as you rotate the dial clockwise.
The Attack dial seems very subtle at first. I wasn't noticing much change as I rotated the dial more clockwise. That is until I also started rotating the Sustain dial more clockwise. Turning the Attack dial more clockwise brings a bolder, slightly bigger tone. Turning the Attack all the way clockwise and the Sustain all the way clockwise makes for a pretty decent limiting effect without obvious pumping effect. Nice.
Use your ear and you will come to notice and appreciate how the Attack improves your tone and smoothing out your playing.
There is something more going on with this dial than just adjusting the attack time. I want to say it too is effecting threshold somehow.
Setting the Sustain dial between 10:00 and noon and the attack dial between 10:00 and 1:00 (depending on the instrument you are using to feed it) provides a nice subtle squeeze. With these settings but also bumping the Level dial just a touch above unity will deliver a little more power in your sound in a very transparent way.
The Silky Comp is not about coloration. It is very transparent to the point of being what some might call sterile in effect. But that is where the Silky Comp shines. By getting out of your way and just adding a bit of polish to your sound.
At all settings I found the Silky Comp to be open and musical. It breathes and doesn't feel overly squashy yet is obviously compressing your signal. Is that what is meant by "silky compression"?
Smooth, musical, and uncolored would be three words I would use to describe the Silky Comp.
Turning the Sustain and Attack knobs 100% clockwise has the ability to push a clean amp and deliver some distortion. It is not intense, but there and noticeable. At the same time, those settings will deliver more of a limiter effect that is quite nice.
The Free The Tone Silky Comp is not the most versatile compressor. You have limited controls. It is a bit unconventional in how it operates and how you go about dialing it in. It is not about coloration or tone magic. It is about subtle squeeze, polish, and transparency. If you want sustain, this is the pedal for you.
No doubt the compressor pedal is well made. It has a nice weight and the handwritten letters are a nice touch.
The enclosure has enough room for a 9-volt battery. There is a blue LED that illuminates when the pedal is activated but there is no LED indicating gain reduction or threshold meter.
Input/output jacks are on the side as is the 9-volt power supply input jack.
Footswitch is true bypass. Free The Tone literature says it is a special bypass circuit where the signal is only passed through one set of contacts when bypassed.
It isn't a compressor that is going to make you sound dramatically fuller. On bass, all of your range will be equally compressed, including the low end. On the one hand, this can make it seem like some of the lows are lost. In reality, lows are tightened up and brought inline with the volume of the rest of your signal. Highs sound like they are left intact.
It is quiet. I never noticed much in the way of increased noise until the Level dial was up past 3:00.
Looking for a compressor that is smooth and not overbearing? The Free The Tone Silky Comp might be for you.
Sustain for days
Not very versatile
A bit unconventional in how the controls interact
Retail price: approximately $320 USD