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Origin Effects Cali76 Bass Compressor Review

When photos first leaked in advance of the release of this new compressor from Origin Effects there was a lot of excitement. And rightfully so. The lineup of compressors from Origin Effects is almost legendary. From the quality of the builds to the tone and performance there sure is a lot to like. Many still consider the various Cali76 "Big Box" compressors the best there is. They sure do sound great albeit, well, they are big for a pedalboard. When Origin released the smaller format compressors like the Cali76 Compact Bass and Compact Deluxe people readily snatched them up. I've been fond of both the big box designs and the compact format pedals for quite some time and have used varieties of each with many different guitars and basses. They aren't for everyone (for various reasons) but definitely have enjoyed a loyal following. See my review comparing the Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Bass and Origin Effects Cali76 TX here. Well, now Origin Effects is at it again with the just released even smaller pedal format Cali76 Bass Compressor and Cali76 FET Compressor.

This review is written with a focus on the Cali76 Bass Compressor though I do hope to review the FET Compressor sometime soon. First and foremost, the pedal is smaller and will definitely fit better in tight spaces and on smaller pedal boards. The second functional change you will notice right away is that Origin Effects did away with the jewel style LED that served dual purpose of indicating when the pedal was activated and applying some semblance of threshold/compression monitoring. The jewel LED offered three stages of illumination indicating threshold/compression. Red meant the signal was below threshold. Orange indicated moderate compression which varied just a little bit in brightness. Yellow indicated intense maximum effect. While the jewel looked cool and worked, it really wasn't ideal. It was enough to give you a general idea of what is happening and was certainly better than nothing. But it pales in comparison to the magnificent threshold metering found on the big box TX. Now, the new Cali76 Bass Compressor has adopted a single orange LED indicating the pedal is active and also an array of 10 white LEDs.

The LEDs illuminate from right to left depending on the amount of signal crossing threshold and active compression. The gain reduction meter shows not only how severely the signal peaks are being compressed, but also how fast the compressor is acting. Only one LED in the array technically illuminates at a time. But as the LEDs illuminate there is some artifact of the prior LED that is still lit up making for an interesting implementation. Personally, I still find the LED metering found on the Cali76 big box compressors to be a better implementation and the Empress Bass Compressor and MKII Compressor are still the gold standard. That said, the new 10 LED array is much more useful than the jewel. The Cali76 Bass Compressor is all-analogue FET based circuitry. It operates on 9 volts with voltage increased internally to 24V for high headroom. Input and output jacks are top mounted as is the power input jack. On the face of the pedal are the same 6 dials found in the prior Cali76 Bass Compressor.

The IN control sets the signal level feeding into the compression circuit. As the level is increased the result is more compression. Origin Effects says that just like an actual 1176®, the Cali76 Bass Compressor has a fixed threshold (the level above which compression is applied). Increasing the IN control pushes more of your signal over that threshold, meaning that a greater portion of the signal is compressed. It is worth noting that as you increase the IN dial (rotating clockwise) you will make the signal louder (somewhat dramatically), so you will need to balance with the OUT control. The OUT control sets the level of the compressed signal present at the pedal’s output. In other words, it dictates how loud the output signal will be and can be used to drive pedals further down the pedal chain. There is plenty of output on tap. You will need to increase the output when using lower settings on the IN knob and vice versa. Think of it like this. Compare your compressed signal to your bypass signal and adjust the OUT knob so that the levels match. That's a good place to start. The DRY control sets the amount of your dry, uncompressed signal blended with the wet, compressed signal. It's called Parallel compression and allows you to utilize the compressor at higher ratios (more compression) and helps retain more of the natural dynamics and clarity to the heavily compressed sounds. Origin Effects says that unity gain can be found at approximately 2 o’clock on the DRY knob, while turning this control fully clockwise will boost the signal by 9dB. For my tastes, the sweet spots are found more in the 9:00 to noon range. The DRY control is highly interactive with the OUT control and as you increase the DRY range you will need to compensate by lowering the output by rotating the OUT counterclockwise (unless you are going for louder output overall). Interestingly, with this setup I find myself rotating the OUT control all the way counterclockwise when setting the DRY above 2:00. This RATIO control adjusts the ratio of the compression. The range is 4:1 with the dial all the way counterclockwise all the way to 20:1. In other words, the higher you set the ratio, the more gain reduction is applied to signals that exceed the fixed threshold of the compressor. Setting the RATIO quite high but the IN control low will mean that just the peaks of your signal are clamped down. Setting the IN control higher with lower ratios results in a gentle fattening of the whole signal. And then you can configure anywhere in between. The higher the IN control is set, the more signal is crossing threshold meaning more signal will be affected by the compression engine. You really need to play around with it to find the sweet spots for your style and particular instrument.

At first, it is not the easiest system to dial in but becomes intuitive given more time and experience.

The ATT/REL control simultaneously adjusts the Attack and Release of the compressor. So, you do not have independent control of both of these parameters which might be a deal breaker for some. Origin Effects says that the combination control gives you quick access to the most useful combinations of these two parameters. This control ranges from fast Attack and slow Release in its counterclockwise position to slow Attack and fast Release in its clockwise position.

Do you want to dial in slow attack and slow release? Well, not really doable.

In practice, the combined attack and release control works well enough by providing enough variation to satisfy. Attack refers to how quickly the compressor starts acting after the signal exceeds the threshold. Longer attack times allow more transient through meaning you get more of that initial punch or pick dynamic coming through before the compressor clamps down. Think more percussive and punchy sounding. Fast attack times will reduce this initial note attack more quickly and leads to a smoother sound with more even dynamics. Attack times range from 1.6ms to 5.1ms. Release refers to how quickly the compressor stops clamping down on the signal after it begins to drop in level. Longer release times means the compressor is holding on longer and typically results in what we would refer to as increased sustain. Shorter release times means the compressor lets go sooner and results in what we typically refer to as more natural and dynamic type response. The RELEASE control’s fastest setting is fully clockwise. Release times range from 73ms to 880ms.

Then you have the HPF control that adjusts a variable high-pass filter on the compressor’s sidechain. The sidechain is part of the compressor circuit that determines how the compressor responds to the input signal. With bass guitar, low end content can unnecessarily trigger compression. The HPF function here allows you to filter out low end content from the side chain to prevent the compressor from being triggered by the extreme lows. The more you rotate the HPF control clockwise the more you will tell the compressor to react only to the higher-frequency details of your playing. The HPF control ranges from 0Hz to 400Hz. If you want more lows to pass through untouched, rotate the dial more clockwise. This comes with a tradeoff of course. If you allow more lows to pass through untouched, it is possible to get into more unbalanced territory where low notes can sound louder or less defined. Use your ear to find the sweet spot. When playing a 5-string bass, I prefer the HPF somewhere around 9:00. With a 4-string bass, noon is perfect. Your ear may tell you differently though. The footswitch on the Cali76 Bass Compressor is buffered bypass with electronic switching for low-noise operation. There is no click noise when activating and deactivating the pedal. I quite like that.

At this point, I suppose many of my readers are probably wondering how this new Cali76 Bass Compressor sounds and performs compared to the big box TX compressor and the former Cali76 Compact Bass compressor. Well, they are all in the same ballpark.

Of the three I find the TX to be the most organic and smooth feeling compression engine. I hear the Compact Bass as more "raw" and brighter and would probably be described as punchier than the big box TX. Neither is better, just different. To my ear, the new Cali76 Bass Compressor sits somewhere in the middle.

To some degree you might say we are splitting hairs but there really are differences. There is an inherent "sparkle" or "sheen" up top that the Cali76 Compact Bass delivered, and I just don't hear that to the same degree with the new Bass Compressor. At the same time, the Bass Compressor seems smoother overall and a bit quieter in general. Now, it is worth noting that the Cali76 Compact Bass could be powered at 9 volts or 18 volts. The latter offered more headroom before distortion for sure. But it also tended to smooth things out a bit too. So, the comparison between the Cali76 Compact Bass running at 18 volts and the new Bass Compressor (which may only be operated at 9 volts) is much closer.

Still, I find that there is more air up top with the Compact Bass compressor. Notes seem to pop more, and it feels livelier than the new Bass Compressor.

When you have them side by side and switch back and forth you can hear that the higher notes are more subdued and more rounded out with the new Bass Compressor compared to the Compact Bass. I attempted to blend in drier signal to offset this but still came away feeling like the new Bass Compressor likes to smooth out (or round out) the signal more. Whether that is desirable or not depends on your taste. While there are differences it's not that these differences are dramatic, but they are there. Origin Effects says the Cali76 Bass Compressor’s sidechain has been tweaked to match the rare and desirable “large format” Cali76 from 2012, giving it even more punch and clarity. I'm not sure about that description since to my ear the Cali76 Compact Bass is still the "punchiest" sounding of the three. I do tend to hear the new Bass Compressor as being more similar in sound and feel to the big box TX. If by "clarity" Origin Effects means that the new Bass Compressor is less "colored" than the former Compact Bass I would tend to agree.

Words like smooth and full-bodied come to mind describing the new Bass Compressor and I hear it as bigger sounding overall.

In my tests with the Compact Bass and Bass Compressor connected directly to console the noise floor of the Bass Compressor is lower. Because compressors increase the level of quiet signals relative to peak level, they will increase any background noise from devices placed before them. With that said, your mileage may vary but I doubt anybody would find much to complain about in the noise department.

Compared to the big box TX the form factor and high pass filter feature of the new Bass Compressor would sway me to opt for the smaller device. To my ear, the new Bass Compressor is closer in tone and feel to the big box TX than the former Compact Bass was.

If you already have a Cali76 Compact Bass is the new Bass Compressor worth the upgrade? I think there are a few factors to consider. How the HPF responds is different between the Compact Bass and Bass Compressor. It is easier to hear the impact of the HPF control on the new Bass Compressor. It is more useful in my opinion and has more impact on your overall tone. I hear the HPF on the Compact Bass reacting more aggressively to the lows.

I prefer the low-end response from the HPF in the new Bass Compressor. This alone might be a reason for you to move to the Bass Compressor.

In my opinion, the LED array is far superior to the jewel found on the Compact Bass compressor. Then you have the form factor. I prefer the smaller size of the new Bass Compressor. How the compressors sound and react is going to be highly influenced by the instrument you are playing through them. This means that some of the qualities I have attempted to describe above may or may not be as obvious or circumstantial for you.

I think it is pretty safe to say that if you are going for full-bodied, warm, and smooth compression with control over the low end you will find yourself very pleased with the new Origin Effects Bass Compressor.

If you are one who felt the Cali76 Compact Bass had a bit too much noise (possibly described as "hiss") then the new Cali76 Bass Compressor might be for you. While some might consider it a bit pricey, the Cali76 Bass Compressor truly is a fantastic device. Like all devices from Origin Effects the build quality of the new Bass Compressor is superb. I find it to be a real nice iteration in the lineage of legendary compressors from Origin Effects. Pros: • Build quality • Warm, smooth, polished tone • Fantastic implementation of a HPF • Nice 10-LED meter • Form factor • Top mounted jacks and power input • Quiet

Cons: • Some might miss having independent control of attack and release • Those hoping for the same "sparkle" up top like the Compact Bass might be let down • Not the most intuitive to dial in

• Pricey


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