Yes, it is a tiny pedal. Yes, it thrives at providing clean sustain. If the combination of those two qualities is what you are looking for, well then look no further. The Pigtronix Philosopher Bass Compressor Micro is a sweet little tool.
For the rest of us, here's the skinny.
It runs off 9v supply (not included) with an internal, voltage-doubling circuit providing 18VDC power providing plenty of headroom for high output basses. Side mounted input/output jacks and top mounted power input. A bright blue LED illuminates when the pedal is activated. There is no LED indicating gain reduction. The circuit itself is an optical design.
There are four knobs and all are very interactive.
Before I comment on the functionality I'd like to highlight the knobs themselves as they are beautiful. Sporting an all metal design with etching they are not only very attractive but provide great grip on the small knobs. Very nice!
Let's start with the Sustain knob. Pigtronix literature says the sustain control varies the threshold at which compression is delivered to provide subtle peak limiting all the way to "infinite clean sustain." Infinite is a stretch but I'd say with the sustain knob turned to 2:00 or higher there is more than enough sustain on tap to satisfy most anybody. Of course there is a lot of compression action at that point on the dial so that's where the Blend knob comes in to play. More on that later. With the Sustain knob set between all the way CCW to around 9:00 the Philosopher Bass Compressor Micro feels pretty subtle, until you turn it off. There is definite compression activity going on even at those low settings. Again, that's where the Blend knob comes in to play. At about noon there is obvious compression and it starts to feel more squishy for sure. Attack is significantly reduced. Some may like the feel very much, others might feel their style getting a little cramped. There is plenty of compression on hand. I'd say the entire range of the Sustain knob is essentially pretty strong to almost over-the-top. With higher levels of Sustain and Blend, your initial attack will feel highly squashed followed by an extended swell of sustain. Probably not the best option for those looking for a subtle compressor but excellent for those that like a lot of effect and want an inherent bigness in their tone. Higher output basses more dramatically impact the effect of the Pigtronix Bass Micro more where a passive signal feels more natural.
The Blend knob allows a little or a lot of your clean sound to be heard in parallel with the optical compression. All the way CCW means a lot of your clean (dry) signal is put through. As you rotate the dial CW you are bringing in more of the effect.
The Blend and Sustain are highly interactive and I spent a lot of time with these two dials set at many different scenarios. Frankly, it was a lot of fun to do so.
With the Sustain dial at 2:00 or higher and the Blend knob at noon or higher you will be met with huge fat tone that is quite squished but very big with lots of sustain. Turning the Sustain all the way up (fully CW) and the Blend all the way up (fully CW) your signal is highly compressed with virtually no attack and totally squished. The more the Sustain and Blend are rotated CW the more the gain is increased so you will need to use the Volume knob to compensate. More on that later. I found a sweet spot with the Blend at 10:30 and Sustain at 10:00 which provided an inherent bigness but still felt quite natural. Another sweet spot with more effect was setting the Sustain to 1:00 or so and the Blend knob at 9:00 or so. In this case the Volume knob needed to be rotated more CW to bring unity level back.
There is plenty of gain on tap though high levels of Sustain will require a lot of makeup gain. This is where the Volume knob is important to provide that necessary makeup gain. I found that with very low levels of Blend (as in all the way CCW to 9:00 or so) required a lot of makeup gain to restore unity levels. On the other hand, with higher levels of Sustain and more effect (Blend at noon or higher) will require pulling back the volume (more CCW). As mentioned already, the Blend, Sustain, and Volume circuits are highly interactive. Because of that fact, it isn't the easiest of compressors to dial in but worth the effort to find the magical sweet spots.
There does not seem to be any loss of low end. In fact, with many settings of the dials the low end is augmented and big and pillow like. On the other hand, the Philosopher Bass Compressor Micro loses a lot of high end. I found myself boosting the highs at the amp or on the bass preamp to get some back. If you are looking for big, fat and smooth you'll dig the Pigtronix but if you like inherent brightness and upper punch, it isn't there. This is my biggest criticism of the device though I know there are many who dig this.
Finally, the Grit feature. Pigtronix literature says the Grit circuit adds
"harmonic distortion tuned especially for low-frequency domination."
It definitely does provide a ton of breakup and I'd describe it as more fuzzy than smooth. I've read other reviews that are critical of the Grit circuit. At lower levels I found it to be pleasing, and more so with more effect added (Blend knob more on the wet side, or CW). Dialed in at more than 9:00 though it the Grit just became too much, too harsh, and overall dominant for my taste. Your mileage may vary of course and depending on your style, I feel like the Grit on this compressor is better tuned for Bass than other offerings from Pigtronix. I'd also say that if you are critical of other dirt pedals for getting too harsh in the high end, you might really like the Grit on the Pigtronix Compressor. Because of its inherent darkness, that high end buzz isn't there. But subtle, smooth OD it really isn't at all but the lowest settings.
The Pigtronix Philosopher Bass Compressor Micro is incredibly quiet. No complaints in that department. It is tiny in the same size department as the Becos CompIQ Mini Pro Compressor or Wampler Ego Mini.
The pedal itself is surprisingly heavy and solid feeling. The foot switch activates with a solid click and is true bypass. There is nothing that feels cheap about it.
Retail Price: $119