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Trickfish VCA Compressor Review

This is the first compressor pedal from Trickfish. I'm a fan of Trickfish gear and when I first learned that Ryan Owens and team were working on a new pedal format compressor, I was excited for sure. I first met Ryan at the 2020 Winter NAMM and was impressed with him as an individual and innovator. The interest in Trickfish amps and cabs at that NAMM show was off the charts with all sorts of big names coming by the Trickfish booth to experience the gear firsthand.

Fast forward to July of 2023. Ryan and team had a prototype of a new compressor and sent it to me to experience and evaluate. Even as a prototype the device was already impressive. Over the course of several weeks of testing with several different instruments, I delivered feedback and recommendations for some tweaks. What has become the production compressor is a fine device. I think the team at Trickfish has done a great job with this one.

The Trickfish compressor is a VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier) design which is typically associated with clean and clear compression and precise controls. In general, a VCA style compressor is less "colored" than optical or tube compression circuits. That said, great VCA designs are certainly not sterile or boring. I like to think of them as tone enhancing compressors.

The goal for the Trickfish VCA Compressor seems to be more about simplicity than offering complete control of all variables.

For example, there is no attack and release controls. The circuit dynamically responds to input and adjusts both the attack and release on the fly depending on how aggressively you play. You know what? It works well. Playing through the Trickfish Compressor is a dynamic experience. There are just four dials on the face of the pedal and one footswitch.

The Threshold sets the level at which the compressor engages. Turning it more clockwise decreases the threshold, meaning the compression will kick in more readily the more you turn the dial clockwise. Another way to put it is that you want to turn the dial more clockwise if you want the compressor to be more sensitive to your signal. The Ratio control adjusts how aggressive the gain is reduced. The range of ratio is 1:1 to extreme. Based on the range parameter marked on the pedal it is obvious Trickfish suspects most players will use the compressor at ratios of 6:1 or lower. As a bass gear company this makes sense. There are plenty of sweet spots between 1:1 and 6:1 for sure. I found I really liked the ratio around 3:1 to 4:1 for producing noticeable and useable compression in a non squashy way. That leads us to the Blend control. The Blend dial allows you to keep as much or as little of your original uncompressed signal. Rotating the dial more clockwise sweeps in more compressed (wet) signal. This is called parallel compression and is one of those controls that is so useful for any compressor being used by a bassist. It really helps retain the low end. It also allows you to dial in more aggressive compression (think sustain or thickening) but then sweep in more of the uncompressed (dry) signal to avoid the overly extreme signal flattening that can result from aggressive compression. It is well implemented here. The Level dial is how you set the overall output volume of the pedal. As you dial in more compression you will need to compensate for lost volume with the Level control. The LED meter is there to help you understand the level of gain reduction taking place. It is monitoring the input signal, specifically the input signal hitting the actual VCA chip. So, this input to the VCA directly correlates to the gain reduction you are going to get. There are 10 individual LED modules making up the meter. The first three from the bottom up will illuminate green, the next four will illuminate yellow, and the remaining three illuminate red. The meter is very responsive and definitely helpful for dialing in the compressor.

The footswitch activates the pedal and there is a blue LED that illuminates when the pedal is activated. The blue LED here is quite tasteful. It's not the type that requires sunglasses to look at. It is a very solid, heavy device that feels substantial. The knobs all turn with precision and nice resistance. It's obviously a quality piece. The enclosure is designed so that it slightly angles forward towards you. Not so much that it would look awkward on your pedalboard next to other pedals but angled enough to make it just a bit easier to look at while standing up looking down at your board. Everything on the face of the pedal is clearly marked large white font. Even though the font selection is bold and decently sized it ss a bit hard to read the white against the light gray background in all but good lighting. I'd like to see the next round of production include a darker enclosure, so the words and characters pop a bit more. Even just a gray a few shades darker would help. That's a minor quibble though considering how easy it is to dial in and the fact that there are just 4 knobs to mess with. At first it seemed a bit utilitarian looking or maybe a bit drab, but the design has grown on me.

So how does it sound? To my ear, the Trickfish VCA Compressor is quite transparent with likely comparables being the Empress Bass Compressor or Empress MKII, Keeley Compressor Pro or Bassist, and the Becos lineup amongst other more transparent compressors. That said, in no way would I call the Trickfish sterile sounding. Just don't expect obvious coloration. I love a good sounding "colorful" compressor but that wasn't the goal for the Trickfish VCA. While the aforementioned compressors offer differing degrees of functionality and come in at varying price points, they are all in the same ballpark in the tonality department.

It will do what a good compressor should do and even in its simplicity it is quite versatile. Using this compressor in your chain isn't going to alter what you already have dialed in for the sound of your rig.

If you like your sound already but are looking for an all-around easy to use compressor the Trickfish VCA might be just the ticket. It is a really nice device that simply makes everything sound and feel more better.

I found many settings that put a smile on my face but notable is setting the Ratio between 3:1 and 4:1, lowering the threshold quite substantially (maybe around 1:00 - 3:00 on the dial), and blending in a good amount of dry signal. This will deliver compression that is triggered easily by your input, albeit at a relatively low ratio, but with dry signal offsetting the low threshold to restore attack. Whatever is going on here with the dynamic attack and release sounds really, really good. Your signal path just bigger, fuller, and better. You should see all three green LED's illuminating easily with at least two yellow LED's illuminating quite often when dialed in this way. Notes seem to bounce off the fretboard more and playing feels more juiced up and fluid.

Somehow the auto attack and release manage to just plain work. No matter the playing style the compressor always felt neutral and didn't mess with my transient attack in a way that felt unnatural or overly squashed. While this isn't a compressor that I'd necessarily recommend for somebody whose first priority is sustain you certainly get added sustain when using it. Frankly, it's nice to not have to worry about attack and release controls.

Having reviewed over 100 compressors now I can see where compressors can be a tough product to get right. I think Team Trickfish has designed a compressor that is more "got it right" than not.

There's a lot to like about it. It is a quality build, sounds great, is quite versatile, has nice gain reduction metering and even niceties like top mounted jacks. There has been a flurry of new compressors on the market lately, but this is one that definitely deserves attention. I honestly think it is just what a whole lot of bass players out there are looking for. That is, something that is built well, is easy to use, does what we all want from using compression, doesn't mess with our overall signal chain much, and simply sounds great and is easy to adjust on the fly during a gig. We just want it to work without constant tweaking. The Trickfish VCA is exactly that. Guitarists should try this one too. It's just as good with guitar. No matter what bass I threw in front of it the Trickfish VCA always sounded great. At $249 I think it is priced fairly for the quality of the complete package. The Trickfish VCA Compressor requires 9-volt DC power input with center negative pin. Pros: • Quality of build • Quality of sound • Easy to dial in and use • Nice LED metering • Top mounted jacks • Blend control (parallel compression) • Surprisingly versatile Cons: • Not for you if you must have control of attack and release • Not for you if seek more colored tonality from a compressor • In less-than-ideal lighting, words on the face of the pedal might be hard to read Retail price: $249 View all compressor reviews.


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