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Universal Audio UAFX 1176 Studio Compressor Pedal Review

The UAFX 1176 compressor pedal is the second pedal in the new line from Universal Audio. I have previously reviewed the UAFX Max compressor which you can familiarize yourself with here. I had high hopes for that compressor. Three legendary limiters and an iconic tube preamp in a smallish pedal board form factor was intriguing. For several reasons shared in my review, I was not all that impressed with the Max. Will the 1176 Compressor perform better with bass guitar? Is the compression LED more useful? Is the Universal Audio 1176 compressor pedal ready for prime time? Read on.

Universal Audio founder Bill Putnam designed the legendary 1176 Peak Limiter way back in 1968. Since then, the 1176 has been regarded as a benchmark for solid-state studio compressors. Given that heritage, you would hope this pedal would be a pristine execution.

The form factor, enclosure style, knobs, etc. are all the same as the Max so I won't write a lot of words discussing in detail. The pedal itself is heavy and solid feeling and looks great. The exception to this would be the plastic bypass and parallel switches on the front of the pedal which are cheap feeling.

There are five dials on the face of the pedal, an LED and 3-way toggle switch. Then of course the footswitch to activate the pedal.

The input dial is there to adjust the signal level hitting the gain reduction stage. The 1176 pedal has a fixed threshold for the compressor operation. So, adjusting the input to taste is critical to drive the gain reduction stage a lot or a little or anywhere in between. Unlike the preamp input stage on the UAFX Max compressor pedal, the 1176 better handles stronger input signals such as bass guitars with on board preamps. And, you have better control of the input driving the gain reduction stage. The output dial controls the overall output level and balancing output with input levels to dial in the amount of compression and output level you want. Essentially, the output dial allows you to match the compressed signal when the pedal is bypassed. Standard fare for many compressors. The ratio knob has 6 preset settings: a ratio of off, 4:1, 8:1, 12:1, 20:1 and then the famous "all-buttons in" mode of the original landmark 1176 compressor from back in the day. Couple of thoughts on this. Every change of the ratio dial has a rather dramatic effect on the input meaning you can't expect to set the input and then easily switch between ratios.

Each time you switch the ratio setting you will need to adjust input (and likely output). Not easy on the fly or on stage.

To some degree this is to be expected but the experience in practice is rather dramatic. In theory, with the ratio off the signal is still passing through some sort of virtual input and output transformer signal. Maybe? It is a digital pedal after all. I don't really know, but my tone sounded better with the pedal on than off.

I liked the all-buttons in mode which does have a bit more harmonic content in the mix.

The attack control various the attack from quick to even quicker. Turning the dial more clockwise dials in faster attack. Again, all of the attack speeds are fast. Attack is much faster than typical compressors and even limiters.

The release control varies the release and turning the knob clockwise speeds the release.

On the front of the pedal are two switches. One allows you to toggle "True" or "Buffered Bypass" output settings. In either true or buffered bypass setting there is audible "click" or "pop" that can be heard when engaging the pedal with the footswitch. Bummer. The other toggle allows you to activate the compression in parallel mode which is essentially a mix of compressed and dry signal. Unfortunately, it is a fixed level of dry signal mixed with the affected wet compressed signal. That might otherwise be fine and adequate, but the execution here is that the fixed dry signal overtakes the compressed signal too much.

You might like how it functions, but I did not, and it would stay turned off for me.

I wish there was a mix dial to let you dial in the amount of dry and wet signal to suit your style and preference. On a pedalboard, having a true mix dial is a big plus in my book.

The 3-way toggle on the top of the pedal puts the compression engine into one of three modes: Single, Dual, and Sustain.

When in Single mode the pedal is most like the historic 1176 compressor the pedal is modeled after. I would encourage my readers to research the 1176 if you are not familiar with the design. One such learning would be that the 1176 was really meant to be more of a limiter, not so much a compressor. At least how we think of a typical compressor today. Even at the lowest ratio of 4:1 that is higher ratio to start with than many typical compressors offer. Therefore, the amount of squish is already greater at these minimum settings than you otherwise might dial in with another device. Because the 1176 was thought of as a limiter, its why the attack is so fast as well. It is in this single mode that all of the controls work as described already. But then you have Dual mode which emulates running dual 1176 compressors. See the manual for more specifics on the why behind this.

Suffice it to say it is all out-distortion city. And not a good kind of distortion to my ear.

None of the controls are useful in this mode other than the input dial. That's essentially all the control you really have on what is happening with the compression circuit. It is not subtle in the least. It sounds terrible on bass guitar. Maybe you could find it useful with guitar. Playing with the attack, ratio and release dials seems to do little, if anything. You basically have one form of distortion here. And it isn't all that pleasant to my ear.

I would describe sustain mode as an effect mode for guitarists. I found it to be a setting I would never use with bass guitar. Sustain mode would be an emulation of running to 1176 compressors into each other. Ratio, attack and release knobs don't work here like they do in single mode.

There is an onboard 3-color LED on the face of the pedal. It illuminates green when the compressor is powered on but not reacting to signal. It illuminates yellow when the compression engine is moderately reacting to signal. It illuminates red when the compression engine is heavily reacting to signal. In my review of the Universal Audio Max compressor, I said the LEDs do in fact change color to indicate gain reduction but in reality, do little to help you dial in the compression. That is true here with the 1176 pedal too.

Input and output jacks are top mounted as is the power input jack. There is also a USB jack used for firmware updates. While there is a mobile app that works with the pedal it is not Bluetooth integrated.

The required power is standard 9-volt center negative but a minimum of 250mA capacity is required of the power supply to feed the pedal. That means no 9-volt battery option and potentially, some 9-volt ports on power supplies won't deliver enough. The matte-like metallic finish that has been coming in all of UA’s latest line makes for a pretty svelte-looking pedal in my opinion. Not that looks are everything, but it is nice when a pedal has a nice look.

So how does it sound? In single mode, there are some useful and tasty settings to be found. But this is not necessarily an easy pedal to dial in.

I found myself constantly tweaking it trying to dial it in.

In low settings it you will likely find the compressor not coloring your tone much at all, but that’s probably the point. The goal is probably to be an always-on sonic enhancer. You certainly can dial it in to add some nice richness and focus. Especially in the mid-range frequencies.

Sustain mode left much to be desired with bass but fared much better with electric guitar. In sustain mode it is possible to get huge amounts of sustain that is certainly useful with guitar. Not so much with bass guitar. In general, it is easy to squash the low end with bass guitar. I did not like the way the 1176 compressor pedal responded to a 5-string bass guitar in any setting. Too much suppression of the lows even at lowest 4:1 ratio. You will likely end up with a mid-focused tone. Any pedal with 1176 on the face is sure to attract attention. No doubt the original 1176 design has quite a reputation and deserves all of the glory it receives. I think the 1176 is a nice compressor. But not great. Thinking purely of tone, I lean toward the Origin Effects Cali76 line of compressors over this offering from Universal Audio. For bass, the Cali76CB sounds better to my ear, is easier to dial in, and the HPF filter is highly useful with 5 string bass. The LED execution on the Origin compact line is not all that great either, but I'll give the edge to Origin in terms of sensitivity. As a guitarist, the choice is more difficult. That said, the 1176 has a lot going for it with the different modes. It is also noticeably quieter than the Origin Effects line of compressors. On the other hand, the Cali76 CB and Compact Deluxe offer this real nice "sparkle" up top that I don't really hear in the UA 1176. Another compressor to carefully consider would be the Source Audio Atlas which is like having a black box in which you can dial in whatever you want. Like the UAFX Max I had high hopes for this one. The blend of design, functionality, and emulation is compelling. There are definitely things to like about it, but it is a bit quirky. You really need to spend time with it learning all of its idiosyncrasies. You might be rewarded if you do, and I think it is most useful in single mode. Stay clear if you are new to compressors as the controls can be confusing in the various modes and it just isn't easy to dial in. Overall, I find the Universal Audio UAFX 1176 compressor pedal is a much better option for guitarists than bassists.

Pros: • Several different modes • Top mounted jacks (my preference) • Nice versatile option for guitarists • Nice tone clarity and focus — especially in the mids • Price considering what all is baked in Cons: • Not all of the modes might not be useful for you • Not easy to dial in; a bit quirky • Doesn't do anything really well • Distortion in dual mode is not pleasant • LED not all that helpful • Would not recommend for a pedalboard due to difficulty dialing in Retail price: $199

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