If you are looking for a compressor that performs more like an effect, well, look no further. The Vox Cooltron Snake Charmer is tube based compressor that is super gooey at virtually all settings. It is not one of those subtle, transparent, "always on" type of compressors. In fact, it is pretty much a dark, thick, syrupy and squashed sounding device. Think of it like an extreme Orange Squeezer with emphasis on extreme.
The compressor is the opposite of subtle. That's the vibe from this device from Vox.
There are 5 dials and one switch on the face of the pedal plus the foot switch. The Compression control affects the threshold from low (counterclockwise) to high (clockwise). Even at the lowest setting (all the way counterclockwise) the pedal is clamping down a lot. Remember, nothing is subtle about this device. This Compression dial interacts directly with the Ratio switch which lets you select between a "low" ratio and "high" ratio. Switch set high and it is all out molasses — dark, think, gooey syrupy feel. Unless this is what you are going for, keep that ratio switch Low for any semblance of natural tone. The difference between High and Low is rather dramatic but even low is in effect territory. Ignore the manual when it says the Compression control directly affects threshold and ratio. That's not what is happening. The Compression dial would be better worded "Threshold" or simply think of it as the amount of signal that is going to be compressed. Again, it isn't subtle.
Attack determines how quickly gain reduction kicks in after the initial detection of a transient peak. Rotated to the right and the attack very quickly starts to latch on to the initial transient. The dial has a very limited range seemingly going from fast attack to super fast attack.
Release controls how long the compression circuit is clamping down. Turned more clockwise and the release time is slower, holding on to the compressed signal longer. There is definitely a fair amount of sustain delivered.
The Emphasis control is supposed to effect the highs and how compression is applied to treble frequencies. The manual says with the dial in the center position the compressor is evenly affecting all frequencies. It works much better on guitar than bass. On bass it is pretty much useless and only emphasizes mud. Don't really think of it as an EQ or tone dial — It has the potential to absolutely bury any hint of highs.
The Volume dial is there to control the output of the pedal and there is plenty of volume on tap.
None of the controls, for better or for worse, will substantially change the inherent thick, dark tone.
The Cooltron name is derived from the technology Vox incorporates into the line of pedals which they claim is a new way of using tubes at low voltage. To what degree the tone is influenced by the onboard 12AU7 is unknown. Supposedly Vox uses a "special power supply" that operates differently than typical "starvation" methods and provides tube sonic performance at very low voltage and at a reduced heater current. Count me in as a skeptic. It is definitely warm sounding but I don't really know to what degree the tube is having any influence on the sound.
There is a blue LED that illuminates behind the tube when power is applied. A green LED illuminates as signal is above threshold indicating that compression is active. It is not all that sensitive. A red LED illuminates when you activate the pedal via the foot switch which is one of the silent types and true bypass.
The Vox Snake Charmer Compressor runs off of 9 volt power supply or 4 AA batteries. It's a big pedal — larger than the Markbass Compressore and taller than the Effectrode LA-1A for example. The casing is partially shiny chrome though the sides are a cheap feeling plastic. Jacks and power input are top mounted.
This is a compressor that starts out in heavily influenced tone territory at the less extreme settings and proceeds into absolute mud territory at more extreme settings.
It is the polar opposite of compressors like the Empress or Keeley products. I can't imagine anyone would find it useful as an always on device. The redeeming quality for me is that it is fun to play with. Think of it as an effect and maybe you might find a use for it.
Compared to other tube compressors the Effectrode LA-1A is much more open and punchy. Both the Markbass Compressore and LA-1A (and Effectrode PC-2A) have more obvious tube tone but are far more versatile. While the Effectrode PC-2A could be considered a "darker" sounding compressor it is still usable as an always on device that fattens your tone without sucking the life out of it. The Retrospec Squeezebox is often considered the epitome of tube compressors and can exhibit some thicker, syrupy behavior yet it manages to have a much wider range of usefulness as an always on device.
The Vox Snake Charmer forges a different path.
I can't think of anything like it and I suspect that's the point. That's exactly the redeeming quality of this compressor.
• An effect type compressor
• Runs on batteries and easy 9-volt power requirement
• Unusable as an always on device
• Totally colors your tone, no way around it
• Large form factor
• Not versatile at all
Retail price: No longer in production Voxamps.com