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51m0n

Becos CompIQ Stella Compressor Review

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So @Al Krow offered me a lend of his Becos Stella Compressor to try out and see if it "lived up to the hype" (some of which was mine based upon the feature set alone). So huge thanks to him for that!

TLDR: This is flat out the most transparent and full featured pedal format compressor I have ever tried. Which may or may not be what you need :D

I had it for a couple of weeks, used it with my band and mainly in the den listening to it in mixes trying to see how much I could get out of it. I don't normally do gear reviews, because they are time consuming and what might seem great to my ear could be utter crap to yours anyway. Compressors being a particularly ephemeral topic in light of how hard they can be to hear if you don't know what you're listening for exactly I realise I am on a hiding to nothing. So whatever ends up written here please take with a pinch of salt. 

First points to note, this is a VCA compressor built around a THAT Corporation Analogue Engine chip (which retails for about $2.40 for an order of 2000 chips). So a relatively low cost chip at the heart of this thing. But still a good clean VCA compressor chip in a well designed circuit can still be a phenomenal tool in the right hands.

As for how I tested this, I plugged it in between my Roscoe Century Std 5 and my EA iAmp Classic driving a Barefaced Big Baby, whilst playing some of my band's mixes back through my little monitors without the bass channel up to see what the result was in a mix. I also used headphones to really try and focus on the absolute leading edge of the note  (the transient) when playing with the attack/release controls.

The Lab

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First Impressions

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Lots, and lots of controls!

All the important contenders are there, and better yet properly named. Ratio, threshold, (make up) gain, attack and release all present and correct.

Some of them are frickin' tiny!! I truthfully couldn't really tell where the little arrows were pointing on the wet/dry and saturation controls without my glasses, and the light being 'just right' I would need to fill those in with some white paint to be able to use them easily. Bummer! On the plus side I don't think the micro-pots are in any danger from foot stomps on the big switch, the clearance seems more than adequate.

Also, why the dashed lines all the way around the main controls? So I know it goes from 1:1 to infinity:1 ratio but I have no idea where 4:1 or 2:1 or 10:1 is on that pot. What a massive error. Now I know I can calibrate this with a DAW and some time, but for crying out loud why not figure that out for me? Yes I would use my ears to get what I want out of it, but actually I really like being able to get into the ballpark without guessing. That is a real shame on an otherwise great device IMO.

The enclosure seems really nice, very solid, yet pretty light. I like it!

First Thoughts In Operation

No noise at anything approaching a reasonable set up: if you want to dime the output gain or the ratio and threshold its going to accentuate the noise, but that is simply not a realistic set up and even then its what I would call studio clean. I've played with a lot of pedal compressors and they are almost all let down by internal noise. Not this one. Its clean. Like an operating theatre.

This is really really transparent. So what does that mean? Its a VCA compressor, it is designed to change the amplitude of the output in such a way that when set up correctly it is very very hard to tell that it is doing anything. In that first picture I was getting between 4 and 12 dB of gain reduction and couldn't hear it out off a mix (yeah I'll come on to that wet/dry setting in a bit).

The LEDs are superb, the gain reduction feedback from them is absolutely excellent. Good enough to properly tweek attack/release times to help get the kind of bite point and release point to let you choose how overt you want this to sound. Just superb.

SCF

That little toggle switch between the Threshold and Attack controls is the Side Chain Filter selector. This is super useful for bassists, because we dont necessarily want the low end of our notes to trigger the compressor, instead letting the mid range and top end be what the compressor is listening to can produce better results. I preferred this control at the L setting where it lets through a lot of the lows and triggers mainly on the top end of the response. This is where the massive tweakability starts though, you can find settings in this pedal that work better with this switch in other settings. There is no right or wrong here, its just what works for you.

Knee

Switchable between a Hard or Soft knee, again tweakability is what this tool is about. I liked both setting for different ways of approaching compressing. In the above picture I had it on a hard knee, but because of other parameters settings I would still call that a super super transparent gain riding type of setting. Its going to pull up the lower end of the note envelope and quieter notes in general, giving them a lift, but absolutely not adversely affect dynamics and feel because of the other super cool control...

Wet/Dry

Oh yeah baby! This is the secret super sauce for compressor nerds. Especially coupled with the SCF it means you can set up very overt compression that is smashing everything, then use that purely to pull level up rather than to crack down on it. This is New York or Parallel compression. It totally changes the sound of the compressor and the feel too. Set up like it is in the above photo with the threshold super low and the ratio very serious, with a slooow attack a hard knee and the wet/dry dialling the effect right back compared to the dry signal you will be hard pressed to hear this compressing or feel it, until you put the result in a mix and start playing with a lot of dynamics. Your tone will change as your dynamics do, but your playing will just 'sit' in the mix because as your dry signal drops off the wet signal takes over, being compressed. Dialling that wet/dry over toward wet makes the compressor take over earlier, but even on fully wet this is still very transparent, and grabbing between 4 and 8dB of GR.

I always try and dial in an 'always on' kind of setting into a compressor first, because it is the hardest to get right IME. You want to improve the way the bass sits in the mix of every song in a set, without getting in the way of the dynamics, regardless of technique. Sounds impossible, but this kind of compressor gives you all the tools you need to do exactly that. It is simply superb in this role. Lush even.

Timing

Simply a way to turn on automatic attack/release set to either fast or slow speeds or set it to manual to take advantage of the attack and release controls on the device. Me, I am all about the manual controls on compressors so I didn't even switch this thing out of Manual, but the miniature version of this pedal has great reviews and no manual control at all. Personally these two manual timing controls are why I would want this pedal over the little brother, so this switch is irrelevant to me...

Overt Effecty Compression

There is another role for compressors though, where you might only want to use them for a single track or section to really grab your tone and make something happen to it that can be heard. Some transparent compressors aren't so good at this sort  of thing, personally I dig really good optical compressors on this role, but they ahve to be quiet when pushed to extremes (because thats where you are going to go with them to get them to do this really overtly).

VCAs can do this too, they are the toolbox of compressors after all.

Basically you want to take all the settings and just accentuate everything, so fully wet (at least to begin with), a higher ratio and a lower threshold for a start. But the real nuance of this type of compression is all about the attack and release. Normally you would be looking for a hard knee for an overt compressor, but I found with the Becos that the soft knee, when coupled with real extremes of threshold and a fast attack time started to get a bit like an optical compressor, the slower curve on the attack time did something really nice to the front of the note as the attack was shortened. Then its a case of dialing in the release so that that compressor gets a chance to reset between notes and yet is long enough to be heard. This is a case of a lot of trial and error. I ended up with something like this, where I backed the wet/dry off a bit so that fingerstyle and slap both seemed to work equally well and got really really fat and super punchy, loved this tone:-

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Tilt-EQ

The Becos has a tilt eq, counter clockwise is more bass, clockwise more treble. Dead simple. Works a treat for the effecty side of things too, if you intend your compression to be for a particular playing style or song or whatever you can really dial in a tone to fit the rest of what you do and convey what you need.This is applied after the compression as far as i can tell and works really nicely. The EQ Pivot point control is just a selector for the mid frequency of the eq.

Sat

Ok, this is an odd one. They have added a saturation effect that is applied to the Dry side of the Wet/Dry only. I am all for kitchen sink stuff in a pedal, this is apparently a germaium style drive circuit. They claim it sounds like tape saturation, which it really doesn't to my ear, it distorts rather too much and rather too quickly for that I think. And to be honest I found it not particularly useful. Unless you are after a particular 'effecty' use for a particular point in a set. YMMV.

Limiting

This compressor has a ratio up to infinity and a minimum attack speed of 1.2ms so it could well stand in as a peak limiter. However it measures level over time so it wont be as good at limiting as a dedicated device that is really truly reading for peaks and would have fastest attack times measured in microseconds. 

Conclusion

This is one of, if not the best pedal format compressor I have ever  used. Being a VCA circuit its not a one trick pony, lends itself particularly well to transparent compression anyway, but coupled with the advanced features here its capable of incredibly transparent leveling to help 'glue' your bass into the mix better. Or fast enough attack speeds and extreme enough ratios and thresholds to make compression a fun in your face effect or super fat core tones completely achievable.

If you want a tool to help on the gig, or to get a 'signature' compressed tone or a device in your hands to help you really get an understanding of what compression can do for you then this has to be really high up on your list. It certainly deserves to be there.

Thanks again to @Al Krow for the lend of this. Hope the review helps anyone sat on the fence over this little beauty!

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Really excellent review Si and my pleasure to make this pedal available to someone who deeply understands the subject of compression and is undoubtedly one of BC's foremost experts on the subject.

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On 25/09/2019 at 11:24, 51m0n said:

So I know it goes from 1:1 to infinity:1 ratio but I have no idea where 4:1 or 2:1 or 10:1 is on that pot. What a massive error.

Their Manual says that at 9'oclock the ratio is 2:1, at noon is 4:1 and at 3'oclock is 10:1.

3992F191-DA2C-4663-82A3-B091CAF9D328.jpeg

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Excellent review, thanks for posting that. Really interesting to read your thoughts on this pedal and compression overall. 👍🏼

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11 hours ago, Vaska said:

Their Manual says that at 9'oclock the ratio is 2:1, at noon is 4:1 and at 3'oclock is 10:1.

3992F191-DA2C-4663-82A3-B091CAF9D328.jpeg

Missed that, never been great at the RTFM thing :D

 

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On 25/09/2019 at 18:24, 51m0n said:

Sat

Ok, this is an odd one. They have added a saturation effect that is applied to the Dry side of the Wet/Dry only.

Just curious, did you filter the saturation effect by removing the jumpers for Low & High cuts?

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Worth mentioning they also do a 'mini' version with much (but obviously not all) of the larger version's functionality.  It's tiny!  Very good it is too.

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3 hours ago, Vaska said:

Just curious, did you filter the saturation effect by removing the jumpers for Low & High cuts?

Nope, didn't open it or play with the internals, its not mine to go prodding around inside...

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1 hour ago, foxyFuze said:

Worth mentioning they also do a 'mini' version with much (but obviously not all) of the larger version's functionality.  It's tiny!  Very good it is too.

Yep, but for me the missing functions are a deal breaker.

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Blast. Just as I was wondering about moving from pedals to a helix not only am I reminded of this pedal, I am told it's as good as it looks...

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On 25/09/2019 at 18:24, 51m0n said:

First points to note, this is a VCA compressor built around a THAT Corporation Analogue Engine chip (which retails for about $2.40 for an order of 2000 chips). So a relatively low cost chip at the heart of this thing. But still a good clean VCA compressor chip in a well designed circuit can still be a phenomenal tool in the right hands.

Finally got mine and open it. The THAT chip inside is not 4305 but the higher end 4320. 

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1 hour ago, Vaska said:

Finally got mine and open it. The THAT chip inside is not 4305 but the higher end 4320. 

That's a change from the original spec then, fascinating!

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I suppose it was the same from begining. All compiq's have 4320 analog engine and been designed around that, as they say. Even the Mini and Mini 1. Pictures of the boards are shown in their instagram feed without reserve. They actually say in product description that they use the top-class chip, although they don't name it exactly. One should open their pedal to actually convince himself. If anyone having a Mini can do that, would be nice to have another solid proof, but I don't see this not being true. There is a difference in the chips, especially in the dynamic range and total harmonic distortion, 4320 having better specs than 4305. One thing should be mentioned though. 4305 is the dual supply powered replacement of 4301 chip which is now obsolete. 4320 is single supply powered and that explains the battery option. Also 4320 has 28 pins and that can be seen in all their board pictures old and new. 4305 and the rest of that chips have 16 pins. Is good to see they use the best in class chips. Your review captures everything about this pedal, and I can concur in your findings. This is one of the best featured pedal on the market today. Even the Mini's are better spec and featured than anything else in the same format.

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