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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

DSCF4598.thumb.jpg.f55d21f879d626bd21a3b4c0a57e70bf.jpg

 

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First Impressions

DSCF4596.thumb.jpg.3e6501749047961e7c04a580fcdb275d.jpg

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:-

DSCF4869.thumb.jpg.a6564720038cb93a1840d4c52e06eae4.jpg

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!

DSCF4869.jpg

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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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      On the back of the case, right at the top there's a zip opening which inside contains a waterproof cover for the bag. I haven't needed to get this out yet as if it is raining - I'm literally in and out the car in seconds (which has never given me a problem) If you're on a bit of a walking mission though, this could be a lifesaver. What level of waterproofing this is exactly I can't say. I'm sure it works and works well, but I wouldn't want to be out for more than the car and back in the pouring rain with my bass - rain cover or not, so I'm probably never going to be able to review this aspect of it properly. Unless my car blows up. *Please don't blow up* 
      As far as actually shifting it is concerned - you can wear it like a backpack. Although I've found that no matter what, you're gonna knock into doorframes doing this and although the bass is well protected, it's really annoying. I tend to either carry this like I do most backpacks, one strap a little less slack & chucked over whichever shoulder is more natural. If you're not into that you can tuck the straps away as shown in one of the screenshots or, as the straps are attached by carabiner clips and you can literally just remove them, leaving you with the option of carrying it the more traditional way, with the side handle, but whatever works for you! It's handy to be able to do both though especially if you need to manoeuvre around somewhere awkward. There's a pretty handy grasping point too on the front of the bag, which I use all the time while hoofing it in and out off the car. 
      Finally onto why you want a case in the first place - the interior. On this, it's filled with a super plush micro fleece interior with nice thick padding on all sides. At the bottom of the bag where your strap button would sit is a nice chunky, sort of a dense foam covered in that same plush material. The neck lays down gently on a similar dense yet plush foam pillow, hugging the neck and keeping the headstock floating in position. Once you zip this thing up, your bass ain't going anywhere. The zip does go up and over too, so you can take your bass out and put it back in without having to lay the case down or awkwardly try and hold it while you figure out how to not drop anything. As well as this obviously - it can just be laid flat on it's back and opened up like a hard case.
      'Can I fly with this?' - Absolutely not. I wouldn't fly with any 'gig bag' regardless of how much you spend on it. You're gonna want a full blown flight case for that, or something purpose built for a rammed cargo hold anyway. 
      'Can I lob my bass in the back of the van with this?' - I reckon you could yeah. Would I want to? Still no. I think like the mono, this type of thing is designed in such a way that, yes - it's going to keep your bass totally safe from the majority of 'normal' things life might chuck at it. Like knocking the case over, dropping it, falling off a small stage at practice or whatever and again, all of those things onto hard floors. You get the idea. Knowing my luck though, it would be totally safe dropping it from like 6ft or something accidentally, but the moment that I 'in the name of science' chuck it from the same height on purpose - that's when I smash my bass up. As an everyday thing, going to practice, local gigs, going round your mates, teachers place, just generally taking it out and about - this thing gets a 10 in my book. 
      If you want to be critical about it, a fairer review would be that where it has more than adequate storage space and although there are two small plastic feet at the base of it - the exterior safety feature of the MONO M80 (the big giant rubber boot) is mental and certainly takes the win for added exterior protection. Would I chose that over this? Absolutely not. I can fit everything I need in this and more. It keeps it damn right safer than the average soft case you can pick up (including some of gator's cheaper alternatives) so as long as you're not throwing it out of windows or driving over it - you'd have done well to damage your bass using this. So as a 'bigger picture' thing. On the scale of 'gig bag' level of protection, (so forgetting about hard cases) based on a solid amount of protection AND a huge amount of practicality (plus it's pretty cheap for what it is!) I'll give this a solid 9.5 / 10.  
      You can pick this up for around 95 - 100 quid now. What that is in dollars / Euros / YEN / whatever else I have no idea. But it ain't a bad price that's for sure. 
      Link to the Gator site where I nicked the screens! - https://www.gatorcases.com/products/guitar/instrument-bassguitar/pro-go-ultimate-guitar-gig-bags/pro-go-guitar/bass-guitar-gig-bag-g-pg-bass/
      Link to Thomann where I got mine (and where I nicked more screens!) - https://www.thomann.de/gb/gator_g_pg_bass_guitar_bag.htm?sid=c579cccd0fb973ad7bac781c2ffb27f6 
      (For the record - no. I don't work for Gator nor am I some sort of rep haha. I'm not sure how this works, if I'm allowed to post links or whatever but feedback will be much appreciated!) 
      As a heads up - the link to the GATOR website doesn't show the backpack straps as being removable. Hence the screen from the Thomann website. Unsure if this is how the bag is now designed, though I would find that unlikely. Seems like a step backwards to me. Either way - apart from that, this is 100% the same bag. 
      Let me know if you've got one yourself. This wasn't intended to be a review, but I got carried away and just went with it. Hope it's of some help!
      Cheers!









    • By adamg67
      Now Sold
      I've ended up with too many pedals, again! So, for sale is my Darkglass Super Symmetry Compressor, they are discontinued now but all the details are still on the Darkglass site: https://www.darkglass.com/creations/super-symmetry/ and there are plenty of reviews out there. Boxed and in very good condition, not a mark on it that I can see. It's got velcro on the base.
      Lots of control and cool blue LEDs with the usual Darkglass build quality.
      The photos don't quite show the colour properly, it's slightly more of a nickel colour than straight silver, I've noticed that with other pictures of these. The DG site shows it a bit better but not perfectly.
      Not looking for any trades thanks.
      Now down to £145 including tracked postage. Don't think I've ever seen one for less than £150.



       
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