Review: Xotic Effects SP Compressor
Compact size, musically useful blend knob, clean boost capability, quality compression
Limited ability to control compression effect with 2 knob configuration; not intended for ultra-high compression uses
Xotic Effects SP Compressor is an extremely usable 2 knob compressor that looks great. Let’s face it, guitarists want pedals that look cool, and this one meets that demand. The black and white configuration with glass-like knobs looks like something out of a Cary Grant movie. Unlike a lot of guitar pedals these days, the SP Compressor has a lot more going for it than its looks. First, it is extremely compact, packing a lot of compression power into a pedal roughly half the size of a standard pedal (and much smaller than the hulking monsters that often pass for compression stomp boxes). It thus fits easily into any pedal board, leaving more real estate for other needs. Second, this made-in-the-USA pedal is built like a tank. The switch has a very high quality feel as do the in and out jacks. The true bypass circuitry works as advertised, and the dc adaptor is conveniently located on the top so that you don’t have to struggle to squeeze the power cord in next to the output jack. Of course, it takes a 9 volt battery if you prefer to go that route. Third, the pedal is so simple that anyone can use it effectively even if you have no idea about the theory behind audio compression. The two knobs handle volume (which functions as a straight clean boost) and blend (which regulates the percentage of pure and compressed signal). This knob has a magic dust factor to it, allowing you to preserve the attack that can often be overly muddied by compressors. The level of compression is controlled by a 3-position toggle switch labeled “lo” “mid” and “high.” Out of the box, the lo setting works for classic rock; the mid-setting provides a nice country twang; and the hi setting provides powerful sustain for heavy metal playing. But there’s more. Inside the back cover there are a set of dip switches that enable the user to alter the compression characteristics. Pedal users often complain about internal controls because they are hard to access and adjust. In this case, however, the internal option is fine because it is hard to imagine anyone who would be interested in this pedal needing to change the internal settings on the fly. The dip switches provide control over attack and release, as well as high and low pass filters. The consensus view is that the factory settings work great. But if you like to tinker, you have the option. The documentation suggests alternative settings for country players and those who want a more intense compression/sparkle effect. Finally, and most importantly with any pedal, is the sound. Let’s face it, compression effects are subtle and preferences are likely to be highly subjective. Compressors reduce the loudest parts and introduce makeup volume to raise the compressed signal to the desired level. That’s it. In most cases, the best compressors aren’t noticed. You just miss them when they are gone. And this little guy fits well within that paradigm. I have it on my board and use the lo setting with 50/50 blend as an always on setting. I’ll adjust the volume depending on the boost that I need for particular songs. Occasionally, I will switch to the “mid” compression setting for something more country like “Folsom Prison Blues.” If you want more severe compression effects, this pedal may not be your best choice. It can do it, but you may not have the fine control necessary to ensure that severe compression remains musical. One last note, compressors are often derided as “noisy.” That’s not always true, and experts testing this one swear that the SP is NOT noisy. It is in the nature of a compressor, however, to boost any low level noise that may be in your signal chain when it applies makeup volume to the compressed signal. If you have any noise in there, and don’t use a gate, you’ll hear it when you aren’t playing, particularly with the high setting. But this level of noise, as annoying as it may be, is easily masked even at moderate playing levels. This little compressor can get the job done, as long as the job isn’t too heavy, for a moderate price and in a package that leaves you plenty of room on your board.