Wampler Ego Compressor

Sunday, December 6, 2009| by Jeff Baker

Though not the first compression pedal to feature a blend knob, the Wampler Ego compressor is one of the few, and among good company. Parallel compression, the practice of running a signal into two channels in parallel, one of which has a compressor in the signal path, has been a well-known and well-loved trick in the studio for some time. For instruments, you get the benefits of compression including improved sustain and a fuller sound without sacrificing the instrument's natural attack. Taking the concept from the studio to the stage was bound to happen eventually, and it did in the form of the pioneering Barber Tone Press, a few years before Brian Wampler's take on the concept made it to market. However, Brian is no copycat and his implementation of the concept includes some prudent and novel elements designed to allow a musician to get the most out of the pedal, whatever your compression needs. It might be the most comprehensive and flexible compression pedal of its kind.

...[The Ego Compressor] can give you a nice Nashville flavor for chicken-pickin' or result in an even, measured sound well suited to jazz runs. Add in its Tone control which allows you to get more or less presence, and it is a very flexible compressor...

You see, the Ego Compressor takes both sides of its compression very seriously. Brian describes the compression circuitry as being similar to the Ross and Dynacomp line of compressors, voltage-controlled amplifier (VCA) compressors which have formed the basis for nearly all other VCA pedal compressors since their initial release decades ago, including some boutique favorites. Pretending for a moment that there is no blend knob, that the pedal is solely a compressor, it stands very well, with controls for the traditional Volume and Sustain (compression) knobs but also an Attack control to give you a range of adjustment over how fast the compressor starts its compression action. Adjusting the Attack slower results in gradual increase in sustain as you hold the note or chord, while faster Attack settings (depending on how much Sustain you've set) can clamp down on the loud transient when you pick and can give you a nice Nashville flavor for chicken-pickin' or result in an even, measured sound well suited to jazz runs. Add in its Tone control which allows you to get more or less presence, and it is a very flexible compressor for those who just want compression.

I doubt that folks looking into the Ego Compressor want “just compression,” though. The designer did well in making it a very worthy compressor, but the Blend knob is an important feature. The ability to get just the right ratio of unaffected, clean signal. Adjusted properly, your transients – the important split-second attack sounds that give different instruments a lot of their individual character – come through loud and clear, while still getting the fullness and added sustain that a compressor brings to the table. When using the Blend knob, the Attack knob has less affect by the nature of the parallel compression: the natural attack of the instrument is heard seamlessly over the compressed signal, and as the uncompressed signal starts to fade, the compressed signal becomes louder. It's a very good trick, well executed in this pedal, and not the sort of thing you will ever be able to pick out. You'll only hear your sound, with your natural attack, but fuller, fatter, and with more sustain. Add some Tone knob presence in the mix to taste.

The pedal is not inexpensive. At $199.99, Wampler clearly considers theirs a product worth investing in. Compared to its competition, though, I have to acknowledge that it offers the best of both worlds, and in that respect it is price competitive with its peers. A direct comparison will help illustrate the value of the pedal, and the two pedals that should be mentioned alongside are the well-respected Barber Tone Press and Keeley Compressor. It offers even more control over the compression side of things than the Keeley Compressor, while giving you the added benefit of parallel compression, and costs less. It is more expensive than the Barber Tone Press, but the Tone Press doesn't give you the same level of control over the compression, meaning if you find the attack not to your tastes there's not a lot you can do about it. Both the Barber and the Keeley compressors are made with high-quality components, and the Wampler Ego Compressor features similarly excellent construction with top-quality components and a rock-solid enclosure (finished in a sparkling metallic blue, to boot). My testing has proved to me that it has a great sound, with all the control that you could ask for and quiet operation as well. Whether it will find a place in your collection is up to you, but if you're in the market for a compressor that gives you everything that a compression pedal has to offer, consider the Wampler Ego Compressor.

Price: $199.99
Pros: High quality components and a sturdy enclosure, Extremely flexible
Cons: While it is price-competitive with other high-end compressors and offers a lot of features, $199.99 does mean that some frugal guitarists might have to save up if Santa is a little bit tight this year, or look to lower-priced alternatives.

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