Strymon OB.1 Optical Compressor & Clean Boost Review & Demo
Alright, alright, alright. Yes, I hate compressors. Or have hated them. Because if you don’t like a guitarist’s opinion on gear, just wait a few days and ask him again. It will have changed. But this one I’m sticking by. I still do not like compressors. I do not understand spending hours upon hours and dollars upon dollars (mostly this one) getting an open, real-sounding tone, and then compressing the sweet mercy out of it. Luckily, the Strymon OB.1 is not a ‘compressor.’ It’s ‘compression.’ Yes, yes, I know I’m stretching things here, but cut me some slack…I’m trying to come up with a reason for why I like this pedal so much.
But this makes sense to me! Compression itself is not a bad thing. And by the very nature of tube amps, all tone (see what I just did there? Linking ‘tube amps’ to ‘all tone’ like no other tone exists? Yep……and that is true) has some level of compression to it. And the right amount gives your sound focus and makes it less burly. But a ‘compressor’ per se, just makes me think of every compressor I’ve ever played (on guitar or recording equipment alike) that just splats all the life out of your sound. (I will say that I liked the Emma Transmorgrifier compressor. And the Analogman was very decent, as far as compressors go. But in the end, neither made the cut……the cut being that for me to keep a compressor on my board, it not only has to be a good compressor, but it has to convince me to use compression. This is a tall order…especially for someone like me, who once they have an opinion, really likes for that opinion to be right. I like myself. And that’s bad.) So, I knew that were I to ever use a compressor pedal, it would have to ‘lend compression’, rather than ‘compress.’ And ya, I’m totally aware that I sound like the worst of the worst of the self-affirmed gear wizards who spend more time reading about tone than using tone. Indulge me. Because I hate compressors, and love this compressor. I mean ‘compression.’
So, I was thinking the other night about compression (and about abominable snowmen, interestingly enough) and how nice it would be to use it push my overdrive pedals into their own respective overdrives, but compressed, for those times when I could really use a more ‘leadish’ sound, or a more ‘EL34-ish’ sound, or a more ‘Hiwatt-ish’ sound, or even…may you forgive me…even a Lin…nope, can’t say it. Or to put a mildness on my clean tone, or even for certain country sounds. (Yes, I know you hate country. And I can say ‘you’ to everyone, because most worship leaders do. But at some point, we’re going to have to come to grips with the fact that if we’re serious about ‘reaching people where they’re at’ like we always say, and being ‘culturally relevant’ like we always say even more (some would say all the blasted time), then we need to stop denying that probably at least 65% of the congregation’s radio stations when they leave the service and go back to their cars, are tuned to a country station.) But I knew that if I were to use a compressor, it would have to be a compression pedal; not a compressor.
(Yep. This is what most people are listening to. Maybe not Vince Gill per se. But the whole country thing. Which I can dig. Now, he is a very fabulous guitarist. But the best thing about country music? You don’t have to dress like a rock star. Um……obviously. Although those 65 Amps in the background totally overshadow the plaid shorts. Yikes, I’m a girl. EDIT: I just remembered that my wife has told me that it is confusing to her when I refer to myself in this manner. So I’ll just go with ‘metro’.)
Enter the Strymon OB.1. Strymon is a relative newcomer to the boutique scene. They’re a division of Damage Control, and share all the same developers. Now, of course I have a very sincere love affair with the Damage Control pedals; so I figured if there’s going to be a compressor out there I like, it will probably be built by these guys. So I take this pedal out of the box, and I’m scared. Well, first I’m excited, because it’s this awesome indie-looking coffee shop muted gold/orange color, which is going to look great on my board. Priorities. But then the scared part comes in, as I notice that the pedal has no tone knob. Which is usually essential for me in getting the tone of a pedal to match as much as possible to the tone of my rig. So I plug it in. And whoa. I seriously can’t believe it. It doesn’t need a tone knob. It’s just my guitar sound, with compression added. I wish all pedals were built like this. And the compression? Beautiful. Not only that, it has an added boost switch that is switchable from a flat clean boost, to a mids boost, to a treble boost. Optical compression in a pedal, all analog circuit path, very well-built, inside and out. Awesome stuff. So I recorded.
--Prairiewood Les Paul (Wolfetone Dr. Vintage pickups)–>
–Melancon Strat (ash, with Lindy Fralin blues pickups)–>
–True bypass loop box–>
(–>Strymon OB.1 compressor–>
(–>Paul Cochrane Tim overdrive–>(loop engaged when obvious)
–True bypass box–>
(Damage Control Timeline delay–>(loop engaged when obvious)
–65 Amps cab (birch, Celestion blue and Celestion G12H-30)
–It is made by Strymon/Damage Control, and I like them. Very much so.
–But I tend to hate compressors.
–It looks so rad!
Please don’t judge me for the U2 part.
And the Video:
So there you have it. A ‘compression’ pedal. Not a compressor. And I’m diggin’ it.
–Does not change your tone one bit. Wow. Not sure how they accomplished that.
–The compression is so ‘lax.’ I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s like a gentle massage of your tone, even at the high settings. Just gently focusing it, rather than squashing it.
–The compression sounds good at all levels.
–Works on just a simple 9 volt adapter, or even a 9 volt battery.
–The boost side makes this pedal extremely versatile. It really can take the place of a few pedals.
–It sounds really, really good.
–And Terry from Strymon jumped on the comments section here (which was pretty cool) and mentioned that when the compression knob is all the way off, the compression is physically out of the circuit. Which is awesome! So you can use this as just a boost if you like. And here’s the thing. I almost mentioned that, because that’s exactly what it sounded like! But then I thought, ‘No, almost no pedals do that.’ Guess I should have trusted my ears. It’s just that they’re wrong so often! But I’m so stoked that this pedal does this.
–Not really a bad, but worth mentioning. The boost side is dependent upon the compressor side. So you can’t use the boost without the compressor. At times this is actually an advantage, as you can kick on the boost and compressor with one step; but it’s definitely worth mentioning as I’m sure I’ll get asked this. However, if you just want boost, as I mentioned above, the compression is completely out of the circuit when the compression knob is all the way down. You’d still have to hit the compressor side on to turn on the pedal as a whole, but at that point, just the boost is in the circuit.
–(This is sarcasm…just in case… )If you want to squish your tone into oblivion, this pedal won’t do that. I’m not sure why you’d want to do this, but I hear professional guitarists doing it from time to time; and I can only assume they want to. But no worries; there’s a great Line 6 compressor called the ‘Boa Constrictor’ or some other awesomely 1982 Spinal Tap glam rock name like that, that’ll do the squishing the life out of your tone thing quite nicely if that is what you prefer. I’m gonna go ahead and say no. But that’s just me.
I now have a compressor on my board for the first time in about 6 years. My world has been forever changed. And by ‘world’, I of course mean ‘tone’. I don’t think I should even have to clarify that.
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- Thank You Danny Elfman