Compressor pedals for bass guitar tend to fall between two camps: the basic type that squashes your sound in a really obvious way and is way more of an ‘effect’ than a tool, and the more fully-featured tone-shaping variety that acknowledges the variance in compression need between fingerstyle, pick, slap and overdriven bass sounds.
The fact that so many of us are now using plugins at home that emulate the great studio compressors of the past has put pressure on compressor builders to up their game – and even at first glance, it’s obvious that Becos have taken the challenge head on with their new Stella pedal.
Housed in a standard-sized pedal, the Stella meets the modern pedal design aesthetic. Twenty years ago, a pedal with this many features would have been big enough to stand your speaker cab on, but times have changed and the competition for pedalboard real estate mean that everyone is squeezing more features into a smaller space. That said, even in these space-saving times, the Stella feature set is startling.
Compressors shape the dynamics of your sound in a number of ways, and you need to be able to control the point at which it kicks in (the threshold), the amount of compression applied (the ratio) and the speed of the effect registering and then returning to normal as the note fades (attack and release).
These last two are particularly important with bass sounds that have a lot of fast transients that you might want to let jump out of your signal, while still controlling the overall volume of the body of each note.
Here, Becos have us covered. Plugging in for the first time, those familiar controls are there and do exactly what you’d expect a clean, high-quality studio compressor to do.
There’s no obvious coloration of the sound, just a very high degree of control over the shape of the dynamics, including a switchable hard and soft ‘knee’ control for how the threshold and ratio controls interact at the point when the effect kicks in.
To help out those who are less familiar with tweaking the relative levels of those four controls, the Stella has an ‘auto timing’ switch that controls the attack and release times based on whether your signal has short transients or longer, constant notes.
This can be set to fast or slow depending on the emphasis you want, and even when you’re using manual settings, they can be used as a default against which to check your own preferences.
I found that I was able to get excellent results with the auto settings, but reached for the manual setting when going for very specific kinds of slap compression that required a longer attack and very short release times. At all times, the tone was clear, clean and detailed in the way that I’ve come to expect from high-end studio plugins.
However, the Stella really excels when we want to start to shape the sound in more obvious ways, as we go beyond tonally neutral compression and look for other ways to create bold bass tones. Here, the X-EQ is a subtle but hugely rich pivot EQ that boosts either treble or bass, attenuating the opposite frequency. Both ends are highly usable tones, and there’s a frequency switch for either 330hz or 1khz as the pivot point.
One highly necessary feature on any bass compressor is the option to mix the compressed signal with the dry signal, and Becos have gone over and above to give us maximum control of this blending process. My favorite addition here is the option to add tape-style saturation to the dry signal when the effect is engaged, so the wet/dry mix knob brings a sweet variable overdrive to your sound.
I found this to be a little bit fizzy when used direct into a recording console, but through an amp, or an amp sim plugin, it was a beautiful addition to a whole range of sounds. The amount of saturation is controlled by another knob, and can go from zero to a light fuzz sound depending on what you want it to do. If that’s not enough, it’s possible to add low or high cut filters via internal jumpers.
Another wonderful addition for bass players is the side chain filter, allowing for two extra levels of bass to pass through before the compressor kicks in. Try setting a sound in Neutral and then using the Low and Deep positions to soften the impact on the low end.
This is particularly useful when tuning your bass sound to a mix where a bass tone set in isolation might have been compressed a little too aggressively. This single switch makes it a cinch to open up the low end a little. Oh, and did I mention the balanced DI out? A super-clean, studio quality second output to send to a desk or soundcard provides another ‘They’ve thought of everything’ moment.
All in, the Stella manages to cram a dizzying number of top-quality features into a standard pedal. This level of control would normally warrant one or even two rack spaces, so to have it available for a pedalboard is a godsend. The switches are a little on the small side, but there are basically no situations in which you’d ever need to change them mid-song.
The only thing I can imagine wanting more of is to have the saturation switchable. While it’s clearly designed to emulate the sound of driving a classic studio compressor’s preamp hard, it’s such a sweet tone that I’d love to have it available as a switchable overdrive.
If you know how to use a compressor, and have ever been frustrated by the limitations of pedal comps over studio gear or great plugins, the Becos Stella is exactly what you’ve been looking for. What’s more, it comes at a price point at least one order of magnitude lower than the discontinued classic studio compressors that its sound approaches. Bravo!
- PRICE: $469 / £360
- TYPE: Compressor pedal
- MADE IN: Romania
- FEATURES: Ratio, Threshold, Attack, Gain, X-EQ, Release pots, Knee, SCF, Knee Pivot, Timing switches, Wet/Dry, Saturation and Level rotary controls, balanced output Dimensions: 4.4” x 2.7” x 2” /112 x 68 x 50mm
- POWER: 9-12v DC
- WEIGHT: 14 oz / 400g
- CONTACT: Becos