We Review And Compare The Best Compressor Pedals on the market today
The world of guitar pedals is very vast and oftentimes complicated—this much we know. You have your basic effects that are more likely to illicit a specific concept such as reverb, wah-wah, and distortion, but beyond those is a degree of nuance that isn’t frequently applied to guitar playing.
To understand exactly what compression devices are, you have to understand how the strings of a guitar work. When you pluck a string on your guitar, the sound is most loud right after you strike it. Because of this, there is more of a harsh decay on the note with less release overall. Compression helps you extend the note so there isn’t as much of a decay as well as making your sound beefier overall.
See our complete series where we compare the best guitar pedals for the money.
In this article I’ll outline what compression products are, how they work, and if you need one, alongside reviews of the 10 best compressor pedals so the next time you’re on the search for one, you know just where to start.
The top 10 Best Compressor Pedals discussed here
Our top-rated compressor pedals
The best of the rest
Wampler Mini Ego Compressor Pedal
|Effects||Decent level of effects to give you a good compression sound||4/5|
|Sound||Very clear sound quality||5/5|
|Build||Durable, but thin design||4/5|
|Controls||Remarkably easy to use||5/5|
|Value||Good value for what you pay||4/5|
The main reason as to why you would want a compression device is to add a distinct boost to your sound that can’t be as easily achieved by guitar technique. This product lets you do this quite well, giving you enough options to get a variety of different sounds without having to configure too many settings. In fact, the product comes with different photos that recommend specific settings depending on which type of music you want to play, allowing you to choose from a country style of picking, a funky tone, or even more fluid, ambient textures. Of course, these aren’t settings on the device itself, but merely recommendations, allowing you to adjust and configure your preference from those starting points.
However, the focus on allowing you to focus on performing different genres with just one product is something that makes this device unique. Instead of offering you more generic options to aid you in other sounds, the Wampler Mini Ego Compressor Pedal allows you to drastically change your sound in an instant, with each of the three main knobs containing a great deal of variety.
The price is also right, with the product being a good example of what a good moderately-priced model can look like. This doesn’t mean it’s without its downsides, though—the product’s thin design can make it easy to tip over in certain situations, requiring players to be more conscious of where they’re stepping in the dark. It also doesn’t come with a power supply, something that might add to the price if you don’t have one already to use.
Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer Pedal
|Effects||Good amount of effects to choose from||5/5|
|Sound||Reliable sound quality||5/5|
|Build||Durable, sturdy design||5/5|
|Controls||Controls included are great, but could have more nuance||4/5|
|Value||Great value for the money||5/5|
Even though it might seem like this product is lower quality due to its lower price point, looks can be deceiving. In fact, this product comes with a lot underneath its hood, boasting an impressive 4 knobs to choose from when customizing your compression sound. Through adjusting the Level, Tone, Attack, and Sustain knobs, you can get more out of your sound than with many other devices. A criticism of these knobs, though, is that one might argue that they are slightly limiting and each one does not provide enough overall uniqueness. For example, the Sustain knob is incredibly useful, allowing you to load on long decays to your sound, but the Attack knob does not offer you as much power.
You’re still able to adjust each feature, though, so these gripes don’t really hold up when looking at the overall effectiveness of the product. All of these components are held within the device’s design, which is surprisingly compact. This is something I love about devices that are constructed this way, though, as they are small enough that they fit on a pedalboard snugly without being too large to not allow your foot to press down on them effectively.
This is why the Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer Pedal is truly a product to behold—it gives you a great amount of variety and convenience for a price that is truly right.
Seymour Duncan Studio Bass Compressor
|Effects||Good effects that are very effective||5/5|
|Sound||Sound quality is not as good as other models||3/5|
|Build||Design is good, with weird input/output positioning||3/5|
|Controls||Controls work well, easy to use||4/5|
|Value||A bit overpriced for what you get||4/5|
As a product that claims to be a truly studio-grade item, the Seymour Dunan Studio Bass Compressor has a lot to live up to. After all, it has to justify what is a pretty high-end price for a device of its kind, being more expensive than other products that are somewhat more effective.
That being said, those who prefer natural, classic compression that harkens back to more classic rock style tones will love this product. With the 4 different knobs to choose from, users can adjust the Blend, Attack, Level, and Compression easily. Each knob also adjusts its associated feature pretty effectively, with a little going a long way. Though the effects themselves are very nice, something that irked me as a result was the overall sound quality, which was not as good as other models that are cheaper such as the aforementioned Boss CS-3 model. That being said, the compression effect itself is very high-quality, living up to the studio-grade goal this product sets for itself.
Another thing that is curious about this device is the design—though the unit itself is pretty sleek, offering a gorgeous, compact setup, the input/output buttons being on the top of the device as opposed to the sides feels odd. It makes it feel less intuitive to fitting into a pedalboard nicely, as placing devices next to it makes the cables more prone to knots when they have to be placed on top as opposed to next to each other.
CNZ Audio Compressor
|Effects||Not a good variety of effects, but the compression option sounds nice||2/5|
|Sound||Good sound quality for a budget product||4/5|
|Build||Very durable design, but some difficult knobs||3/5|
|Controls||Easy to use, but not many controls||4/5|
|Value||Good value as a budget item||5/5|
When looking for a budget compression product, you’ll definitely want to take the CNZ Audio Compressor into consideration. As the name suggests, it is true bypass and as a result fits well into any pedalboard that wants to emphasize the natural sound of the guitar it is attached to. Something I really appreciate about this product is being able to flip a switch to control the normal or treble parts of your guitar’s tone.
The metal button to turn the unit on or off is also pretty great, being very large compared to other options on the market. This plays into the overall design of the device which is very sturdy, allowing for you to put quite a bit of pressure on it without any interruptions. This surprised me when I was first using it, as it looks like a skinny device that will tip over easily. This is completely not the case, as I have found myself in a few situations in which leaning while pressing the metal button with my foot had no effect.
Something that does stand out as subpar, though, is the flexibility of the knobs. The Compression knob is firm and is a good size, allowing you to easily see, grab, and adjust it, but the Value and Tone knobs are very small in comparison. Though the Compression knob is clearly the most important part of the product, this sticks out like a sore thumb, making you wonder why they weren’t even slightly bigger to match other products on the market.
NUX Masamune Boost & Compressor
|Effects||Great variety of solid effects||5/5|
|Sound||Incredible sound quality||5/5|
|Build||Good design, but curious input/output placement||4/5|
|Controls||Plenty of controls, very easy to use||5/5|
|Value||Fantastic value for the price||5/5|
As a company that knows how to make really efficient products, NUX has made a name for themselves among instrumentalists who are looking for high quality without having to dig deep into their pockets. With the NUX Masamune Boost & Compressor, they have done it again, creating a product that gives you a remarkable amount of flexibility, appearing like a high-end product but at a moderate price.
Right off the bat, something that distinguishes this device from the rest of the market is the amount of different options you have to customize your compression. You can adjust the Boost Level, the Compression (Komp) Level, Blend, Drive, and Sustain, with those options being only the knobs. There are also plenty of switches to play with and even an extra metal button at the bottom of the device to set the product on its Boost mode. With all of these features, it’s safe to say that this device is the most efficient on the market, with each adjustable feature being incredibly high quality and flexible.
I also appreciate the design of this device a lot, as it packages everything really nice in a unique square shape. Though some might find the design to be bulky as opposed to the normal rectangle shape of most devices, I appreciate how giving more space on the sides allows them to make the knobs bigger, because as a result everything is very easy to grab and adjust. The color of the entire device also makes it very easy to see in dimly-lit spaces, something that makes it even easier to accurately adjust your sound. The only gripe I have with the product’s design is that the input and output jacks are located above the device, but all of the pros of this product largely outshine this concern.
TC Electronic Hypergravity Mini Compressor
|Effects||Not many effects, but what it does is thorough||2/5|
|Sound||Decent sound quality||3/5|
|Build||Firm, mini design||5/5|
|Controls||Good selection of controls and easy to use||5/5|
|Value||A bit pricey for what you get, but reliable||4/5|
If you’re looking for a compression device that gives you all of the features necessary for a great product but contained in a small design, this is for you. Though it’s not the most budget product that I will review in this article (I think it’s even a bit overpriced for what you get), this is a good example of a mini device that will fit neatly in your setup. This is a product that will fit almost anywhere on your pedalboard and as a result is mainly for those who want something that can easily be added to their setup.
As far as the controls go, the device is also pretty intuitive. You are able to adjust the Sustain, Attack, and Level functions, though there is admittedly not much nuance within each option. For example, the Attack knob doesn’t change the bite too much, only giving you really three possibilities despite being a full, 360-degree flexible piece. However, if you’re looking into this product, it’s likely not because you want to have a device that does everything thoroughly, but rather one that does everything compactly. And, for that, the TC Electronic Hypergravity Mini Compressor works quite well, so I’d recommend it as a nice mini option.
Caline Electric Guitar Compression Pedal
|Effects||A good amount of effects available||5/5|
|Sound||Decent sound quality, but not great||3/5|
|Build||Bulky, sturdy design||4/5|
|Value||Great value for the money||4/5|
Finding a product that does not cost too much money but can still give you an idea of how a compression device works can be tricky. Many times the products that give you a full-fledged idea of the capability of a compression device are too expensive, not being able to sacrifice a hefty price tag. Because of this, there are very few entry-level compression devices that give you more than just a basic understanding of what compressing your sound means.
However, this Caline Electric Guitar Compression Pedal allows you to go beyond the basics without having to shell out a lot of money to do so. With 5 different knobs to adjust, you can control the Compression, the Attack, the Sense, the Volume, and the Gain pretty easily. Something that I especially appreciate about this device is that there is a layer of nuance with each knob that is preserved.
For example, unlike the aforementioned TC Electronic Hypergravity Mini Compression, each knob allows you to make noticeable minute adjustments to the sound, something that can show beginners just how detailed a compression sound can be. The sturdy, square design of the device also allows the knobs to be big without feeling oversized, though the bulky design might not be for everyone.
This is where the benefits of this device end, though, as there is a noticeable lack of sound quality where other compression devices excel. Because you’re paying a significantly lower price than other models on the market, though, it makes sense.
MXR CSP102SL Script Dyna Comp
|Effects||Only two knobs, but incredible power with them||4/5|
|Sound||Fantastic sound quality||5/5|
|Build||Minimalist, but effective design||4/5|
|Controls||Intuitive to use, but lack of controls||5/5|
|Value||Worth the money for a strong device||4/5|
When finding a compression device that works for you, many guitarists just want to stick to the basics. They can toggle many other effects in their setup by simply using other devices, so they prefer to keep their compression to their compression device and not much else.
If you’re somebody who prefers their devices in this way, this MXR CSP102SL Script Dyna Comp Compressor is for you. Though this product only has two knobs to adjust (one for Output and one for Sensitivity), this is a really strong product. Not only does each knob give you an absolutely surprising level of control over your sound, but the overall boost that using this device gives to your sound would almost make it worth it on its own.
That being said, playing around with the Sensitivity knob allowed me to get a wide variety of different decays and bites under one banner, something that I think is great for those moments where you don’t want to adjust nuance and just want to turn up one factor. You should definitely take into account that with a device this simple, though, you’re definitely sacrificing nuance, but if you just want a boost in your sound with a better decay and bite, you really can’t go wrong with this model. Throw in its durable design and you’ll quickly see why it’s worth the price.
MXR M87 Bass Compressor Pedal
|Effects||Many effects included, high-quality||5/5|
|Sound||Amazing bass compression quality, but mostly for that||4/5|
|Build||Sturdy design with easy to grip buttons||5/5|
|Controls||Good amount of controls, but fiddly knobs||5/5|
|Value||Well worth the money||5/5|
A type of compression that isn’t as widely utilized is bass compression—though it’s typically built to be used with bass guitars and synthesizers, guitarists can also get a powerful sound out of it that emphasizes the lower end. Though this product isn’t so great at outputting a non-bass compression, using it for lower end compression is absolutely ideal and anybody looking to seriously boost their sound from that end should definitely check out this product.
Not only that, but it also comes with 5 different knobs that you can use to adjust your sound, all pretty compact within a sleek, well-designed device. What I especially love about these knobs is that they have an extra layer of bumpy rubber around them to make them easy to grip, something that allows me to grab onto them confidently in a variety of situations.
With purchasing the MXR M87 Bass Compressor Pedal, you also get 2 patcher cables and two instrument cables, something that will definitely be useful for anyone wanting to incorporate it into their pedalboard immediately. All-in-all, this is a very professional bass compression that does come with a high-end price, but is more than worth it if you’re looking for a serious bass edge to your sound.
Ammoon MOSKY Dynamic Compression Pedal
|Effects||Only two effects included, but very effective||5/5|
|Sound||Very clear sound quality||4/5|
|Build||A bit of a flimsy design, but intuitive||5/5|
|Controls||Easy to use for the basics||5/5|
|Value||Incredible value budget device||5/5|
As the cheapest product with a review in this article, the ammoon MOSKY Electric Guitar Dynamic Compression Effect Pedal is great for those who want an incredibly affordable product that gets the job done. In terms of all of the products on this list, though, it does fall on the lowest end due to the pricing—it compresses your sound, allowing you to toggle the Output and Sensitivity. If you’re looking for more than that, you’ll be disappointed, but those who are in a bind and need a cheap solution will be incredibly pleased.
The sound is also very clear for a budget product, giving you an effective boost to your sound for not much money. A criticism I have about this product, though, is that the overall design is simply too flimsy. For example, the knobs have a fair amount of wobble to them, while the metal button at the bottom might be difficult to press down sometimes. However, if you’re looking for something on a very strict budget, this is definitely the best product on the market that fits that category!
How to Choose the Best Compressor Pedal for You
Finding the right compressor device for you will depend on how much money you want to spend, how many different effects you want to be able to adjust, and how strong of a compression you want on your tone.
For example, if you limit yourself to a certain budget (i.e. $100 or under), you certainly sacrifice a specific amount of sound quality with the types of compressors you can buy. However, you can still find a variety of different products with different levels of customization options.
Many compression devices will give you a multitude of options to customize such as the Attack, Sustain, Level, and Tone, but some might only let you adjust the Level and Sensitivity of the device. This isn’t necessarily a matter of better or worse, but more just what you prefer—if you want to be able to have nuance regarding the bite and the decay (i.e. having a harsh attack but soft release or vice-versa), then you should opt for a product that lets you distinguish that nuance. Otherwise, you’ll likely be purchasing something that limits you to a more typical approach to compression, in that it increases sustain and attack at the same time.
If you’re somebody who does not want to worry about the specific nuance of a sound and just the power, you should also take into account which compression products are better overall for simply increasing the strength of your sound. There are some that excel at this, while others are not as effective unless you customize them to be. See here for more general advice on choosing a pedal.
What is a Compressor Pedal Used For?
Like I mentioned in the beginning of this article, compression devices are typically used to increase the strength of one’s sound. Similar in the ways that compressors can give your sound more of a punch when used in mixing, compressors allow you to balance out the sounds of your guitar.
For example, striking a guitar string results in a strong attack and typically a very quick decay. This causes an uneven wave form, but a compressor can even it out so there is more consistency in your sound. On top of this, a compressor device can also make your sound louder overall, making it easier to get a powerful sound more easily. This type of compression is called dynamic range compression because it condenses the frequencies of your sound to make the overall texture bulkier.
Though it might seem like a very nuanced product that isn’t an integral part of anyone’s setup, you’d be surprised at how essential compressor devices are for many different guitarists. Pete Townshend is actually very well-known for using an MXR Dyna-Comp compressor in his guitar rig since 1979—if you go to 1:10:35 in this concert video of The Who playing in Essen, Germany, you can hear how it boosts his sound.
Compressor devices can also be used in very stylistic ways to get a specific type of effect in studio sessions. This reason is why it is used so often in country music that rely on more antiquated, tube sounds. Dwight Yoakam uses a lot of compression on the guitars for his album 3 Pears—you can hear it in the intro to the title track here.
Compressor Pedals vs Noise Gates vs E.Q. Pedals
Though compression devices are typically what you would associate with compression, noise gates are actually interesting ways to achieve a similar effect. The difference between the two, though, is that—while compression devices bring inputted sound up to a certain threshold—noise gates even out the sounds by bringing them down. They achieve very similar effects and often have similar ways of customizing each, but they are different products.
For a more detailed look at the differences between compression devices and noise gates involving sound examples, check out this video.
As opposed to noise gates, which are often used instead of compression devices, E.Q. devices can be used in conjunction with a compression device to improve your sound overall. This is because where compression devices will consolidate your sound, E.Q. devices can allow you to adjust the nuance of your sound before it is consolidated. This might seem like an arbitrary factor in one’s tone, but it can be a very important distinction for some performers.
What Types of Compressor Are There?
There are 6 different types of compression:
- VCA: As the most common type of compression, VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier) is a circuit that is made to focus on reducing gain. They do this to limit the amount of distortion that happens, allowing the condensed sound to rely on more natural frequencies.
- OTA: OTA (Operational Transconductance Amplifier) compression is when a circuit is built around a CA3080 chip. This is very similar to VCA compression, but the OTA output doesn’t consist of voltage, but rather variable current ratio. In other words, it’s more focused on the flow of energy as opposed to the strength.
- Optical: Optical compression involves a circuit that is based upon a photocell and a bulb. The device then takes the input from the instrument and sends it through the bulb, indicating to the photocell the intensity. The photocell then reacts, increasing the sound. This type of compression is more traditional, but has a notably longer response time.
- FET: A FET compression uses FET transistors to create a natural sound based on the properties of a tube amp. The digital technology means that it is very clear and smooth, but they’re also notoriously difficult-to-make and therefore not as common.
- Valve: Valve compression is defined by a circuit that uses a tube as a signal path, creating a smoother compression overall.
- Multiband: This type of compression is more often used in Digital Audio Workspaces (DAWs) for post-production than guitar pedals, but it is still an important type of compression. Multiband compression allows you to designate different ratios of compression to different frequency ranges.
How Do Compression Pedals Work?
Compression devices work by taking inputted sounds and consolidating the frequency range threshold values. This makes the overall threshold value of the sound much more limited, in turn increasing the power and gain of the sound. After it does this, the sound is sent back out to the amplifier, allowing users to also toggle various effects on its way out.
By evening out the threshold value of the guitar’s sound, a compression device can make sure that the overall amplitude of the sound is more balanced. For example, when a guitarist’s note begins to decay, a compression device will sense this and raise the sound up, giving the illusion that the decay is less prominent than it actually is. It will also help strengthen your picking patterns, equaling out the bite of each note so your overall sound is more consistent.
A Brief History of Compressor Pedals
Since studio recording became prominent, the inherent compression that happens when recording to tape has had audio engineers and musicians thinking about compression ever since. Though this was an inherent principle to the artform at first, it quickly became more prominently used in the 60s once stereo became more used in general. This was because of the increasing complexity of recording studios, allowing producers to add on effects in post-production to more closely control the nuance of the sounds they were working with.
The compression device we use today on pedalboards wouldn’t come until the MXR Dyna Comp in 1972. This device allowed guitarists for the first time to compress their sound live as opposed to in post-production, forever changing the ways in which we view compression in relation to sound effects.
Since the release of the MXR Dyna Comp, compression devices have seen a huge boom in popularity, leading to a large variety of devices being created specifically for compression.
How to Use Your Compressor Pedal
Using your compression device typically just means adjusting the knobs included on it and turning it on via the metal button at the bottom when you want to use it. In addition to the metal button at the bottom, some will also have a Boost button, allowing you to add extra strength to the sound by taking the levels up another notch.However, if you get a basic compression product, typically the functions will fall into two categories
This controls the gain of the device, allowing you to bring your sound up or down depending on your preference.
These knobs control how compressed your sound it, with the sound also increasing as you increase the sensitivity due to frequencies being consolidated.
Where Should Compressor Pedals Sit in the Signal Chain?
Because compression devices can increase the overall level of your sound, condensing it in order to make your tone louder, you should place them before any other effects that expand the tone. The latter category can include anything from delays to chorus devices. The reason why this is preferable is because then you will send a stronger signal to the latter devices, allowing them to be more effective as well. If you don’t follow this, you risk putting too much strength downward into your modulation-type devices, making your sound uneven. Although, if that’s what you’re going for, go for it! It’s just worth noting that this method isn’t where you should put your compression device in the signal chain if you want to get the most control out of your sound.
Do I Really Need a Compressor Pedal and Are They Worth It?
Compression devices are certainly worth it if you want to customize your sound further to give yourself a stronger edge. Because of how much it evens out your sound, some guitarists prefer to not use it in jam-based situations, as they claim it takes some of the nuance out of interacting with your guitar. I can get behind this, as having multiple different attacks is difficult during a jam session if you have a compression going to overpower every strum. However, it works incredibly well for getting strong, plucky sounds during more intense picking sections of songs. If you want to have good gain in your sound or replicate an old-timey feel of a tube amp, getting a compression device is very worth it.
In terms of the product that is a fantastic balance of price, capability, and efficient design, the Best Compressor Pedal available is surely the NUX Masamune Boost & Compressor. I really love just how sleek this product is in general—it really has it all. You can intricately adjust your sound without losing any of the quality. There are also a multitude of different objects, knobs, and switches that are all different sizes, but don’t feel at all like they’re inhibiting the experience. In fact, once you get over the learning curve of navigating the product’s interface, it is incredibly intuitive and essential for a strong live workflow. This is a product I would recommend to both beginners and experts, as you don’t have to invest much money to get a truly expansive product that will not only teach you how compression works, but also how to recognize true nuance in your tone. As the Best Compressor Pedal available, I feel that this product cannot be beaten.