A compressor pedal might not be on the top of your list but, when used right, they can seriously improve your tone and be the secret weapon you need to really shine. I recently got my hands on the Optivalve from Gurus Amps. Here’s my review.
My relationship with compressors has evolved from being something I felt I had to keep on my board but rarely used, to something I depend on for almost all my tones. Whether it’s cleans that needs a bit more definition or lead tones that needs more sustain.
A compressor controls the dynamic range of your tone by making the quiet notes louder and the louder notes more quiet.
Peaking transients will be smoother making the signal to appear lower in volume. However, the amplifying of the lower frequencies, will make the overall volume sound more consistent and fatter and therefore make it stand out more in a mix, with more presence and sustain.
Optivalve is, as the name implies, an optical tube driven compressor based on the classic Teletronix LA-2A studio unit. In addition to the input and output controls, the Optivalve also feature controls for ratio and tone.
Input: adjusts the input gain to meet the fixed threshold for compression
Ratio: adjusts the amount of compression applied once the threshold is exceeded
Output: adjusts the volume depending on how much compression is applied, as compression often lower the overall volume. This can also be used to lower or boost the volume beyond unity level.
Tone: allow some fine tuning of your tone depending on how much compression is applied.
Like the Echosex, which I did a review on a couple of months back, the whole front lights up in the dark and there’s also a “magic eye”, or pulsating light, that indicates the amount of compression.
Like all optical compressors, the Optivalve is subtle. Unlike the typical transistor compressors (MXR Dyna Comp, Boss CS2), which has a very distinct limiting, the Optivalve is more of a tone enhancer, carefully levelling nasty peaks and bringing out more of the lows. It’s more of a feel than anything else, although, at higher settings, you can get a really nice squeeze for more dynamics and sustain.
The “rule” for guitar compressors is to place them first in the chain. This way, they compress the signal from your guitar, distributing an even signal to the pedals and the dirt pedals in particular and bring out the dynamics in your playing.
You can also place the Optivalve last in your chain, after the delays, like an outboard studio unit. This will maintain the headroom in your tone and amp and the compressor can also be used to boost the front end of the amp.
The Optivalve can also be used with other instruments, like acoustic guitar and bass, or as an outboard studio unit, for recording or mixing.
I’ve always been a fan of the old studio compressors and the LA2A in particular. With the extra ratio control, the Optivalve becomes even more versatile and suitable for guitar. The tone control is a brilliant addition as these units tend to sound a tad dark when you crank the compression. Now you can restore your high end, without those nasty peaks.
So how does the Optivalve compare to other, similar compressors? The Effectrode PC-2A is perhaps the closest match. Both being based on the Teletronix LA-2A. They’re obviously very similar sounding, with a transparent tone and subtle effect. I can’t really tell which is better but the Optivalve has the controls for ratio and tone, which I find very useful. The Effectrode has a wider range on the input gain, or compression, which might suit finger pickers better. It’s also got a switch for heavier limiting and the smaller footprint might be a bonus for some.
I can’t really find anything to put my finger on here. The Optivalve sounds no less than amazing! It’s subtle but it makes your guitar sound so sweet, dynamic and warm. It’s definitely one of those pedals you want to leave on for all your sounds. Whether you need to beef up thin sounds from your bedroom setup or add presence and sustain to your recording and stage tones, the Optivalve is as good as it gets. Highly recommended!
Check out gurusamps.com for more.