Tech Tip:The COMP16 by PreSonus
By Gary Allen
When my "Using Effects Effectively Part 2" article about compressors, limiters, and gates came out, I received quite a few e-mails from people at the Guitar Alliance and people that received the Musician's Friend newsletter. These e-mails revolved mostly around what setting should be used on a compressor and what is the best compressor to buy. These are very difficult questions to answer. First off, there is no perfect way to set a compressor that will work for everyone. If there were, there would not be any knobs on the compressor unit. They would be hard-wired at one setting only. There is, however, a unit you can buy that will make your compressor setting problems go away. This unit is called the COMP16, manufactured by a company called PreSonus. Chad Kelly from PreSonus was good enough to send me a COMP16 to review.
First, a little history about PreSonus:
The company was founded by Jim Odom, who at the age of 19 won a Downbeat contest naming him the best up-and-coming jazz guitar player. Downbeat gave him a scholarship to the Berklee School of Music. Following graduation he joined a band on the CBS label called Leroux. After recording and touring with them for several years he settled in Southern California to begin a career as an engineer and producer. During his time as a producer and engineer he had two platinum records to his credit. One was the "Dirty Dancing Soundtrack," and the other was Cinderella's "Heartbreak Station." He also worked on many other TV and movie soundtracks including writing and playing on the National Lampoon's European Vacation soundtrack. He then went to work in his father's hydrographic design company, where he designed sonar equipment for the military. But his heart kept pulling him back to music and audio. Following his heart, he founded PreSonus in 1995 with a commitment to creating innovative, quality equipment for studio and touring applications. Next year PreSonus will mark its ten-year anniversary of great PreSonus audio products.
The COMP16 has 16 preset compressions that include three vocal, two percussion, three fretted, three keyboard, two limit, and three effect compression settings. The controls on this unit are very easy to operate, and even if you have never used compression before you will be up and running in minutes. These presetsare optimized for various instruments by setting the Threshold, Ratio, Attack, and Release for you. These are hard-wired settings and they cannot be changed or modified. Here is a rundown of these settings:
PreSonus COMP16 Presets
L/R (Mono) Overhead
To hook up the COMP16, connect the instrument or microphone to the input on the back of the unit. Then run a cable from the output of the COMP16 to the amplifier or mixing board. You have a choice of a balanced or unbalanced signal depending on whether you use XLR or TRS connections. Once connected, you are ready to set the controls on the front panel and play.
Here is a basic diagram of the easy-to-use controls:
The INPUT control sets the initial amount of signal that you want to enter the COMP16. It ranges from -20db to +20db. This input level is always active when you are hooked up through the unit. After setting the input level, select the type of compression you want with the PRESET knob. Lastly, set the OUTPUT level which also ranges from -20db to +20db.
The Bypass button lets you hear the signal with and without compression for comparison. Keep in mind that the input level is always active. If you have a high input level and a low output level you may have a considerable amount of gain when you hit the bypass button. Be careful or you may blow out an eardrum! There are also Output Meter and Output to Meter buttons. When the Output to Meter button is set at the "in" position, the meter will show you the amount of signal at the output level. This is what the signal will look like after it is compressed. When the Output to Meter button is in the "out" position, the Output Meter will show you the level of gain reduction.
Now that you have an overview of hook-up and controls, it's time to experiment. The first thing I did was grab my Takamine acoustic guitar. I went straight through the COMP16 to my amplifier setting the input and output at the 12 o'clock position and chose preset #7 for acoustic guitars. I then put it in gear and started playing with the input and output levels. I found a spot I liked at "Input 2/3" and "Output 1/3." I then hit the bypass to hear the unprocessed sound. I played a few chording patterns and did some fingerpicking exercises. After I established the baseline dry signal I hit the bypass button again to turn the unit on. It was magic to the ears! The sound was so much tighter and easier to control. When I went from a strumming part to a fingerpicking part, there was no drastic volume drop as so frequently happens. I did not detect any of the pumping or breathing sounds often associated with compressors. I was hearing an acoustic guitar that could have come out of any major-label studio. I tried some of the other presets and found that the piano and the soft vocal settings also worked well with the acoustic.
Keep in mind tthat sound is subjective; the settings you like may be different. While the parameters are hard-wired, the COMP16 has the versatility to satisfy the discriminating ear. Play around with the unit. You'll be surprised what you come up with.
I next plugged in my electric setup. I use a Digitech 2120 rackmount processor with built-in compression. Choosing a nice overdriven bluesy patch, I turned off the Digitech's onboard compression. The patch I selected was one I have always liked but just could not quite get to sound right. It always seemed to have an unnatural distortion that gave a muddy feel to the guitar's sound. I have never been able to get rid of it with the Digitech's onboard compressor. Choosing patch #6 on the COMP16, I went through the same steps as I did on the acoustic. Again, there were no pumping or breathing sounds. Just a smooth, overdriven tone that any blues player would be proud to hear coming from his rig in a live gig. The unnatural distortion sound was completely gone. I continued to try other patches on the Digitech 2120 from clean to heavy metal and everything in-between. The COMP16 handled it all with minor adjustments to the input and output controls.
If you are just beginning to use a compressor, don't be afraid to experiment. Just because you are playing a piano, it doesn't rule out the bass guitar setting. Half the fun of using effects is seeing how far you can push the limits. In music, the end always justifies the means for finding your perfect sound.
PreSonus has done a topnotch job of designing a rugged, quality compressor at an affordable price. The COMP16 is easy enough for a beginner to use, yet has enough versatility for even a seasoned professional. This unit will serve you well in live situations, in the studio, and at home when jamming. If you are ready to take your sound to the next level, I highly recommend the COMP16.
I would like to thank the great staff at PreSonus for their great service and friendly attitude. A special thanks to Chad Kelly and Rick Naqvi at PreSonus for sending me a COMP16 to try out and providing all the information I requested.
|Gary Allen is a freelance writer for the |
Guitar Alliance website.
He has 14 years experience playing guitar and drums for
local country and rock bands in Washington state.