When it comes to vintage compression, the two main elements required for an authentic sound seem to be opto gain controls and valve circuitry, both of which are combined in the Squeeze Box. Designed to look like a guitar player's stomp box, complete with foot bypass switch, the mains-powered Squeeze Box is actually a combination of a tube DI box and an opto-compressor, with a little EQ thrown in for good measure. Sadly, the budget didn't stretch to vintage knobs, so, instead, four distinctly modern plastic knobs perch on a rather plain white box that wouldn't look out of place in an operating theatre.
The tube-amp section provides up to 20dB of gain, and the 2M(omega) input impedance means that passive guitars and basses can be plugged directly into the unit. Outputs are available on both unbalanced jack and balanced XLR; the XLR is recommended for low-impedance or otherwise difficult loads. The jack will interface happily with guitar amps or most console insert returns.
Virtually no details of the compressor circuit are provided with the unit, other than that it's based around an optical gain-control circuit, presumably utilising a photocell and lamp arrangement. Controls are kept to a minimum, and the compressor attack and release characteristics are preset. Other than the power switch, there are just four knobs plus an EQ in/out switch: the Out knob acts as the output make-up gain control, EQ offers top cut in one direction and a slight brightening in the other, Comp-Lim appears to set the compression ratio and Threshold sets the level at which compression starts. There's no metering, but an LED above the Threshold control shows when compression is taking place. A traditional footswitch puts the unit into active mode, and a further LED above the Comp-Lim knob illuminates when the processor is engaged.
The Squeeze Box is obviously designed to be used both as a guitar/bass DI processor and as a studio compressor via console inserts, so I tried both. What becomes apparent almost from the moment you switch on is that this box wasn't bred for subtlety! Its lack of a gain-reduction meter makes studio use a little hit and miss but, being fair, this is a compressor you'd use as an effect, and in that context you'd probably want to set it up by ear. Used with electric guitar, the unit can give both chorus and single-note work that obviously compressed 'ping and sustain'. The further the compression knob is advanced towards limiting, the more heavy-handed the processing becomes, and if you combine limiting with a low threshold setting, the sound gets really slapped about. In fact, on high settings, the gain moves about so much that it almost sounds as though you're playing through an amp with a mutinying tremolo.
Used on previously recorded material, the box works very well on bass guitar, especially if you like a very 'slammy' sound; again, though, you must take care not to go too far, because the degree of pumping can be disturbing. Even vocals take on a nice lift, but here the threshold setting is very critical -- there's only a very small angular movement between having no compression and having too much. There are hard-knee compressors and soft-knee compressors, but I think that this one qualifies as 'knee in the groin'! Admittedly, heavy-handedness is a characteristic of early opto compressors, but I'd have liked a slightly more forgiving control system.
If you like your compression so that you can hear it, this is a box you have to check out. For those Kate Bush or Phil Collins vocal sounds, where the level almost flinches, this is the box for you, and the same is true if you want to really tread on your bass and guitar sounds -- but if you're just after a subtle means of keeping your levels under control, this isn't the one. The EQ seems mainly to offer treble cut; for guitar and bass purposes, though, that can be very useful.
Personally, I wouldn't want to use this as my only compressor: it simply isn't flexible enough, and it's rather too easy to make it pump (especially on mixed material). But if you already have one or two more conventional compressors, this might be the one that you bring out of the cupboard when the client just wants to hear 'more'. It's probably most useful as a guitar/bass DI box, and in that capacity it's quiet and smooth-sounding, with the advantage of compression when you need it.
Useful combined tube DI and compressor, especially suited to guitar and bass work.
Also works in console insert points.
Pumping is very hard to control.
No gain-reduction metering.
This is a useful and distinctive product for a particular type of sound,
but is insufficiently flexible for general-purpose work. Its main weakness
is the difficulty of controlling the gain pumping, though I recognise that this
is the type of sound the unit is designed to produce. I found it to sound
best on guitars, basses and drums, though some vocals work well with it too.
£ £495 including VAT.
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