One way to describe the BBE OptiComp OC-5 could be ‘subtle’; another could be ‘musical’. Either way, I really like this pedal…
Some love compressors, others hate them – and some simply misunderstand them. Compression is not necessarily meant to be an obviously audible effect such as for instance chorus, distortion or delay. In short, it deals with dynamic control, and sometimes the best-sounding setting is when you really don’t notice that the compression is kicking in once in a while. And reversely, sometimes you really want the compressor to squash the tone, and then compensate on the gain to add that smack-in-your-face, hard-pumping compression. The BBE OptiComp belongs to the first category.
In fact, when BBE launched the OptiComp in 2013, they emphasized that the compressor design and circuit was taken from their BMAX and BMAX-T rack units. They claimed a ‘studio-grade’ compressor in a stomp box, and it was tailored especially for bass players. Since then, the ‘bass player’ part has vanished from their official communication – maybe they realized there are many more guitar players out there. Nonetheless, it was made for bass and it was ported from a bass channel strip, so I will consider this a bass compressor first.
The OptiComp has just two knobs: Threshold and Output. The Threshold determines the amount – or aggressiveness – of the compression. Since the output volume will naturally drop as you apply more compression, the Output knob allows you to compensate for that loss of gain.
The two-knob operation is often associated with the classic ‘Ross/Dynacomp’ (as in MXR Dyna Comp) design, but the OptiComp is in fact, as the name also implies, an optical compressor.
Inputs and outputs are on standard jack connectors and the DC adapter input runs on any normal Boss 9V adapter or power supply.
The sound example section is divided into three parts to demonstrate three different compression scenarios.
NOTE! Please use headphones or ‘real’ speakers. You simply can’t judge low-end material on laptop, tablet or phone speakers…!
NOTE! If you are on a mobile device, please turn it to landscape mode to see the knob settings of the pedal for each audio clip.
Two knobs may not impress true control freaks, but yet this is a very common design for compressor pedals. It doesn’t rule out versatility entirely, but obviously, dedicated controls over threshold, ratio, attack, release, etc. would have increased the overall versatility – but possibly also the complexity and the ability to actually create some usable tones.
So, considering the limited control parameters in combination with the rather subtle (but great) sound, the OptiComp is not the most versatile pedal around. Not necessarily a bad thing, though, if all you need is subtle, musical compression.
The build quality seems high and it’s actually quite heavy. The knobs feel firm and even when turning them and the connectors and footswitch feel sold as well. It also weighs more than first anticipated when you pick it up. It turns out, though, that it’s actually the bottom plate that is heavy. When you take off the bottom it weighs at least the same as the rest of the pedal. It really doesn’t matter, I guess, but it’s reasonable to assume that most of us think of ‘heavy’ as being sturdy and of a good quality – and therefore that it is no coincidence or mistake that the plate has been designed to really add some weight.
Regarding the design and usability, as mentioned, it is a simple pedal, but it works as intended and you get easy battery access from the bottom of the pedal if you run it without an adapter. Rather than having small rubber feet in each corner – that you’d typically have to remove if you want to put on some Velcro underneath – the OptiComp has a big rubber mat that makes sure the pedal does not move on a hard surface, and you can apply the Velcro directly on it.
Many of the more recent compressor pedals offer parallel compression, which means that you can blend in some of your dry signal. In general, I greatly prefer compressor pedals with this feature, but given the ‘gentle’ nature og the OptiComp this particular feature might not have benefited it as much as is the case for many other pedals.
Finally, the OptiComp doesn’t have smallest footprint in the history of pedals. It’s a little bigger than a standard Boss pedal – the same length, but about 1/3 wider, so it will take up some space on your board.
When launched BBE announced a $145 price tag, but as is almost always the case, the street price turned out differently. Today (2015), you can pick up a brand new OptiComp for approximately $100.
I paid a little over $40 for the unit used for this review. At that price it’s an absolute steal, but since the OptiComp is still available as new, it should be judged based on the actual street price from new – in which case it compares to e.g. Boss CS-3 or LMB-3 pedals.
At the end of the day, I think the value is for money factor is very high – even for a new pedal.
The OptiComp is a great pedal. It may not produce that full-on Marcus Miller slap-smack, but it will deliver a musical-sounding control of your dynamics that can go from being very subtle to fairly aggressive. To be honest, I actually like the fact that it has a useable range all the way. Many pedals have so wide settings that the last 25% is clearly so extreme that you’d never use them anyway.
It would actually be a compressor that I might want to use as an always-on tool at a low to medium threshold setting – just to smoothen out the peaks and clean up the signal a bit.
Preserves your fundamental tone
Great, smooth dynamics control
Not overly versatile (but does the job)
Takes up some space on your board