TC Electronic hit the bass world pretty hard with their first amp that featured presets, semi-parametric EQ and… a built-in multi-band compressor – the SpectraComp that has now been ported to a dedicated bass pedal…
TC Electronic is a company with many dimensions. They started out creating effects such as the legendary Stereo Chorus Flanger back in 1976. Later, digital rack effect units became their core focus, and one of the most popular units was the Finalizer mastering machine that utilized multi-band compression. Allegedly, the SpectraComp in the company’s RH450, RH750 and Blacksmith bass heads build on that very compression algorithm – as does the SpectraComp pedal. So let’s dive in.
This section should be pretty short… The SpectraComp feature just one single knob, a red LED and a footswitch.
While compression is a complex concept, there are many compressor pedals around with just 2 knobs. These typically build on the classic Ross / MXR DyneComp design even though there are also a few optical-based two-knob compressor pedals around. Having said that, this is the first one-knob compressor pedal I have come across so far.
You might be suspect that it would be simplifying things a bit too much – especially considering that this is a 3-band compressor design – but the original SpectraComp on the TC amps is also just controlled via a single knob. So let’s keep an open mind and move on and actually listen to the pedal…
There are 6 rounds of sound clips in this review:
- TonePrint: Spectron
- TonePrint: Parallel
- TonePrint: Basstard
- TonePrint: BassDistressor
- Slap (various TonePrints)
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.
So… How versatile can a 1-knob pedal really be? Fairly versatile, but with some limitations in my opinion. The main concern is that the overall output volume changes as you turn up the pedal. Naturally, compression decreases the output volume, which is exactly why virtually all other compressors (whether pedals or rack units) have some kind of ‘make up gain’ feature to counter-adjust to unity gain.
The SpectraComp attempts to do this automatically, but there are so many things affecting the signal and how it is being processed that it is probably not possible to create a completely smooth output volume across the entire range. You might argue that the SpetraComp version on the TC bass amps also is a 1-knob operation, but it works out better as you can use the Master output knob to adjust.
Generally, the output volume increases fairly evenly until the 50% mark, and from then on it actually decreases a bit. However, there is some variation to be found within each of the different TonePrints (more about that in a bit), and the general volume actually varies quite a lot when loading new TonePrints.
I do like simplicity and the tiny format is great, but I must admit that I miss the option to control the output volume quite a bit. The physical platform does support more knobs. For instance, the mini versions of the Flashback Delay, Corona Chorus, Vortex Flanger and Shaker Vibrato all have 3 knobs.
As mentioned, the SpectraComp supports TC’s TonePrint concept, which obviously adds massively to the versatility dimension. In brief, the TonePrint concept utilizes all of the many hidden parameters that we end users never get access to. For a complex multi-band compression algorithm, there might be hundreds of parameters in play, of which many are being altered simultaneously as you tweak that one knob. Now, the TonePrint concept allows you to tweak a lot more parameters than what you get on the surface of the physical TonePrint-compatible pedals via an editor for Mac, PC and iPad. Not all of the them, but way more than you can find on any pedal.
To get an idea of the kind of additional and detailed control you get with the TonePrint Editor and the SpectraComp bass compressor, click on this photo to zoom in (opens in a new window). I think there might be a need for a dedicated TonePrint article someday soon that really delves into this brilliant concept. For now, I’ll stick with this particular pedal and move on with the review, but stay tuned and watch out in the Tips section…
As is clear, you get a lot more knobs, handles and sliders to tweak and this goes for any of the TC pedals in the TonePrint range. In many other cases, for instance the Flashback Delay, I like the default tone so much that I never really felt the need to mess around with the editor, but in this case, I missed some tweaking options, and to be completely honest, I didn’t really like the default tone. So in this particular case, the TonePrint concept and not least the editor was a lifesaver and I highly recommend that you check that out if you get this pedal.
For instance, once you fire up the editor, you get access to all of the usual compressor parameters, including Threshold, Ratio, Attack and Hold (same as release). But since this is a 3-band compressor, you get all of that control for each band. You even get per-band Knee and Blend control and you can define the frequency crossover between the bands as you see fit. To top it off, there is a ‘master’ setting for each of those parameters (except crossover) that allows you to adjust on a universal level, so for instance each of the threshold settings you have defined for each band will adjust relative to the changes you make on the ‘Threshold All’ slider. Pretty clever move.
My suggestion is to swap the default tone for either the BassDistressor, BassCompander or ParallelBassComp TonePrint created by TC and use that as a starting point for further fine-tuning.
One final thing to mention. Many modern compressor pedals have a ‘tone’ feature to compensate for loss of high-end during compression. A bit of additional cut-through-the-mix power. While there is no dedicated tone features on the SpectraComp, you still get a lot of control in this regard as you can very much control how much of the crispy treble you want to hear by adjusting the Crossover Frequency and amount of Blend (dry tone) for the high band.
Overall, I would be hard pressed not to deem this the most versatile compressor I have ever come across in a pedal form. Not on the physical side, though, so it does require that you are willing to dig in and open the vast possibilities that are right there under the hood in order to make the most of this pedal.
The quality is fine. It is not a hand built pedal, but in reality that doesn’t necessarily have that great an impact on the overall quality of a pedal. The knob is not super firm, but still feels good. In fact, it may just have the right amount of resistance for you to be able to give it a slight tweak with your foot on the fly. Having said that, beware that the volume may change quite a bit and you may all of a sudden have to counter-adjust quickly on the amp.
Elaborating just a bit on that side of things, the volume issues makes this an always-on pedal for me. Unless you take time to find the right sweetspot and deliberately want to kick it in for a squeezed comp tone for a slap solo and at the same time actually would like to overall volume to increase. In that case, it would be perfectly fine to use as a kick-in effect. Speaking of the volume issue, if you should happen to use several TonePrints during a gig, beaming them in from the TonePrint App, you should definitely keep an eye on your amps master volume. There are some serious level jumps to be found once you start swapping TonePrints. This again indicates to me that the pedal was intended for finding one favorite setting that ‘does it for you’ and stick with that – probably as an always-on item in your signal chain – at least sticking with one setting per gig or band.
One final thing to beware of when you use the TonePrint Editor, is that as you change TonePrints from the editor, it loads at a default setting that is not reflected by the physical position of the knob on the pedal. So, if you load a very loud TonePrint, and the pedal is turned all the way up, you may get a low-level tone at first, but if you turn the knob back just a bit, the level may take a major jump up in volume depending on the TonePrint you have selected. If you wear headphones, this can cause some less-than-subtle surprises…
However, it is not a criticism on the software design as such, because it does make sense that each TonePrint loads at a pre-defined default level, and once you load a new software setting, obviously, there would be no way for it to know the actual knob setting at that time until it receives some feedback from the knob itself. In short, the benefits of the TonePrint concept heavily compensates for a few annoying, practical issues in the editing process. So, does it affect the design score that you need to hook it up to a computer or iPad to make the most of it? Maybe a bit, but on the other hand I’d say that the benefits you get in return are so overwhelming that it largely compensates for it.
On the hardware design side of things, there is not much to say other than I really like the small footprint and that the power input is physically distanced from the input and output jacks, so angled patch cables won’t clash and become a problem.
At the time of writing (2016), the TC SpectraComp has a list price of $149, but the street price seems to have dropped to a very competitive $99. If you are not afraid to mount the USB cable and fire up the free TonePrint Editor, you could potentially turn this pedal into the bass comp of your dreams, representing a massive value for money. If you are not comfortable with that, I recommend that you try it out in a store and check if the default tone is right for you before buying.
TC is a company with a heavy dynamics processing legacy, and that translates very well into this pedal. I didn’t care too much for the default sound of it (but it may be perfect for you!), so in this case the TonePrint capability – especially the TonePrint Editor – was a complete lifesaver that took it from a medium experience to a stellar one. Even without factoring in the low street price, this pedal is amazing once you open up the hood and start messing with the details in what is without doubt one of the finest digital compression engines out there.
The below scores would be quite different if it wasn’t for the TonePrint capability, so please notice that those are indeed based on the additional benefits you get from that concept.
Sounds great (once you start tweaking)
Extremely versatile (when you use the TonePrint Editor)
Great value for money
Blend control (for each band)
You need to utilize the Editor and/or App to make the most if it