In this article, we’re going to cover the two best sidechain compression pedals as of 2023.
Sidechain compressors are useful for all musicians, and the dumping effect can be used in many ways and for many reasons. For example, in a recording situation, you can use it to make a certain sound cut through your mix without manually lowering the sound of a particular instrument at specific points, and it is the same reason it is practical in a live situation.
It doesn’t really matter what instrument or genre you play. Sidechain compressors are a useful tool for every musician out there. True, some genres tend to use it more than others, so you may think of sidechain compressors as a luxury for some musicians while it’s a must for others. Dance music, for example, always uses sidechain compressors in its mix. However, it can still be used by any genre to give off a psychedelic feel to one song and an atmospheric feel to another.
The pedal itself plays a major role in how it can best be used. Different pedals have different sounds, features, and configurations. That’s why you have to be careful when choosing your pedal to serve your best interests, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do today: we will help you choose your optimal sidechain compressor pedal.
The 2 Best Sidechain Compression Pedals Available in 2023
1. The Pill Pedal
The Pill Pedal is quite simple, yet it has various effects that send you flying in space. I guess that’s where its name “The Pill” implies: it takes you on a trip. Its blue and purple colors look like a picture from outer space (which further implies the tripping part).
What’s special about this pedal, though, is not only its looks but also its components. The crucial parts in The Pill Pedal are hand-picked, measured, and tried by musicians. The rest of the components are high-end and are selected over years by A/B tests. Each pedal is calibrated by ear. Last but not least, The Pill Pedal is designed in Berlin and hand-made in Switzerland. So you can say with confidence that it’s a pretty high-end pedal.
The Pill Pedal comes in a metal Chassis. It has three knobs (Release, Depth, and Trigger Sensitivity). It also has an On/Off switch and two display LEDs: one status display LED and one Trigger Display LED. It features two inputs and two outputs, as well as a sidechain input and a power input (no batteries).
The Pill Pedal is quite a large pedal with the dimensions of 119.5 x 94 x 38 mm. Its knobs are placed in the top part of the pedal, side by side, and the LEDs are placed between the knobs: the status display LED is between the Release knob and the Depth knob, and the trigger display LED is between the Depth knob and Trigger Sensitivity knobs. Finally, the On/Off switch is in the bottom center of the pedal. The inputs and outputs are situated on the sides of the pedal (inputs on the right and outputs on the left). The sidechain input and the power input are also situated on the pedal’s right side, right above the inputs.
The Pill Pedal features a full-analog circuit – no digitals whatsoever. It has stereo inputs and outputs, which give you numerous options to control your signal chain. It runs on a Standard Boss type 9-12V DC (center negative) and comes with a true bypass for maximum signal conservation.
The Release knob in the Pill Pedal controls how quickly the signal’s compression is released: counter-clockwise, you get a quicker release time; clockwise, you get a slower release time, all the way to a slow fade. The Depth knob controls the amount of compression you apply to your signal: counter-clockwise, you get very subtle compression; clockwise, you get intense compression. The Trigger Sensitivity knob controls how sensitive your trigger is to the signal coming from the sidechain: counter-clockwise, the trigger will engage only with loud signals; clockwise, the trigger can be over-sensitive and engage to pretty much any sound coming from the sidechain, so you might want to be careful with it and set it to the proper level.
Character & Sound:
Simple as it may be, The Pill Pedal has a wide range of effects. It can range anywhere between sudden and smooth, deep and subtle, and quick and slow – or any combination of those. Moreover, it gives off a decent sound with any configuration. Set it right, and it will serve you well. Just by tweaking three knobs, you can have an effect you have long looked for.
The obvious pro to The Pill Pedal is that it does an excellent job, and no matter how you tweak it, it will always sound good. Moreover, it is a perfect fit for studio recording and live performance as it is powerful and reliable. The stereo input and output are an extra plus as you can add two different instruments or loops to the same pedal and get the same effect on both, as well as send the signal to different outputs in your chain.
A major con that comes to mind is that The Pill Pedal only functions as a dumping effect. Other sidechain compression pedals have sidechain compression as an extra feature and thus can function as both regular compressors and dumping effects. That’s not the case with The Pill Pedal. This means you will need another regular compressor.
Another con is that The Pill Pedal, large as it is, still requires even more space on a pedalboard due to all the sockets being on the side parts of the pedal. When the sockets are on the sides of the pedal, you can’t save space on your pedalboard by sticking pedals side by side. This can also cause quite a bit of entanglement with the cables. The pedal is quite broad, so it could have been possible to place the sockets on the top instead of the sides.
One last thing, The Trigger Sensitivity knob has a little bit of a negative. It can either be too sensitive or insensitive, which means you can either set it to trigger with the loudest sounds or with all sounds. You can’t, however, set it to trigger with low sounds only. This would make a problem if, for instance, you want to trigger your compression with a snare sound, which would typically be lower than the kick sound; it will not work.
The Pill Pedal is perfect if you’re a DJ or a musician who plays a lot of ambient or atmospheric music associated with genres like Trance, House, EDM, Post Rock, or Indie music.
2. Empress Effects Compressor MKII
The Empress Effects Compressor MKII is based on an older model that was released back in 2011. When the company found that it was pretty popular, it decided to launch a new, similar product while adding new features to be a better fit for a wider range of musicians.
The original 2011 model included most of the features in this newer model such as gain metering, attack and release controls, parallel compression, and the external sidechain. The new model, on the other hand, includes other features like EQ control and a sidechain high-pass filter. The newer pedal is also half the size of the original one.
The Empress Effects Compressor MKII comes in a sturdy Die Cast Aluminum case. It features six knobs (Input, Output, Attack, Release, Mix, and Tone). It also has two three-way selector switches: one for compression ratio and another for sidechain hi-pass filter. It features one input and one output, as well as a sidechain send/return input and power input. This pedal comes with a status display LED, gain reduction LEDs, and input volume LEDs for the sidechain, as well as an On/Off switch.
The Empress Effects Compressor MKII is a small pedal with the dimensions of 2.5 x 4.8 x 2.6 inches, and its knobs are placed in two rows on the left side of the pedal. Right under the knobs, we have the compression ratio selector switch (under the left row) and the sidechain hi-pass selector switch (under the right row). On the right side, we have the gain reduction LEDs and the input volume LEDs. The input and output are on the top of the pedal. Between them are the sidechain input and the power input on top of each other. The On/Off switch is in the bottom center of the pedal, and on its left is the status display LED.
The Empress Effect Compressor MKII has an all-analog circuit and mono input and output. It runs on a 9 – 18 V DC (Negative tip) power plug, which withdraws around 100 mA. It also features a true bypass, hence the transparent signal. This pedal does not run on batteries. The sidechain input takes a 3.5 mm cable.
- Input & Output
The Input knob controls the threshold of the compression, meaning the volume that needs to be compressed when it passes a certain point: turning it left will give you a higher compression threshold (minimal compression), while turning it right will give you a lower compression threshold (maximal compression). The Output knob controls make up a volume of the sound lost due to compression.
- Attack & Release
The Attack and Release knobs function together, determining when the compression starts and ends. Basically, compression engages at a certain volume and disengages when that volume dims down. The Attack and Release knobs control when the compression takes effect and when it fades out. Turning the Attack knob left will cause the compression to take effect quickly and vice versa when turning it right. The same with the Release knob, turning it left will cause the compression to disengage quickly and vice versa when turning it right.
- Mix & Parallel Compression
The Mix knob controls how much of the dry signal and the wet signal you hear: setting it fully to the right will give you the compressed signal only, which is standard with compression. Setting in it the middle, however, will give you parallel compression, in which you get to hear both compressed and uncompressed signals. The Tone knob controls the tone of the compressed signal.
- Ratio & Sidechain Hi-Pass
The Ratio selector switch controls the amount of compression applied to the signal. It has three selections: 2:1 (where the compressed signal is half the original signal), 4:1 (where the compressed signal is a quarter of the original signal), and 10:1 (where the compressed signal is 1/10 of the original signal). The sidechain hi-pass filter controls which frequencies trigger the dumping effect. It has three options: 120Hz on the left, Off in the middle, and 240Hz on the right.
- Input & Output
Character & Sound:
The Empress Effect Compressor MKII has a clear and natural sound by default. It works well with both clean tones and distorted tones. Speaking of distorted tones, when you turn down both Attack and Release, you get a little distorted sound, which can boost your distortion. The Input knob functions well in cooperation with the Ratio switch to help you get your desired compression. The Tone knob adjusts the output frequencies from dark and warm to bright and pointy. Last but not least, don’t forget to make up for the lost volume with the Output knob.
The Empress Effects MKII is a great compressor pedal with various controls that let you tweak your compression as precisely as you want it to be. The gain reduction LEDs and the input volume LEDs give you a visual display of what’s happening to your signal, which is an extra helpful tool to precisely adjust your output signal. Also, the pedal is great for studio recording and live performance. It is reliable, and it fits well on a pedalboard due to its small size and the input sockets being on the top.
There are hardly any cons to The Empress Effects MKII. However, if I have to name one, it will have to be the absence of stereo input and output. With all the features and controls in this pedal, it can undoubtedly use stereo input and output to further control your signal chain. The Empress Effects MKII can also be quite complicated and challenging to configure for inexperienced users. You can easily ruin your sound with too much compression or a too quick attack and release.
The Empress Effects MKII is perfect for any user who is experienced with compressors in particular and pedals in general. It is astounding for users who like to control every bit of the effect added to their sound.
I can say with confidence that the winner today is the Darkglass Electronics Hyper Luminal Compressor. It just has all the good features and none of the negatives. It is user-friendly and very effective. Its three modes give you great sound versatility, and its mode-related ratios contribute to that fact even further. And if all that is not enough, you always have the option to go nuts with the controls on the Darkglass Suite.
However, its most crucial quality -to me- is that you can’t get it to poorly affect your signal or your tone. It is true that I would have rathered it had stereo input and output, but I would still choose it over all other pedals any day. Its single downside doesn’t degrade its quality or decrease its usability. The bottom line is that it is good for everyone, literally everyone.