Compression isn’t the most thrilling effect, but it’s often the most useful. It’s also probably the most liberally applied effect to bass, often without a player’s awareness. If you play a gig with a decent front-of-house system or record in an even marginal studio, it’s a near certainty that your bass signal—whether you like it or not—has been compressed. When a bass’ broad dynamic range is narrowed, the effect is a smoother, more easily blended tone that sits well in a mix. For the player, a compressor can iron out the wrinkles in attack that can make a line sound peaky. Set right, a compressor’s ability to add punch and presence can make your attack feel balanced, especially with dynamically varied techniques.
Finland’s Darkglass Electronics is one of a relatively new crop of stompbox designers that’s quickly earned a sterling reputation among the tone cognoscenti. The Super Symmetry is Darkglass’ first foray into compression. The pedal’s name is borrowed from the world of advanced physics, and although the Super Symmetry is substantially lower tech than the average particle accelerator, its sleek brushed-metal case and subtle-but-effective row of blue indicator LEDs certainly look the high-tech part. Overall the pedal’s construction is superb, utilizing high-quality components throughout, including the parameter pots and metal switch. Popping off the back panel’s four Torx screws reveals a beautifully laid-out surface-mount circuitboard.
The Super Symmetry is a VCA-based compressor with a parallel-compression topology. A VCA (voltage controlled amplifier) compressor is one of various methods for achieving audio compression that also includes tube, FET, and optical designs. In a VCA compressor, a control voltage is derived from the incoming audio signal. This voltage is then applied to a VCA to vary its gain in proportion to the voltage amount, thus achieving a compression effect. VCA compressors are generally considered to be among the most transparent designs; this may or may not be desirable depending on whether a player wants a compressor to both compress and add some harmonic color. Unlike many compressors that output only the compressed audio when engaged, the Super Symmetry offers parallel compression, governed with its blend control. This allows a player to mix the compressed and uncompressed signals so as to tame dynamics while not overly squashing transients. It also makes it easier to achieve unity (equal) gain with the bypassed signal, as the blended signal can make the natural gain reduction that’s a by-product of compression less pronounced.
To test the Super Symmetry, I integrated it into a pedalboard and used it in a recording signal chain. Overall, the Super Symmetry is a superb pedal for bass players who are preternaturally opposed to compression. Even at high degrees of compression (achieved with the compression knob, which should really be labeled “ratio”), the Super Symmetry doesn’t audibly “pump” the signal in an inorganic way. I found that its thoughtfully included parameters made it easy to achieve a natural tone that merely smoothed out my lines or tamed an overly aggressive stompbox. By carefully managing the blend and input amounts, I could get a balanced sound that was neither peaky nor artificially squashed. The pedal was nearly transparent, although I could detect a slight softening in the high-frequency response when I paired it with a bright bass. Input gain is a bit like a more conventional compressor’s threshold parameter, governing the level at which compression begins. The LEDs indicate the amount of compression applied, and while they look cool and function well, the nearly illegible front-panel labels do not match their utility on a stage. Final kudos are due Darkglass for offering top-mounted jacks, a choice that makes it easier to integrate the pedal into a packed pedalboard.
Darkglass may have another hit on its hands with the Super Symmetry. While it is expensive, it offers a sophisticated sound characteristic of rackmount units costing much more. There are cheaper alternatives in stompbox form, but few that offer the same smooth, thoughtfully voiced sound.
Super Symmetry 115GeV Compressor
Pros Smooth and unobtrusive sound; excellent construction; cool indicator lights
Cons Hard-to-read front-panel text
Bottom Line A slick and sophisticated compressor that’s great for devout compressor loyalists and skeptics alike.
Controls blend, input, attack, release, compression, output
Jacks Top-mounted q"
Power Recommended regulated 9V DC outboard supply, center-negative; no internal battery option
Made in Finland