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This article was originally published in issue #13
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Compressors are a kind of Swiss Army knife and Aphex is reckoned to be the Victorinox of compressors. Dan Veall puts the Aphex Punch Factory through some of its many paces.
Aphex is absolutely no stranger to signal processing and has been at the forefront of audio production since the original 'Aural Exciter' hit the market back in 1975. That experience of 35 years in the field, working with countless top name artists, as well studios all over the world and applied to a huge range of products including microphone pre-amplifiers, compressors, aural exciters or even Aphex enhanced MP3 playing phone apps (!) means Aphex is among the most qualified outfits in the audio business, so we had high expectations of the Punch Factory when it arrived!
So, Punch Factory? What is it? Put simply, it's a compressor pedal with a D.I. output. In reality, it's a whole lot more.
I should add, the Punch Factory is just as suited to guitar users as it is to bass, but because probably more bassists use the Punch Factory, it ended up in The Bassment. That doesn't mean it's only suitable for bass use by any means, so please bear that in mind!
The components of the Punch Factory are engineered by Aphex themselves for the best possible response and clean signal path. This model, much like its predecessor that featured a rather eye-catching orange and black livery, uses 'opto' technology. In short, this is an optical compression method that makes for a practically invisible sounding compression on very low settings, through to some lovely squashy compression on very high ones. With this method, the input signal is tracked directly and both attack and release times of the compressor are automatically set in relation to that signal. I like this approach as it is very easy to apply controlled compression quickly - for the novice or 'technophobe' set-up is a total breeze.
I demonstrated two extremes of settings in the video, but I'd recommend experimenting with the pedal yourself if you get the opportunity. It's dead easy to understand and near impossible to break! Speaking of understanding, I have to give the manual a thumbs-up too. It describes each of the controls clearly, so you'll quickly find your perfect low-end punch.
What makes the Punch Factory such a hit is how good it is with so many sources too, not just for bass guitar. However if it's bass that is your thing, here's a few of my own tips for using the Punch Factory:
1. Use the pedal as a solo boost. Set up a hard compression and extra gain on the output to send your signal in to overdrive when it is time to crack out a percussive monster bass solo! The added compression will make fast passages a breeze as the compressor works to keep the levels smooth.
2. Put the pedal at the end of the signal path, for example the last pedal on your pedal board to provide signal limiting before going off to your amp/mixer/recording device. Especially useful if you use effects that vary dynamically such as filters that boost and cut the bass frequencies.
3. Mild compression in the effects loop of a solid-state amplifier to make it react more like the compressing effect of valves. You can leave this plugged in and switched on all the time for a pleasing fattening of your bass sound at all volumes, instead of having to push a valve-amp over the edge in to natural compression.
4. I prefer using compression to tame slap bass parts, or for when I need a signal boost for tapping. Mostly for finger and pick work I rely on a smooth technique, but I think a mild setting with this pedal would be great for a near invisible controlling of your dynamics.
Finally, if all of this functionality wasn't enough to make this a compressor that should be high up on your shopping list, then the D.I. output on the back is an added bonus. This pedal doubles as a D.I. box - and believe me, if you turned up for a show and plugged your bass directly in to this and out to the P.A. I think the engineer would be very happy with you. You'd be sending a tight, controlled and limited signal to the front of house - which means less chance of overdriving the mixing desk with sudden transients.
Aphex has thought carefully about the needs of the gigging musician and I am really pleased to see that not only does this pedal run from batteries but also phantom power via the D.I. socket coming from a mixing console. There is also provision for a wide range of both DC and AC adapters - so the usual pedal board types easily catered for.
My only reservation - and it is a minor one - is that my own pedal board for example is already cramped with kit. Personally, I preferred the smaller form factor of the original Punch Factory pedal. That said, let's not take away from the fact that this is practically bomb proof and a real 'Swiss army knife' of a pedal with lots of uses. It looks great and would be perfect for the gigging bass player. Come to that, it would be just at home on a guitarist's pedal board, too, where the lack of 'pumping' and overall smoothness would make it one of the most desirable compressors around.