Origin Effects took the guitar playing community by storm a couple years ago when they released the Cali76 Limiting Amplifier, a compression pedal that replicated the performance of the legendary Urei/Universal Audio 1176 FET Compressor. While the many variations of this inspired pedal (including the Cali76-STD, Cali76-TX, Cali76-TX-L, Cali76-TX-P, Cali76-TX-LP, Cali76-G, & Cali76-G-P) have attained instant classic status due to their best-in-class sounds, there’s always been one not-so-“small” problem for some guitarists: the original Cali76 pedals are BIG. Though many guitarists realize the critical impact a quality compressor can have on their overall guitar sound, some can’t justify removing 3 standard sized pedals from their pedalboard to accommodate a massive Cali76. While it’s been a long time coming, the Cali76 Compact (Cali76-C) and Cali76 Compact Deluxe (Cali76-CD) have finally arrived, promising the tones and features of the Cali76-STD and more at a fraction of the size.
The Cali76-C & Cali76-CD start by being only 1/3 the size of the larger Cali76 units. This immediately makes them seem like a more enticing addition to a crowded pedalboard. The idea of having the original Cali76-STD sound in a significantly smaller pedal will already be enough to sell many guitarists. What’s more, the Cali76 Compact Deluxe also features the “Dry Mix” option found on the Limited Edition Cali76 “P” pedals that offers true parallel compression possibilities. While the Compact Deluxe (Cali76-CD) appears to be a 1:1 Cali76-STD in terms of parameter knob functions with a bonus “Dry” control, the regular Cali76 Compact (Cali76-C) differs in that it offers a simplified take on the Cali76 concept. There’s no Dry knob, the Attack & Release are combined in one knob, and the Ratio knob is replaced with a 2-position “High/Low” Ratio switch. While it appears stripped down in terms of functionality, Origin Effects assures us that the Cali76 Compact & Compact Deluxe have made no sacrifices in terms of sound quality and tone. (And as I discovered, performance is even enhanced in some areas!)
As we’ve already reviewed the original Cali76-STD, the Cali76-TX (featuring Origin Effects’ custom “iron core” transformer), and the Cali76-TX-LP (with an ultra high grade Lundahl transformer, parallel compression “Dry Mix” option, and foot-switchable boost), we’re going to focus on discerning whether or not there are any differences to be observed in the performance of these 2 Compact Cali76 pedals. (See our Origin Effects Cali76 review for the in-depth story on the former pedals.) As we still have the Cali76-TX-LP on hand from our previous article, this affords us the opportunity to run it at 9-volts in “Cali76-STD mode” alongside the Cali76-C & Cali76-CD to compare. When the larger transformer-equipped units are powered at only 9-volts the transformer is bypassed to produce the sound and tone of the original Cali76-STD pedal. Since our Cali76-TX-LP also has the “Dry Mix” option, some better side-by-side assessments can be made in particular with the Cali76-CD and its own dedicated Dry function.
Here’s a brief feature rundown of the Cali76-C & Cali76-CD before we dig in with our Origin Effects Cali76 Compact & Compact Deluxe review.
- 100% Class-A discrete signal path
- Classic, ultra fast “FET” response
- Studio-grade discrete-transistor preamp
- Optimized for guitar but can process any source
- High-current, low-noise electronics
- Ultra-wide frequency response
- Ultra-high input impedance
- Silent switching
- High-quality “signal-conditioning” bypass mode
- Premium components throughout
- Advanced power supply filtering and protection
- Flexible external power requirements (9-18V DC)
- Designed and built in England
Cali76 Compact (Cali76-C):
- Combined Attack/Release control
- Dual-position Ratio switch
- PSU Spec. 42mA @ 9V / 58mA @ 18V
Cali76 Compact Deluxe (Cali76-CD):
- Dedicated Attack, Release and Ratio controls
- Dry Blend control for parallel compression
- Rugged jewel-lamp gain reduction metering
- PSU Spec. 77mA @ 9V / 104mA @ 18V
Cali76 Compact Deluxe: See the lowest price on Amazon.
Cali76 Compact: See the lowest price on Amazon.
Sound & Performance:
Origin Effects may have only been around for a few years, but lead engineer, Simon Keats, has been designing and building high quality, studio grade hardware for decades. Simon had already accomplished a masterful feat of engineering in shrinking down the venerable Urei 1176 rack-mounted compression unit into a pedal format, but to reduce the Cali76 Compact/Compact Deluxe foot-print to only 1/3 of the size of its universally acclaimed predecessors seems beyond belief. While Mr. Keats made every attempt to mimic the topology of the Urei 1176 in the original Cali76 units, as these pedals grow smaller you’d think that surely some sacrifice of tone would be made. Miraculously, that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. While I claim no authority about whether or not the Cali76-STD or its transformer-equipped variations perfectly capture the “tone” of the Urei 1176 (as the old vintage Urei units and the Universal Audio reissues will show somewhat differing tonal characteristics anyway), the most important thing here is how the Compact units sound in relation to the original Cali76-STD (which these pedals replace) and how they stand on their own in general.
Cali76-CD Compact Deluxe
Let’s first dig in with the Cali76 Compact Deluxe as it appears to be the more exciting pedal at first glance, being loaded to the brim with features. Plugging in and kicking it on produces that familiar Cali76 feel of adding to the responsiveness felt between my guitar and amp. Whether its owed to the ultra high quality components used, the general FET compression design, or some ineffable quality unknown to me, the Cali76 Compact Deluxe produces the same compression magic found in any of its larger brethren. The “In” knob increases the input signal, acting as a “Threshold” style control by increasing how much of your signal will be compressed. The Ratio dials up the squash evening out your transients and dynamics in accordance to how high you’ve set the Input and varies between a lighter 4:1 ratio to a heavy 20:1 ratio. The Attack & Release serve the familiar duties of articulating the way the pedal compresses your guitar signal, how fast it’s compressed and how fast it returns your signal to its original volume level. The Cali76-CD offers a familiar style of attenuating your sound if you’ve used a studio compressor with a similar control set or any of the larger Cali76 pedals. (I’ll cover the Dry knob in a moment.)
In my original impressions of the Cali76-STD I recall the sense of transparency I heard in the unit, and I hear it all the same in both the Cali76-CD & Cali76-C pedals. Some FET based compressors are well-regarded for their character rich coloration. These qualities are also due in part to the transformers used in such units as I discovered when comparing the Cali76-TX (more colored) & Cali76-TX-LP (more transparent). Either way, the transformer-less Cali76 Compact & Compact Deluxe are in that same realm of transparency as the Cali76-STD. While I spent most of my time with the Compact units on their own, the comparison to the Cali76-STD sound became more apparent when I pulled out the Cali76-TX-LP.
In running the Cali76-TX-LP at only 9-volts the unit bypasses its Lundahl transformer to sound identical to the Cali76-STD when its also powered at 9-volts (again, see our original Origin Effects Cali76 review). This allowed me to play the TX-LP side-by-side with the Cali76-C & Cali76-CD to see how accurately the Compact Series produces the tones of the original Cali76-STD. Also, to prevent any possible tonal coloration from the “always-on” buffers in any of the pedals, I used a true bypass effects switcher in my review testing. Both the Cali76-C & Cali76-CD nail the classic tones of the Cali76-STD on most settings. Experienced ears may hear some slight variations on some settings, but these differences are marginal if noticeable at all. (See our review YouTube video above to hear for yourself.) Simply put, in terms of tone alone, both of these pedals are worthy successors to the now discontinued “Standard” Cali76 pedal. Also, in regards to the sacrificed “Boost” function of the TX-LP that won’t fit on the Compact Series due to their smaller size, it was a novel addition to the TX-LP to add some extra utility and fill in the extra space on its huge surface, but I’d happily do without it to have room on my pedalboard for a separate clean boost and overdrive pedal of my choosing.
There is one noteworthy difference to be aware of. On similar settings (particularly “In” and “Out”) on the TX-LP in STD mode and the Compact units, the Cali76-C & Cali76-CD each produce a noticeably higher output level than their larger sibling. My original guesses were that Origin Effects either hot-rodded the Output on the Compact Series or perhaps different potentiometer tolerances meant that you have to set the knobs at slightly different positions to produce identical sounds. Origin Effects said that it’s actually “due to the fact that the ratio curves are a little more accurate compared to the older models”. Apparently, the changes in topology to shrink down the Cali76 circuit also uncovered areas for minor improvement to an already near-perfect formula. Either way, a slight reduction of the “Out” knob on the compact pedals serves the trick of helping to match the level of the Cali76-STD if you’re used to playing the larger model. (In the review demo I instead boost the TX-LP when matching levels.) But while it’s clear that the Compact Series delivers the goods, you shouldn’t get stuck on trying to create the exact sound of the Cali76-STD on the exact same settings. As always you should let your ears guide you to the settings that work best with your guitar rig depending on the context you’re in.
Perhaps the second biggest draw of the Cali76 Compact Deluxe (after its size) is the Dry knob. There are some that argue against the necessity of having a Blend knob on guitar compressor pedals as it kind of defeats the purpose of using compression in the first place. But having dedicated Wet (“Out”) and Dry controls in this case offers an arguably more authentic way of achieving parallel compression, a desired way of using compression in the studio. Essentially, you use the Dry to set your signal level and bring in the compressed signal up in the mix via Out until desired results are achieved. On percussion elements like drums this adds more of a transient emphasis for thicker, meatier sounds. On vocals engineers would sometimes bring in a hint of the compressed element precisely for the desired coloration of the compression. While the general transparency of the Cali76 Compact Deluxe makes it less suited for “coloring” your tone with compression, you’ll still find all kinds of useful sounds from subtle to extreme. For guitar, this technique will help you create a sound that isn’t so obviously compressed due to the retained dynamics of your Dry signal but with increased sustain from the compressed signal being blended in with the Out knob. The Dry knob’s versatility when it comes to adding as little or as much compression as you want, carefully mixed in with your uncompressed signal, also makes the Cali76 Compact Deluxe one of the best “always-on” compression pedals around.
Now let’s talk about the Cali76 Compact (Cali76-C). At a glance the “knob snobs” might see this as just a cost-saving, stripped down unit. Well, it is actually. But this is one of the more thoughtfully “stripped down” pedals I’ve played and should in no way be considered as an inferior product. As alluded to previously, the Cali76-C makes no sacrifices in terms of tone compared to the Cali76-CD. But it does a few things differently, and these unique features will be of particular interest to some guitar players. First, the Dry knob function is absent, putting the Compact in line with the larger Standard unit which didn’t include a “Dry Mix” function. Second, the variable Ratio knob is replaced with a simple High/Low Ratio switch for choosing between a greater or lesser compression ratio (Low is 4:1, High is 20:1). Third, and most interestingly, the Attack & Release knobs of the Compact Deluxe are combined into a single knob. This proves to be incredibly useful and intuitive in practice. A balanced blend between Attack & Release is always at hand. Basically, the most essential elements (In & Out knobs) are retained while the rest of the parameters have been optimized for easily dialing in quality compression sounds. This makes the Cali76-C a clear step up in terms of sound quality compared to most 2 & 3-knob compression pedals while maintaining an easy-to-use control setup for those who don’t like twiddling with too many knobs. If you like the way the Cali76 sounds but were intimidated by its size and control layout, the Cali76 Compact is for you.
Yes, the sound quality of the Cali76-STD is ever present in these pedals. I hope you didn’t doubt that Origin Effects could pull it off. Since they discontinued the original Cali76-STD (the TX & TX-L are still available!) it was obvious that they believed the Compact units lived up to their original intentions. The only thing missing is the row of LEDs indicating the gain reduction taking place (although the Compact Deluxe has a cool multi-colored jeweled LED that provides visual feedback). Another noteworthy feature on both pedals are their new active bypass foot-switches. The compression fades in when you activate the pedals to avoid any audible “pops” or “clicks”. If you hate loud foot-switches, you’ll greatly appreciate this subtle addition. It won’t make a difference if you leave your compressor on all the time, but you’ll love it when you do happen to step on it and realize there’s no harsh clicking sound coming out of your speakers. Just be aware that if you’re kicking it in for a solo, make sure it’s activated at least a split-second before you hit the first note to get around the quick fade-in. It’s also worth mentioning again that the increased volume output on the Compact Series adds some boosting qualities if you like having clean boost potential from your compressor.
The Cali76 Compact & Compact Deluxe are serious business, and Origin Effects has indeed done it again. While I can’t wait until Simon & Co. venture into other styles of guitar pedals beyond compression, the Cali76 will always be the origin of it all. Let’s see the final result.
The Origin Effects Cali76 Compact & Compact Deluxe take the modern classic Cali76 to greater heights in a smaller foot-print. While owners of the original Cali76-STD will no doubt be contemplating making the switch to one of the smaller units to gain some pedalboard real estate, I expect a flood of new guitarists will also now jump on the Cali76 bandwagon. The Cali76-C & Cali76-CD both nail comparable tones to the Cali76-STD. The Cali76 Compact Deluxe has in-depth, studio-style control and a parallel compression “Dry” option for guitarists who really like to dial in their compression tones. The Cali76 Compact keeps things simple for getting iconic 1176-like compression without the hassle and is a serious upgrade from your average 2 or 3-knob compressor pedal. Origin Effects now has 2 more entries in their resumé that are among the best compression pedals you’ll ever play.
That concludes our Origin Effects Cali76-C Compact & Cali76-CD Compact Deluxe review. Thanks for reading.
Want to buy a Origin Effects Cali76?
Cali76 Compact Deluxe: See The Lowest Price On Amazon
Cali76 Compact: See The Lowest Price On Amazon