Pedal Review: Earthquaker Devices The Warden
Review by Ian Garrett
The Pedal: EarthQuaker Devices The Warden
The Point: Optical Compressor
The Damage: $195
Find the Warden at Proguitarshop.com
I’m a fan of EarthQuaker Devices (EQD) pedals, and have used a couple of them over the years. I love that their “devices” are handmade “with sweet loving care” in Akron. Fairly new to their arsenal – The Warden is a studio grade optical compressor. Like most compressors, The Warden should be placed first in your chain to be most effective. I appreciate how both the 9v power supply input, as well as the input/outputs for the pedal, are all placed on the top of the pedal, resulting in The Warden taking up a scant 2 ½ inches of pedal board real estate.
What You Hear and Don’t Hear
Compressors can be a difficult pedal to figure what they do. Essentially its main purpose is to “compress” the audio signal’s dynamic range. In other words, it reduces passages that are too loud or amplifies quiet sounds. A compressor’s job is to make all notes sound fairly equal - nothing stands out too much - while preventing other notes from getting lost. It’s the one pedal that tries to “level the playing field,” so to speak.
It’s often described that compressors “squish” your tone, which to me isn’t all that appealing. Why would I want this? Obviously there are different levels of “squish” from very subtle to quite noticeable. The Warden, in my opinion, falls into the first category, even when set fairly high. For those wanting more squish, a Ross style compressor might be more to your liking.
I like the way optical compressors sound, especially this one. The Warden is appealing because it doesn’t seem so compressor-like. Instead it takes your notes and makes everything sound better. Notes ring out clearer, fuller, and with more authority. You don’t really notice that the dynamics have changed much because everything sounds so alive. The compression effect is there, it’s just not in your face. The dynamics are controlled, yet the tone is still natural feeling.
Perhaps the best feature of The Warden is that it provides added sustain while adding a touch of compression. The Warden will color your tone some, but not in a bad way, while giving you additional control. The tone control is for treble - turn it clockwise to increase treble (without adding white noise, yeah!) or dial it back for less bite – which curiously seems to bring out the compressed effect a little more. Around 11 o’clock is neutral. The level control adds a nice volume boost should you want it. The Sustain knob has the greatest overall impact. Moving it clockwise adds more sustain as you would expect – the low end of your sound blooms forward , not quite like a bass boost but in that realm. Dial it back if you want less of the effect. I liked it best turned up around three o’clock.
Lastly, there are three other controls that need clarification. Ratio, Attack, and Release are all “secondary” controls in fine- tuning the compressor, and I found their effect to be fairly unassuming. At times I did wonder what the point was - but better to have that control than not have it. All three controls interact with one another, but you can quickly dial in what you like and just leave it.
• Ratio: Determines how much gain reduction affects the signal. All the way up is full compression - reduce it by turning it counter-clockwise. I tended to keep it around noon.
• Attack: Controls how quickly the compressor reacts to leveling out the signal. Set at the counter clockwise position you get a fast, immediate reaction, whereas clockwise slows down the reaction time. Again, around noon worked fine for me.
• Release: Controls how long it takes the signal to rise back to the level determined by the sustain and ratio settings. Counter clockwise is a fast release that will slow some as you turn it clockwise.
You might quickly find that this pedal becomes one of those “always on” pedals. If you like its effect, as I did, you may find there’s no need to ever turn it off. It adds that needed sustain and clarity to let your notes ring out, while helping you control the dynamics, yet it doesn’t “take over” either. The Warden is one of those pedals you didn’t know you needed, until you’ve spent some time with it and find it’s indispensable.
5 – Tremendous product; among the very best
4 – Great value overall; exceeds expectations
3 – Definite contender, but look closely at the competition too
2 – Average at best; probably better choices exist
1 – Not ready for prime time