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Aphex Punch Factory Compressor Pedal

This is a studio quality sounding compressor that is very simple to use and relative to other optical compressor pedals reasonably priced.  But yet it has some issues.

It is rare to look at the processing racks in any major recording studio or a top FM radio station and not see Aphex gear of some sort.  The "Aphex Aural Exciter with Big Bottom" is a very popular and often used device in recording studios and radio stations as it increases apparent loudness without actually making things any louder.  All radio stations want to be the loudest on the dial yet are restricted by federal regulations regarding maximum modulation so many use the Aphex Aural Exciter.  And in case you havenít noticed even recorded music seems to be louder.  Aphex was alone in the psycho-acoustic enhancement business for a great while, however a similar product called the Sonic Maximizer was introduced by BBE several years ago.  I worked at one FM station that used BOTH those devices in the air chain.  AM stations donít benefit so much from this psycho-acoustic technology because of the audio spectrum limitations imposed again by the federal government.  Aphex rack mounted compressors are mainly used in recording studios of the musical and broadcast audio production genres along with finding their way into live sound applications.  (Most top radio stations use Orbanís OPTIMOD multi-band audio limiting/compression systems in their air chain as they are unrivaled for AM and FM broadcasting.  Optimods also cost a small fortune.)

Iíve used other compressors.  I had an Ibanez and I also had used an EBS. The Ibanez was hissy and honky sounding. The EBS was equally amazing in the sound department but was less feature rich.  For example the EBS did not have an XLR out or run on phantom power from a mixer.  When I found out the Aphex had just two knobs and a bunch of features missing on the others I had to try it!  Well truth be told, when it was new this pedal made me forget the EBS compressor which I sold off on eBay in about a week.

What I like about the Aphex Punch Factory right out of the box was the smooth natural sound of optical compression.  It really sounds amazing and musical!  It is so easy to set input level and output level.  The LED meter is very useful to adjust the compression level so there is no guesswork.  Once you learn your settings, left knob 7 & right knob 6.5 for me, just a glance is all you need to know it is set correctly.  You can run it off about any AC power supply that fits the power in jack or off Phantom power from a mixer.  It has an XLR out so you can use it as a direct box.  All great features shared by another Aphex pedal I use, the Bass Xciter which basically is an Aural Exciter in pedal form.

Now to what I donít like about the Aphex pedals in general which also applies to the Aphex Bass Xciter pedal.  All the jacks and push buttons all crammed together on the back of the pedal make it too crowded back there. The second thing is that the phone jacks are plastic and soldered directly to the circuit board! This is the cheapest possible way to build these pedals and almost nobody else is doing this!  Sure it sounds good new but sooner or later those cheap jacks are going to mean big trouble. Fortunately my Punch Factory pedal lives on a pedal board and both phone jacks are left in place. My chain is a Whirlwind Selector A/B/Y switch to the Aphex Punch Factory then to a Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver Deluxe and then to the amp and/or mixer from there. So I never unplug it.  The Bass Xciter is only used when recording. 

Recently during setup I had to remove and reinsert the plugs on the Punch Factory because it just didnít sound right and I heard some crackling and then it sounded fine the rest of the night.  Iím sure these jacks are going bad and Iíve really not used them that much since they stay plugged in about all the time.  Additionally the switch can be a trouble spot.  Even though I leave it on all the time, I have had to cycle the switch a few times on occasion because I donít think the switch is making good contact for some reason.  It looks like a typical pedal switch, but I think it is some cheaper version. 

Aphex has a well deserved reputation of building top quality proprietary products for studio applications that are affordable, well made, durable and reliable.  This makes the dubious jack and switch quality of this pedal and the sister Aphex Bass Xciter pedal perplexing.  I donít use footswitches on compressors.  I just leave them on all the time, so I donít understand the noisy switch issue at all and it plagues both my Aphex pedals.

What I intend to do eventually is bypass the switch so that the pedal is always on and replace the jacks with Switchcraft jacks if there is room and frankly Iím not sure there is.  Keep in mind the stock jacks are soldered right to the circuit board.  Taking this pedal apart to do this and making all the solder connections on the circuit board by hand is risky because I could mess something up.  For sure my modifications would void the warranty if it was still in effect, but Iíve been using my Aphex pedals for going on four years and the warranty was 90 days.  If my ďsave the Punch Factory pedalĒ overhaul doesnít work Iíll go back to EBS who has a two knob pedal now, or maybe try one of the pricier Keeley two knob pedals or even the new MarkBass tube compressor pedal which others find a real winner.  What I don't like about the MarkBass is that it will not run off my pedal board 9 volt power supply requiring a separate 12 volt power supply, meaning I'd have to run another cord to the power strip and the hefty power supply would add more weight to my already hefty gear bag.  Also tubes go bad, often with no notice.  So while the MarkBass may be great sounding it does have drawbacks too, and there is no XLR out on the MarkBass  either.

The actual compressor part, meaning the brains of the Aphex Punch Factory  pedal, sounds amazing.   It is exactly the sound I want.  This natural sound and the simplicity of the controls make it my favorite bass compressor pedal but I find the cheap connectors and troublesome switch a nuisance.  I would have thought twice about abandoning my EBS compressor pedal so soon if I had known these problems were going to develop with the Aphex Punch Factory.  My Aphex Bass Xciter pedal has exactly the same problems.  I find it hard to believe that Aphex would continue to make these great sounding pedals with such junky connectors and switches.  The Punch Factory sounds AMAZING and first rate when it works correctly, but when it doesn't work 100% it becomes a liability.

Aphex seriously needs to redesign this pedal and all their other guitar/bass pedals with pro quality Switchcraft jacks and switches.  They need to move the instrument input and output phone jacks to the SIDES of the pedals to unclutter the back and conform to standard pedal in-out design used by most other pedal makers.  I would pay extra for a totally professional caliber pedal instead of trying to figure out how to rescue this Aphex pedal from itself.   With the name Aphex on it, I would have expected only the best but got something less! 

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