Dan & Mick Meet the Aria Compressor Drive from Keeley Effects

When Keeley released the D&M Drive, its design and delivery was a “first” on many fronts. One, for example, was the concept of a dual-effect pedal that had switchable order of effects. A year or so later, and the number of drive pedals to adopt this design approach shows Keeley was on to something.

This week on TPS, Dan & Mick studied six light gain overdrive pedals. There wasn’t a bad sound to be heard. Yet one arguably stole the spotlight: the Keeley Aria Compressor Drive. Oh yeah, did I mention it’s also a twofer?

The Aria hit the market this last month and is already making a buzz on social media. So I thought I’d take the chance to intro this new stompbox and listen in to what Dan & Mick thought about the latest overdrive innovation of Robert Keeley.

The Design of the Aria: What’s Up Front and What’s Under the Hood

The Aria gets at the heart of Robert Keeley’s legacy of effects. He’s had some winners over the years, but a few designs stand out. The Keeley Compressor has defined boutique sounds for compressions and the Red Dirt Overdrive pays homage to Robert’s own iconic mods for tube-like gain pedals. The Aria channels both of these styles in a single pedal.

Over on the left, you’ll find knobs for level, drive, and tone to dial in the gain. In addition, there’s a low/high switch for soft clipping options and mid-range character. Over to the right, you get the control interface for the compressor. This includes knobs for level, blend, and sustain, as well as a mini-knob for tone (more on that later). Of course, these are activated by their own footswitches but the real magic happens with the toggle for selecting the order of effects. Drive into compressor, compressor into drive, take your pick.

The Aria’s ready for plug-and-play right out of the box. But for those in the room addicted to pedal switchers—ahem, Dan & Mick—the Aria is also compatible for TRS cable use. This means you can use an external switching system to control either side of the stompbox or even set other effects between the drive and compressor.           

In these ways, the Aria’s design puts two famed Keeley effects in tandem as well as presses into new territory for function and integration.

The Sound: Brilliant Independent Tones and Endless Combinations of the Two

The combination of sounds from a pedal like the Aria are endless. But how did each side sound?

Let’s start with the drive. A few riffs in with his Fender Stratocaster and Mick remarked “Wow, that is mid, mid, mid!” As Dan toyed with the Aria’s tone control, he uncovered that “the mid shape is there but the tone just adds either a little bit of sizzle or takes it off.” The low and high gain switch also had some pleasant surprises. As Dan described, this “doesn’t just change the gain setting it changes the EQ.” One of the advantages here was that the switch from low to high didn’t come with a huge boost to the overall volume. It just gave you more.

The compressor also brought a lot to the party. Dan noted the asset of the onboard blend control to measure the mix of the compressed sound and squash with the dry signal. He also emphasized how the mini tone control knob “is really cool [because] you can shape the tone of the sustain.” This seemed to add a bit of top-end into the resulting sound. Dan’s revelation after exploring this aspect of the pedal was that “you could use either the compressor as a boost or use the mid-range boost [from the overdrive] on the pedal.” Options, options, options.

The before and after capabilities of the direction switch only extended the pedal’s endless tweakability. For Mick, the difference was that “one [position] enables you to retain a bit more front end and the other less so.” As noted above, if you’re diving into the rabbit hole of TRS cables and a switching system, the ability to include effects between the Aria’s two sides in different orders opens up entire new ways of building bookends for your effects chain.

Compounding Aria’s Sounds with Different Guitar-Pickup Configurations

One of the main outcomes of the Aria experience on TPS was how it performed with guitars of various designs and pickup structures. From solid bodies, to semi-hollow, single-coils, to humbuckers, Dan & Mick pulled just about everything off their collective guitar racks. None disappointed: the Aria hosted them all and bloomed in different ways.

Mick’s first impressions were that the Aria would be very popular with single-coil players for two reasons: (1) it pushed the amp and (2) emphasized the gain in the mid-range frequencies. “For all of you guys who don’t like a lot of high-gain who just want that nice single-coil sound with a bit more sustain, I think it works as well for that as it does for that crazy [humbucker] sound with [Gibson] 335 and the Gretsch.”

In the end, Dan concluded, “the Aria is super flexible. In both the low and high positions for gain it gives you completely different shapes, characteristics, and applications. Throw in the compressor on top and it’s just fantastic.” Simply put, this latest Keeley stompbox is more than the sum of its parts. Not a bad way to start the summer!

If the Aria sounds like the drive-compressor combo you’ve been questing for, it just so happens we’ve got them fresh from the crew over at Keeley. Pick one up over at Riff City Guitar in store or online and see how it will add to your pedalboard and enhance the sound, feel, and responsiveness of your guitar.

TPS Rig Rundown:

Guitars: Fender Custom Shop 1952 Telecaster, Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster, Gibson Memphis 1958 ES-335, Paul Reed Smith Silver Sky, Gibson Custom 1958 Les Paul Standard, Gretsch 6118T Players Edition Anniversary.

Pedals: D’Addario Pedal Tuner, Terry Audio White Rabbit Deluxe, Keeley Aria Compressor Drive, Free the Tone SS-1V String Slinger Overdrive, Free the Tone FM-1V Fire Mist Overdrive, Greuter Fuller Drive, Greer Lightspeed, Dunlop EP-103 Echoplex.

Amps: Fender Super Reverb Reissue with Jensen P10R speakers, Victory Sheriff 44 with V212-VH (1 x Celestion Vintage 30,  1 x Celestion G12H Anniversary).

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