Combo pedals are very popular these days, and for a good reason: They save space and typically combine two compatible/stackable effects in a single box. Keeley's Aria is just that and takes two of their most popular effects in a single attractive Robin's Egg Blue sparkle housing.
The Red Dirt Overdrive by Robert Keeley is a simple beast, and if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Three controls: Drive, Tone and Level with a Hi-Low mini toggle switch. The Layout should remind you of a famous slime green pedal we all know and love, but once you hear the Red Dirt you won't look back. In fact Keeley's final draft of the Red Dirt was inspired by his world famous tube screamer modifications.
The low end is rich and almost fuzz-like, and with a bridge pickup it bristles with content. The midrange is why you'll want this pedal, and it lends substantial heft to your tone without it obscuring the details or sounding stuffy. The Hi-Low switch is there if you want to cut the bass a bit and kick up the punch. This setting sounds great on a warm pickup like a P-90. With a high octane pickup you can send your sustain over the edge, draw some killer feedback or just add some bite to your bark.
The Compressor Plus section aims to be the compressor for everyone, and as we've learned with Keeley products, it does just that. The Compressor Plus is less of a compressor "effect" and more of a studio-type compression tool. Here's the breakdown:
Sustain Control - Up to about 9 o'clock the effect is very gentle, with a slight smoothing effect. At those settings the volume and tone of your guitar stays unaffected, and the peaks and valleys of your pick attack are not subdued but ever so gently evened. Between 10 and 12 o'clock is a sweet spot for brighter pickups like single coils or bridge position humbuckers. There is a small boost in volume as you increase sustain control, and you can edge the Level control off accordingly.
Level - Self explanatory but once you have all the settings just right, this is how you balance input and output volume. The Compressor Plus actually has a slight boost in overall output which solves the age old problem of compressors draining the signal chain. No more cranking the Level as compensation.
Blend - This control is arguably the most important part of the Compressor Plus. It's nothing revolutionary but with the ability to mix in natural signal from whatever instrument you're using, you can control how much compression "effect" surrounds your tone, which was not available on either of Keeley's previous circuits.
Tone - The Tone control on the Compressor Plus is a design inspired from analog delay circuits, which ultimately acts like a low-pass filter. When you use a lot of compression the signal can become "squashed" and your high end can suffer a loss. With the tone control you can bleed treble back into the signal so it stays shimmering. This is especially useful when using humbuckers and other high output pickups.
And lastly there is an "FX Order" toggle to choose which effect comes first. There are subtle differences in whether the compressor is feeding the Red Dirt, or the Red Dirt is feeding the compressor. In general the tone is smoother feeding the distortion into the compressor, and it's really a matter of what you are after.
While this pedal is simple in concept, the compressor section makes it a tweaker's dream. Used in moderation, the compressor side is almost a mastering tool, that can add the finishing touches to your sound. And the Red Dirt is well....just one of the more useable and musical TS style pedals out there. Ruggedly constructed and reasonably priced, the Aria is a one-two punch of sound and value.