Alexander Pedals Colour Theory Review

 

I am not cool enough to be exclusively employed as a writer for arguably the coolest guitar effects publication this side of the 21st century. By night, I will always be Jake Behr: obsessive, loquacious Pedal Dweeb. But by day, I am Jake Behr: obsessive, loquacious Printer. In the latter field, colour – exact colour – is everything, and there is an insane amount of factors that play into producing it, whether you’re mixing it by hand in a solo cup for a silk screening or tweaking CMYK curves for a digital print.

So when I heard that Alexander Pedals was releasing the Colour Theory Spectrum Sequencer, I had to see if it held up to such a lofty concept as the entirety of colorimetry. While I can’t say the choice of name is much more than aesthetic, one important aspect of colour theory (the concept, not the pedal,) kept returning to me when I was reviewing the Colour Theory: Metamerism.

Metamerism is a trick of the eye that occurs between two imperceptibly different colors that makes them appear identical due to factors such as reflectiveness, angle, or differences in color vision between observers. In an extrapolated (yes-I’m-reaching-to-appear-more-interesting) sort of way, the Colour Theory is an exercise in metamerism; where you may see a guitar pedal, I see a piece of synth-like rack gear with endless possibilities.

 

Features:

  • Eight-Step Sequencer
  • Sequence “Park” Pauses Sequencer
  • Multijack input/ouput for MIDI, footswitch, and expression control
  • USB Input for extended TouchOSC MIDI control and firmware updates
  • Tap-Tempo for Sequencer
  • Six effect types
  • Nine controllable parameters via multi-function knobs
  • TRS Stereo Output
  • Buffered Bypass

Sequencer controls:

  • Rate determines the speed of the sequencer
  • Steps controls how many steps in the sequence are played
  • Level controls overall output of the Colour Theory
  • Mix is the wet/dry blend
  • Lag controls how quickly the sequencer ramps to the next step

Step Controls:

  • External Control outputs a MIDI CC value to an external device
  • Value is the first variable parameter; Pitch shift, delay time, filter frequency, tremolo rate, oscillator pitch, or PWM octave
  • Amount controls the sequenced wet/dry blend
  • Tweak is the second variable parameter; Tone, delay feedback, filter resonance, tremolo wave, oscillator wave, or PWM modulation.

Head over to Alexander Pedals for more info on the Colour Theory!

 

 

True Colours

The Colour Theory hosts two effects for each type of cone in your retina, but any multieffects pedal can boast that wide a variety of tones. The magic that makes the Colour Theory so colourful lies in its eight-step sequencer, the rate of which is set by the left tap tempo footswitch. The top indicator LED will emit a different color light that corresponds to the color of the step as represented in the semi-circle surrounding the Steps knob. As the sequencer cycles through its steps, the values of every parameter in the Colour Theory will change per your specifications. You can set the order of the steps as well; you’re free to choose whether you’d like the sequence to reset at the last step, cycle backwards at the last step, or play the steps completely randomly.

The Colour Theory is the kind of pedal you want to work on in a well lit/potentially well ventilated area. There’s a lot of information printed on the front panel of the standard-sized enclosure the Colour Theory is housed in, as each knob works double (and in the case of the mix knob, triple) duty on parameters. With the sequencer running, the knobs control the sequencer parameters. Holding down the Tap Tempo footswitch will “Park” the sequence on whichever step the Colour Theory falls on at the end of a 2-second period, opening access to each knob’s secondary parameter bank. A little added bonus of the Park feature is that when the steps are parked, they serve as pseudo-presets that can be cycled through with the tap tempo footswitch. So if you like a particular tone in any given effect but don’t want to submit to the ever-changing churn of the sequencer you can easily recall and stay on that one static voice, modulating with external MIDI controls if you so wish. It’s like having six three knob pedals, each with eight presets.

The side-mounted MultiJack will enable access to the expression, footswitch, and MIDI capabilities latent in the Colour Theory. With the aid of a MIDI-to-TRS adapter such as Disaster Area’s own MIDIbox or MD-5P Multijack to 5-pin cable, the Colour Theory can also receive and output MIDI CC signals simultaneously. The output feature is particularly potent in this application, sharing the steps of the Colour Theory’s sequence with your other MIDI enabled pedals. The Rate knob determines the value of the output message when the pedal is in park; Chase Bliss, Strymon, and other Alexander Neo pedals will recognize the CC immediately, while some others may need a bit of coaxing.

For those guitarists who depend on external gear for automation and may not be super keen on relying solely on the admittedly limited Colour Theory for their tempo, note changes, etc., the MicroUSB port on the back panel will receive MIDI from an external source as well. The source of choice for Alexander is a neat little mobile MIDI control app called TouchOSC, which has been around for a while and has served as a tactile controller for everything from Synthesizers to Projection mapping projects. Alexander, in their infinite wisdom, has created a TouchOSC template for use with the entire Neo series, which in this case allows direct manipulation of the Color Theory’s parameters and presets from your tablet or smartphone, provided you have the appropriate USB adapter. A completely customizable interface allows you to send any MIDI message to the connected device, so you don’t even need to settle for the perfectly sufficient proprietary template if it doesn’t work for you. On the surface, this provides a simple and effective way to really dig in to the parameters and suss out exact tones without constantly bending down to tweak the pedal, but paired with the full MIDI implementation boasted by the Neo series and a little bit of elbow grease, this feature has the potential to serve as a whole method of instrument-like control. For example, say you’re running the Oscillator mode and you’ve set the first step of the sequence to the root of the song you’re playing, and each step above that in ascending major intervals. Instant arpeggio! Neat, but repetitive. With TouchOSC, you can quickly adjust the first step (or any step, really) to a different interval to change the colouration of the arpeggio without needing to park the Colour Theory. In “theory,” (you get it) entire songs could be played in this way with a few CC messages, so I’ll be duct taping a tablet to my guitar ASAP.

PIT

The top blue effect mode is a slippery, glistening pitchshifter that ranges from an octave down to an octave up. Surprisingly, this voicing recreates chords without the gross, unusable muddiness that many treadle-based pitchshifters are known for when coupled with more than one simultaneous note. It takes a lot of getting used to, but the sequencer literally takes the legwork out of nailing those classic pitchshifter tone in ways that your weak human legs would never be prepared for. The utility obviously differs depending on how rich your chords are; if you’re playing seventh chords with added sixes and ninths, maybe stick to octave shifts to keep from getting lost. It’s open season on two-finger power chords and single notes, though. Go nuts.

MOD

Your search for nauseous, vertigo-inducing pitch wobble ends today. The second blue LED indicates we’ve entered the domain of MOD, a digital delay-based modulation that takes the classic time warp sound inherent in modulating the rate of a delay and plants it center-stage. Blue was a good choice to represent this tone, as you’re likely to be reminded of the vast expanse of water that dominated your view that one time you barfed off the side of your grandfather’s fishing boat; MOD is the sound of seasickness. As we know, classic modulation is created by splitting a signal in two and delaying the second signal ever so slightly (or not so slightly) to fatten the new, combined signal and infuse dimensionality into your tone. MOD does what it does by generating that second voice, delaying it by 0 to 300 milliseconds, and letting the Colour Theory’s sequencer go full Jackson Pollock on it. The result is a weird, ever-changing modulation tone that invokes the very spirit of psychedelia.

You’ll want to sequence the feedback (Tweak) of the delay as well, especially at a slow tap tempo. Here you’ll notice glitchy CD skips that will push your next gainstage into overdrive. Slight variations on the time coupled with wild feedback oscillations will yield the most musical and unique tones the MOD voicing has to offer, creating a bizarre vibrato effect. In Park mode, the noise-haters will be pleased to find that MOD is chock full of classic delay and even reverb tones that may not make you question the ambient machines currently adding space to your board but will at least satisfy your need for a nice slapback. By turning the Value knob full clockwise, we unlock a melting delay tone that winds down of its own accord, descending in pitch almost immediately. Manually cycling between two voices via the tap-tempo footswitch squeezes even more pitch-bendy utility out of the delay and adds a level of control that works very well in a band context, where your ‘mates may not be super stoked about relying exclusively on one little box to decide the tempo of the song.

FLT

This effect mode ties with TRM as the most familiar voice the Colour Theory has to offer. It’s an ever-sweeping low-pass filter that packs an intense, resonant punch. You can park FLT to use it as a static filter, but if you’re hoping to pop an expression pedal in and nail a wah tone, you’ll be sorely disappointed, as the frequency of the filter isn’t controllable via traditional expression. Fret not, though, because it is possible; you’ll just need some sort of MIDI controller.

TRM

Sequenced tremolo is fun as hell! The obvious application here is rate modulation, which can yield glitchy jumps in tremolo time with each step in the sequence. However, the shape of the wave, which ranges from smooth sine to tight pulse, is also fair game to modulate via the Tweak knob. You can’t use the tap-tempo footswitch to control the tempo of the tremolo, but in my opinion, you’re not missing out on much. Dialing in a comfortable speed with the value knob isn’t difficult, and if you’re going to be sequencing it, you can ballpark it and not notice the difference while your signal is bouncing between tempos.

OSC

This effect is a sine wave oscillator that starts around B1 and ends on C5, a span of four octaves. It’s crazy and obnoxious in all of the best ways. Unless you’re going for a weird discordant or microtonal vibe, you’ll want to run this through a tuner when you make your presets, because the oscillator doesn’t lock to specific notes and there’s no real note indicator on the front of the Colour Theory. This can make it tough to tune the oscillator perfectly to any Western note. With the lag knob turned clockwise, the notes become less discernible and more like a meandering theremin. The tweak knob becomes a resonance filter for the oscillation, helping the signal to cut through more easily without demanding too much of the actual signal blend.

In my opinion, this effect is where the stereo capabilities of the Colour Theory become absolutely vital; the oscillator on its own sounds pretty cool, but it really blossoms when coupled with your other effects. Pair it with a spacious reverb and you’ve got a spooky sci-fi soundtrack on your hands. Run it through an octaver and widen that massive range, you greedy animal. You could even pop a weird sound conversion pedal into the line for a truly bizarre backing track. Oscillator fueled Miku Stomp, anyone? Just me?

PWM

The last mode is named PWM, which in the synth world stands for pulse-width modulation. In this application, we don’t get the full breadth of pulse-width modulation in the synthesizer sense, but the name is still a viable representation to hint at what the effect sounds like: PWM is an octave effect that converts your dry signal into a synthesized monophonic square wave and thrusts it into the deepest depths of hell. The Value knob determines how many octaves down you go, which starts at THICC AS HELL (one octave down) and ends sub-harmonically low (who-knows-how-many octaves down.) In fact, each octave past noon on the Value knob renders the signal so low that PWM serves, for all intents and purposes, as more a harmonically-reactive tremolo than an octaver. I should clarify for those unfamiliar with insanely low frequencies: at the lowest octaves PWM has to offer, your signal frequency becomes so low that you can hear the crests of the new sound wave as you feed it to the Colour Theory. As you play up the neck, the frequency of the crests increases, creating the illusion of a tremolo-like effect.

Critical to the tone and very name of the PWM effect is the modulation controlled by the Tweak knob. One of the things I noticed about PWM was a constant flange effect rolling over my signal at a fixed rate, completely independent from the modulation controlled by the tweak knob. The mono synth tone is also super reactive to the harmonic input of the dry signal, rounding out or sharpening in reaction to the position of your tone knob. PWM is definitely a melodic/lead voicing, as the nature of the conversion method makes it absolutely impossible to use it for chords in all but the rarest scenarios, but if you like squashed out mono-synth tones, this is the way to go. Maxing out the rate of the sequencer makes for a tweaked out, almost ring-mod tone, the intensity of which depends entirely on the values of each individual step. On the complete opposite end of that spectrum, there’s no shame in Parking on a tone in the sequence, running PWM as if it were a regular ol’ pedal, and calling it a day.

Colour Correction

In an arena so sparsely occupied as that of the sequenced multieffects pedal, what can be done to improve on this champion? For starters, a stereo input seems like an obvious choice. In most cases you have to make routing sacrifices when you have more than one stereo device on your pedalboard, and if any of those devices have a mono input, you lose out on the opportunity to route a stereo signal all the way down the line. If the output is TRS, why not the input? At this point, the change likely boils down to an expensive redesign of the circuitboard, so I won’t hold my breath on a solution to such a minor flaw that only the most nitpicky dweebs (see: me) would take issue with.

I’d also have loved to see more depth in the Colour Theory’s control and MIDI capabilities. A tap division option, expression control of individual effect parameters, sequenced lag; all of these would make for great, simple updates to the Colour Theory’s array of controls, even if they had to remain under the surface in the invisible realm of MIDI control. Another item on the MIDI wishlist is the ability to toggle or manipulate the Lag knob’s impact on individual parameters. Quite a few times, I found myself wishing that one parameter would move in lock-step with the sequencer while another lagged and wandered. OSC mode is pretty unmusical and in a practical sense close to unusable with the lag turned past 10 o’clock, but if I could turn the Lag off for just the pitch of the oscillator and let the notes lock in tightly to the tap-tempo while the Mix and resonance struggled to catch up, I would be truly satisfied. This would open up a whole new world of possibilities for every voice in the Colour Theory’s arsenal.

 

 

The Alexander Pedals Colour Theory stands head and shoulders above countless other pedals with similar raw tones on merit of its sequencer alone. In a guitar tone context, the Colour Theory isn’t just about adding its unique vibe to your ‘board. It’s secretly all about pushing gain and taking the inherent colour of your tone to the next level by way of oscillation, but it truly would not be a fifth of the pedal it is without its sequencing capabilities. With the ability to sequence not just its own, but other effects’ parameters, we’re looking at a watershed that continues Alexander’s NEO series’ trend of pushing the bounds of the classic guitar effects pedals into unchartered territory. It’s not just the kind of gear that inspires creative songwriting, it is a collaborator that necessitates songwriting in a way you might not be used to. It takes some work to grow accustomed to putting together sequences from scratch, even with the added ease of TouchOSC, but once you’ve laid the groundwork you’ll find yourself with a loyal partner in crime that may make you wonder what you ever did before it entered your life. When I said at the outset of this review that the Colour Theory resembles a piece of synth gear more than a guitar pedal, I meant it. Pulse-Width Modulation, Lag processing, Sequencing, Oscillators: all of these exist in a synthetic world that most red-blooded, riff-loving guitarists are only ostensibly familiar with. Don’t let that frighten you, though. The future is electronic… and colourful.

That concludes our Alexander Pedals Colour Theory review. Thanks for reading.

Meris Ottobit Jr. Review

 

Meris surprised the gear world in January 2017 when they revealed the Ottobit Jr., a compact guitar pedal inspired by their 500 series Ottobit bit-crusher but with added stutter, filter, and sequence-able pitch effects. While Meris has been producing 500 series pro-audio gear since 2014, the Ottobit Jr. was their first pedal release, followed soon after by the Mercury7 Reverb and Polymoon. This quick succession of innovative new releases prompted Best Guitar Effects to laud Meris as the Best New Pedal Builder of 2017. But what made the Ottobit Jr. so special and why is this pedal such a landmark release?

 

Ottobit vs Ottobit Jr.

Rather than just release a feature similar replica of the Ottobit in a stompbox enclosure, Meris decided to reinvent the Ottobit concept for its pedal release. They started by removing the LFO Modulation, envelope Trigger, and Ring Modulation functions. While the original Ottobit’s Ring Mod with Pitch Tracking and dynamic Sample Rate movement may be missed, what the Ottobit Jr. offers in place of those features more than makes up for their absence. The new Filter knob controls a smooth low-pass filter that has a slightly peaked resonance for classic sounding synth-like filtering. The Stutter (with optional Hold function) provides 22 different Stutter variations in Full, Double, & Half Speed options. And probably the most significant of all the features is the Sequencer section which offers up to 6 steps of Pitch, Sample Rate, or Filter movement. You can also modulate all knob parameters simultaneously via an expression pedal, save and recall 16 presets via MIDI or with Meris’ upcoming 4 button switcher, and adjust all of the pedal’s parameter functions in realtime via MIDI CC messages. With this hugely expanded feature set, the Ottobit Jr. may arguably be the daddy in this case.

Here’s a full feature recap before we dig in.

 

Features:

  • Handcrafted Algorithms
  • Variable Sample Rate and Bit Crushing
  • Vintage Synth inspired Low-Pass Filter
  • Triggered Stutter Effects
  • Sequencer module for Pitch, Filter or Decimation pattern sequencing
  • Tap Tempo for Sequencer and Stutter
  • Stereo input and output
  • Switchable input/output headroom level for Guitar, Synthesizer or Line levels
  • Expression pedal control over all parameters simultaneously
  • Presets available via external 4-Preset switch or MIDI
  • MIDI in/out over TRS via the EXP jack
  • Remote Tap Tempo Switch capable via the EXP jack
  • Premium analog signal path and 24-bit AD/DA w/32 bit floating point DSP
  • Premium Analog Devices JFET input section
  • Color – glossy black with subtle flake
  • Designed and built in Los Angeles, California U.S.A.

Specs:

  • Premium quality 24 bit A/D and D/A
  • 32 Bit floating point DSP hardware
  • Premium low noise Analog signal path throughout
  • Analog Devices JFET input circuitry
  • Selectable True Bypass (Relay) or Analog Buffered Bypass
  • 150 mA total power consumption
  • Durable black powder coat with fine metal flake
  • Current draw –
  • Dimensions – 4.25″ wide, 4.5″ long, 2″ tall

Visit Meris for more info about the Ottobit Jr.

 

 

Sound & Performance:

A trend I’ve noticed in the Meris pedals released so far is that the top row of knobs usually controls the most easy to grasp functions while the second row begins to dig a little deeper into the slightly more complex stuff. With the bottom row of knobs at minimum and the top row maxed, you won’t notice much happening when you first activate the pedal, just your transparent audio signal being reproduced via A/D D/A at a full 24-bit/48kHz resolution. Turning the Bits & Sample Rate knobs counter-clockwise begins reducing the audio fidelity from 24-bit/48kHz all the down down to 1-bit and 48Hz, respectively.

As you turn the Bits knob down to around noon, you’ll start crunching up your guitar into a pretty gnarly fuzz sound. Bit-crushing can be used as a form of dirt, and the Ottobit Jr. excels in this area with usable grit all the way down to its minimum 1-bit setting. There isn’t a Level control, so you’ll want to be mindful of how the perceived output level increases on lower Bits settings, but there are some great opportunities here for using an expression pedal to sweep from a clean and clear tone to a “crushed” fuzz distortion.

As you reduce the Sample Rate knob, it’s as if the upper frequencies begin folding in, washing over your original audio signal in a wave of descending harmonics. It sounds kind of like tuning the dial on an old radio. If you’ve used a bit-crusher before, you’re likely familiar with this. If you haven’t, you’re in for a treat here as the Ottobit Jr. has one of the smoothest sample rate sweeps I’ve ever heard in a bit-crusher pedal. At the knob’s lowest settings, the pedal emits a dissonant lo-fi growl. You can also park the knob throughout the rest of its sweep a set harmonic sound, similar to dialing in a ring modulator.

Tweaking the Bits & Sample Rate together is the key to finding those classic 8-bit and arcade style video game tones. Usually, it just takes moderate amounts of those parameters to get the lo-fi sound you’re looking for. You’ll of course get a more NES-inspired sound if you actually feed a synthesizer or synthesized guitar tone into the pedal, but whatever sound you’re going for, the Ottobit Jr. applies some very impressive bit-crushing to whatever you feed into it.

 

To Mix or not to Mix?

I mentioned to someone how impressed I was with the Meris Ottobit Jr., and they immediately questioned the fact that the pedal doesn’t have a Mix control. To my surprise it was only then that I stopped to notice that the pedal doesn’t actually have a Mix knob. I understand how a Mix knob could be useful if you’re creating textures by really crushing your signal beyond recognition and want your original audio signal to be heard clearly through the noise. But there’s a wide range of sweet lo-fi textures that will still let your original signal shine through before it gets totally crushed to oblivion. So yes, even without a dedicated Mix control, the nuances of your original signal are still audible until things get really gnarly on extreme settings. The fact that I never really noticed the Mix knob missing is further testament to the quality of the bit-crushed tones and the smooth and pleasing sweep of the Sample Rate parameter in particular. And also, when bit-crushing I typically only crush the signal extra hard as a temporary effect with intention of completely destroying any trace of the original audio signal. No Mix needed.

 

Filter Goodness

The Ottobit Jr. has an excellent Filter that’s really fun for frequency sweeps. You can get some pretty epic filtering sounds by using an expression pedal to control the filter in real-time. The filter has a static resonance setting which has a slight bump right at the cut-off. This adds a pleasing emphasis to the filtering as you sweep through the frequency spectrum. It sounds awesome in most situations, but in a few cases this default resonance setting may not be ideal; when you’re dialing in aggressive bit-crushed fuzz tones, the little resonant boost right at the cut-off point can add a little extra unwanted harshness on some otherwise great sounding fuzz settings. It would’ve been neat to have an Alt option for selecting between either the default Resonance or a flatter Resonance response that rolls off the highs a bit more smoothly. I also love cutting low-pass filters to silence when sweeping through the filter range, so if I were being very picky, I’d also like to have seen an option to extend the minimum Filter value from its current lower limit of around 61Hz down to 0-20Hz. Still, it must be emphasized that the Filter sounds awesome, especially when being swept through its range. It may hard to please everyone with a single static resonance setting, but the way Meris dialed it in will sound killer in nearly all situations. And it’s important to note that when sequencing the Filter, the default peaked Resonance is integral in the musical nature of the effect. (More about the Sequencer in a moment.)

 

Stutter

The Ottobit Jr.’s Stutter adds a choppy repeating effect to the mix. It occurs a quarter note after your pick attack in sync with the Tap Tempo. There are 7 Length Options (ranging from one stutter to sixteen) for each of the 3 different Stutter Speed settings (Full Speed, Double Speed, & Half Speed). There’s also a Random setting. These options provide a lot of flexibility for adding in a sporadic glitchy-ness that actually syncs in time with your playing. Pushing and holding the Tap foot-switch will allow you to grab the current or next occurring stutter and repeat it for as long as the foot-switch is held. For a stutter mode that’s so simply implemented and controlled, it’s arguably one of the best such versions found in a pedal format. For best results using the Stutter effect (or the Sequencer which we’ll get to next), I’d suggest keeping the Ottobit Jr. placed early in your signal chain either first or right after your guitar compressor.

 

Sequencial Chaos

The Sequencer section is probably my personal favorite aspect of the Ottobit Jr. There are options for Pitch Sequencing, Filter Sequencing, & Sample Rate Sequencing selected via the small button near the Bypass foot-switch. To activate the Sequencer you simply turn the Sequencer knob from Off to 1X or above. The different values determine how many times the sequence repeats. The Sequencer Mult knob multiplies the playback speed of the sequence by the Tap Tempo amount. Basically, it’ll keep playing the sequence faster and faster the higher you turn the knob but always in sync with your Tap Tempo speed. When sequencing the Pitch, this lets you create warp speed note arpeggios that remain precisely in time.

Programming the Sequencer is where things get a little bit more involved. The 6 steps are accessed by pressing the Alt button while turning one of the 6 knobs that correspond to each step. You can skip steps, mute steps, and pick from a wide range of values in between. In Pitch Sequence Mode, you can select from every semitone interval ranging from -1 octave to +1 octave. By using unison steps (root notes) and mutes, you can even get some killer squared, choppy tremolo effects. Grasping the concept isn’t too hard once you get hands-on experience using it. Just be advised that when sequencing Pitch, the 27 different options on each knob will be easier to set if you temporarily tap in a slow tempo with a low Multiplier setting and carefully listen to the notes of the sequence as you dial in each one. Things get even crazier when you control the pitches from an external sequencer via MIDI, but more on that in a moment. On a couple occasions I noticed a slight drop in signal level when sequencing the pitch, and an Alt parameter for Output Level could have been helpful in making sure the volume is always consistent on a per preset basis, but I’ve been able to compensate by triggering a volume boost via a preset on another pedal in my signal chain. It’s minor, and I only noticed it on a few occasions after playing the pedal for couple months.

 

The Presets Paradox

The Ottobit Jr. (along with the Mercury7 Reverb & Polymoon) can save and recall up to 16 presets via MIDI. 16 factory presets are available to give you an idea of what the pedal is capable of, but you’ll need an external means to access them. Meris will be releasing a 4 button preset switcher in early 2018 which should be a convenient option for utilizing presets. If you already use a high-end effects switcher with MIDI output, you’ll want to get a compatible MIDI adapter to make the most of this pedal. The Chase Bliss Audio MIDI Box works well, and the official Meris MIDI I/O adapter will also be released in the near future. Without using MIDI or another external preset switching option, you’ll be missing out on saving and recalling more than 1 of your complex creations. To really make the most of this insane pedal, you’ll definitely want some way to conveniently access presets.

 

Expression Control

Using an expression pedal adds a lot of possibilities for real-time control. All knob parameters, the 6 Sequencer Steps, and Tempo can have different values assigned to the toe and heel positions that are saved along with each preset. The Filter is fun to sweep, and you can mangle your sound at will by assigning the Sample Rate and/or Bits to the exp pedal. You can also play with the sequencer in creative ways. Try creating an arpeggiated pattern with the root note, octaves, fifths, and thirds; then set the expression pedal to shift between the major thirds and minor thirds for a simple way to have the Pitch Sequencer harmonize in key as you play notes of a scale.

The one thing to be mindful of going in is that you can set the EXP/MIDI jack to only one of the following options: EXP (for exp pedal), TAP (for external tap tempo control), PRESET (to be used with the upcoming Meris preset switcher), or MIDI. With all the awesome sounds the Ottobit Jr. is capable of, I’m biased towards recommending one of the two options that allow use of presets before the other options. But the EXP mode is super fun. So what’s a good workaround here?

If you use MIDI, you can still access the exp control by using CC #04. You could also use a DAW to select presets and control the EXP CC. Here’s something I’d really like to see. Assuming the upcoming Meris Preset Switcher is basically a specialized MIDI controller for Meris pedals, it would be brilliant if Meris added an Exp-to-MIDI jack that allows users to simply plug in a standard expression pedal and control the EXP CC. I’ve seen a MIDI effects switcher that offers this functionality, so it can be done. Such an option would allow easy access to the 16 presets on Meris pedals while the exp pedal’s toe and heel positions could theoretically double the available preset settings to up to 32.

 

External Sequencing via MIDI

While it’s inspiring to have 6 available steps for onboard sequencing, considering that Meris went all-in with full MIDI implementation, I had to dig in to see how well the Ottobit Jr. would respond to external automation. The Ottobit Jr.’s onboard Pitch Sequencing already allows arpeggiated melodies to be triggered from a single note, but external sequencing can allow greater possibilities for evolving sequences and longer step sequenced patterns.

By connecting the Ottobit Jr. to Ableton Live 10 via MIDI, I was able to use Live’s MIDI Clips with MIDI CC automation to change the note sequences at precise moments during chord changes in a progression. With every note from -1 Oct to +1 Oct available for sequencing, you can create complex arpeggiated note patterns that defy what can conventionally be played by merely plucking or tapping every note.

Sequencing Tip: to achieve the best results from pitch sequencing, start your sequences with the root interval (which produces a smoother sound at faster tempo speeds) before the pitch descends or ascends in subsequent steps. It requires strict timing to make sure your sequences are triggered in time, but it’s very rewarding. Your dedicated practice with a metronome will pay off. Without being limited to only 6 steps, you can compose some truly awe inspiring note sequences that are only limited by your knowledge of modes, scales, and music theory… and the 2 octave range of course. And being able to program precise moments for the Stutter and Stutter Hold functions to be triggered is also amazing. If you get in deep with pitch sequencing, you’ll probably join me in wishing Meris included secret MIDI CCs for “Swing” and “Triplet” quantization.

 

 

Bit-Crushing… in Stereo?!

At first it may seem unnecessary to have a TRS stereo I/O option on a bit-crusher, but this is actually very handy in some scenarios. If you like the sound of bit-crushing later in your signal chain, the possibility of placing the Ottobit Jr. after your stereo delay and reverb pedals opens up new possibilities. You can add some gentle anti-aliased noise over your delay and/or reverb or completely decimate your entire audio signal, not to mention applying that sweet Filter to your sound. If you’re using the Ottobit Jr. in a professional studio environment and are using delay and reverb on dedicated sends, you could set the Ottobit Jr. to Line level and add it to your wet chain in series with other stereo effects or use the pedal by itself. This is a much better option than buying two mono only pedals and lets you use the Ottobit Jr.’s ironically hi-fi effects in just about any scenario.

Aside from a few minor tweaks I’d like to see here and there, I only have one other noteworthy feature I wish was included. The Sequencer (particularly Pitch) and Stutter functions are triggered with greater precision when the pedal is placed early in your signal chain before distortion, fuzz, and modulation; however, the Bit-Crusher and Filter effects arguably sound best when placed towards the end of your signal chain or after dirt pedals at the very least. This makes it a little tricky to decide where to place the pedal. I prefer to keep it up front for the pitch-sequencing effects, but if you’re not using those effects, you may want to put it later in your signal chain. It would be awesome to have seen a Pre/Post mode for mono operation that could let you put the Pitch Sequencer early in your chain and route the Bit-Crusher and Filter later in your signal chain. While I may still use the bit-crushing and filtering from the pedal’s default position early in my signal path, the characteristics of those effects are arguably more impactful and musical when placed after most other pedals. But this little concern is in no way a deal-breaker, and I think most users will easily find ways to make cool noise with this pedal. As it stands the Meris Ottobit Jr. is one of my personal favorite pedals released in recent years.

The Meris Ottobit Jr. is simply a monster in pedal form. Let’s see the final result.

 

 

The Meris Ottobit Jr. is one of the most ambitious and advanced bit-crushers ever released in pedal form with a host of inspiring sound design possibilities on board. While its bit-crushing is some of the best sounding I’ve heard mainly thanks to a very smooth Sample Rate taper that’s beautiful to behold, the Sequencer and Stutter effects really push this pedal over the top in terms of what it offers adventurous effects users. And there’s a truly gorgeous synth inspired Filter onboard. While the stereo option isn’t essential for mono rigs (and the Pitch Sequencing works best when the pedal is early in your signal chain), being able to use the Ottobit Jr.’s bit-crushing and filtering after a stereo delay and reverb offers some truly mesmerizing textures. While a pedal like the Ottobit Jr. probably won’t appeal to old-school guitarists who veer towards simplicity, this gauntlet throwing debut pedal from Meris is among the handful of must-try pedals I’d recommend most to guitarists looking for new sound design possibilities and sources of inspiration.

That concludes our Meris Ottobit Jr. review. Thanks for reading.

Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal Review

 

The Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal is a new kind of audio processing engine that offers piano-like sustain effects for guitars and other instruments. The distinctive, sophisticated appearance and ergonomic design put the Plus Pedal in a class by itself; it’s sure to invite stares from all the gearheads.

Now, of course, there will be some comparisons to pedals like the EHX Superego and Freeze, but the Plus Pedal is decidedly different. Some things are obvious; the actual “switch” is very different. Instead of a stomp switch, you get a great piano-like sustain pedal. This pedal works similar to an expression pedal in that a “half-press” makes it behave differently than a “full-press.” Can’t do that with a stomp switch. You get real-time feedback of half-press vs. full-press by watching the LED brightness. There are some things that are also different under the hood. The actual technology within the pedal is much different than that of other pedals on the market. The Plus Pedal is based on a new method of digital sound processing called Real Time Audio Sampling and Looping (patent pending). Instead of creating tones using an oscillator and filter based synth engine, Real Time Audio Sampling and Looping works by creating a smooth, circular loop out of a source signal that is recorded as you go, sampling only the last segments of your incoming notes or chords. These tiny bits are sampled in real time and looped together to create a seamless, warm and responsive sustained tone.

 

Features:

Sound Design:

  • A new kind of audio processing that offers piano-like sustain/sostenuto for electric guitars and other melodic instruments
  • Hand-crafted brass damper/sustain-style switch
  • Four rotary knobs on the face of the pedal adjust the dynamic properties of the wet signal, including Blend, Sustain, Rise, and Tail
  • A two-position slide for controlling the play mode between Single and Group modes
  • A second two-position slide for Split and Mix modes to isolate the wet signal or mix it
  • Multiple signal routing options including a built-in effects loop
  • Gradual Control with the main switch with the options to press halfway, or all the way
  • Further control options include a quick, hard, full tap will act as a kill switch for the sustained sound
  • Multi-stage LED indicates on, half-press, full-press
  • “Wet Only” mode

Ins and Outs:

  • One 1/4” main input (top-mounted)
  • One 1/4” main output (top-mounted)
  • 9v DC, center negative power jack drawing 130mA (top-mounted)
  • One 1/4” effects send (side-mounted)
  • One 1/4” effects return (side-mounted)

Technical stuff:

  • Input: Unbalanced TS, 1MΩ, max input +6.8dBu
  • Outputs: Unbalanced TS, 100Ω, max output +6.8dBu
  • Sample Rate: 26kHz
  • A/D D/A conversion: 16 bit
  • Frequency Response, Analog/Digital: 20Hz to 22k/13kHz
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: -97dB (A weighted); ref=max level, 22kHz bandwidth

Let’s have a more in depth look at the main knobs of the pedal:

Blend (how much): Controls the volume of the wet signal produced by the Plus Pedal. The 12:00 position is an exact 50/50 blend of wet and dry signal. It has a very convenient indent in the potentiometer’s path as you turn it.

Sustain (how long/how many): Now, this is kind of a magical and busy knob. I will do my best to describe it in detail. First of all, the Sustain knob changes its functionality when you switch from Single Mode and Group Mode.
In Single Mode: The Sustain knob allows you to control the behavior of the hold function while the foot-pedal is pressed. When set to minimum, you will get the natural decaying properties of a ringing guitar string. Whereas, when set to the maximum, signified by an infinity (∞), the Sustain knob will keep the sustained note/chord completely static for as long as the foot-pedal is pressed without applying any frequency filters on the top end.
In Group Mode: The Sustain knob allows you to control the number of sustained layers allowed to be played simultaneously. You can choose between 1 and 5 layers. As you rotate the knob to choose the number of layers, watch for the LED to blink once for each number from 1 to 5.

Rise (fade in): Sets the fade in speed of new sustain layers generated by the Plus Pedal. A minimum setting will let you bring in new tones instantly, while the maximum setting will result in extended, gradual swells. Try somewhere between nine and noon for a starting point.

Tail (fade out): Adjusts the amount of spillover after you’ve released your foot from the pedal. The maximum setting here also features an infinity symbol (∞) and when it is set to this point, the layers will continue to stack up on top of one another (up to five layers) and create rich, harmonic soundscapes.

 

There are several useful ins and outs on the pedal. Input and dual output jacks and 9v power jack are conveniently mounted up top. On the right side, you have options for a separate effects loop as well as two switches that allow for additional control. One switch allows for Group or Single mode. In Group mode, the pedal will collect whole groups of audio layers. In Single mode, it will focus on the most recent note. A second switch allows for Mix or Split on the output. In Mix mode, the more common mode, your wet and dry signals are mixed together on the output. In Split mode, only the isolated wet signal is generated by the plus pedal. There is even an option for the Clean Out/FSW output to harness your unaffected dry signal at all times. I can see this being extremely useful in a recording studio setting. A note regarding the size of the Plus Pedal. It’s about 2/3 the size of a standard volume or wah pedal. In my efforts to keep my pedalboards really small these days, I was struggling to figure out where to put the Plus. I then learned that it’s best to put it first in your chain. Therefore, I don’t put it on a board. I just carry it with me and plug it in between my guitar and my board. It draws 130mA so it can’t use a battery, which would have been convenient, so I just keep a longer power lead available on the board and plug it in that way. I like it next to my board like that. It’s kind of handy to have it off to the side where you can angle it to work more ergonomically for you.

Visit Gamechanger Audio for more info about the Plus Pedal.

 

 

A great starting point setting for this pedal?

With all that’s going on and with a pedal that is arguably not just another familiar thing you’re plugging into, let me give you a great starting point group of settings. Ignore the effects loop for now, just plug your guitar into the top-mount input jack and your amp to the top-mount output jack and set your knobs and switches to the following points:

BLEND: 12:00
SUSTAIN: 12:00
RISE: 9:00
TAIL: 9:00
MODE SWITCH: Single
MIX SWITCH: Mix

*Higher settings will give you a more ambient/spacey sound, while lower settings will give you a more natural/subtle sound. Think of these settings kind of like how you use the settings on a reverb pedal.

A very important word on using the foot switch properly to get the most out of your Plus Pedal:

The quality of the wet signal will always be determined by the amount of time between the attack of the note and the time that the foot switch is pressed.

For a more synthetic, distorted sound, follow the note attack quickly with the foot switch.

For a more smooth, detailed sound, allow more time between note attack and foot switch.

I first saw the Plus Pedal late one night sitting up in bed searching around the far corners of the internet. There were these guys in white lab coats showing off this strange-looking pedal that looked like someone took at piano damper pedal and stuck it on an old wedge-style fuzz pedal enclosure. I thought it was a joke. As soon as I realized it was for real, I was like…. “Whoa……. Someone has actually done it!” Having been a piano player for years before I was ever a guitar player, this seemed like a welcome addition to my board. I’ve always loved the feel and natural simplicity of the piano sustain pedal. It just seems so incredible that someone actually thought to put this into a guitar pedal. Then I started seeing more and more pics of it in some of the FaceBook groups and on Instagram. I recall telling another member of the BGE Team that I thought this might be a contender for Pedal of the Year. After finally using the thing, I can very safely say that this pedal has impressed and shocked me to the core. It is one of the coolest things that has ever happened to my rig. I have used other pedals like loopers, samplers, and synth engines and have gotten similar kinds of effects. The Plus Pedal is just, by far, the most intuitive, simple approach to seamless guitar sampling.

I recently chose the Plus Pedal as one of my picks for the Best Guitar Effects Pedals of the Year 2017 article. This little guy was an easy choice to be one of the Pedals of the Year. The very first time I used the Plus Pedal, I realized something had just changed in my life. I struggle to even refer to it as a “pedal”. It’s more like an extension of my instrument than a mere piece of equipment. What makes it so great is a two-fold answer. First, the most obvious thing is the actual pedal/switch/damper. The big brass thing that you step on. It’s just brilliant. This would not be a Pedal of the Year pick for me without that. The operation and the feel of using it – there is no other way to say this, it’s simply PERFECT. The most intuitive thing ever. Everyone knows what a piano sustain pedal is and what it does. The way the pedal is constructed, and the shape of the enclosure makes it very easy to use. I was up and running exactly the way I wanted to be in less than a minute. The second point that makes this a Pedal of the Year is the sound. I have used other “similar” pedals, and the Plus Pedal just has more of an organic, warm sound. The way it naturally rises and falls just sounds exactly like what it does to a piano. As you’re playing, you get this nice washy sustained sound. The first time I plugged it in, I ran a Les Paul into the Plus Pedal into a crappy little amp with a 2.5” speaker. Point is, nothing good in the line to make it sound nice, however, it sounded incredible! I always like to have a reverb in my chain no matter what and using the Plus pedal kind of had that sound. It was like a reverb, and not like a reverb at the same time. It was as if I’d just bought a new kind of a reverb pedal. Something fresh and cool sounding. Using it this way was kind of fun and inspiring. One of my favorite ways of using it is to set the sustain and tail for infinite sustain. You get this beautiful drone sound and you can control the level of that drone with the Blend knob.

 

 

The best is yet to be…

So wait a minute, this thing can’t possibly get any cooler, right? That’s what I thought but….

There are those that feel the need to really explore every aspect of a piece of gear and try out every single thing a pedal can do. That isn’t necessarily me. I pick things up and when I get them to do something cool I’m pretty much good to go. No need to dive deeper for me. I knew that the Plus had an effects loop, but I didn’t feel like I needed to try it out. Boy, was I wrong. Seriously wrong. As it turns out, I feel like this is the coolest and most usable thing this pedal has to offer! I was so inspired by how cool this was, that I felt compelled to shoot a short video showing what’s going on.

 

 

So, what’s going on here? The Plus Pedal’s effects loop works like this…

You keep your guitar and other pedals and amp plugged into the top-mount input/output jacks as normal. The effects loop is on the right hand side of the pedal – two jacks: send and return. In this loop you place one or more effects. In the video, I placed a fuzz pedal, so let’s talk about that. I think dirt is also a great option for the loop. Here’s what happens as you play. Your guitar signal sounds clean (or however you have it set up); your dry signal is just as though you were plugged into your pedalboard/amp. In my example you’re just hearing a Les Paul clean with just a bit of reverb running into the amp. The fuzz pedal is on, dialed in, and ready to go. As you play, you step on the Plus Pedal and it takes little bits of your signal and sends them through the loop and into the fuzz pedal. It’s just the coolest thing to be playing clean and suddenly hear these nasty fuzz tones slowly fading in and out. The way it builds and decays reminds me of a delay pedal going into oscillation and then fading out. I didn’t have to change a thing about how I was playing, and activating the Plus Pedal was just effortless. Speaking of delay, I also tried a delay pedal into the Plus loop. I had it set up for crazy oscillation thinking I could just punch in some repeats from time to time. What actually happened, in that case, was every time I stepped on the Plus Pedal, I introduced the craziest (not in a good way) sounds. Dialing back the delay helped that out, but still seemed to lack the sounds I was hoping for. I easily got bored with that and ended up going back to fuzz. After all, it sounded killer.

 

 

Next was the Wet switch. This switch serves as a remote foot controller that bypasses the SPLIT/MIX toggle allowing you to switch in and out of full wet mode on the fly. I tried full wet with both clean and with the fuzz. Cleans felt like I had more control than with the fuzz. Using the pedal this way felt kind of like a Freeze pedal. Really cool to be able to blend layers of just the wet. Another cool trick is to use it as an A/B switch. Set up your signal as normal, and that’s your “A.” Whatever is in the loop is “B” and you can toggle between the two with the wet switch. Set up two completely different sounds and go back and forth between the two with ease. How many pedals out there can do that?

 

 

The Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal is a completely new concept that’s perfectly executed, easy to use, and produces beautiful sounding results. After all, in the end, isn’t that exactly what we’re looking for in a pedal? I don’t plan to ever part with my Plus Pedal. It’s going to be one of those things that will be in my studio making things sound their best and proudly on display when not being used. I can’t say that enough; the thing is just beautiful to both the ears and the eyes. It’s one of those things that you want people to see you using. The intuitive design and a near over-supply of sound and routing options make this the obvious choice for a serious musician looking to get something new to come out of their amp’s speakers. Add to that the newly designed science behind the actual sound sampling and you have something truly unique. I can’t wait to see what will be the next offering from Gamechanger Audio. The Plus Pedal is a game changer of epic proportions.

That concludes our review of the Plus Pedal from Gamechanger Audio. Thanks for reading!

EarthQuaker Devices Data Corrupter Review

 

The mad scientists in Akron have done it again. The Data Corrupter is one of the latest offerings from Earthquaker Devices and is likely to help you get started on that Summer home improvement by peeling the paint off all your walls. Earthquaker Devices have created their own spin on the familiar PLL-style pedal loosely based on the Electrax Sythax and the “Basic Frequency Synthesizer” by Ray Marston, only with better tracking and sustain. The Data Corrupter is an incredible fuzz / modulation / octave / oscillator machine that is sure to corrupt everything you feed into it, and it will destroy everything in its path.

 

Wait. What does this thing even do?

According to the manual, The Data Corrupter is an analog PLL harmonizer with modulation that takes your input signal and brutally amplifies it into a crushing square wave fuzz, multiplies it, divides it, then modulates it into a three-voice synthesizer. Need I go on? They pretty much had me at “brutally amplifies…”. At the heart of this signal destroyer is the Master Oscillator. The three-position switch on the oscillator control feeds your input into either Unison, -1 Octave, or -2 Octave. Use this to fine tune the tracking response for your preferred instrument. From here, the Data Corrupter will do the science and split off a synthesized frequency. Further controls allow you to select the octave/interval as well as the volume of this voice. The Frequency Modulator applies pitch-bend modulation to the Master Oscillator. A Glide Mode gives you a smooth portamento as each note slides into the next. In Vibrato Mode, the pitch modulates up and down in a retro sci-fi effect! The Subharmonic assimilates the input into one of eight lower octave programs between one and three octaves below the input. The Square Control blends in a great sounding square wave fuzz which I thought sounded great on its own!

Those not familiar with a PLL (Phase Locked Loop) will be surprised by how interesting and finicky these things can be! A PLL takes your input signal and compares its phase and frequency against an oscillator, generates an output proportional to their difference then feeds it back into the oscillator. This causes the oscillator to lock onto the input signal and generate a synthesized frequency. Serious science going on here. So what does that sound like? Well, it’s a super thick, nasty undertone with funky octaves and harmonics all over the place. Tracking inconsistencies will make things feels pretty loose and random as you noodle around the fretboard.

 

 

Features:

Control Surface:

Obviously, there is a LOT going on here. Thankfully, the control surface of the pedal is nicely arranged so you can just get down to business. It’s divided up into sections where you can kind of focus on one part at a time.

Master Oscillator. This part is the heart of the entire device.

• One small three-position switch gives you Root Control:

1.Unison
2. -1
3. -2

• An eight-position rotary allows for octave/interval control with options for:

1. U/U
2. +1/U
3. +1/5
4. +2/U
5. +2/M3
6. +2/5
7. +2/m7
8. +3/U

Frequency Modulator.

• One toggle gives you control between:

1. Glide
2. Vibrato

• A knob to set the rate

Subharmonic section. This section is very similar in control to the Master Oscillator.

• A small toggle for root source:

1. Unison
2. Master Oscillator

• An eight-position rotary allows for another batch of octave/interval options:

1. -1/U
2. -1/5
3. -2/U
4. -2/M3
5. -2/5
6. -2/m7
7. -3/U
8. -3/M2

A three-knob Voice Mixer section allows you to blend in:

1. Square
2. Subharmonic
3. Oscillator

And you can blend each voice in one at a time. A must-have option for any crazy pedal.

Lastly, there’s a Master Volume for the entire thing. If you’re looking for a seriously loud-ass pedal, this is the one. I found unity gain to the dry signal to WELL below noon. In fact, it’s below 9:00.

Ins and outs:

The Data Corrupter has top-mounted (!) mono 1M input and 1K output jacks and a 9v power jack drawing 25mA.

More:

Designed and built in the USA
Measures 5.65″ x 4.75″ x 2.25″ with knobs
True bypass and uses electronic relay based switching

Visit EarthQuaker Devices for more info about the Data Corrupter.

 

 

Data Corruption further explained:

Now, if everything up to this point has made about as much sense as a midnight Trump tweet, have no fear, I will break this down for you. In a nutshell, the Data Corrupter is here to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and it’s all out of bubble gum. Unless you’re some kind of math genius or an expert on PLL-based pedals, you might plug into this thing and feel like the world just ended. You might feel overwhelmed and maybe even question why you picked this thing up. My advice… start small and work your way up. I recommend starting out with trying each of the three Voice options one at a time. Try the fuzz first. Just tear into it. The fuzz all by itself is damn near worth the entire price of this pedal. Now try playing just the Oscillator Voice. Get familiar with it. The Oscillator lets you drop (in octaves) the input source pitch. Since some of the frequencies of the Oscillator are too high for our human ears, this comes in super handy. Personally, I like the -2 option here. From there your signal is fed into the PLL and multiplied to create one of 8 different intervals. Stay with me now. In the section above, I wrote all this out for your brain to freeze up on like you’d had too much frozen yogurt. For the 8-position knob, don’t look at all the stuff printed there. JUST LISTEN. Trust your ears to do the work. Just find the setting that you think sounds the best. One end is higher pitched, the other end is lower pitched. I tend to prefer lower, in general, but since this has two voicings (in addition to the fuzz) I set a high one AND a lower one. The high one I usually mix quieter than the lower one.

Now, let’s turn that Voice all the way down and mess with the Subharmonic. Same thing here, kinda. You have two options for where that signal is coming from. You have Unison or Master Oscillator. When you choose Master Oscillator, the subharmonic will be a division of the Master Oscillator. What? It just means it gets more complicated. I prefer pulling from Unison. When you do that, it will be a division of the fuzz tone and Frequency Modulation will be taken out of the equation. Wait, what’s the Frequency Modulation? That’s the little section in the middle of the pedal that you can add to the Master Oscillator. You have two options here. Glide and Vibrato. I prefer glide for more of a subtle effect. Vibrato is cool with rate set way high for a laser machine gun effect.

Now back to that Subharmonic. Here you have another 8-position rotary giving you more options of how the signal is divided. Again, don’t read the little letters and numbers printed on the pedal. Just use your ears again and turn it until it sounds best (or worst, depending on what you’re doing). Ok. Still with me? You have it all set up now. Now you can start blending all the voices together. You can decide if you want the sound to be clean or dirty. If you’re after clean, just keep the Fuzz voice all the way down. If you’re after the nasty, just turn that fuzz up! Now mix in that Oscillator and/or Subharmonic. I suggest, for most applications, keeping these relatively low in the mix. Generally, for most usable, real-life situations, you’re gonna want to just use these to flavor your fuzz/clean tone. If they are up too high, they will dominate your signal. Now, this may be exactly what you’re looking for. If so, go for it. But that’s a really difficult beast to tame! You may find that you’ll just surrender to it and let it decide what notes pass through. It really comes down to a question of control. Do you want to be in control, or do you want to give that up to the greatest corrupter of all data?

 

 

Guitars, keys, and drums, oh my!

Seems like the obvious instrument with guitar effects is, well, the guitar. I obviously ran a series of guitars into this thing. I felt like humbuckers tracked a little better than single coils, especially on the neck pickup. Also, since the pedal is monophonic, single notes sounded better than chords. Power chords sounded better than more complicated chords. Liking what I heard, I decided to continue on to the next instruments in the studio. I have this old KORG CX-3. It’s kind of a Hammond clone and has a wide range of beautiful organ tones. Well, the Data Corrupter absolutely destroyed it. It was really fun to hear an old familiar tone get taken to the cleaners. The coolest thing is the ability to blend, just mixing in a hint of the dirty, crazy, and interesting tones that the Data Corrupter produced. It was also fun to run some old drum machine patterns into it. Imagine the coolest Nine Inch Nails drum track if it were played through the console on the Mother Ship in the original Alien movie. That’s what the Data Corrupter did for me, and all I had to do was plug into this box. I kinda think I liked drums the best. It’s as if the pedal was secretly made just for that purpose. Pretty sure drums and a DC will meet again in my studio!

Probably asking too much here, but there are a few things that would have made it so you could get a lot more from this pedal. I would have liked to have seen MIDI, or some way to save some presets. With a pedal this complex, when you find a cool sound, you’d love a way to save and recall that! Even just a few on-board presets slots would have been cool. Expression would be super fun. It sounds pretty cool to cycle through the rotary switches by hand. It might be complicated to assign a rotary to expression, but it would be cool. Even just using expression to blend in the wet signals of each of the three voices would be rad. It also seems like it could benefit from a little bit better tracking accuracy. I know that this is a characteristic of PLL effects and they, generally, feel a bit “wonky.” But as I played there were moments where a tighter feel would have been really nice.

 

 

The EarthQuaker Devices Data Corrupter will give you some of the most bizarre and beautifully intense fuzz tones and chaotic guitar sounds you will ever hear. If you’re getting sick and tired of so many fuzz pedals out there that sound just like everything else, this pedal may be your answer. You really can get as tame or as insane as you like with the blend controls. This pedal truly is a new spin on an old idea and one of the most accessible takes on a PLL pedal, being thoughtfully designed and nicely laid out in a way that makes sense for the first time PLL user. And LOUD? You damn right. At times you will think you have found fuzz Nirvana, other times you will think you smell smoke emitting from your speaker cabinet. Still, you must go on and explore the new world of fuzz that is laid out before you. Great rewards will arise from your efforts. (Ear plugs sold separately.)

That concludes our EarthQuaker Devices Data Corrupter review. Thanks for reading.

Hologram Electronics Infinite Jets Resynthesizer Review

 

Infinite Jets. There is only one Infinite Jets. This is infinite Jets.

 

Infinite Jets is a work of art. Now, usually when you hear someone say that, it’s just hyperbole. But this is not hyperbole, and I may not mean this in the way that you’re thinking. A work of art is something that is created to express an emotion or a statement. A work of art, once finished, is finite in its existence, meaning it is now just there, presented to the world, open and ready for interpretation. Although a work of art is complete, it lives on with fluidity as it is interpreted differently by each and every individual that comes in contact with it. This is the concept that brings me to Infinite Jets. This effect box is just that. It is this work of art, presented to the world. Because of the unique nature of this effect box, it will be viewed, understood, interpreted, and ultimately used differently by each user. Therefore, there really is no way to write “the definitive Infinite Jets review” and be under 10,000 words. Much like differing opinions on a painting, your personal experiences with this pedal will likely differ from mine, and from anyone else. How exciting is that? I will do my best to bring you the facts and share some of my personal discoveries. Mostly, you want to know what this thing does. You want to know if it’s usable. You want to know if the effects are repeatable. Well, I’ve got great news.

As an overview, the Infinite Jets features two individual sampling channels to turn your incoming signal into something… different, yet, the same. In other words, a reinterpretation of what you are feeding into it. This allows for incredible results for those of us who feel stuck in a box, creatively. The sampling channels can be set up as “poly,” “mono,” or “manual.” In manual, you can activate the channels in real time with the foot switches and those can be configured in momentary, latching, or toggle.

The main encoder knob controls the “voice” or “mode” you are in. Ten in all, plus two additional user modes. You have options for “blur,” “synth,” “glitch,” and “swell.”
Three other knobs control envelope shape, envelope time (includes infinity), and dimension. Dimension performs a different task for each preset. Secondary controls for each of these include LFO shape, LFO frequency, and LFO depth. Two additional knobs allow for control of an analog drive circuit (with a secondary tone control) and a knob for wet/dry blend (With a secondary function of master volume). Personally, I feel like the most important knob on a freaky pedal is a wet/dry knob, and this pedal is certainly freaky.

The three switches are there to control bypass/engage, channel A, and channel B. The bypass/engage LED is pretty cool. Red when bypassed and blue when engaged. Press and hold the channel A switch to activate the LFO adjustments. Press and hold A & B together to calibrate the unit for the incoming signal.

Ins and outs are fairly sparse. Mono input, mono output, 9v power, and a TRS expression jack.

Infinite Jets gives you the ability to record and save knob movements, much like “automation control,” if you’re familiar with that concept in recording consoles. Further controls allow you to do things like change the brightness of the LED’s, save presets, and disable the automatic gain compensation. I told you thing goes on for infinity!

Let’s take a closer look at the features of this pedal.

 

Features:

Four Distinct Voice Presets. Four different voices divided into ten different preset variations. These presets are super unique in that they use several different ways of transforming the sound of your playing into something completely new, yet undeniably akin to the original sound. Yes. It’s magic.

  • BLUR: The “Blur” preset is perfectly named since it
    removes the normal attack and decay characteristics of your instrument giving is a sound with undefined edges. This is useful for creating a “hazy” and “atmospheric” kind of sound. For this preset, “Dimension” controls a combination of delay time, filtering, and feedback which drastically changes the perceived “space” of the affected sound. Automating the Dimension knob in Blur mode can create flanging, chorus, vibrato, and even pitch-bending. Blur is divided into four sub- categories. 0, +1, -1, and +/-1. This is how you can control the scale of the undertones generated in Blur mode.
  • SYNTH: In “Synth” mode, your instrument’s signal is converted into one of two synth sounds. Synth A is a hard-edged, digital sound, while Synth B is a softer, airy kind of sound with a gentle chorus. When using Synth, the Dimension controls the low pass filter’s cutoff frequency. In combination with the Drive control, Dimension, and use of the LPF, lead sounds and pad sounds can be achieved.
  • GLITCH: The “Glitch” mode is very unique. Divided into A and B, Glitch chops your incoming signal into looping fragments and reassembles them in two distinct ways. Glitch A creates short loops and allows the user to choose one of four sample lengths. Glitch B is much less predictable. The incoming signal is stored in one of six memory blocks selected at random and played back. You choose between having the intervals randomized or controlled. You get to manipulate the signal in real time and re-organize the sound into different stuttering patterns on the fly. I found the Glitch mode to be one of my favorites. But, then, I’m kind of a glitch guy, myself. Glitch B is not only very special, but is rather unique on this unit. The Dry control functions a bit differently here. When Dry is set to “0%” the output mix will full switch between the effected signal and the original instrument signal when the sampler is turned on or off. This allows the looping fragments to occasionally “interrupt” the dry signal. This preset is meant for, as the manual puts it, “chaos, unpredictability, and excitement.” The manual then goes on to my favorite part… “The loops that the preset creates are ephemeral and cannot be saved; as you create them you are hearing it for both the first and last time.” Oh, my! There’s something truly special about that. I guess if you’re really worried about losing something, and you really do want to cheat the universe, you could always dump your real- time playing into a looper pedal or your DAW.
  • SWELL: The “Swell” preset really is fairly self- explanatory. With this preset, divided into A and B, you can add dramatic volume swell effects to your playing. You can even use the repeat waveform to create tremolo effects. The effected signal is fed into a delay (controlled by Dimension) which can be modulated by the LFO, envelope, or recorded knob movements. Automating this control, you can get sounds that range from tape warble, to chorus, even pitch-shifting vibrato sounds. Swell A uses the dynamics of your playing to trigger a volume envelope. Swell B adds waveshaping to the signal, allowing for that coveted violin-like sustained fuzz and distorted tones that are on the verge of destroying everything. Things are a little different in this mode as far as controls go. Since Swell doesn’t capture and sample your playing, the trigger modes work slightly different. In Poly mode, the Infinite Jets will play through the entire envelope each time a note is triggered. In Mono mode, it will apply only the attack portion of the envelope. This allows you to play faster without getting all muddied up. Think of this in the same way you might shorten delay trails for faster playing. Interesting results can be achieved when using the momentary switches to trigger A and B, injecting your playing into the delay causing your signal to jump out from the mix and occupy a very different space. You can then release the switch and the note will decay naturally. This is one of the more interesting effects you can get from the Infinite Jets. I preferred it with a nice cloud kind of reverb after it using my Empress Effects Reverb pedal.

Two Independent channels of sampling: The Infinite Jets features two separate channels where your signal is sampled and then manipulated offering infinite sustain of two different notes, sounds, or chords at one time. They can overlap, or meet up end to end. These samples can be triggered automatically, by note attack, or manually with the foot switches.

Two User Save Slots: Once you have found the perfect sound (and the Infinite Jets has more than ONE perfect sound) (ok, a LOT more than one) you can save two of them into the user presets slots. If you want to save more than that, I’d make an effort to come up with some method of saving and organizing. Maybe, at the time you save, take a quick cell pic and/or make some notes. This way you can repeat these same sounds later if you need to save over one of your slots. I filled both slots the first day I sat with the Infinite Jets. To save a preset, simply press and hold A and B switches for two seconds and then release. Turn the voice encoder knob to “Preset A” or “Preset B.” Then press and release the A and B switches again for two seconds. Easy.

Internal LFO: At your service is an internal LFO. There if you want it, waiting in hiding if you don’t. The LFO provides a continuously sweeping control signal that can be used to modulate the Dimension control. Six wave forms are available to choose from. Shifting the Dimension control in a predictable does a great job of adding complexity to the sound. All LFO settings are saved per preset.

*Bonus! You can change what Infinite Jets uses to modulate the Dimension control. You can use the Envelope Generator instead of the LFO! Press and hold the “A Switch.” While holding you can flip the “Trigger Toggle” left for LFO, and right for Envelope Generator. Envelope Generator can be pretty cool. Instead of a continuous sweep, like the LFO, the Envelope Generator only plays once each time a new note is triggered.

 

 

Three Foot Switch Modes: Infinite Jets allows you to alter the behavior of the foot switches. Choose between Momentary, Toggle, and Latching. This allows you to have specific control options for triggering the sampling engines.

Input Calibration: Possibly the most important feature of the Infinite Jets is the input calibration. This allows the pedal to “learn” your instrument’s output level and, equally important, your playing dynamics. It’s very simple to complete and should be done each time you plug in a new instrument or change your dynamics, i.e. playing a soft/delicate song vs. rocking out. Why is this so important? Well, for your notes to trigger properly and for the Infinite Jets to process the envelope, you will need it to “know” what you’re playing and how you’re playing it. I personally tested this out by tricking it. I set the calibration with really hard playing dynamics and then played soft. I had a hard time triggering the sampler. Also, the other way around, calibrated for soft playing and then rocked out. The sampler was sloppy and it didn’t “feel” right. Like we were kind of fighting. Proper calibration is very easy to achieve and make the pedal perform seamlessly. Just do it.

Knob Automation Recording: One very cool feature of the Infinite Jets is what they refer to as “Recording and Looping Knob Movements.” It’s simple to do, all you need to do is press and hold the center (Bypass) switch. Then turn the Dimension knob the way that you want it to go. Be creative! The pedal remembers your moves and then begins to play back and loop this movement. Keep your eye on the “Mod” LED to get a visual feedback of what’s going on. The brighter the LED, the more clockwise the Dimension control is. The unit will record your movements for 10 seconds, or until the Bypass switch has been released. The Mod LED will change from red to blue as you are getting close to the end of the 10 seconds. To stop and override the recorded automation loop, simply move the Dimension knob.

Controls For Everything: Ultimate sound-sculpting is at your fingertips with the control surface of the Infinite Jets. You have total control over the the envelope shape and time as well as control over the LFO shape, frequency (rate), and depth. Control over the analog drive circuit, wet/dry balance, tone, and master volume. You also can control the sampling engines with the foot switches. Furthermore, you can record knob automation or go with knob-twisting on the fly with an expression pedal assigned to anything you desire.

This brings me to the control surface of the Infinite Jets. Let’s have a look at the knobs in detail.

 

 

Knobs:

Envelope Shape: Change the attack and decay characteristics of the sampled notes. These conrols are very familiar to anyone that has used a synth-style keyboard. All the familiar wave forms, six in all, including a sine wave, a square wave, and three different sawtooth shapes, symmetrical, fast attack, and slow attack. A sixth option is for a randomized wave form. Envelope Shape control works in tandem with the Envelope Time control, which determines the duration of the selected wave form.

Secondary function for Envelope Shape is LFO Shape.

Envelope Time: Adjust the length of your envelope from very short to very long. Two additional options are “Infinite,” which will sustain your note, infinitely, until you play another, and “Repeat,” which loops the current envelope shape. Think of those last two like this… 1=Attack 2=Decay
Infinite: 1———————————2
Repeat: 1212121212121212121212

Secondary function for Envelope Time is LFO Frequency.

Dimension: This is kind of a magical knob. It has a different job depending on which preset mode you are in. The value of this knob is displayed with the MOD LED. Here is a table of the functions of the Dimension knob, per preset voice:
Blur: Space/Feedback
Synth: Lowpass Filter Cutoff
Glitch A: Sample Playback Length
Glitch B: Sample Selector
Swell: Space/Feedback

When using Blur or Swell, Dimension controls combination of delay, filtering, and feedback which changes the perceived size and space of the sound. Automating the Dimension control can create flanging, chorus, and even pitch-bending vibrato.

When using Synth A and Synth B, Dimension controls the low past filter cutoff frequency. The filter can be automated or controlled by the internal LFO or envelope.

In Glitch A, Dimension selects one of four sample lengths to play back. Automating the control can yield interesting rhythmic effects as you move between short and long samples.

In Glitch B, Dimension can be used to scroll back through the six notes stored in the pedal’s memory. You can get super interesting combinations of small looped segments of rearranged audio. Continuing to play over it will overwrite old blocks allowing the pattern to evolve over time.

Secondary function for Dimension is LFO Depth.

Voice: The Voice encoder knob allows for control over four different voices, sub-divided into ten different modes. Two additional slots are there for saving your two user presets.

The Voice knob does not have secondary function.

Drive: The Drive knob adds an analog drive stage at the output. All the way CCW, and the drive is off. Even thought the drive is 100% analog, the setting is controlled digitally, meaning the knob position is saved as part of your user presets. One very cool feature of the Drive control is that as you increase the drive, the output volume is is reduced, proportionally. Even though the drive is capable of providing more than 10x gain, it will remain smooth and consistent as you increase or decrease drive. Of course, if you don’t care for that, a different gain mode can be selected at startup. Genius.

Secondary function for Drive is Tone Control.

Dry: The Dry knob controls your wet/dry balance. This one is also digitally controlled and your settings are saved in your presets. At noon, your wet and dry signals are at 50/50, and the control goes from full wet to full dry.

Secondary function of the Dry knob is Master Volume.

Toggles, Switches, LED’s, Ins/Outs:
There is also a three-way toggle switch that allows you to select the Trigger Mode. Selections are Polly, Mono, and Manual. In Polly Mode, the two sample channels are overlapping as they play back and forth. In Mono Mode, each channel plays only after the other channel has ended. Instead of blending together, they play one after the other. In Manual Mode, you select the channel sampling manually using the foot switches A and B.

There are three soft-touch foot switches. From left to right they are:

  • “A” This switch is for manually activating sampling channel A. It can be set up in momentary, latching, or toggle. Press and hold “A” to access secondary functions for the knobs, as described above.
    You can also press and hold “A” to adjust what the pedal will use to modulate the Dimension. While holding, flip the Trigger Toggle, left for LFO, and right for Envelope Generator.
  • “B/E” The center switch is for Bypass/Engage. When the pedal is bypassed, the LED is red. When engaged, the LED turns blue.
  • “B” This switch is for manually activating sampling channel B. Like “A,” it can be set up in momentary, latching, and toggle. You can alter the switch behavior with “B.” Press and hold “B” and flip the Trigger Toggle. Switch left for “Toggle” operation (yellow LED). Switch to the center for “Latching” (red LED). Switch right for “Momentary” operation (blue LED).

A secondary function of the switches is for calibration of the unit. Hold down the “B/E” and “B” switches to enter calibration mode.

Besides the B/E LED, there are four additional LED’s located on the right side of the pedal. These LED’s are worth mentioning as they are super helpful in using the pedal properly. The main function of these LED’s is for real-time feedback of input signal, sampling channel playback, and modulation LFO.

Four LED’s arranged in a “T” shape, three across the top, and one on the bottom.

The outer two on top are for sampling channel feedback. Left side is Channel A, and right side is Channel B. You’ll see them see-saw back and forth as you play… When the LED is lit, the sampling channel is playing back. If you stop playing, you’ll see the LED’s lit as the sample plays, then turn off as the sample comes to and end (depending on how the envelope time is set). When neither of these LED are lit, there will be nothing coming out of the sampling channels.

The LED in between those two is for your incoming signal. When the Infinite Jets receives a signal strong enough to trigger the samplers, this LED will light up. This LED will also display automation data applied to the Drive control.

The LED on the bottom of this “T” is the MOD. This displays either the value of the Dimension control or the value of any modulation sources controlling Dimension. If you have ever had a pedal with a “Rate” LED, like the bottom left LED on a Chase Bliss pedal, it works just like that. If you have an LFO going you’ll see this LED “blinking” in real time with that LFO.

 

 

The pedal has surprisingly sparse ins and outs. A single mono audio input and a single mono audio output. For something this cool, I would love to see stereo on the output. Having the modulations ping-pong between channels would be incredible. Furthermore, additional creative options such as assigning Sampling Channel A to the left output and Sampling Channel B to the right output would open up some fantastic options in a stereo rig. I have seen a few comments online where some Infinite Jets users have wished there was a separate out for the synth itself. I think what they’re really referring to is an effects loop like the EHX Superego has where you can run the wet synth signal through its own batch of effects. Handy for using your own flavor of drive pedal or reverb. I’m not totally sure why they can’t just run the Infinite Jets into the drive pedal plugged in after it. But maybe a loop where you could insert between the synth and the drive would have been useful. I also hear a few wants for independent outputs for synth and dry. Hard to say. I, personally, like things fairly simple. I never would have thought of this if I hadn’t seen these comments online. But this goes back to where I wrote that everyone is going to use this thing differently. They’ll also have different ideas of what it “needs.”

The input and output are side-mounted On an enclosure this large, I would like to have seen top-mounted jacks. Up top you will find a standard TRS jack for expression. It would be very lonely up there were it not for the only other jack, the 9v input. 200mA minimum current required.

Then the obvious… No MIDI(?!). This is by far the largest complaint in all that I have read by those using it and those interested in it. I certainly get that. I have a MIDI brain and kind of just expect MIDI on something like this. Other “do a lot” pedals like the WMD Geiger Counter, the Earthquaker Palisades, and the Strymon Sunset have made the mistake of giving you countless options and no way to keep a bunch of them ready at your beck and call. Now, unlike those others I just mentioned, the Infinite Jets at least allows you to save two onboard presets. If any of you are familiar with the early versions of Chase Bliss Audio pedals (the MkI versions), then you understand this ability to save and recall two presets. Chase Bliss Audio quickly abandoned this as the only option for saving & recalling presets on their complex pedals and ran with full-on MIDI capabilities. I am not sure why the Infinite Jets does not have MIDI. After all, the groundbreaking debut pedal from Hologram Electronics, the Dream Sequence, is fully MIDI-enabled. To be totally honest, the Infinite Jets’ lack of MIDI functionality was a big complaint of mine when I first started researching the pedal. Now that I have been using it for quite some time, I am certainly far less concerned with a lack of MIDI. Two user slots are nice, and I use them with rotating ideas, but this pedal is kind of an ever-evolving, creative fluidity kind of thing. Locking in presets doesn’t seem completely useful unless you come up with something very specific in the studio and you need to emulate it perfectly on a live performance using the Infinite Jets. I don’t plan to use this pedal on stage, personally. My current boards are very small and just wouldn’t support such a large pedal, larger horizontally considering its side-mounted jacks. If you needed to use it on stage and needed to emulate some exact sounds, you’ll have three presets at your disposal. The two user presets and your “live mode.” But, again, I don’t see this as being a “live pedalboard” kind of thing. It’s a creativity tool used mostly on the front end of song writing and recording. I look forward to many of you proving me wrong, though! Let me see those massive live rigs with one or two Infinite Jets laying it down for our enjoyment!

If you’d like to see a multitude of instruments ran through the Infinite Jets, have a look at this video from Knobs.

Visit Hologram Electronics for more info about the Infinite Jets.

 

Sound & Performance:

Get Ready To Go To Space.

Not only does the Infinite Jets LOOK like something off of a spaceship from the Alien series, it produces sounds that’ll take you there. Feed this box the most simple signals and you get more than your fair share in return. It’s like putting in a dollar and getting back $49.95. I gave it kind of a workout. I fed it a Les Paul, a Strat, a Yamaha digital piano, and a bass guitar. Everything sounded cool and correct. It helps a lot that the volume automatically levels off properly with increased gain. Also, the ability to globally compensate for tone and volume control helped when changing instruments. The thing that helped the most, and maybe where this guy really shines, is the input calibration. When opening the package, the first thing you’ll see is this little green card reminding you to calibrate for your instrument/playing dynamics. It’s the first thing you see because it’s SUPER important. It’s a very simple process, but if overlooked, will greatly alter the ability of your Infinite Jets to process your signal properly.

The Infinite Jets is a combination of digital DSP processing and digitally-controlled-analog circuits. The main processing gets done in a DSP processor at 48kHz sampling rate, then goes to an analog drive and tone section at the output. The drive and tone section, although all-analog, is digitally-controlled, meaning all of your settings can be saved as well as controlled with expression. The dry signal path on the infinite jets is 100% analog. In early prototypes of the Hologram Dream Sequence, the designers were never really satisfied with the sound of the pedal until they ran it through an analog dirt pedal to “rough it up a bit.” Eventually, they decided to just build it into the pedal itself. Although it seemed a little on the bright side for guitar, I really loved the sound of the drive when using a bass guitar.

 

Inspiration, Philosophy, And Interpretation

 

At the start of this review, I got into the idea that this pedal is going to be open to different interpretations and different ways of being used by everyone that plugs into it. In a recent conversation with designer Ryan Schaefer, we talked about some of the inspiration for the pedal and some of the philosophy behind its many uses.

The inspiration for Infinite Jets makes a lot of sense once you understand what it’s doing. Ryan has clocked a ton of hours in the studio producing his band, Royal Bangs, as well as records for other people. Often times in the studio, he would feel “stuck” on a song. It needed that little something extra, but sometimes it’s hard to know what that is until after you find it. Many of us can relate to this concept. He said that they’d just reach for whatever oddball pedal or plug-in they could find and let the (often limited) parameters determine the characteristics of the sound coming out the other end. I know I have done this, for sure. Many times I will just randomly rearrange the order of effects as well as partner effects that normally don’t go together. The Infinite Jets is your “stuck in a box, randomized sound-sculpting creativity tool” effect pedal. At the very least, keep this thing around for those times when you just cant find a cool bass guitar sound. For when you wish your piano just had something COOL going on. For when you want your guitar to sound like it’s doing so much more than what your fingers are putting in. When you’re stuck in that creative rut, the Infinite Jets will pull you out.

“The Infinite Jets definitely has a lot going on.” Ryan Schaefer told me. “I think it probably asks a lot more of the user than some other pedals, but hopefully the end result is that it can be that something that helps generate ideas you wouldn’t ordinarily arrive at without it.” This statement not only hints at what I was just covering in the above paragraph, but it also gets back to what I was saying earlier about the philosophy and interpretation of this effect pedal. I could see some people being less than patient with it and giving up too soon. It took me quite a while before I really understood what it was doing. It wasn’t until that moment that I understood what I could use it for and how to interact with it. Consider this… It is similar to the idea of how you interact with a delay pedal. The best example I can come up with is a dotted 8th delay. When you set a delay pedal for dotted 8th notes, the feedback of the delay signal making an impact on your ears literally determines how you will play. You suddenly kind of merge with it and work together. It’s totally automatic, and maybe many of you have never even really thought about this before. I definitely arrived at a point where I finally understood what it was doing and I began to interact with the Infinite Jets in a way that totally made sense and it began to change the way I was playing. Now, I’m not saying you need to go to the “Infinite Jets training course” or anything. I’m not saying this pedal is daunting or intimidating. Quite the opposite, really. I am saying that it will seem that way when you first start using it. Stick with it. Try all kinds of things and don’t be afraid to push buttons and twist knobs! You will begin to see what is happening and then react accordingly with your playing and/or pedal settings. With a little patience, your efforts will come back in beautiful waves of Infinite Jets.

 

 

The Hologram Electronics Infinite Jets is a unique work of art in pedal form that will be highly sought after for its truly one-of-a-kind sounds and highly coveted for its ability to inspire, change, and ignite creativity on a whole new level. It’s fairly impressive when a pedal can change your ideas and even the way you approach your playing style. The Infinite Jets kind of shook me up and asked me to think about things in a new way. In a world where it seems like every effect has already been thought of and nothing is new, the Infinite Jets politely begs you to reconsider. This pedal is now my personal new “go-to” when I want to create something completely different. When I am in the studio and I am wanting that piano to be just a little different, or that bass line to just have a little something extra, or those guitar riffs to just go completely off the charts… I’m going to reach for the Infinite Jets.

That concludes our Hologram Electronics Infinite Jets review. Thanks for reading.

Moog Moogerfooger MF-107 FreqBox Review

The Moog Moogerfooger MF-107 FreqBox is one of my all-time favorite effects stompboxes. It hasn’t been covered at Best Guitar Effects, so I chose it for my first review contribution. Among my collection of effects pedals, it’s been like a versatile wild haired member of the band.

The Moogerfooger line of stompboxes was introduced in 1998 with the MF-101 Lowpass filter. The MF-107 FreqBox was added to the Moogerfooger line in early 2007. It was the first new stompbox to be produced by Moog after Bob Moog’s death. Other notable Moogerfooger releases include the MF-104M Analog Delay and MF-108M Cluster Flux.

The FreqBox sounds similar to a synthesizer because in its interior is actually an analogue VCO that is modified by the input signal in various ways. But while the FreqBox isn’t exactly a guitar synth pedal, Moog’s deep experience in analog synthesis and sound design are showcased strongly in this unique instrument, making it an original sound design tool with many possible uses that extend well beyond what musicians may expect from a typical guitar pedal.

Features:

The FreqBox contains an analog VCO with a continuously variable waveform which can be modulated by the audio input signal. Modulation of the VCO includes: hard sync, frequency modulation (FM), and modulation of the VCO frequency by an envelope follower. The amplitude of the VCO is controlled by the amplitude of the input signal.

Sound Design

  • Analog VCO
  • Front panel knobs for VCO frequency, Waveform, Drive, Output Level, Envelope Amount, FM Amount, and Mix
  • Sync switch On/Off

Hardware

  • Black brushed metal casing
  • Polished wood side panels
  • Metal bypass switch
  • Led bypass indicator

Ins & Outs

  • Audio in & out
  • CV/Expression Inputs for Frequency, Wave, Envelope Amount, FM Amount, and Mix
  • CV outputs for Envelope, Oscillator

Audio quality

  • All analogue circuitry
  • Classic Mooq designed oscillator and synthesis components
  • The input sound is not a processed version of the input signal, but the sound of the input signal modulating the oscillator.

Build Quality

The brushed black metal casing, knobs, and polished wood paneling of the FreqBox look good and relay serious quality. It takes up more space on a pedalboard, so that could be a consideration. I use the FreqBox in many different setups, so I usually hook it up real time on the floor, rather than keeping it dedicated to a pedal board. Although it’s a larger effects box, I think its size also makes it easier to see and tweak, especially in low light.

Visit Moog for more info about the MF-107 FreqBox.

Moog-Moogerfooger-MF-107-FreqBox-Review-03

Sound & Performance:

Sound Sculpting

To get things started, I set the FreqBox’s Input knob so that the sound is the same level when the pedal is bypassed or activated. The FreqBox has a competent Drive with a nice analog warmth, but the real fun is exploring the harmonic distortion and fuzz overtones shaped by the continuous waveforms, FM amount, VCO Frequency, and Mix knob with the Sync mode switched on. These are not classic distortion sounds, but they provide a jagged glow of rich harmonics to explore and experiment with. Players can find a beautiful unique edge that serves a given vibe and cuts through a mix, especially when used with guitar or bass.

Demo With Guitar

Playability

One of my favorite ways to use the FreqBox is to fatten up a drum machine with a bit of drive and use a CV waveform or sequencer into the Frequency input to create bass lines. In this mode, I would have the Sync switch off and the Mix knob about halfway which allows both the drum machine and FreqBox to sound like separate yet entwined instruments. While the drum machine is going, the FreqBox becomes playable as hands are free to tweak the knobs. Without other effects in the chain, the sounds will cut through and the changes can be harsh and drastic. Adding a filter, delay, and reverb to the chain and slowly tweaking the FreqBox’s knobs can create a vast range of evolving textures and melodic sequences to explore in a single session.

Demo With Drum Machine

Overall-Rating-5.0

The Moog MF-107 FreqBox has a significant range of harmonic sound sculpting flexibility from its oscillator & synthesis features and can be used on just about any electronic instrument sound source. Its CV ins and outs work with expression pedals or other modular gear for deep connectivity in any pedal and/or modular setup. The FreqBox’s creative potential makes it one of the most unique, fun, and versatile effects boxes to own. While it’s not a typical guitar synth pedal, the synth-inspired textures produced from this pedal make the MF-107 quite enticing for guitarists, synthesizer enthusiasts, or any musicians seeking interesting new sounds and textures from their effects pedals. Although the FreqBox is currently out of production, I would definitely recommend prowling for a used one if you’re in the market for an inspiring pedal that will take your music in exciting new directions.

That concludes our Moog Moogerfooger MF-107 FreqBox review. Thanks for reading.

Malekko Scrutator Review – Best Bitcrusher/Filter Pedal?

Malekko-Scrutator-Review-Best-Bitcrusher-Filter-Pedal-01

In order for your guitar to make sense to your computer, its signal has to be converted to a series of numbers that represent the crests and troughs of the waveform. These are called samples; the higher the sample rate, the more high-range frequencies can be accurately expressed. Those samples are then recorded as on/off memory bits that contain the volume information of the waveform. The more bits, the less compressed and more nuanced your signal will be. Bitcrushers take advantage of this music-computer relationship by taking your analog signal into it’s loving, digital arms and manipulating the sample rate and bit depth to create an increasingly crude compression/distortion effect.

If you’re confused, you’re not alone. It was only recently that I became sure I understood the bitcrusher, and I’m still not sure I’m not afraid of it. The bitcrusher sits somewhere between overdrive and Armageddon machine, yielding surreal warmth at its most conservative and absolute mangled mush at the extremes. Originating as a popular offering in the realm of plugin software, a glut of savvy pedal builders have thrown their hat in the bitcrusher ring, reproducing and building on the effect in amazing and unexpected ways.

One such builder is Malekko Heavy Industry, a company one could describe as “enigmatic.” Today we’re taking a look at Malekko’s Scrutator, the first in a series of (so far, three) new units designed with Malekko’s proprietary DSP platform. The word “Scrutator” is an old, almost never used word which means “one who examines,” an appropriate nomenclature for a pedal designed to reduce your signal to its basest attributes and lay bare the grating nature of the bits below.

Features:

  • Six Knobs:
    Pre Amp control for effect input gain/attenuation
    Bit Rate reduction control from 16bit to 2bit
    Sample Rate reduction control from approximately 48kHz to 300Hz
    Q control for bandwidth and amplitude filter amount
    Mix controls the wet/dry
    Filter controls a filter sweep
  • Expression Pedal Input
  • Low-Pass or Band-Pass Filter
  • Clip LED indicates input clipping
  • True Bypass
  • 9VDC powered

Visit Malekko for more info about the Scrutator.

Sound & Performance:

Those of us with already overloaded pedalboards (myself especially) will rejoice hearing the news that the Scrutator is an MXR-sized baby compared to most pedals with this much meat. A few companies have packed their bitcrushers with really intense modulation parameters that transform your signal into angry, whirring will-o-whisps: the Scrutator is not one such pedal. The Scrutator is a much more straightforward piece of hardware, giving you a ‘crusher, a filter, and that’s it. The parameters manipulating the effects within, however, make the Scrutator one of the most musical bitcrushers on the market.

The lynchpin of the Scrutator is of course, the Sample knob, which serves as more an auditory gradient from clean to slightly overdriven to ringmod to broken fuzz to, eventually, a series of question marks and exclamation points. I found that the most useable (in terms of traditional) tones were found no further than 7 o’clock, and rolling past that point we entered into some pretty bloopy territory. Every reviewer who has ever reviewed a BitCrusher has already said something like this, but so help me, the video game nostalgia is palpable here. Stacked with an overdrive, the dirt that the Scrutator adds cannot be overstated. A laser-focused filter is amazing over overdrive on a bad day; add that bitcrusher into the mix, you’re in for some clippy, synthy insanity.

The Expression pedal input is a swiss-army knife for this effect; you can set it to any combination of the Filter, Q, Bit or Rate parameters, and also the directional sweep can be altered to sweep up or down when the expression pedal is brought to heel or toe. What’s great about this is that the knobs continue to serve a purpose after the expression has taken their duties. For example, I set the filter to sweep up when I brought my expression to toe, while simultaneously crushing the Sample Rate, but I didn’t like how bright the filter or how squashed the sample rate parameter made my signal when maxed out. To fix this, I simply dialed the Filter and the Rate knobs back ever so much and voilá! A much more usable and chewy filter tone, fully adaptable to your notes by use of the expression pedal.

I feel like I should also talk about the Mix and Preamp knobs, because despite being unaffected by the expression, they play an integral role in the Scrutator’s character. Through use of the Preamp, you can attenuate the volume of the bitcrusher; you might choose to set it at unity for rhythm bloops or boost it for lead bloops. Either way, whenever you clip the Scrutator, a tiny LED light under the Preamp knob will flicker to let you know: “Hey! That’s loud!” Clipping the Scrutator actually has a pleasing, compressed effect to my ear, making the loss more obvious the further the Bit knob is cranked. The Mix knob, on the other hand, will allow you to mix in any amount of crushed or not-crushed signal into the sum signal. You might not use it this way, but I set it at about 2 o’clock and cranked the preamp to be just above unity, then swelled in filtered digital space whales. Fun.

The Scrutator can also be set to be affected by either a low-pass or band-pass filter by deactivating while holding down the footswitch, unplugging, and then plugging back in the device. It is kind of annoying that one has to power down the Scrutator to change the filter setting when this could have just as easily been featured using a toggle switch, but with the sheer quantity of variables and no preset option I could see why this is a better design, from a live performance standpoint. The Scrutator is already a small target to hit, and unless you have very long and dextrous toes, having one more thing to look out for is a figurative pain in the neck. Or a literal pain in the feet if you’re a Steven Wilson type and play barefoot.

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Overall-Rating-5.0

With its slight profile, clever design, and expression out The Malekko Heavy Industry Scrutator stands out to me as one of the best bitcrushers on the market today. It is a carefully considered piece of hardware, built for the initial confusion and lifelong delight of its master. It’s also a very specialized pedal, but the few things it does, it does with gusto, and considering some of its more popular competitors retail for up to 50% more, I’d be stunned if we didn’t see a ton more Scrutators on ‘boards around the world. It’s certainly not a sound for everyone, but guitarists who love mangling their sound bit by bit will love what this pedal can do.

That concludes our review of the Malekko Scrutator. Thanks for reading!

Electro Harmonix HOG2 Review – Best Guitar Synth Octave Pedal?

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The Electro Harmonix HOG2 is “an Octave and Harmonic Generator/Guitar Synthesizer that can simultaneously generate multiple octaves and harmonics from your input signal.” Like an EHX POG2 on steroids, the HOG2 can create octave intervals from -2 to +4(!) with a couple 5ths and a 3rd in between. The HOG2 features improved algorithms and sound quality than the original Harmonic Octave Generator and now offers complete MIDI control of every single editable parameter. Improved sound quality is always a good thing, but the unprecedented MIDI control may allow some seriously unique possibilities for guitarists who want to plunge deep in the HOG2. Here’s quick rundown of the pedal’s feature before we launch into our Electro Harmonix HOG2 review.

Features:

Sophisticated new algorithms improve the quality of the ten generated octaves and harmonics as well as the Freeze function.

Full MIDI control over all parameters and presets.

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A Master Volume for added control and convenience. Volume levels are saved as part of a preset.

10 Controllable harmonic intervals and 7 Expression modes.

Freeze modes holds a note or chord so you can play over it or slide to new notes like a keyboardist playing portamento.

Amplitude envelope controls your attack or decay speeds.

Dedicated resonant filtering with sweepable frequency control.

Separate lower and upper harmonic amplitude envelopes.

Save and recall up to 100 preset programs with the optional Foot Controller (sold separately).

External expression pedal included.

Standard 9VDC 200mA power supply included.

Visit Electro Harmonix for more info about the HOG2 Harmonic Octave Generator.

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Sound & Performance:

I’ve been spending a lot of time with the EHX HOG2 as it’s a seriously inspiring pedal and one I’ve had very high expectations for since its announcement. If you’re a fan of the original HOG or the POG2, you might have an idea of what to expect. But don’t be fooled. The HOG2 really stands alone, not only among other guitar synthesizers or octave pedals, but among any other guitar effect period. While it draws some obvious comparisons to the POG2 (with a nod EHX’s own Freeze and Superego pedals) thanks to its multiple octave voices and sliders, the HOG2 takes this concept above and beyond with some interesting sonic possibilities that cannot be achieved with any other pedal or guitar processor.

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The HOG2 has a total of 10 voices which may be used together in any combination. These are -2 Octaves, -1 Octaves, Original, +5th, +1 Octave, +1 Octave + 5th, +2 Octaves, +2 Octaves + 3rd, +3 Octaves, and +4 Octaves. The HOG2’s voices are created by an impressive use of DSP power and are triggered instantaneously with no noticeable latency. Even when playing fast runs it’s amazing how smooth the HOG2 sounds, and the tracking is impressively stable. It’s only when using several voices and playing some pretty complex chords that you may notice a little glitched-out warble, although performance is top tier in most situations and certainly improved over the original HOG. The sheer amount of pristine musical voices the HOG2 can create from a standard mono guitar signal trumps anything else I’ve heard from an octave/synth pedal. The higher range voices are shimmery and ethereal while the -1 Octave and -2 Octaves are smooth and organic sounding. Suspended 4ths, 5ths ,and added 9ths sound especially pleasing with higher voices while the lower octave voices can pull off some authentic bass guitar tones from a standard 6-string guitar.

The Original voice is interesting in that it doubles the Dry Output signal with a digital recreation of the signal. While it may seem redundant at first, the Original voice and Dry Signal each have their uses. You can use the Dry Signal to blend in an unaffected guitar signal to retain the most pure, unprocessed tone. Using the Original voice is primarily for when you plan to pitch shift the voices via an expression pedal (or MIDI control) or affect the voices with the Envelope or Filter section. You can also use the Dry Signal with the Original voice for a doubling effect. Detune the Original voice slightly for a chorus-like, modulated sound.

Electro-Harmonix-HOG2-Review-Best-Guitar-Synth-Octave-Pedal-04And speaking of pitch-shifting, this is where the HOG2 really starts to get interesting. Plugging in the included EHX Next Step Expression Pedal (or any compatible expression pedal) with Exp. Mode set to Octave Bend or Step Bend allows you to achieve some incredibly smooth pitch bends. Step Bend lets you bend one whole step while the Octave Bend sends your pitch soaring up one full octave. I sometimes noticed a slightly “stepped” pitch glide from the original HOG on the Octave Bend setting, but the HOG2 sounds absolutely pristine thanks to its improved pitch algorithms. The really cool part is that you can pitch shift any (or all!) 10 voices up or down a full octave. This means you can take that +4 Octaves voice up to +5 Octaves(!) and the -2 Octaves voice down to -3 Octaves. (To pitch shift the voices down, simply push the Exp. Reverse button.) Just watch your ears and the ears of your pets if you do find yourself brave enough to shift that +4 voice up an octave as it can get intense.

The Expression Pedal has a few other uses that make it an essential live tool for getting the most out of the HOG2 with your feet. The Volume option gives you control over the volume of the generated voices, letting you fade them in and out over your Dry Signal or complete silence the signal when not using the Dry Signal. The Freeze + Gliss is probably my favorite Exp. Mode as this allows you to freeze a note or chord and then play another note or chord and morph seamlessly between the two by rocking the expressional pedal. The effect is similar to sounds produced by the Electro Harmonix Superego Synth Engine except with precise expression pedal control over the rate of glissando. Freeze + Vol lets you take the HOG2 from silence to a sustaining pad-like symphony generated by the notes or chord you’re holding. The Wah Wah mode gives you a filtering effect that is voiced to capture the vibe of a classic wah pedal sound and does so very well. The Filter mode gives you manual foot control of the Filter’s Frequency parameter. This is an awesome way to add some movement and realtime tone-shaping to the HOG2’s voices. You can also set the range of the Filter sweep with the HOG2’s Frequency slider to perfectly suit what you’re playing.

Electro-Harmonix-HOG2-Review-Best-Guitar-Synth-Octave-Pedal-05The Filter is a key component to dialing in the overall tone of the HOG2. It’s such a great-sounding filter that I wish EHX would release it in a stereo MIDI-controlled standalone pedal. Seriously, guitarists and synthesizer fans who like quality filters will dig what EHX cooked up for the HOG2. The Resonance lets you adjust the Q of the filter which emphasizes the cutoff frequency for a potentially aggressive sound. For more subtle filtering just pull the Resonance somewhere around middle and listen for how it affects the peak frequency. The Frequency adjusts the cut-off of frequency of the Filter and will let you round off the high end if those higher voices need to be reined in. You can also get some great bass octave tones by filtering out most of the high end and using the -1 Octave and/or -2 Octaves voices. The HOG2 will give you some incredibly deep sub-bass sounds.

The Envelope brings in some cool Attack & Decay effects. There are separate controls to affect either the Lower or Upper voices. You can either add some Decay for fades and staccato effects or slow down the attack to remove your picking transients or fade in the notes and chords you’re playing. Using different settings for the Upper and Lower voices produces some cool results, too. For example, try setting a quick Decay on the Lower voices and a slow Attack for the Upper voices to create a quick stab of lower notes with a shimmery pad of harmonic octaves on top. Very cool!

The Spectral Gate is also useful when using multiple voices to retain a more focused sound that doesn’t clutter up the mix. It adds an emphasis to the most prominent harmonic of your input signal to generate an even cleaner effect with a bit less high end making it useful as an extra tone-shaping control as well.

The MIDI implementation is one of the biggest improvements to the HOG2, offering complete control of every single aspect of this incredibly deep guitar synth. You can control the HOG2 with any external MIDI controller or even program and automate the pedal from a hardware sequencer or DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) such as Ableton Live. I played a gig using the HOG2 with complete MIDI automation of the pedal and achieved some incredibly complex and precise pitch modulation what would have been impossible to pull off in a live situation otherwise. You can even use MIDI to create some wild pitch arpeggiation spanning +1 to -1 octave with clever automation of the Exp. Reverse and Coarse/Fine tuning parameters. The full MIDI capabilities of the HOG2 make this pedal an essential companion in the studio or as part of a MIDI controlled live rig. The HOG2 will likely become your head-turning secret weapon when you integrate it into such a setup.

The HOG2 can also save and store presets. This is performed most easily with the HOG2 Foot Controller (sold separately) which gives you access to up to 100 of the units presets. Without it you can still save and recall a single preset to the unit by pushing and holding the Exp. Mode button for 2 seconds to save your settings to the current preset bank and pushing and holding the Spectral Gate button until the Preset LED lights up to recall the preset. If you’re using MIDI you can access up to 120 total presets without the need for the HOG2 Foot Controller. When sequencing MIDI to control the HOG2 I just made a single default preset to recall and programmed MIDI for particular songs to automate the HOG2’s parameters as needed.

There’s not much to complain about. Some guitarists might wish the HOG2 Foot Controller was included, perhaps even instead of the expression pedal. Also, while the algorithms sound extremely good, you may still notice some jiggly anomalies when using the higher voices with 2nds, 3rds, and 7ths. The Filter sounds so good that you may wish, like me, that it had its own in/out to be routed anywhere in your signal chain, but of course that doesn’t take away from how awesome the Filter sounds within the HOG2. (I’ll just keep crossing my fingers for an Electro Harmonix MIDI-controlled stereo filter pedal.) There’s also the matter of size, as this pedal (and its accompanying Foot Controller and Expression Pedal) take up a lot of room on your pedalboard. But if you like octave effects and guitar synthesizer pedals, you may not mind clearing some room to make the HOG2 the new centerpiece of your pedalboard. The HOG2 is certainly one of the most ambitious guitar pedals from EHX and one that will inspire the bold guitarists who tap into the sonic power it offers.

Let’s see the final result.

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Overall-Rating-5.0

The Electro Harmonix HOG2 is quite possibly the most inspiring guitar synth pedal I have ever played. Its array of 10 voices combined with powerful Envelope and Filter sections provide an unprecedented amount of customizable textures for some of the most surreal sounds you’ll ever hear generated from a guitar. While the HOG2’s included Next Step Expression Pedal gives you plenty of realtime control possibilities, it’s the pedal’s complete MIDI integration that pushes it over the top as a wellspring of guitar octave synthesis inspiration. Until the HOG3 hits the scene the HOG2 will likely reign as the best guitar octave synth pedal in the digital realm. In the right hands this pedal will create some legendary sounds.

That concludes our Electro Harmonix HOG2 review. Thanks for reading.

 

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TWA Great Divide 2.0 Review – Best Analog Synth Octave Pedal?

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Some things really are worth the wait, and if you’re a fan of octave dividing pedals and analog guitar synthesis, the TWA Great Divide 2.0 is definitely one of those things. The Great Divide MkI was first unveiled back at NAMM 2011 to the awe of synth loving guitarists, but it took 2 more years to be finally released to the masses as the Great Divide 2.0 Multi-Voice Synth Octaver.

So why did it take so long to release the Great Divide? And what changed for the MkII version? Well, it turns out that this pedal was going to be costly to make, so some minor design changes needed to be made including the sacrifice of having presets. But worry not, as TWA made no compromises in the sound quality department. They even went as far as adding a few features for even more sound-sculpting options! You can tell that this guitar synth pedal was a real labor of love as TWA spent so much time perfecting it and squeezing in more variables to tweak than have ever been seen in an analog synth octave pedal. So let’s get on with the TWA Great Divide 2.0 review and find out if it’s really the best analog synth octave pedal around. Here’s a quick run down of the features before things get massive!

TWA-Great-Divide-2-0-Review-Best-Analog-Synth-Octave-Pedal-02Features:

Access to 5 distinct voices including Syn, +1 Oct, Dry, -1 Oct, and Sub.

The Great Divide Mk. II features the following controls:

Dry Level Fader
-1 Octave Level Fader
+1 Octave Level Fader
+1 Octave Envelope Switch (sort of like Synth resonance, or maybe a cosmic death-ray)
SUB Level Fader & Switch with 4 Selectable voices ( -1, -1.5, -2 or -2.6)
SYN Level Fader & Clock with 5 Selectable Voices (0, -1, -1.5, -2, -2.6)
SYN waveform switch w/4 options (Saw/Pulse, Chopped Saw/Pulse, Square, Modulated Square)
Cross-modulation option for -1 OCT (tracks SUB clock)
Raw clock option for SUB voice (think MASSIVE, vulgar square wave)
12 Internal Trimmers to control various sound parameters (Tweaky-Tweak)
3 Voice Off Switches – shut off +1 Oct, Dry, and -1 voices (left to right, respectively).

EXP In: External Effects Loop to patch in other effects (AWWWW Yeah!) via TRS cable or connect an expression pedal to control the overall output volume.

S3™ Shortest Send Switching™ for uncolored true bypass tone. In the event of a power loss, S3™ switching automatically reverts to bypass mode.

Powered by 9VDC, tip-negative power source, 100mA minimum (PA-9 Power-All recommended).

Visit Godlyke for more info about the Totally Wycked Audio Great Divide 2.0.

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Sound & Performance:

First, let me say… this pedal is a monster! From the moment you activate the Great Divide 2.0, it unleashes a commanding presence that dominates the frequency spectrum, particularly the low-end. This is one of the beefiest analog octave guitar pedals I’ve ever heard. While the DRY and +1 OCT voices keep plenty of mids and highs in tact, the quaking low-end possibilities make the Great Divide 2.0 a sonic force to be reckoned with for both guitarists and bassists alike. Of course, as you’ll discover, all the voices of this pedal can be tonally tweaked to your preferences, for example bringing in some extra high-end aggression to the lower octave voices for some unbelievably huge sounds.

TWA-Great-Divide-2-0-Review-Best-Analog-Synth-Octave-Pedal-03I’m going to cover my impressions of the various sounds this pedal offers while keeping it light on the technical talk. Just watch the Great Divide 2.0 review video and listen to it in action. While this pedal may seem complex at a glance, it’s really easy to come to grips with and yields great results when experimenting with the various voices and settings you can adjust. Just remember to be mindful of your volume levels when plugging into the Great Divide 2.0 for the first time as this pedal is loud!

Starting with the -1 OCT voice, the Great Divide 2.0 produces a smooth, organic low octave tone that’s great on it’s own for monophonic synth bass lines. Right away you can’t help but feel that this pedal just begs to be used for recording and live integration within a band setting. The default -1 OCT tone is a pretty clean sound and tracks surprisingly well all over the fretboard. It can get get a little jittery on lower registers if you let notes ring out, but overall, the Great Divide 2.0 is right up there among the best (i.e. most stable) tracking I’ve heard from an analog synth pedal. Sustaining notes are smoother from around the 7th fret and up, although your individual results will vary depending on factors ranging from pickup type/selection, neck scale length, whether or not you’re driving the pedal with a compressor, and overall playing technique. Sloppy playing yields sloppy results, so tighten up for precision fatness! Also, a neck pickup (humbucker or single-coil) typically yields the most stable tracking.

TWA-Great-Divide-2-0-Review-Best-Analog-Synth-Octave-Pedal-04The SUB voice features a dedicated SUB CLOCK that selects the interval of octave division. You can choose from -1 octave, -1.5 octave (an octave and 5th), -2 octaves, and -2.6 octaves (two octaves and a 6th) with the SUB CLOCK slider. Why these particular intervals? Well, this isn’t some digital synth emulation, and these are some of the most stable note divisions that can be achieved with real analog octave division. While you may not have previously thought of using a -2.6 octave interval harmony, you might find some interesting textures by experimenting with it as well as the -1.5 interval. Also, that extra super low 6th south of -2 octaves gives you extended low range for some incredibly deep sounds. Try using the SUB voice alone with the SUB CLOCK at -2.6 for some super low synth bass runs!

The +1 OCT voice utilizes a form of distortion to generate an overtone that’s one octave higher than your base signal. Think of those classic Octavia fuzz effects to get an idea of what’s going on here. It’s an aggressive sound that can add some ripping high-end to your sound if you really want to pummel an audience with an over-the-top sonic assault. There’s also a dedicate +1 ENV switch which lets you add further articulation to this sound via a dedicated envelope filter (more on that when we go under the hood in a moment).

TWA-Great-Divide-2-0-Review-Best-Analog-Synth-Octave-Pedal-05The SYN voice is probably my favorite voice of the Great Divide 2.0 as it yields the most diverse range of sounds right out of the box. The SYN Clock lets you choose from 0 (unity), -1 octave, -1.5 (an octave and a 5th), -2 octaves, and -2.6 (two octaves and a 6th) intervals. This is similar to the SUB CLOCK voices with the added Unity voice option. The SYN Voice fader also gives you 4 waveform/tonality options: Chopped Saw + Pulse, Saw + Pulse, Square (which always uses Unity interval!), and Modulated Square. The SYN voice produces modulated sounds with an aggressive edge thanks to their Saw and Square wave origins. The pulsing effect is dependent on your input single and increases in speed as you rise in pitch and slows down as you play in lower registers. These sounds can be really cool on their own but work exceptionally well when combined with the -1 and/or SUB voices to create thick textures with hints of modulated movement.

The controls on the surface provide a world of analog octave synthesis enjoyment, but what if you still want more? The Great Divide 2.0 serves up even more tweaking potential if you dare to dive under the hood. 10 trimmer pots and 2 switches give you access to low-pass filters, volume/gain controls, and more. Try flipping the X-MOD switch to let the SUB Clock add subtle modulation to the -1 OCT voice. Then you can tweak the -1 LPF and/or flip the SUB LPF switch to adjust the -1 OCT and SUB voices to your tastes, giving you 2 distinct lower octave sounds to use for different situations. You can also tweak the response of the +1 ENV. The differences in texture provided by the +1 OCT ENV and +1OCT ENV SPD are somewhat subtle to my ears but still useful for getting the +1 ENV sound just right. The +1 OCT DRV lets you adjust the input gain of the +1 OCT voice to tame it or go for even more paint-peeling, face-melting insanity. Use with caution… or reckless abandon if that’s more your style. The +1 OCT on the pedal I tested was a little hot, resulting in noise between playing. A slight tweak of the +1 OCT DRV got rid of the noise while leaving the great tone of this voice intact. I also prefer to open up the SYN LPF for a full range sound and attenuate the -1 OCT LPF to adjust it to my rig. This all adds up to plenty of options for finding your sound!

The Great Divide 2.0 also features an EXP jack that has 2 possible uses. You can plug in a standard expression pedal for volume control. This lets you create synth pad-like swells. Use this in front of a reverb, and be blown away. The Great Divide with a reverb and exp. pedal are a killer foundation for some mesmerizing soundscapes. Also, the EXP jack lets you use a TRS send/return cable to patch in another pedal after it passes through the Great Divide and activate both with the Great Divide’s true bypass foot-switch. I got some awesome results adding a fuzz pedal to the mix. You could also try adding an EQ pedal for deeper tonal contouring of your synth sound.

There isn’t much to complain about really. One issue I did have is the slight bleed from the +1 OCT voice into the signal even when its not in use. Whether or not I cut the +1 OCT level fader down or deactivated the voice with its dedicated on/off switch, a faint +1 OCT sound persists in the sound. This isn’t a problem with some voices as the loudness of the other tones drowns out the noise. But when using the SUB -2.6 octave setting (one of my favorite sounds thanks to its extra smoothness when compared to the -2 setting), the faint bleed from the +1 OCT taints the pristine low-end sound. Reducing the +1 OCT DRV didn’t help but, but surprisingly, maxing it out removed the noise entirely! This worked to clean up the sound, but it comes at the sacrifice of quick access to a cleaner, lower gain +1 OCT in a live setting since you’d need to dive within the pedal to make this adjustment. But this is the only technical gripe I’m left with, hardly a concern that would keep me from purchasing this awesome pedal. However, it would be nice to see added signal clarity to clear up that minor issue if any slight hardware updates are ever made. It’s also a shame that the option for presets was scrapped to keep costs down as it would be nice to have a few of the great sounds you dial in available via foot-switch. But once you’ve got a feel for the pedal and know what you’re looking for, making a few quick slider adjustments shouldn’t be that difficult.

With all the great sounds this pedal offers, the Totally Wycked Audio Great Divide 2.0 is quite unlike any other synth octave pedal around. Let’s see the final result.

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Overall-Rating-4.5

The TWA Great Divide 2.0 is an awesome beast of a pedal and the most in-depth monophonic analog octave guitar synth around. A total of 5 voices can be tweaked and blended to taste for some outright massive sound-shaping possibilities. The creative potential of this pedal really puts the “Great” in Great Divide, and whether you want to play it straight or dial it in with the internal controls, you’ll be in for an unparalleled treat of analog octave synthesis. And yes, this monster plays well with distortion, so crank it up! The Great Divide 2.0 is the ultimate contender for the best analog synth octave pedal and is a definitely a must-try!

That concludes our TWA Great Divide 2.0 review. Thanks for reading.

 

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Electro Harmonix B9 Organ Machine Review – Best Guitar Organ Synth Pedal?

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Electro Harmonix have been absolutely dominating the market lately when it comes to polyphonic guitar synth pedals. EHX’s Superego Synth Engine, Ravish Sitar, and HOG 2 Harmonic Octave Generator have proven that quality polyphonic synth sounds can be achieved from a standard guitar signal, negating the need for one of those finicky hexaphonic pickup systems. And while it was EHX’s own POG & POG 2 pedals that seemingly launched the craze for making the guitar emulate organ-style sounds when paired with a modulation pedal, Mike Matthews and Co. have gone one better and created the Electro Harmonix B9 Organ Machine to achieve authentic organ tones from a single pedal. The EHX B9 may have been long overdue, but it couldn’t have come at a better time, representing the current pinnacle of Electro Harmonix’s guitar synth expertise in what is likely the best guitar organ synth pedal available. Here’s a complete rundown of the pedal’s features before we jump into our Electro Harmonix B9 Organ Machine review.

Electro-Harmonix-B9-Organ-Machine-Best-Guitar-Organ-Synth-Pedal-02Features:

Dry Volume knob controls the volume of the untreated instrument level at the Organ Output jack.

Organ Volume knob controls the overall volume of the Organ preset.

Mod knob controls the speed of modulation. Modulation varies per preset and includes vibrato, tremolo, and chorus.

Click knob controls the percussive click level. For a few presets Click controls parameters unique to the preset.

Bypass foot-switch toggles the B9 between Buffered Bypass and Effect mode.

Dry Output jack outputs the signal present at the Input jack through a buffer circuit.

Organ Output jack outputs the mix set by the Dry and Organ controls.

Preset Descriptions:

1. Fat & Full – This sound adds an extra octave below and above to make your guitar sound twice as big. Fills out any band in an instant! MOD Type: Chorus.

2. Jazz – This preset has the cool, smooth jazz tone reminiscent of the late great organist Jimmy Smith. MOD Type: Chorus.

3. Gospel- This preset has the upper octave drawbars added to capture that great soulful organ tone. MOD Type: Chorus.

4. Classic Rock- This preset captures the classic rock sound of songs like Procal Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale.” Add a touch of distortion for a classic dirty organ. MOD Type: Chorus.

5. Bottom End- This preset has the lower draw bar sound. Perfect for adding bottom to your guitar or playing B3 bass sounds. With the CLICK control up you can lay down a bass line like the one on Sugarloaf’s “Green Eyed Lady.” MOD Type: Chorus.

6. Octaves- This preset uses the fundamental tone plus one octave above. This sound is great for songs like Led Zeppelin’s “Your Time is Going to Come.” MOD Type: Chorus. CLICK control adds not only key click, but higher harmonics.

7. Cathedral- Turn up the reverb and you are at the seat of a giant cathedral organ! Psychedelic rock tones easily pour out. MOD Type: Tremolo. CLICK
adjusts the tremolo depth.

8. Continental- This is the classic combo organ sound similar to classic songs “96 Tears,” “Woolly Bully” and “House of the Rising Sun.” MOD Type: Vibrato. CLICK controls vibrato depth.

9. Bell Organ- If you crossed an electric piano with an organ this is it. MOD Type: Tremolo. CLICK adjusts the amount of bell or chime added to the sound.

B9 is powered by included 9VDC power adapter (requires 100mA).

Visit Electro Harmonix for more info about the B9 Organ Machine.

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Sound & Performance.

The B9 follows a pedigree of EHX synth guitar pedals that I’ve had in-depth experience with, putting me in a unique position for an EHX B9 review. I’ve raved about the Electro Harmonix POG 2 before, an octave pedal that utilizes DSP to synthesize its accompanying octaves, and the POG legacy has set the stage for EHX’s successive synth pedals which have impressed me with their excellent sound quality, accurate tracking, and clear note definition. Aside from sounding great, EHX’s synth pedals are also noteworthy for being somewhat forgiving of less than perfect technique, meaning they’re less likely to trigger random notes and wonky noises, something that cannot be said of guitar synth systems utilizing hexaphonic pickups. The B9 is similar in this regard, picking up notes that cross a certain volume threshold and generating its organ sounds accordingly. While it won’t mask outright sloppy technique, it doesn’t require a complete overhaul of your playing to generate great sounds. (But some changes to your playing will result in greater organ-like authenticity as I’ll point out in a moment.)

What becomes immediately apparent upon playing through the EHX B9, besides the sheer quality of its organ emulations, is how quick and responsive the tracking is. Single notes and full chords are heard immediately and ring out with clarity and definition. The B9 also tracks your vibrato and glissandos exceptionally well although this results in less authentic organ sounds, of course. I’d recommend refraining from string bends and vibrato, a challenge if these nuances are an essential part of your technique. It’s a feat worth managing as you will be rewarded with some pretty convincing organ sounds, especially if you can adopt a style of phrasing and note choice akin to a key-bound organist.

The B9 has independent volume controls for the wet and dry signals, letting you blend your guitar in the mix as well as playing with just the pure organ sound. You can also run your wet and dry signals to separate amps via the B9’s dedicated Dry and Organ outputs. This offers more flexibility for further tonal coloring of the wet and dry signals although you can still play them both through a single amp by using just the Organ output to blend both signals together.

The pedal also has a bit of dynamic range, sensing notes played at different volume levels and generating its organ sounds at a volume level corresponding to the input signal. This lets you vary your pick attack for more expressive playing when playing single notes. A lighter pick attack can also be used to avoid triggering the Click sound if desired. For chordal work, however, it can be better to play with even dynamics for smoother sustain and consistent note volume. This can often be accomplished best with a compression pedal placed in your signal chain before the B9. As with any synth pedal, the B9 should be placed first in your signal chain before any other effects with the only exception being when using a compressor before the pedal.

While the B9 doesn’t have a dedicated tone control, you will notice that your pickup selection and guitar’s tone knobs affect the tonality of the wet signal. EHX fine-tuned each emulation so that it’s easy to recall a sound quickly and achieve a quality organ sound, but it’s still worth experimenting with the sound of your guitar through pickup selection and tone controls to find the ideal organ tone. I had great results with both humbuckers and single-coil pickups. While you can color the tone of the pedal with your guitar’s tone knobs, don’t darken the tone of your guitar too much as this may result in the B9 not detecting your higher pitched notes.

The B9’s ease of use will certainly add to the appeal of the pedal with guitarists who just like to plug in and play with no complex editing menus getting in the way. Setting the volume levels of the wet and dry signals is self explanatory via the 2 dedicated knobs. The Mod and Click controls add modulation and a percussive click attack to certain organ presets, respectively.

Electro-Harmonix-B9-Organ-Machine-Best-Guitar-Organ-Synth-Pedal-03The B9 offers 9 presets that cover a lot of organ variation. The Fat & Full preset beefs up your sound with additional +1 and -1 octave tones for a massive organ sound and is one of the B9’s go-to presets that defines what this pedal is capable of. Since each note generates 3 separate tones, keeping your playing light on the polyphony keeps the frequency spectrum from getting too muddy. But this is definitely the preset to use for an organ sound that commands attention and dominates the mix when you really want to go all out. The Jazz preset offers a warmer, more mellow organ sound that blends into the mix without being overly prominent. Like the name implies it’s great for jazzy playing. Throw this preset a “B9” chord for fun and see where it takes you. Gospel adds an upper octave with an overall brighter tone to capture a church organ type of sound. Yes, it sounds as heavenly as the name implies! The B9’s Classic Rock setting will make your Deep Purple or Steppenwolf cover band complete without the need for an actual organ player. Magic Carpet Ride, anyone? Also, try it with an overdrive or dirty amp setting! The Bottom preset adds a booming low octave organ tone, great for laying down some fat bass lines. Add some Click for a more harmonic attack, and be sure to try using this preset with your dry signal for a cleaner sound with massive bottom end presence. The Octaves preset adds an octave up tone and offers more control of the higher end of your signal by using the Click knob to bring in the upper harmonics along with the percussive click sound. This preset can be tweaked to sound dark and mellow or quite bright depending on your tastes. The Cathedral preset is another standout. Use this with some heavy reverb for epic Phantom of the Opera organ sounds, great for creating a moody atmosphere or ripping some wild organ solos. The Cathedral’s tremolo can add some subtle modulation or heavily throbbing rhythm to your sound as well. The Continental preset definitely pulls off that House of the Rising Sun vibe, complete with a pulsing vibrato that can take your sound to seasick extremes. The Bell Organ preset blends an organ with an electric piano for some sounds unlike any other preset. The “bell” harmony is a major 3rd that occurs over 3 octaves above your base tone. That means if you played an open E note on your low E string the bell harmony would be equivalent to the A flat/G sharp note heard on the 16th fret on your high E string. This gives you access to high register piano-like sounds that even have a hammer-like piano click attack.

It’s refreshing how great the B9 sounds and how far guitar synthesis has come, although it’s maybe less surprising if you were already impressed with Electro Harmonix’s Ravish Sitar pedal. That last piano-like Bell Organ preset is almost a tease for possibilities that could perhaps be realized in future EHX synth pedals that emulate other instruments. I’d imagine many synth hungry guitarists who are fans of the quality sounds offered in the B9 would love to see an EHX piano/harpsichord synth pedal, violin/cello/harp “String Machine”, or after hearing the awesome tones of the Bottom preset, perhaps a lower octave pedal that emulates tones of classic bass guitars and upright bass sounds. I would also love to see a MIDI-controlled EHX synth pedal with oscillators and filters that emulates some of the classic and modern sounds heard on the past 30 years of dance/electronic music. With EHX leading the way in modern guitar synthesis with the proven technology found in their B9 Organ Machine, Ravish Sitar, HOG2 Harmonic Octave Generator, and Superego Synth Engine, I’d imagine that the continued success of these pedals will lead to even more guitar synth pedal surprises on the horizon.

While the focus of the B9 seems to be ease of use and having one quickly accessible sound from the pedal’s single foot-switch, I personally prefer the performance flexibility offered by the Ravish’s customizable presets and dedicated preset foot-switch. For some guitarists, the smaller enclosure of the B9 being set to single great organ sound will be enough for that one organ song in your live set. But for guitarists that really like to dig in and milk the most out of every pedal on their pedalboard, you might be hoping like me that the success of the B9 leads to a B9 Organ Machine Deluxe with expanded preset options and selection. Also, it’s a little surprising that EHX didn’t add in expression pedal control of the modulation to simulate the variable speed nuances of a rotating Leslie speaker cabinet, but aftermarket expression pedal mods are already available for guitarists that must have expression pedal control. You could also consider using the B9 with a dedicated rotating speaker simulator for even more authentic results. But even with all that in mind, know that the EHX B9 is still the essential pedal on the market for simulating organ sounds with a traditional guitar.

The Electro Harmonix B9 Organ Machine is the premier guitar organ synth pedal and yet another great guitar synthesizer pedal from EHX. Let’s see the final result.

Electro-Harmonix-B9-Organ-Machine-Best-Guitar-Organ-Synth-Pedal-04

Overall-Rating-4.5

The Electro Harmonix B9 Organ Machine is the best guitar organ synth pedal available and another shining example of EHX’s guitar synth wizardry. The B9 offers dead simple ease of use thanks to its 9 finely tuned presets and sounds fantastic throughout its range of sounds. There’s a preset in this pedal that’ll capture an organ tone reminiscent of the most famous organ sounds in your head, and creative guitarists will use it to create textures unheard of until now. The B9 is the new go-to pedal for recording and live use whenever quality organ sounds are called for.

That concludes our Electro Harmonix B9 Organ Machine review. Thanks for reading.

 

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