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 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.

Boss/JHS Pedals JB-2 Angry Driver Review

 

2 Builders, 1 Pedal, and Why It’s Okay to Be Angry

Boss needs no introduction as the Japanese brand has become synonymous with guitar effects pedals in the four decades since releasing their very first pedal: the Boss CE-1 Chorus Ensemble. JHS Pedals, however, is a much younger brand, growing from humble beginnings as a small boutique pedal repair and mod outfit to becoming one of the fastest growing US based pedal brands thanks to their dedicated and growing fanbase. In one of the most surprising pairings in the guitar pedal world, Boss teamed up with JHS Pedals to create the JB-2 Angry Driver. The result of this unlikely pairing of companies from across the globe is one of the more unique takes on a traditional overdrive pedal that breaks the mold to offer a much wider range of overdriven dirt tones than any of Boss’ previous compact drive pedals.

Angry Blues

The Angry Driver takes a familiar Boss pedal, the BD-2 Blues Driver, and pairs it with a variation of the JHS Pedals Angry Charlie. The BD-2 is one of the more famous Boss pedals, debuting in 1995 and still remaining in production to this day. The BD-2 is a characterized by its open and amp-like response compared to more clipped and compressed overdrive pedals and excels at a range of lower to mid-gain drive tones. The JHS Angry Charlie has been released in many iterations although it has always retained a sound that recalls a cranked British amp, a sound favored by guitarists who like meatier guitar tones. Between the two styles of dirt, the JB-2 Angry Driver looks set to offer a formidable range of drive tones.

 

 

Here’s a quick rundown of the pedal’s features before we dig in.

Features:

  • All-new overdrive pedal with massive tonal range, jointly developed by BOSS and JHS Pedals
  • Combines the voices of the BD-2 Blues Driver from BOSS and Angry Charlie from JHS Pedals
  • Three dual-concentric knobs provide independent drive, tone, and level control for each overdrive type
  • Mode selector for choosing individual overdrive types, two series connections for stacking, or parallel connection for unique new sounds
  • Also includes a mode for toggling between BOSS and JHS overdrives with the built-in pedal switch
  • Remote switch jack for controlling pedal modes and bypass from an optional footswitch or effects switching system
  • Multi-color LED indicator shows BOSS mode (blue), JHS mode (red), and both together (purple)
  • BOSS five-year warranty
  • Powered by Boss PSA series power adapter (current draw: 50mA) or 9-volt battery

Visit Boss for more info about the JB-2 Angry Driver.

 

 

Sound & Performance:

The JB-2 is a box that contains a lot of tone. Let’s break it down and talk about the sounds in detail.

Boss BD-2 Blues Driver

With the Mode knob pointing straight up to noon, you’ll be in Boss Mode which gives you a sound that’s pure Blues Driver. I hadn’t played a BD-2 in quite some time, so it was nice to get reacquainted with this classic circuit. As indicated by the labels below the knobs, the lower outside partitions of the dual-concentric knobs control the 3 familiar Blues Driver parameters for Drive (Gain), Tone, & Level. With the Drive set low in the ballpark of around 9 o’clock, the Boss circuit provides a cleaner response that’s a bit livelier than your bypassed clean tone. It just seems to have a bit more attack and cutting power. You can play chords and melodic clean passages that retain definition and clarity, yet the sound pops out a bit more in the mid-range. As you dig in with a harder pick attack, you’ll get a little more bite without the pedal really breaking up much. Pushing the Drive up a bit towards 10 or 11 o’clock brings in some more dirt for slightly hotter leads. Once you take the Drive up to noon or higher, you’ll find some grittier tones suited to classic rock rhythm playing. It’s a very well-rounded circuit in itself that has a range of useful applications outside of blues guitar playing. The response of the pedal varies depending on the output level of your pickups, but you’ll have no trouble finding solid tones whether you’re using single-coils or humbuckers.

JHS Pedals Angry Charlie

With the Mode knob fully clockwise to the JHS circuit, you’ll get a taste of Boss’ interpretation of the Angry Driver. This mode really excels at dirtier drive tones, and this is the setting you’ll go to when crunchier sounds are called for. The JHS side has a noticeably darker tone that will find favor with guitarists who prefer warmer and woolier flavors of dirt. I personally like how the JHS circuit has a very present lower mid-range, yet the pedal retains plenty of articulation in that area and doesn’t get muddy when chugging out palm-muted riffs. While various JHS releases of the Angry Charlie circuit benefit from additional eq or presence controls, the iteration presented in the Angry Driver still does a solid job at reproducing the essence of what makes the Angry Charlie loved by its fans. The Tone knob will let you color the sound as needed for the typically dark or a relatively brighter sound.

Dynamic Duo

The real benefits of the Angry Driver are found when using both of the circuits together. The JHS/Boss Mode lets you use the pedal’s bypass foot-switch to toggle from JHS to Boss Mode and vice versa. The pedal is always active in this mode, so you’ll have to plug an external foot-switch in the Remote jack to bypass the pedal. (Another way to utilize both circuits in this mode would be to put the JB-2 in a loop of the Boss MS-3 Multi Effects Switcher, activating the pedal when its loop is active and using the MS-3’s CTL OUT with the JB-2’s Remote jack to alternate between JHS and Boss circuits.)

There’s also a pair of modes that allow you to use the two circuits in series in either order: JHS → Boss or Boss → JHS. Running the Boss JB-2 circuit into the JHS Angry Drive is akin to slamming a British amp with an overdrive pedal, a common technique that’s well represented in this convenient mode. Reversing the order is a bit novel and unorthodox, but you can still get some interesting sounds if experimental dirt tones are what you’re after. If you want the ability to break away from traditional dirt sounds, the JB-2 encourages you to do so.

The last Mode option is the Parallel Mode which lets you blend both circuits together side-by-side for layered overdrive tones. I really like the textures you can get from this mode. Try setting the Angry Charlie circuit to the kind of darker, dirtier grit it’s known for and add in a cleaner, brighter Blues Driver tone to the mix. You’ll have a chimier top-end with a bottom that’s like warm velvet. Then try brightening up the Angry Charlie circuit with higher gain and let the BD-2 circuit emphasize the lower frequencies. More great tones abound.

An external foot-switch will come in handy in the modes using both circuits simulataneously in case you want to bypass one of the circuits to use the other one by itself. The manual details which circuit can be bypassed in the 2 series modes and Parallel Mode, and several useful options are available.

It’s hard to find any serious faults with the Angry Driver. The closeness of the dual-concentric knobs might be a bit tight for larger fingers, particularly when adjusting the parameters of the Boss circuit. Also, the Angry Charlie circuit is sometimes a little dark for my usual tastes, but for a pedal this size, the sheer amount of quality tones onboard greatly exceeds the norm. Since there are so many useable settings, some users may wish you could access more than one or two sounds at a time, particularly during a live performance. But having too many great tones is hardly a thing to complain about. And even if the JB-2 doesn’t find a home on your pedalboard, you’re still likely find plenty of use for the Angry Driver as a studio tool or bedroom jam machine. But if you need a drive pedal to achieve one great sound (or two if you use an external foot-switch), the JB-2 will happily fill the spot of another compact drive pedal that has limited tonal options.

 

 

The Boss/JHS JB-2 Angry Driver has a wider range of tonal options than most single stomp compact overdrive pedals, and guitarists looking to replace another pedal that isn’t pulling its weight on their pedalboard will find a lot to love in the JB-2. The classic BD-2 Blues Driver is still as good as it has always been, and the JHS Angry Charlie inspired circuit is a suitable companion that greatly expands the drive tones offered in this unique pedal. While you may wish you could easily access more than one or two sounds during a performance, the sounds of the JB-2 are worth exploring on stage, in the studio, or at home. Boss’ first collaborative pedal is a winner, and I hope we see the esteemed builder doing more such partnerships in the future.

That concludes our Boss/JHS Pedals JB-2 Angry Driver review. Thanks for reading.

Meris Polymoon Review

 

The Meris Polymoon is the 3rd pedal release from the SoCal based pedal builder, following on the heels of their other two recent offerings, the Ottobit Jr. and Mercury7 Reverb. Meris’ previous pedals were based on their 500 series rack modules, but the Polymoon is their first all-new offering in a dual foot-switch pedal format. While the Polymoon can generally be classified as a delay pedal or modulated delay, this general categorization doesn’t do justice to the myriad possibilities contained within the Polymoon’s unassuming little white enclosure.

The Polymoon was initially inspired by the concept of chaining together rack delay effects to create all-new sounds, a practice utilized in the 80’s by guitarists including Allan Holdsworth and Frank Zappa. Before the Polymoon, the notion of chaining together a series of ultra-high quality stereo effects algorithms was usually limited to either using rack gear, some very expensive multi-effects processors, or a series of high-end guitar pedals. The concept is rare in a pedal as it is, and the Polymoon is one the most advanced attempts at a delay this sprawling and complex.

While companies have said it before in various marketing copy about their products, the Polymoon really is like several pedals in one because it offers such a wide range of parameter options across a series of different effects. Put very simply, the signal flow of the Polymoon goes something like this: Input → Dual Dynamic Flangers in Parallel → 6 Delays in Series (with Early Modulation and Late Modulation options) → Dual Barberpole Phasers in Parallel → Filter → Output. While you could reduce the Polymoon to just a dry single-tap delay, this pedal is all about the journey to the dark side of the moon and beyond.

Here’s a rundown of the Polymoon’s features before we dig in.

 

Features:

  • 1200mS real time selectable multiple-tap delay line
  • Massive multi LFO modulation controls
  • 6 custom tuned LFOs with adjustable waveforms for subtle to aggressive pitch shifting effects
  • Adjustable Tilt EQ filter in delay feedback
  • Tempo syncable stereo Barberpole Phaser
  • Multimode stereo Dynamic Flanger w/ feedback
  • Unique feedback topology
  • Dimension control for smearing reflections
  • Selectable quarter or dotted eighth note Tap Tempo
  • Digitally controlled Analog mix control
  • 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
  • External Tap Tempo over TRS
  • MIDI beat clock synchronization
  • Premium analog signal path and 24-bit AD/DA w/32 bit floating point DSP
  • Premium Analog Devices JFET input section
  • Color – white powder coat with fine iridescent 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
  • Digitally controlled Analog Dry path for wet/dry mix
  • Analog Devices JFET input circuitry
  • Selectable True Bypass (Relay) or Analog Buffered Bypass
  • 150 mA total power consumption
  • Durable white powder coat with fine iridescent flake
  • Current draw – <150mA
  • Dimensions – 4.25″ wide, 4.5″ long, 2″ tall

Visit Meris for more info about the Polymoon.

 

 

Sound & Performance:

While the Polymoon has a lot of complex options and sound design features lurking within its tidy control surface, the visible knob parameters give you a solid place to start for dialing in some hypnotic delay sounds. The top row of knobs offers traditional controls for Time, Feedback, and Mix. The bottom row provides parameters for Multiply, Dimension, and Dynamics which we’ll discuss more in a moment. With the bottom trio of knobs set fully counter-clockwise, you’ll get a nice clean digital delay. It’s solid if you find yourself needing it, but things start getting much more interesting very quickly when you start using the other parameters.

 

 

The Multiply knob brings in more delay taps. Up to 6 are available. Each new tap adds a slight change in rhythmic feel, and if you’re running the Polymoon in stereo, you’ll hear that each tap also has its own panned position in the stereo field. In stereo the 2 tap option is a basic ping-pong delay; it’s a personal favorite along with the 3 tap option that repeats in series from left to center to right (or vice versa if you have your output cables reversed). On higher Multiply settings you’ll get delays that dance across the stereo field.

The Dimension control smears out the delay taps and extends the trails, changing the feel of the delay to a more reverb-like wash of ambience. The effect is quite prominent and begins to significantly dissipate the transient attack of your delay repeats as you push the knob up from minimum to around 9 o’clock. As you push the Dimension up to noon, your wet signal will have already transformed into a cloud of delay-ish reverb. At lower Time & Feedback settings this sounds like a bizarre chamber reverb. Maxing the Dimension with moderate to high Time & Feedback creates a larger atmosphere, similar in character to a cathedral or hall reverb. The controls are very interactive, so you can tweak those 3 parameters along with Multiply to get some cool interstellar ambience that’ll gladly fill in when you want some shoegazing reverb sounds.

When you turn the Dynamics knob up from its minimum position, you’ll activate a pair of parallel flangers that respond to your picking dynamics. The more you increase the Dynamics, the more prominent the flanging effect will be on your repeats in accordance with the strength of you pick attack. This can create a subtle movement that flows with gentler playing or a warped detuning effect when you really dig in. I found it really fun to play lightly and then hit a loud unison bend. It sounded kind of like several guitars bending the note from different pitches, coming gradually into proper tuning as the flanger began to calm from the initial attack with the successive audible repeats ringing out at the same pitch as my dry signal.

The indicator lights above the Bypass & Tap foot-switches are actually buttons. Pressing the button above the Bypass foot-switch activates the Dual Barberpole Phasers. There are 3 speed options available. The Slow option is a churning 0.1Hz speed phaser that’s great for long slow sweeps. The Sync option moves at the fastest speed, a quarter note of the current delay time as set by the Time knob or Tap Tempo. The Slow + Sync option is a more moderate speed that’s locked in at a whole note of the delay time. This provides a consistent movement that flows well over multiple bars of playing, like steadily navigating through a wormhole in space.

 

More Below the Surface

The Polymoon surface controls already display a lot of potential for dialing in epic delay sounds, but there awaits a multitude of other options hidden behind the Polymoon’s pale curtain. Pressing and holding the Alt button while adjusting other parameters accesses various other functions. The first option many guitarists will seek is the option to switch from the default ¼ note delay tap division to dotted 1/8 notes. Simply pressing & holding the Alt button while hitting the tap foot-switch toggles between the two options. Some guitarists may wish for at least a few other tap division options (triplets?), but the two available settings will satisfy most common delay needs. And of course the Multiply options also add rhythmic variation.

If you want more from the Polymoon’s flanging effect, there are two additional Alt parameters worth exploring. The Alt of Dimension lets you change the direction of the envelope peak follower between up and down or select an LFO option. The Dynamics’ Alt function either sets the response speed, aka Attack Time, of the envelope or the LFO speed if the LFO option is engaged. While I initially favored the envelope options, the LFO flanging is also very nice when set to slower speeds. Combine that with the phaser and some intergalactic delays will ensue.

Another useful Alt sub-function is the Feedback Filter. This custom coloring tool applies filtering to the entire wet signal. When set at noon the response is flat, but turning it clockwise can dramatically high-pass your delay sound. Turn it counter-clockwise for a darker and warmer delay sound. It can get pretty dubby at higher settings or be low cut just enough to let your delay signal float above your playing. The darker settings can get quite murky, especially if you add modulation. Speaking of that…

 

Hex Modulation Matrix

The Polymoon has 16 Early Modulation & 16 Late Modulation options which can be applied to the wet delay signal. (The 1st option is Modulation Off, so technically that’s 15 active options.) Being able to apply any of these options or mix and match 2 of them in the Early & Late positions takes the range of sound customization to a whole different level of complexity.

There’s a set of 6 triangle LFOs that modulate the delay network. The Early Modulation is linked to LFO 1, rippling its effects across LFOs 2-5 while the Late Modulation primarily affects LFO 6. The manual provides more details about how it all works. I’m just going to cover a few of the kinds of sounds available.

5 of the options provide standard delay modulation with varying Rate & Depth settings. Yes, this is in addition to the flanging and phasing possibilities. The Slow & Moderate Speed settings give Shallow Depth to provide more subtle movement, adding even more multi-dimensional qualities to the delays. The Fast Speed options add a feel that’s more akin to a tape delay with super erratic wow and flutter. Even if you’re going for a cleaner, drier delay sound that’s free of the phasing and flanging options, adding a hint of subtle modulation from the Early and/or Late Modulation options will give you a bit of that classic 80’s rack-mount delay vibe. It’s definitely worth trying and adds yet another layer of flexibility to the Polymoon.

3 of the options provide FM Modulation. This is a glitchy, dissonant type of pitch modulation that kind of runs away in a swirl of noise. Traditionalists probably won’t get it. But if you’re already looking at this pedal, you’ll be intrigued. It’s worth pointing out here that the other parameter knobs are highly interactive with the Early & Late Modulation types. The FM Modulation particularly benefits from trying different settings of the Dimension and Multiply parameters to augment the FM noise into unique textures. Set the Late Modulation to 96Hz FM Modulation, crank the Dimension, and add some Slow Phasing for a breathtaking swirl of the most musical white noise you’ve ever heard.

The last 7 Modulation options are all pitch based. There are various combinations with intervals spanning an octave down to an octave up. Again, adding more taps adds more movement as different pitches leap in and out above and below the notes you’re playing. The Dimension proves itself useful yet again for turning the sound into a pitched pad effect. My favorite pitch option is the basic “Octave Down & Octave Up” setting, and if you just want to emphasize either the upper or lower octave, use the Feedback Filter to roll off the lower or upper frequencies, respectively.

 

Integrating Polymoon

 

 

Aside from the many options available to shape your sounds, Meris thought of just about every way musicians might with to incorporate this pedal in their setup. The first thing I did was enter the Global Setting Configuration Mode to activate the TRS Stereo Input for full stereo implementation. You can also set it for Kill Dry if you wish run it in a parallel effects chain or want to use it as an external insert/bus effect in a Mixer or DAW. The Polymoon also gives you Instrument and Line/Synth level options to interface with various audio signal levels. Buffered Bypass and Relay Bypass options are available, and you can have optional spillover trails and/or “Glide” for seamless transitions between presets. Glide sounds awesome, by the way, morphing the delay sounds as you change presets. Each of the Polymoon’s 16 presets can also have different settings in the toe and heel expression pedal positions for dramatic sound changes when you sweep the expression pedal. If you’re using MIDI for preset selection, you can also use MIDI CC 04 to control the exp sweep to shift between the different toe and heel sounds. Also, Meris will be releasing a 4 Button Switch for preset selection if you want to keep things simple yet still be able to access a few different sounds in a live situation. To make the most of this pedal via presets without using MIDI, the 4 Button Switch likely be a must-have when it drops in early 2018.

 

The Good, the Rad and the MIDI

If you’re among those of us on the fringe who insist on using MIDI to control every aspect of your gear, the Polymoon and other Meris pedals like the Ottobit Jr. and Mercury7 Reverb may have piqued your curiosity. Whether you’re using a MIDI compatible effects switcher or a DAW like Ableton Live 10, Meris pedals offer bold musicians the kind of unlimited possibilities that full MIDI implementation provides. To access the Polymoon’s MIDI functionality, you’ll need to select MIDI from the Global menu options and use an external MIDI adapter such as the upcoming Meris MIDI I/O or currently available Chase Bliss Audio MIDI Box. For this review I used the CBA MIDI Box, and it worked flawlessly.

Yes, the Polymoon has a MIDI continuous controller (CC) message for every single parameter and non-Global function. There is also support for Preset Send and Receive via MIDI Sysex or CCs, allowing access to whole libraries of presets stored on smartphones, tablets, and/or personal computers. But there are a couple small areas of MIDI operation that may confound some MIDI users. Using program changes to select presets automatically activates the pedal; a dedicated Bypass program change can bypass the pedal. But if you’re using the pedal with a MIDI effects switcher, you’ll still have to program your switcher to select presets (via program changes) and turn the pedal on and off with the Activate/Bypass CC. It’s easy to do, but this negates the necessity of the redundant Activate functionality of the current program change behavior. In my workflow when automating pedals for live performance, I’ll typically select presets via program changes at the beginning of a song and use the Activate/Bypass CC to turn the pedal on and off as needed throughout a song. Since Meris pedals will automatically turn on when selecting presets, I have to send a MIDI CC to bypass the pedal shortly after selecting a preset. Perhaps a beneficial use of the current program change behavior would be in a scenario where a keyboard player is using keys to send program changes to control a Meris pedal. This could offer a quick way to select from 16 different presets and immediately bypass a Meris pedal as needed. Users of rack gear may know of other beneficial scenarios.

Another MIDI anomaly is that since the Bypass program change is assigned to the program change typically labeled “1” on MIDI compatible hardware/software that I’ve seen, you’ll need to send program changes 2-17 to select presets 1-16 on your Meris pedal(s). A solution to all this confusion would be if Meris pedals had at least the option to only select presets (without activating the pedal!) when receiving program changes 1-16, and just in case the “Preset Select/Activate” and “Bypass” program changes are useful to anyone, perhaps those functions could be assigned to program changes 100-116 (Bypass = PC 100, Presets 1-16 = PC 101-116).

Aside from those minor MIDI quirks, I can’t really find a major fault with the Polymoon, but there are a few other minor things to share that don’t necessarily detract from my overall impressions of the pedal. As I mentioned before, some users may wish for a few more tap division options. It could also have been nice to have more than 6 Multiply options, maybe some with even more diverse placement of the various taps. If Meris can cram in 16 Alt modulation options around a knob’s range, more Multiply settings could’ve surely been added. Speaking of the Alt options, when accessing the 16 Early & Late mod settings, you’ll have to rely on your ears as you turn the knob to hear when a different setting is active as the options are tightly spaced; it can require more attention to notice the sonic changes when auditioning the more subtle modulation options. But none of these little things detract from the overall Polymoon experience as the pedal offers a massive amount of sound possibilities many users will barely scratch the surface of.

 

 

The Meris Polymoon is truly a one-of-a-kind pedal and a masterpiece of original delay design that harbors an incredibly diverse range of modulated delay sounds. Despite the pedal’s complex signal flow, it offers an intuitive surface interface that immediately yields inspiring results. As you delve below the surface, even more boundless possibilities are revealed. Alt knob functions expand the sound palette immensely, and the MIDI implementation, forgiven of a couple unorthodoxies, pushes the Polymoon’s versatility well beyond many pedals from rival builders. With delay sounds ranging from clear single taps to heavily diffused multi-tap delay ambience with filtering, flanging, phasing, and other modulation options, the Polymoon is a journey unto itself and is one of the most rewarding sources of new sounds guitarists are likely to find in a dual foot-switch stompbox. In other words the Polymoon is a must-try for delay lovers and arguably the most stellar offering from Meris to date.

That concludes our Meris Polymoon review. Thanks for reading.

Keeley Electronics D&M Drive Review

I must admit that when I first saw the Keeley Electronics D&M Drive, I wrote it off as just another dual overdrive pedal in a crowded market of such pedals. Even knowing that it’s a product of Robert Keeley’s renowned expertise at crafting outstanding overdrive and boost pedals and a collaborative effort with a couple guys who know thing or two about great guitar tones, I initially passed it over without giving it a second glance… that is, until nearly the end of 2017 when we were rounding up the Best Guitar Pedals of the Year, and our readers gave a massive show of hands that this was most definitely one of the year’s best pedals.

So I decided to try the D&M Drive largely on the merit of knowing that our readers are some of the most informed and knowledgeable effects aficionados around. And I’ve gotta say, you all spared us the shame and regret of possibly overlooking one of the best overall overdrive pedals to come along this year. So what’s the story here? Why is the D&M Drive such a big deal? Let’s put together a picture of the names behind this pedal; the reasons will become clear.

 

Drive to Perfection

Mr. Robert Keeley has had his fingers on the pulse of the boutique guitar pedal market for over 15 years. Since 2001 he and the Keeley Electronics crew have been modding and building custom pedals for guitar heroes including John Mayer, Brad Paisley, John Petrucci, and countless others. Any major style of boost, overdrive, and distortion pedal you can think of has probably been on Robert’s workbench at some point or another, and many of these classic circuits have been overhauled and refined into all-new Keeley Electronics pedals. While it could be argued that there are really only so many ways you can clip a diode and build a circuit around it, this is a pedal builder that has consistently found countless ways to squeeze every bit of sweet tone possible out of a box of wire and resistors.

Now enter Daniel Steinhardt and Mick Taylor, the two guys from whom the D&M Drive gets its namesake. Dan is the founder of The GigRig, a UK based company that specializes in building high-end effects switchers and utility products for professional musicians. Guitarists including Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien, Andy Timmons, Noel Gallagher, and many other touring pros have relied on Dan’s careful attention to detail and tonal purity when crafting pedalboards that are would tour ready. Mick was previously an editor of UK’s Guitarist magazine, a gig which no doubt contributed to his own expertise when it comes to great guitar tones. Together Dan & Mick host That Pedal Show, one of the best resources for pedal related content on the Internet. If you have any doubt about the integrity of their ears for tone, head on over to their YouTube channel and peruse a few of their videos. If you love guitar effects pedals, you’ll likely be hitting the subscribe button before you leave.

So long story short – Robert Keeley, Dan, & Mick made a pedal. And it’s a good one. Here’s brief rundown of the D&M Drive’s features before we get into the nitty gritty.

 

Features:

  • 2 independent drive circuits – Boost & Drive
  • Boost & Drive modes may be used separately or together in either order (Boost → Drive or Drive → Boost)
  • Gain, Tone, & Level controls and bypass switches for each side
  • Order switch flips order of Boost & Driver channels
  • Top-mounted I/O and power jacks for minimizing pedalboard footprint
  • Optional TRS mode allows Boost & Drive to be routed to separate loops in an effects switcher.
  • True Bypass
  • Powered by 9VDC 55mA+ center negative power supply.

Visit Keeley Electronics for more info about the D&M Drive.

 

 

Sound & Performance:

 

Mick’s Boost

Let’s start from right to left. The Boost is Mick’s side of the pedal. It’s essentially a boost and low to mid gain overdrive. But it has a surprisingly wider range of use than is characteristic of your typical 3-knob overdrive. You often hear of overdrive pedals having specific sweet spots and applications that fulfill a specific purpose yet lack in overall versatility. Well, the D&M Drive’s Boost circuit is no slouch, and this side alone has plenty to write home about.

With the Boost side’s Gain knob turned all the way down, you can kick on the Boost and get a pleasing clean boost of volume. There’s plenty of volume on tap, so you can easily push an amp, another dirt pedal, or the Drive side into further overdrive. The mid-range is clear and not overly pronounced, yet it seems to have to enough subtle character to impart a little bit of pleasing extra flavor to your guitar signal. This makes the pedal surprisingly suitable to use as a tone enhancer, kind of like setting an Xotic EP Booster to unity gain for some extra tonal mojo. The Tone knob comes in handy here for attenuating your treble response to either add some extra sparkle on the top-end or warm things up by rounding off those highs, particularly useful for taming any harshness from a hotter single-coil bridge pickup.

One peculiar aspect of the Boost side is how the circuit seems to descrease in high-end response as you increase the Gain. This helps give the Boost side a warmer, more mid-focused boost when using it for typical overdrive purposes. I think most players will appreciate this subtle characteristic of the Boost circuit. The Tone knob works sufficiently enough for opening up the top-end a bit, but I second the notion of another publication’s review in wishing for some kind of Presence control. I’d be curious to hear how a Presence parameter placed before the Gain control might help keep that top-end open before it hits the dirt. But aside from that musing, it must be stated that the D&M Drive’s Boost circuit is very well developed and is likely to be the favored circuit among many discerning guitarists. As it stands, it’s easily one of my personal favorite boost/drive circuits.

 

Dan’s Drive

Now while Mick’s Boost side covers a few different bases, Dan’s side is primarily focused on delivered one thing: big, meaty drive tones. You could try to argue that there’s a few flavors in here, but it’s really all about big ‘ole dirt overdrive and distortion. You’ve just gotta decide how much you want.

The beauty of the Drive side is that it can provide all the dirt you need if all your your amp has is a clean channel, but if you pair it with a slightly hot and cracklin’ amp sound, you can get some beautiful drive sounds by pushing your crunch channel with this bad boy. That’s probably my favorite way to use it. Of course, if you are running into an amp with at least two channels, you can still find a middle ground setting with the Drive side that will work well with both.

 

Dynamic Duo

The really great thing about this pedal is that the circuits play off each other well. Just like how the two hosts of That Pedal Show bring different perspectives on gear with some overlapping tastes and an understanding of what they’re each bringing to the table, Dan & Mick have a pair of complementary circuits in the D&M Drive that offer something greater when their merits and strengths are combined.

A common setup in general and with this pedal is to run Boost before Drive. With the Boost First option you can get great results by keeping the Drive side to a more moderate setting and then slamming it a bit harder with the Boost to add some edge when ripping into a solo. Reverse the order of the circuits and a whole different set of possibilities opens up. You could just set the Boost for a lighter or moderate boost and get a really saturated lead tone when kicking on the Drive in front of it.

 

D&M Drive + Effects Switcher

The D&M Drive offers another very unique feature that sets it apart from other dual circuit drive pedals that came before it. Many professional guitarists have adopted pro-grade effects switchers (like the Free The Tone ARC-53M or Boss ES-8) to handle effects switching during live performances. This offers many advantages for gigging guitarists, most notably being able to control all of your pedals from a single condensed area rather than having to tap-dance all over your pedalboard. Dan came up with the clever idea of using TRS I/O jacks to allow guitarists to patch each circuit to separate Send/Return loops in their effects switcher. This lets you use both sides of the pedal from your switcher as you would from the pedal’s own foot-switches. This approach can also allow you to spread out the D&M Drive’s 2 circuits in your signal path with, say, a different favored overdrive pedal in between the D&M Drive’s Boost and Drive sections.

 

 

The Keeley Electronics D&M Drive is a top-tier dual overdrive pedal with two distinct circuits that work well together and are each capable of standing on their own. While many such “overdrive & boost” combo pedals feature solid drive circuits with a generic boost also on board, the D&M Drive boasts a roaring, hot-rodded Drive circuit and a Boost section that can cover a range of clean boosting and mid-gain overdrive sounds. Whether or not you’re a previous player of Keeley Electronics’ pedals or are familiar with That Pedal Show and its hosts, if you appreciate great overdrive tones, the D&M Drive has more than enough great tones to spare.

That concludes our Keeley Electronics D&M Drive review. Thanks for reading.

Alexander Pedals Syntax Error Review

Sweating bullets in the Nashville heat and overwhelmed by the bustling showfloor at Summer NAMM 2017, I had the good fortune of meeting up with Mr. Matthew Farrow at the Disaster Area/Alexander Pedals booth. Alexander Pedals had a smorgasbord of exciting products new and old splayed across the table, but chief among them was this little GameBoy they were calling the Syntax Error. Eager to see what all the fuss was about, I (somewhat blithely) blurted out, “What does it do?” Smooth, right? Matthew’s response was something like, “The question is, ‘what doesn’t it do?’” Bold implication, but fast-forward to December, and I’m still having a tough time answering that question. I’ve never heard anything quite like the Syntax Error. I’d love to just label it a multi-effects pedal and call it a day, but there’s so much more to it than that.

 

Gratuitous gut-shot just because

 

Features

  • Four Modes:
    Stretch: 2 Second Buffer “delay” with reverse repeats
    Cube: Cubic distortion with band-pass filter
    Ring: LFO-affected Ring Mod
    Freq: Bode-styled Frequency shifter
  • Modes cycled via low-profile alt button
  • Four knobs control six parameters when holding the center alt button: Tweak, Code, Mix (Level,) Sample (Bonus.)
  • 9V Power input
  • Buffered Bypass
  • Instrument or Line level Mono input
  • TRS Stereo Output
  • 16 programmable presets via bypass switch or MIDI input
  • Multijack input for Expression, Footswitch, or MIDI control
  • USB Mini-B input for firmware updates, MIDI, or TouchOSC controls

Visit Alexander Pedals for more info about the Syntax Error.

 

 

Sound & Performance:

BGE:\Users\Jake\Review.exe>Start_

True to its title, this “Audio Computer System” flexes some hilariously bulbous digital muscles, utilizing a 32 bit micro-controller to process four intricate digital effects plus the choice of MIDI, CV, or expression pedal control that you might fancy. There’s a relatively new industry trend where forward-thinking builders have begun moving toward more Eurorack-ish and synth-friendly effects, and the Syntax Error exhibits this thought process in a very on-the-nose sort of way. The inclusion of a frequency shifter, which in the guitar world is not unheard of by any stretch, but certainly rare, is one good example. The parameters on this thing are also a tweaker’s El Dorado; the touchy knobs ensure that each micrometer of movement changes its designated parameter greatly. This is often the function of some of the parameters having a complete cutoff at around 9 o’clock, but even in the case of the Code knob on Stretch mode (which is fully active on the full sweep of the knob,) you really have to listen and zone in on what you’re playing with to get the desired effect. Digital pots are sweet. Through the use of certain MIDI devices (like the Disaster Area DMC-4,) you can even achieve ramping of any of the Syntax Error’s parameters via the red-ringed ¼” Multijack input OR the Mini-B USB input, which opens up a whole new world of interactivity. This is one of those pedals that plays with itself, each component of a given mode feeding into the gestalt in evolving ways but also remaining completely independent of the other parts that make it possible. It’s also the kind of pedal that can sit comfortably in a few places in your signal chain, whether it be right after your most conventional overdrive or between a delay and reverb.

I can’t deny that the key to the Syntax Error’s surface game is the Sample knob, as it not only lends itself wholly to the “Dawn of the Information Age” aesthetic it has going on, but it’s also the difference between calling the Syntax Error a vanilla multi-effects pedal and calling it a glitch in the Matrix. While the other knobs’ parameters vary from mode to mode, the Sample knob remains static, adding that sample rate reduction to any of the four modes.

Stretch

DISCLAIMER: If you’re looking for a clean reverse delay, look elsewhere. Seriously, close this page and research something a little more hygienic. Stretch’s reverse repeats will leave you feeling the need for a hot shower.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about this piece of work.

Stretch mode sends your signal through a buffer whose speed is determined by the Code knob. If you’ve ever imported a song into a DAW and changed the buffer rate, that’s kind of what you’re getting here, albeit chopped up into delay-like repeats to function in real time. The buffer stretches your signal from normal speed all the way down to reverse, and everything in between. Clockwise will increase the sampled signal up to 2 seconds; counter-clockwise, down to near nought. Everywhere between full CW and CCW, the signal is intermittently pitch-shifted to accommodate the altered buffer. The Bonus knob (accessed by holding the center Alt. button) controls the feedback of the repeats. It won’t self oscillate, but with Code at around two o’clock, it will feed your already buffered signal back into the buffer, pushing it further down into lower-octave hell. The sample-rate reducer controlled by the the Sample knob is actually fed into the buffer at the same time your signal rate is, as opposed to being laid over the top of the whole thing, so the sound of your bits being crushed are replayed in the repeats as well.

You can create all sorts of weird rhythmic patterns with this mode, benefitting from the weirdness of the buffered signal interjecting violently at what appears to be random intervals. There is a slight haptic pop when the sample resets, which at first is annoying, but after playing for a while becomes a part of its rhythmic charm. There’s also an ultra weird spot at noon on Code where all logic breaks down and your signal becomes caught in what I can only describe as a quantum uncertainty in whether it wants to speed up or slow down, so it just stops working normally, sputtering digital nonsense. It’s still locked into the Buffer length set by the Tweak knob, though, so it’ll jump in and out of this Schrödinger state at a set tempo, which is great for grimy sounding beats. Stretch really shines when used in conjunction with huge reverbs and volume swells, adding its own depth and weirdness when you get a wash going. I happened to use the OBNE Dark Star to generate a pad, then added in the Syntax Error’s reversed flavor to create a pitch-black evil sounding beat. Spooky as hell.

Cube

Filtered fuzz! A classic means to a critical lead role, loved by guitarists and synth aficionados alike. Alexander has chosen to mathematically simulate a thick digital fuzz through a sacred mathematical equation passed down via lightning bolt from on high by the Lords of Riff: (abs(INPUT^3))^3. You don’t have to understand it to know that it means business, but my guess is that Cube takes the absolute value of your signal (abs,) does something to it by a factor of three, and then takes the whole enchilada and blows it up by a factor of three again. My head hurts. At any rate, Cube is a cubic distortion (a term when Googled mostly yielded more math,) run through a band-pass filter. Alexander has acknowledged that this is as close as we get to a “normal” effect in the Syntax Error, which is true only in the sense that normal has long been dragged into the recycle bin, right-clicked, and henceforth been deleted forever. Here the Syntax Error’s Code knob works double duty as both gain and mix, Tweak as the sweep of the filter, and Bonus serving as the resonance of the filter. Sample is a powerful tool that adds the last bit of dirt you may be missing in the off chance you don’t want to go full cubic. Used in conjunction with an expression pedal, you can achieve crazy filter sweeps that evokes the digital facsimile of a wah. There’s a pretty significant amount of noise here, but that’s likely due to the exponential increase in signal output, and therefore, an exponential increase of the noise floor. Besides, it’s a fuzz, and fuzzes get messy.

Ring

The Ring mode is built around a super neat concept that takes a wide-range ring modulator and runs it through a sample and hold LFO for a complex back and forth of dispatch noises. I initially thought that the sample and hold was a filter that the ring mod passed through, but in this case the LFO modulates the frequency of the ring mod. Code determines the rate of the LFO, Tweak becomes the frequency of the ring mod. On the lower frequencies, the ring mod behaves like a tremolo, and with the LFO active, you get a jittery variable-speed trem. Bonus is an EQ on the wet signal, making the Freq voicing more viable as an atmospheric element rather than a blanket effect on the whole frequency spectrum. This is especially important if you have plans to play over a dial-up tone, rather than inside the AOL mainframe.

Freq

If we’re going to talk about the Freq voice we have to discuss the Bode frequency shifters that inspired it. You see, a frequency shifter offsets the frequencies it draws from your dry signal by adding or subtracting hertz and detuning the harmonics. This effect shouldn’t be confused with pitch shifting, which is a function of multiplying the harmonics of the signal to more or less move along a logical intervallic line. Though the functions in this application can be construed as similar, a frequency shifter does not necessarily preserve the harmonic content of your signal. In buzzwords, the Freq mode is equipped to produce barberpole flanging textures, cascading pitch-shifts, and all-around weird vibes.

In Alexander’s take, Code serves as a compass for the wet signal’s frequency shift, pitching the target frequency up or down, and relying heavily on the feedback (Tweak) to determine how deeply the shift affects the overall signal. Alexander has added a delay rate control (Bonus) to the mix, allowing you to control when the affected signal kicks in. This mode was built for flangey/phasey wackiness, the ascending or descending frequencies of your input signal generating crazy Star Trek sounds. Held notes will constantly trigger the feedback cycle, generating consistent discord, but plucked and muted notes send the spiral downward with a discernible start and end point. With the feedback dialed back just shy of ten o’clock, the frequency shift stops before it gets really rolling and Freq almost becomes a disharmonic slapback delay.

Error Code – 404

There wasn’t really much about the Syntax error that I didn’t enjoy. This isn’t so much a complaint as a matter of fact, but I should note that the Syntax Error may best be served always-on in a loop on an effects switcher as activating/bypassing it does cut the signal briefly. It doesn’t appear to support tap tempo which would be nice for the Stretch and Freq modes, but I can look past that as the otherwise full MIDI implementation means I can just sync MIDI CC’s when I build my presets. All-in-all, I’d say the Syntax Error is a triumph.

 

 

The Alexander Pedals Syntax Error is a fresh uncommon means to achieve fresh uncommon tones, all in a small, decked out enclosure. It had me feeling like I’d been shot by a laser and converted into a .exe file. The sheer volume of features and interesting yet practical sounds packed into this thing demonstrates not just Alexander’s commitment to Do(ing) Good with Great Tone but also their unprecedented aptitude in doing just that. Furthermore, the prospect of potential firmware updates seems to imply that there’s still so much that Alexander can do to expand on not just the Syntax Error but the NEO series and the way each installation interacts with the others. That makes an investment in the Syntax Error one that’s almost guaranteed to increase in value over time. In other words, pick one of these up and you’ll be throwing your power disk into the MPC’s stupid face in no time. Okay, that was my last nerdy reference.

That concludes our review of the Alexander Pedals Syntax Error. Thanks for reading!

Chase Bliss Audio Warped Vinyl HiFi Review

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am morally obligated to be honest and say that not only do I LOVE Chase Bliss Audio’s work, I like everyone on the Chase Bliss team on a personal level. You’re free to call bias, but let’s be real: we’re all CBA fan-folk. You can’t love guitar pedals and not be. From the very first Warped Vinyl to today’s Warped Vinyl HiFi, everything Joel and the rest of the Chase Bliss team altruistically toils away to serve the undeserving worms that we are is almost guaranteed to blow us away. And some of us will even take a break from the “will I/won’t I” nail-biting and pull the trigger on tossing a portion (or the sum) of our savings into a Tonal Recall or Brothers, consequences be damned.

Earlier in December 2017, CBA made it even more difficult to remain frugal. In a totally unexpected announcement, Joel & Co. put the world on notice: the third (and likely ultimate) Warped Vinyl pedal was to be released with “HiFi” attached to the moniker. In the face of this news I was, like my gear nerd brethren everywhere, floored, then inquisitive as to why Chase Bliss chose to reissue the pedal a third time. Of course I made plans to get one of these in my hands by any means necessary.

We’ve reviewed both the Warped Vinyl and Warped Vinyl MKII, so to avoid beating a dead horse, I plan to focus on what has changed in the Warped Vinyl HiFi in this review rather than expounding in great detail the features that have always been there. I will say before we get started: this is more than just an alternate skin.

 

Features:

  • All-analog signal path.
  • Bypass foot-switch activates or bypasses the effect via true relay bypass. Can by changed to a momentary bypass via a dip switch in the back of the pedal.
  • Tap Tempo foot-switch sets the tap tempo and always honors the last two stomps. Serves as a tap tempo with the Hold dip switch active
  • Preset toggle switch recalls presets. Middle position reflects current knob positions, right position recalls right preset, and left position recalls left preset. Further presets can be recalled via MIDI through the use of a Chase Bliss MidiBox or Faves switch (both sold separately)
  • Exp input jack allows expression pedal control of parameters selected via dip switches on back of pedal.
  • Midi/Tap input jack can be used for tap input or output with a regular ¼” instrument cable.
  • Powered by 9-volt battery or 9VDC power adapter (consumes ~25mA).
  • Ramp control knob can be set to control any of the 5 parameters (Volume, Mix, RPM, Depth, Warp) individually or simultaneously via dip switches on the back of the pedal. Controls the ramp time in which this takes place.
  • Tone (Ramp) control knob dials in the tone of the wet vibrato voice when no Ramp dip-switches are in use. All the way clockwise is transparent and shimmery, and all the way counter-clockwise is dark and murky.
  • Lag controls the Delay time of the wet signal
  • Mix control knob can be set from 100% wet, to 100% dry, or anything in-between.
  • RPM control knob sets the rate of the modulation. Can be overridden by the tap tempo switch.
  • 1/2/3 (3/6/8) toggle switch sets the tap division for tap tempo. A dip switch on the back accesses the “3/6/8” divisions. Activating the Hold dip switch also enables the R/-/+. More on this later.

ModuShape:

  • Depth control knob sets how deep the mod goes. Crank it clockwise for insane, pitch-bending modulation.
  • Warp control knob sets the center point of the modulation. Set it counterclockwise to make the wave ramp up quickly and down gradually. Set it clockwise to make the wave ramp up gradually and down quickly. Set it at noon for a perfectly symmetrical wave.
  • Left Wave Shape toggle switch sets the first half of the wave modulation. Left for sine, middle for triangle, right for square.
  • Right Wave Shape toggle switch sets the second half of the wave modulation. Left for square, middle for triangle, right for sine.

Dip Switches:

  • Lag, Mix, RPM, Depth, and Warp dip switches on the left side simply turn that parameter on or off for ramping or expression pedal capability.
  • Lag, Mix, RPM, Depth, and Warp dip switches on the right side control whether the parameters rise or fall in ramp mode. This also affects the direction of movement with an expression pedal.
  • Bounce dip switch makes parameters go back and forth (i.e. modulate) or ramp and hold.
  • Hold dip switch activates the Tap switch’s Hold function
  • MoToByp dip switch activates momentary bypass, activating pedal only when Bypass foot-switch is pressed in.
  • Tap Control dip switch allows tap tempo to modulate RPM rate (P) or Ramp speed (R). Bounce needs to be on to modulate Ramp speed.
  • Tap Division dip switch selects from “1, 2, 4” tap divisions (1) to “3, 6, 8” tap divisions (3).
  • Sweep dip switch selects where Ramp sweeps. In “T” (top) the ramping (or expression control) will occur between the current Ramp knob position and the max position (fully clockwise). In “B” (bottom) the range is set between the current knob position and the minimum position (fully counterclockwise).

Visit Chase Bliss Audio for more info about the Warped Vinyl HiFi.

 

 

Build, Sound Quality, & Performance:

My test unit arrived in an orange-stained wooden box. The first and most obvious change made to this new model is the glassy burnt-orange finish, tastefully accentuated by heavy-duty rose gold knobs. The already-chiropractically-burdened will be pleased to know the Warped Vinyl HiFi retains the classic slim and lightweight Chase Bliss form factor, fitting effortlessly on any pedalboard.

While ostensibly cut from the same cloth, I can’t say for sure whether the HiFi is objectively “better” than the previous Warped Vinyls. I can say, however, that the HiFi is capable of a much wider range of chorus tones than previous versions. The HiFi’s predecessors were geared toward the darker vibrato/chorus side of the modulation spectrum as was appropriate for its wobbly name that recalled the warmth of an old phonograph, and so more often than not, that’s how they were used in practical applications: to conjure up a murkier, warmer, grittier kind of modulation akin to an old sun-warped record. Now, with an upgraded audio fidelity, the removal of the LoFi swich, and the simple addition of the Lag knob (replacing Volume), the HiFi focuses on its livelier chorusing powers to great tonal benefit.

Depending on how you aim to play the Warped Vinyl HiFi, you may not even need to use the EXP/CV Input, but it can be rewarding. With no dip-switches active, the Tap Tempo ceases functioning when an expression pedal is plugged in, and the chorus movement becomes fully dependent on the expression input for modulation. I can actually see how this would be useful in some scenarios: you won’t get the benefit of automatic ramping, but with an expression pedal you can ease in the effect to add chorus/vibrato flavor to taste as opposed to relying exclusively on the pedal’s internal tempo. It sounds kind of similar to a flanging effect. This is a great way to thicken up your sound by adding harmonic content and pushing your preamp statically without necessarily committing to the stereotypical writhing choral sound.

 

Changes

There have been three times (so far) that a new Warped Vinyl has struck the Earth, each time irreparably tilting our perspective on what is achievable in the realm of Chorus and Vibrato, particularly in such a tiny package! This latest addition to the family hosts a few key changes that have been asked for in the effects community for some time, and we’ll run through all of them.

 

Lag vs. Volume

Sometimes, in moments of weakness, I forget that chorus effects are actually super-short delays tethered to an LFO source signal to create glistening harmonic movement. The Lag knob is a highly-requested addition to the HiFi that takes advantage of this reality and is arguably THE most sizable improvement on the Warped Vinyl’s framework. It controls the length of the delay on the wet signal, thickening the overall sound and in some cases adding pitch-bendy effects to the tone in a significantly more active way than the Depth knob when used in tandem with the Ramp feature. Yes, cranking the Lag expectedly increases the noise in the signal in bucket-brigade-like fashion, and discerning ears will notice a very slight hiss in the signal, particularly with higher Tone settings. I noticed it when I left the HiFi on Ramp while I was writing this review with my headphones on. CBA does disclaim this phenomenon in the manual, but I should inject the caveat that in a musical context the difference is so negligible I had to fight with myself to even mention it.

Warped Vinyl MKI & MKII featured a volume knob in the center top row which was both expression and ramp-enabled, allowing the user to achieve limited tremolo effects through dip-switch powered volume modulation should they so choose. With the Lag knob now in that slot, the sum signal level of the pedal is now controlled by a trim pot inside of the enclosure and is no longer dip-switch enabled. I wrote in my 2017 Pedals of the Year mention of the Warped Vinyl HiFi that some of us will miss the tremolo capabilities, but I for one think that switching to a Lag knob and going all-in on a fully-featured chorus/vibrato pedal was the absolute best possible choice. From an outsider’s perspective it completely rounds out Chase Bliss Audio’s catalogue and allows further room for the Gravitas to breathe as the CBA family’s specialized tremolo.

 

Hold

Like the Tonal Recall, the HiFi now features a Hold foot-switch. Through the use of the new Hold dip-switch, the tap tempo becomes a momentary hold switch, the functionality of which depends entirely on what dip-switches are active, much like the expression/CV input. With just the hold dip-switch engaged, the HiFi ramps up in tempo from wherever you are on the RPM to a slow and easy 10 o’clock. Activate the RPM Ramp dip-switch on the left-hand dip-switch row and the Hold switch serves as an activator for the RPM ramping, a low-hanging fruit for those looking to get weird. The toggle that once controlled the Tap Tempo Division now controls how the Hold switch interacts with the Ramp knob. “R” will cause the HiFi to begin ramping, as long as Hold is depressed. Releasing Hold freezes the Ramp where it is, tapping it once will instantly bring the Ramp back to 0 on its sweep. The “Minus” on the toggle sets the ramp to be constantly active until the hold switch is stomped. So “Plus” predictably only allows Ramping when the hold switch is held down, freezing the Ramp when it’s released.

You can see the Hold switch in action in Chase Bliss’s demo featuring Zack Warpinski here:

 

 

Signal Clarity & Brightness

One of the characterizing aspects of the previous Warped Vinyl models was their inherently dark, lo-fi tone. On those iterations, there was a Lo-Fi dip-switch that added even more to the eerie grit of an era long buried by the sands of time. Not only has that switch been replaced by the Hold dip-switch on the HiFi, but the special darkness that was so specific to the earlier MKI and to a lesser degree in the MKII has been engineered out via higher-quality components and a more refined circuit layout, making way for a brighter, cleaner future. If you’re a fan of the old ways, you can still get pretty close to those darker tones by dialing back the Tone(Ramp) knob when no parameters are set to ramp.

 

Surface Mount vs. Through-Hole

Most people will skim over this section, and I’ll admit that the prevailing thought process when I vet effects is: “I don’t care if it’s a box of tiny humanoid entities translating my signal into their native alien tongue. If it sounds good, I’m playing it!” In this case though, I’ll still point out Chase Bliss Audio’s choice to switch from through-hole to surface mount design (aka SMD/SMT). Why is this important? Historically, while surface mount components are a decidedly more efficient and streamlined delivery system for increasingly complex electronics than the larger components used in through-hole design, they are also more notorious for what’s called parasitic capacitance (and some would argue less tonal mojo). This is an unwanted and nigh-unavoidable interaction between individual electronic components and sometimes the circuit board itself that can create resonant circuits and cause ugly high-frequency oscillation or component cross-talk, thus at best effectively ruining any hope for true signal clarity, and at worst rendering reliable operation a distant fantasy. There are computer programs that can calculate the parasitic effects of components to help mitigate them, but builders have to take this phenomenon into consideration any time they make the choice to utilize SMT, often necessitating much more complex building techniques and convoluting the build process. Despite the increased difficulty threshold inherent in making the switch, Joel and his team actually managed to RAISE the aforementioned headroom and increase the signal clarity of the Warped Vinyl HiFi (as accomplished previously with the Tonal Recall). To me, that demonstrates a craftsmanship and care I already knew embodies the Chase Bliss Audio spirit and will be evident to anyone who gets to experience this pedal in all its glory.

 

Weird CV/EXP Fun

So you probably already know about the fun that can be had using an expression pedal to modulate multiple parameters at once via the Ramp functionality. And you may know about using a CV signal from a modular Eurorack source for similarly inspiring escapades. But here’s something you’ve probably never tried…

Through the use of a drum machine, synth, or other external audio sound source, I encourage you to experiment with sending audio to the EXP/CV input to add spontaneous, organic modulation of the chorusing or Ramped parameters. While using a TRS cable, send audio to the EXP/CV jack via the Tip while the Ring remains floating unconnected. (Using a standard guitar cable would draw too much mA and cause the pedal to act more wonky than intended.) Without the benefit of having a drum machine here to test, I plugged in my iPhone and played around a little bit with a metronome track to interesting (and possibly unintended) effect, but I noted a relatively anemic response at first. Switching to a louder fully featured backing track was much more interesting, yielding aggressive reactions to the snare hits in the track. The response wasn’t extremely precise, but it did yield some very interesting movements along with the rhythm of the source material. With any parameter dip-switch set to Ramp, the ramped parameter will react to the input, and the tap tempo will be active. This all came about due to my weird/stupid curiosity, but maybe you’ll find some cool sounds this way, too.

 

Gripes

A few months ago I’d have probably kvetched that the HiFi, a bastion of chorus (subjectively an effect most well served by stereo) isn’t in stereo, and the HiFi doesn’t get off of that particular hook just because it’s a great device. I won’t name names, but there are a handful of popular companies with pedals that accommodate a single-input, single-output TRS stereo configuration to split your signal two ways, and with the addition of the Lag in the HiFi, this would have been a great opportunity to do just that. However, it is worth noting that while the HiFi further demonstrates CBA’s ability to resolve complex electro-tonal needs, and TRS stereo does exist, such an upgrade would require a complete retooling of Chase Bliss’s “universal motherboard,” the basis around which all CBA circuits are built. If I were feeling particularly sadistic, I’d suggest that they should at least consider it in the future. All of CBA’s pedal line-up, not just the HiFi, would sound INCREDIBLE in stereo (even simply via Wet/Dry outputs) and though each one fills a niche that satisfies those already running Chase Bliss pedals, the addition of stereo signal routing could really help to meet the needs of those in the market who are on the fence between CBA and some other legacy effects companies offering stereo pedals, as well as those of us who already run full stereo rigs and would like the option to split our signal from toe to tip. Masturbatory diatribe aside, let’s relinquish this fantasy and enjoy the truly immaculate pieces in this Blissful wheelhouse. With this latest release, we have to assume CBA is locked into the current mono configuration in one unnavigable way or another. Besides, stereo really isn’t necessary in this instance, merely a nice-to-have option on something that is already very nice to have in the first place.

 

 

The Chase Bliss Audio Warped Vinyl HiFi is a serene work of beauty that offers unparalleled audio fidelity and tonal options in a compact all-analog chorus/vibrato pedal. To put it in musical parlance, the HiFi is not Chase Bliss experiencing a case of megalomania; it’s more a thematic variation, a reharmonization of a prevailing melody. With the addition of the Hold switch and Lag knob, the Warped Vinyl HiFi adds a new element of control and flexibility that was missing from the classic formula, and the added bonus of that cleaner signal path should convince any past doubters who weren’t feeling the lo-fi vibe. Is it good enough to be the LAST Warped Vinyl? That’s not my call to make, and I’d never presume to assume that that’s the case. All I know is that the updates are significant enough to differentiate the HiFi from its forebears, and in my opinion, forward-thinking enough to justify discontinuing the MKII with no regrets. You can still accomplish most of the tones that the last two models could, but now you don’t need to relinquish signal clarity. So for all we know, it may not be the last Warped Vinyl, but it’s definitely the cleanest and most refined to date. At any rate, it’s the best analog chorus/vibrato pedal of it’s kind in my book.

That concludes our review of the Warped Vinyl HiFi by Chase Bliss Audio. Thanks for reading!

Strymon Riverside Multistage Drive Review

Strymon has become synonymous with high-end digital effects pedals with the builder’s flagship TimeLine, BigSky, and Mobius pedals being pinnacles of delay, reverb, and modulation effects, respectively. But while Strymon have covered most bases with their wide range of stompboxes, many guitarists have been clamoring for the builder to tackle a dirt pedal in some form. The Riverside Multistage Drive is their first such offering, and it’s a take on an amp style overdrive & distortion that’s at once familiar yet quite unlike anything that has come before it.

Damage Control

While releasing an overdrive/distortion unit may appear to be a new frontier for Strymon, it’s important for guitarists to remember that the core team behind Strymon’s numerous pedals previously developed several tube-based overdrive and distortion pedals under the Damage Control moniker before later rolling out the Strymon brand. But this new foray into distortion shouldn’t be considered a return their roots for the crew that’s been around since the Damage Control days. Instead, the Riverside is a pedal that encompasses the history of the team’s work together, harnessing their years of accrued experience and sound design expertise while treading entirely new ground; the result has ushered in a surprisingly bold and unexpected new kind of drive pedal.

Features:

Sound Design:

  • Custom cascading multistage distortion topology provides a wide range of tube-inspired drive tones
  • Digitally controlled analog class A JFET input gain stage maximizes headroom while adding up to 20dB of pure analog gain
  • Precision crafted DSP gain stages provide detailed complexity and responsiveness
  • Low gain channel for smooth classic overdrive
  • High gain channel for modern saturated distortion
  • 3-band EQ with independent Bass, Middle and Treble controls
  • Selectable post-analog gain mid-band EQ push
  • Presence switch to tailor the sound for use with all amplifiers from dark to bright
  • Optional variable-threshold noise reduction helps tame noisy guitar pickups

Ins, Outs, Switches:

  • High impedance mono input
  • Mono output
  • Favorite footswitch to save a favorite setting
  • Expression pedal input allows the connection an expression pedal for simultaneous morphing control over multiple parameters (Expression mode), or logarithmic taper for smooth volume control (Volume mode)
  • Boost pedal input allows connection of an external footswitch for up to +6dB of analog boost, or to toggle the Favorite preset on other Strymon pedals (Favorite Out mode)

Audio Quality:

  • Ultra low noise, high performance 24-bit 96kHz A/D and
  • D/A converters provide uncompromising audio quality
  • Premium analog front end and output section
  • Super high performance SHARC DSP in a compact form factor
  • 32-bit floating point processing

More:

  • True Bypass (electromechanical relay switching) or selectable transparent Analog Buffered Bypass
  • Strong and lightweight anodized gold aluminum chassis
  • 9V DC power supply included
  • Power requirements: maximum 9 volts DC center-negative, with a minimum of 250mA of current
  • Dimensions:
    – 4.5″ deep x 4″ wide x 1.75″ tall
    – 11.4 cm deep x 10.2 cm wide x 4.4 cm tall
  • Designed and built in the USA

Visit Strymon for more info about the Riverside.

Sound & Performance:

To simply call the Riverside an overdrive, distortion, or even an “amp-in-a-box” pedal doesn’t do justice to the range of dirt sounds contained within this unassuming little pedal. The pedal’s 3-knob tone section and inclusion of a Presence switch indicate an amp-like style of tonal control which gives the Riverside massive flexibility for sculpting a wide range of overdrive and distortion tones to suit your guitar and amp set-up.

The Riverside excels when used as a more traditional overdrive effect, kicking it on to hit your amp a little harder right in the sweet spot to induce some break-up from the amp while adding some extra grit from the pedal as well. You can also keep your amp completely clean and rev up the Riverside’s Drive so that the pedal does all the heavy lifting. This approach can add all kinds of drive to your tone, from classic rock and blues overdriven sounds to high-gain full stack roar.

What makes the Riverside so enjoyable to play is how well it responds no matter where you have the Drive knob set. This is arguably the pedal’s secret sauce, and Strymon most likely isn’t going to share a white paper detailing how they’ve managed to get such a responsive range of playable sounds out of a drive pedal. Just know that for all the talk from builders in the past about how a particular dirt pedal has a wide range of usable tones, the Strymon Riverside surpasses almost any pedal I’ve come across in this area. Basically, the complex algorithm shifts the response of the pedal through the range of the parameter knobs to offer a varying degree of response depending on where the knobs are set. Every point of adjustable range has been fine-tuned to provide usable sounds. Every setting is a sweet spot. It just depends on what kind of sound you need in a given moment. But the Riverside is musical and inspiring no matter where you have the knobs set.

It’s also commendable how well the pedal responds to your input signal level. You can set the Drive to your preferred max level and cut your guitar’s volume level to reduce the drive from the pedal while maintaining a tonally balanced sound. This is a hallmark of many great pedals and amps, yet the Riverside seems to reinvent the game here in the subtlest of ways. An irony in playing the Riverside is that while I find myself using most pedals in a binary, off/on, “digital” manner, bypassing and engaging them as needed, the Riverside warrants a more analog playability in how it encourages expression from the guitar’s volume knob and the pedal’s Drive parameter. Pull out and expression pedal and “play” the Drive; you’ll see and hear what I mean.

From Low To High

There are 2 primary gain modes in the Riverside: Low & High. Simply put, think of the Low mode as your cleaner, milder drive channel. It’s better suited for general overdrive duties akin to how you’d use a standard lower gain overdrive pedal. It can get pretty gritty when you crank the Drive, yielding mild distortion when cranked. As the Drive knob morphs pedal’s response throughout its entire range, you’ll discover a wide range of usable tones and different applications.

Flipping over to the High setting adds an immediate girth to the sound, making the Riverside sound bigger and fuller. This is where the pedal really seems to take off from a typical overdrive or distortion pedal and ascend to a level of amp-like feel and responsiveness. It’s often difficult not to crank the Drive a bit and riff out with the thick distortion this mode offers. You can tame it and still use it like an overdrive, albeit a drive that’s more present and that sounds “bigger” than many drive pedals. Stack it with an overdriven amp channel for a ripping lead tone or simply use it on its own for adding an extra drive channel to a clean amp. It’s worth noting that the High setting is plenty capable of covering classic rock grit to modern high-gain distortion. With cranked gain you can even scoop the mids for the thrashier metal distortion that retains more note definition and clarity than hairier, muddier noiseboxes.

The Riverside has a built-in noise reduction feature (consult the manual on how to set it to your needs). This is invaluable when using higher gain settings as it’ll help keep your sound tight while maintaining a low noise level when you’re not playing. Kudos to Strymon for squeezing this feature in and for how smoothly it operates once you set it to taste.

Push It!

The Push switch adds a mid EQ “push”. Sounds simple enough, but it’s worth flipping back and forth on various settings to hear how it affects your tone depending on how you have the other parameters set. An easy use for it is to simply apply some extra mid-boost for your overdrive sounds. I also find it rather appealing to activate the Push when using the High gain mode; whether for classic distortion or mid-scooped metal tones, the extra mid presence lets your guitar sound cut through a bit more and adds a bit of extra touch sensitivity. It just adds a little extra bite without any top-end harshness.

There are some other interesting features that round out this exceptional pedal. You can set the Riverside to either true bypass or buffered bypass to accommodate either preference. There’s a Volume Mode which allows the use of an external expression pedal to control the Riverside’s output volume. You can also use an external foot-switch to control a boost up to +6dB. (The Boost and Volume Mode can also be used if the pedal is bypassed when set to buffered bypass.) There’s an onboard Favorite switch for saving a favorite preset to be recalled at will. There’s also a Favorite Output mode which allows you to activate the Favorite setting of another compatible Strymon pedal when pressing the Riverside’s Favorite switch. And of course you can use a Strymon Favorite MiniSwitch to activate/bypass the Favorite setting on the Riverside.

I was pleased that Strymon chose to have the Riverside “remember” its bypass state when last powered on. This is useful for effects switcher based rigs where you’d typically want all of your pedals to automatically enter their activated state when powering up your rig. But this does bring attention to my one major gripe about the pedal. I wish Strymon had implemented the possibility for the EXP jack to accept TRS switch control of the Bypass and Favorite foot-switches, similar to amp-style remote channel switching. Some other noteworthy boutique pedals do this, and it’s extremely convenient when using an effects switcher that has TRS control outs so that you don’t have to waste an effects loop to accommodate the a pedal. The Riverside sounds amazing enough to integrate into such a rig despite this inconvenience, but it’s a persisting annoyance considering a software update could potentially add this useful feature. And of course, it would be nice if Strymon would finally head the call to add MIDI control to their compact pedals, but I’m not gonna give ’em too much heat for that here. The TRS switching is the most essential order of business this pedal needs in a firmware update. With that being said, the Riverside is still deserving of my highest commendation.

The Strymon Riverside Multistage Drive is arguably one of the most versatile and musical “dirt” pedals ever released. If you noticed that I didn’t really talk about the fact that this pedal is a primarily a “digital” distortion pedal (with an analog front end), that’s because frankly, it doesn’t matter. The Riverside sounds incredible and blows away nearly any other pedal you can compare it to for amp-style overdrive and distortion. It may be hard for some guitarists to get that excited for what may seem at first like just another drive pedal, but the Riverside is a modern masterpiece of drive tones.

That concludes our Strymon Riverside 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.

Empress Reverb Review – Best Reverb Pedal Ever?

When I first heard of this thing called “The Empress Reverb”, I was kinda like “Yeah… I need another reverb like I need a hole in the head.” Already a very satisfied Strymon BigSky user, I was the reverb pedal equivalency of a married man. Show me another one and I’d hold up my hand proudly flaunting my “BigSky ring” as I say “I’m taken.” However, repeated glances at the Empress Reverb were making me very curious, at the very least, pushing me to expand upon my reverb arsenal. Thankfully, there is no such thing as cheating in the pedal world… Right?

It seemed that everywhere I turned there was another demo video. The first thing that really impressed me was the GHOST mode. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. I began to do that thing we all do when we finally decide to pull the trigger on a big pedal purchase, start looking for the funds to make it happen. What can I sell? How much blood can I safely give before my ears no longer function? You know the deal. One way or another, I finally ended up with mine. Of course, it arrived while I was out of town on a mini vacation. We got home very late and the next hour was filled with unpacking the car and soon everyone headed for bed. Not long after, I must have nodded off on the couch as the next thing I recall was waking up in the middle of the night to head upstairs to bed. I went into the kitchen for a drink of water and glanced down to see that package from Empress Effects staring up at me, tempting me to pick it up. It’s 3:00 in the morning… I can’t possibly give it a try now, I’d wake everyone up! I started to walk up the stairs and realized this wasn’t going to happen. I picked up the box and went into my home studio. I really didn’t want to even try it at this hour, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to spend a lot of time with it and get the satisfaction I was seeking. I took it out of the box, and I remember thinking how small it seemed! I set it on top of my amp, ran some cables, and powered it on. It popped up on the very first algorithm, “blue hall.” I gave it a light strum on an E minor chord with my ’95 Strat and I was immediately blown away. It was as if everything I had heard before was in VHS and this was full on BluRay 4K premium quadraphonic HD. It didn’t sound anything like a small box of electronics attempting to emulate the sound of a large, empty theater. It actually sounded like I was IN that large, empty theater and was hearing my guitar reflecting off of the walls. Completely satisfied, and knowing that if I even strummed one more chord I’d be there for hours, I immediately turned it off and went to bed. I lay there, smiling. I knew that from this moment on, things were going to be very different. The Empress Reverb is something different.

Features:

Let’s have a look at the features of this pedal. I can’t cover everything, but I’m going to get pretty close:

24 Studio-Quality Algorithms (and counting). And that is one of the strong points of this reverb pedal. After purchasing it, you’re not left alone and wished the best of luck. New variations of existing algorithms are being added as they are requested and developed, making the Empress Reverb your new best friend. Whether it’s your birthday or not, it will continue to bring gifts of new reverb sounds. Let’s just look at a list of the 12 modes without even getting into the sub modes:

* Hall
* Plate
* Spring
* Room
* Sparkle
* Modulation
* Ambient Swell
* Delay + Reverb
* Reverse
* Ghose
* Lo-Fi
* Beer

Tap Functions. Several of the algorithms on the Empress Reverb have infinite hold or the ability to tap in a delay time. This is one of my favorite things to do. A must-have for any ambient reverb pedal.

Low Noise Signal Path. A signal to noise ration of >104dB and an all-analog signal path. What does >104dB mean? Simply put, the level of the signal is greater than 104 times the amount of noise floor. It means it’s a very quiet pedal.

Up To 35 Presets. Settings can be saved to 35 presets. This is plenty to get you going. I have only saved about half that many so far. You can recall and save them all right on the pedal without the need for a separate MIDI controller.

Two Preset Modes. You can opt for “Scrolling Presets Mode” or “Bank Presets Mode.” In “Scrolling Preset Mode” (the mode I like to use) you have a continuous series of presets. Even though the other mode is called “Bank Presets” this one has “banks” as well. There are 5 presets per bank (one for each of the 5 LED’s) and as you scroll though them, the LED’s will change color for each bank of 5 presets. In other words 1-5 are blue, 6-10 are green etc. There are seven banks of 5 presets. Then there is “Bank Presets Mode.” In this mode, you have one preset per switch. This allows you to quickly get to each preset with just the press of one switch. In this mode, there would be three presets per bank. Use this mode if you need presets to change with just a single tap and you’re not using a MIDI controller. When you reach the end of all of the presets, all 5 LED’s will flash white. This is “Live Mode” and this “preset” reflects the current knob positions.

True Bypass Or Buffered Bypass. Let’s not start this debate here. You can chose your own adventure with the Empress Reverb. Buffered bypass if you wanna hear trails. Yay for trails!

Cabinet Simulator. Three cabs to choose from. Perfect for recording applications or gigging without an amp. I’ve used this in the studio. I dig it for tone-shaping.

Output Transformer. If you’re using two amps in stereo. (Wait, you’re not?? You should totally do this. Oh, you are? Ok, good.) Output two is isolated with a transformer for hum-free operation in stereo. This avoids those pesky ground loops those of us daring enough to run in stereo have encountered a time or two.

High Quality Audio. 48kHz sampling, with 24 bit conversion, and 32 bit internal processing. Yeah, I don’t know what those numbers mean either, but that sounds like a lot. All those numbers together add up to 104. And, as you know, 104 is the minimum signal to noise ratio of this pedal. Do you think this is a coincidence? No way, man. No way. It’s science and art.

Analog Dry Path. Your instrument’s dry signal is left untouched the entire time. Blended with the wet signal using Voltage Controlled Amplifier (VCA). This makes for noise-free operation.

Unsurpassed Connectivity. With the Control Port, you can choose your own adventure again! Expression pedal, external tap, control voltage, external audio, or MIDI input. All this with just a single TRS jack! I use MIDI for mine. Then you have access to tap and expression over MIDI from your controller.

Advanced Configuration. Several things can be configured in the Advanced Configuration menu. Too many to mention here. But this is how you configure your Empress Reverb to be customized for your purposes. For example, if you’re going to use MIDI, you’ll need to set your Control Port for “MIDI” and you will need to assign your pedal to whichever MIDI channel you need for your rig.

Small Size. Lastly, and we’ve already discussed this, but the Empress Reverb is quite small. Basically, just smaller than a 4×6 photo. Those of you under 40, that is about the size of your iPhone 7. Just slightly taller.

KNOBS.

Let’s have a look at the control surface of the pedal:

Mode Selector: Selects the mode and submodes within the pedal. This has a nice feel to it as you scroll… has like a slight “click” feel. The LED’s change color as you scroll through and It just has a nice, kind of rich feel to it. Very nice. The LED’s look so cool (and purdy) as you scroll through, I’ve always thought it would look cool if the pedal just did that as like a “sleep mode” or something.

Decay: Controls the length of the reverb decay, or “trails” as some call it. I tend to use kind of long decays with lower mix settings or short decays with higher mix settings.

Mix: This controls the ratio between wet and dry. Full CCW is 100% dry and full CW is 100% wet. 50/50 is around 2:00 on this.

Output: Strangely, this is one of my favorite knobs! Haha! This pedal is at the end of my chain and is always on, right? So I am constantly using this knob to be like the master volume of my entire board. It’s very handy for that. Unity is at 12:00

Low: These are very useful controls that shape the tone of the reverb through EQ and damping. I tend to like my reverb light and airy. You’ll get there easily with these controls.

Hi: Same as “Low” but it’s “Hi.”

Thing 1: These are great. Inspired by Dr. Seuss, these control two “things” per submode. They control things like modulations, early reflections, pre-delay, sparkle, octave level, delay time, and feedback. These are most fun to assign to an expression pedal!

Thing 2: Same as “Thing 1”, but it’s “2.”

And the switches are:

Select: Used to select a preset that you have scrolled to using the scroll switch. It has secondary functions of tap tempo for the delays and for infinite hold on the reverb trails.

Save: A handy little switch that allows you to save your desired sounds into designated preset locations. This is also used when going into Advanced Configuration mode.

Scroll: The Scroll switch moves you forward through your presets. To move back, press Scroll and Select together.

Bypass: Bypass and engage the pedal. You can also set up your Empress Reverb to be true bypass or buffered bypass in the Advanced Configuration.

INS and OUTS…

What does the Reverb offer for connectivity? Let’s take a look:

Stereo Inputs and Outputs: The Empress reverb offers Stereo ins and outs. This is, thankfully, the standard practice now. Very helpful for stereo rigs and rigs going to two amps. Of course, you can still set it up in mono. Just use the left in and out.

Power Input: The Empress Reverb requires standard 9v, center negative power with a minimum of 300mA.

SD Card Slot: Yes. You read that right. The pedal has an SD card slot. This is actually one of my favorite things about the Empress Reverb. Want to update that firmware? Load it to an SD card with your computer. Then just pop it in, let it do its thing, and you’re done. Very handy as you could even do this on the road without having to bring your laptop to where your board is. Just show up at your gig, plug it in…. after it loads, the SD card makes an excellent guitar pick. (Editor’s Note: Best Guitar Effects is not responsible for damaged SD cards used as guitar picks.)

Control Port: Ok, here’s where things get really fun. Seriously. This port, which is a standard 1/4” TRS jack, can be configured one of several ways. 1. Control port. This is how the pedal ships from Empress. The port is ready to receive incoming signal from you favorite expression pedal. 2. Control Voltage. When configured this way, the Empress can receive signals fro 0-5 volts. Much the same way an expression pedal works. 3. External Tap Tempo: The Reverb can receive signal from an external tap tempo device. Configurations for both normally open, or normally closed. 4. MIDI. This one is my favorite. It can actually receive a MIDI signal through the TRS jack. Kind of magic, really. This is what I use for the obvious reasons in that you can control the pedal as well as change presets via MIDI, but you can also send expression and tap over MIDI. Furthermore, the Empress Reverb’s control port can also be set up for “MIDI with Preset Out.” This means that it can change MIDI presets on the four channels above the channel the Reverb is assigned to.

Visit Empress Effects for further information on the features and specs of the Empress Reverb.

Sound & Performance:

Pristine Classic Sounds

In my opinion, The Empress Reverb has two main strong points. Its ability to get freaky, and the insanely beautiful sounds of its classic tones. The meat and potatoes of reverb such as ROOM, HALL, and PLATE are represented well in the Empress Reverb. If it only had the first point, the ability to get freaky, it would only just be that, a cool new weird reverb. You take that, plus the best-sounding classic tones available and you get a reverb pedal that is destined to be crowned victorious in the battle for the best reverb pedal on the planet. The sounds of all previous digital reverb units sounded… well, digital. The BigSky, for example, always had kind of a “light and airy” sound to it (it is called “BigSky” afterall). And don’t get me wrong, that’s beautiful, too. But there is just something about the classics on the Empress that set it apart from anything out there. I don’t know what the magic is… but my ears know this: It just sounds REAL. The ROOM sounds like you are in a ROOM. I can even hear the sound reflecting off of an old tapestry, a velvet Elvis, and a pile of clean comforters straight from the dryer. Well, maybe I’m embellishing, but how else do you explain these tones??? The PLATE mode is simply stunning. I feel like before the Empress Reverb, I always overlooked plate reverb sounds. Now, with the Empress Reverb, this is probably the mode I use the most. It seems to be a perfect blend between ROOM and HALL. I have a nice PLATE set up as my first preset, which auto-loads when the pedal is powered on.

Ambient And Unique, Crazy Sounds

As a player that loves to explore, the Empress Reverb really satisfies my need for sounds that can always get me outta my comfort zone. I remember when I first got this thing, my buddy came by and I was showing it to him. I was running through all these different sounds… a few standards, for reference, but then lots of wacky things… filters, flangers, tremolos, delays… after 15 minutes or so, he was like “Wait. WHAT? All that was JUST that REVERB PEDAL??” I just looked up and smiled. I mean think about it. You could nearly run a set up with just this pedal. In fact, I should try that. Do an entire show with a DMC-3xl and an Empress Reverb! While we’re on the subject, let me just run through a list of all the sounds you can get outta this thing. Not a complete list, I’m sure I’ll leave something out… but just off the top of my head you have the following:

* Reverb (duh)
* Delay
* Chorus
* Tremolo
* Flanger
* Filter
* Modulation
* Octave Up
* Octave Down
* Swell
* Reverse
* Glitch
* Ring Modulator
* Swell
* Destroyer
* Overdrive
* Gate

Easy To Use And Quick To Dial In

Another thing I love about this pedal. No menus. If there WERE menus, with more things to tweak, could it possibly be that this pedal would be that much better? Maybe. But I don’t wanna know. I like it just the way it is. It has a feeling of simplicity. A feeling of an analog pedal with everything just sitting there for you to tweak immediately. Sometimes, diving into those menus just makes you lose your groove, that moment of inspiration lost. Sometimes, being limited to what you can tweak, forces you to be more creative. I know it works for me.

Yes, There’s More…

In an effort to be sure I covered everything (well, close as I can get) I just went and sat with it again. No presets. Just sitting and scrolling through the submodes like I did the very first time. Hall is just simply beautiful. No other way to say it. When just playing… this is the mode I am probably using the most. Room is incredibly realistic. Sparkle is wonderful and usable in many applications. The Green submode of Sparkle is call “Glummer” with Thing 1 and octave down amount and Thing 2 is octave up amount. Modulation sounds like magic. And with four different modulation types, you’ll find a use for it. Delay + Reverb mode covers about anything I ever need. Reverse, with its Red submode is musical and inspiring. The greatest “reverse anything” I’ve ever used. Ghost is a serious head-turner. Like I said before, it’s the reason I picked this pedal up in the first place. The subtle and spooky modulation that churns away in those trails is just perfect. The kind of thing that makes you wanna just play and play. The kind of thing that makes you wanna write a song, or two, or ten. Lo-Fi is crazy cool with its gritty and dirty thinned out tones that you can blend full wet. Lastly, the “Beer” mode. Now, come one, isn’t just the fact that this pedal has a mode labeled “Beer” reason enough to love it? At the very least, from the start it told me that this pedal was going to be very different from anything I had ever used before. The Beer mode is great for exploring. Like when you’re feeling like you are stuck in a rut and need something new. Usually, when you feel this way, you grab a crazy pedal and slap it on your board to get you through. With the Empress Reverb, you just turn a dial.

If I had to pick one mode that didn’t blow me away, one chink in the Empress Reverb’s glittering silver armor, it’s the Spring mode. But I’m kind of a cork-sniffing spring reverb lover, so my expectations are pretty high in this department. I do love the SPRING mode on the Empress. It has a very unique and usable sound in all three currently available sub-modes, but contrary to the other classic modes, it just lacks the realism of an actual spring reverb tank and it is not what I go to when I am playing my surf guitar stuff. I prefer the Red, Overdriven Spring submode out of all of them. But they all seem to lack that funny “drip” or “kiss” sound on the attack of a spring reverb. Like I said, I’m a self-professed spring reverb snob as I spent some time in a surf guitar band, and a great spring reverb was where it was at. But I have to say that it’s possible to get a great, realistic-sounding spring on a digital platform. The Strymon BigSky still has one of the best sounding spring reverb sounds to be found in a multi-algorithm pedal, and its Spring machine nails that drippy spring thing perfectly. I’ve heard many that are worse than the Empress, so it’s not like it’s THAT bad. Of all the digital spring reverbs I have heard in multi-algorithm reverb pedals, maybe the Empress is second best. There’s nothing wrong with that! It is certainly a useful sound. I have heard others say it’s their favorite spring sound. So, there you go, that subjective thing again. The Empress will give you plenty of sounds to choose from. Trust me, you’ll never get bored with it.

Reverb’s Audio Fidelity

As stated above, my first impression of the Empress Reverb was that of significant high-definition ear candy. There are many great reverbs out there and I have tried almost all of them. This was the first time I used a reverb pedal and (on the more standard settings) it just sounded like REAL REVERB. Like the sound of the room you’re in. I am sure that the 48kHz sampling, and 24 bit conversion, and 32 bit internal processing has a lot to do with it. But I’m not only a scientist, I’m an artist. I believe in magic. I believe there is some kind of magic going on inside this pedal. There is a secret to this thing…

Pristine VCA Mixing

The Empress Reverb uses Voltage Controlled Amplifiers to combine the wet and dry signal. Let’s talk more about Voltage Controlled Amplifiers, or VCA’s. Like the name suggests, a Voltage Controlled Amplifier is an amplifier whose amplification, or gain, is controlled by a voltage. By varying a voltage input, we can change the amplitude of a signal, making it quieter or louder by supplying a smaller or larger voltage as a control signal. Technically, they are current-controlled, but once you put current through an element, such as a resistor, you convert a current to a voltage. The innovators of VCA decided they wanted to call it “voltage-controlled.” It was good enough for them, so it’s good enough for us. Using other kinds of tech, like digital potentiometers, leads to some nasty compromises. With digital pots, you get zipper noise (an audible artifact caused by the quantization of digital control signals for various parameters) so you have to hide it somehow which requires a whole lot of scheming. With VCA’s the noise is a bit higher than the noise of their codecs. What they did to compensate for this was to parallel three of them together and this brought the noise way down. The VCA’s of choice in the Empress Reverb are Cool Audio V2164’s. An analog VCA based upon the now discontinued SSM 2164’s made by Solid State Micro, then Analog Devices.

The Emperors of Empress Speak

In a recent conversation with Steve Bragg and Jason Fee, we talked about some of the “magic” that is present within this pedal. I mean, come on, you can’t just add a reverb pedal to an over-saturated market and have it be the favorite of so many right from the start. You can’t flood the secondhand market with used BigSky Reverb pedals without some magic. I asked Jason what the process was for coming up with the sounds that you find inside the Empress Reverb. Although he denied any kind of magic, he did give me some insight to the process of developing the characteristics of the algorithms. “It all started with reading a LOT of AES White Papers, and then a TON of hours of experimentation.” He went on to tell me about the hours spent recording samples of all the classic hi-end studio reverbs… Lexicons, Bricasti Boxes, and even a real EMT 140 Plate Reverb. If you’ve never seen one of those, it’s like a bed turned on it’s side. They also included some oddball stuff like the old Yamaha SPX 90 that so many guitar players loved back in the 80’s and 90’s. To take it even further, they also tested with real spring reverb tanks. They bought some original Hammond tanks and mounted their own electronics to drive them so they could figure out how much of the sound was the electronics, and how much was the actual spring. Damn. I wish I could have been in that room. Where are those tanks now, I wonder. I’d buy one.

Another thing Jason talked about was creating a plug-in version of the algorithms. (can I get that, too???) This allowed them to tweak a pile of parameters in real time, allowing tons of experimentation that would have been otherwise impossible with only seven knobs. Here’s a pic of the slider array below. Imagine all that on a reverb pedal… Nah… but I’m glad it went INTO it instead!

It’s no surprise to me that all of these classic reverbs were studied, scrutinized, dissected, poked, and prodded down in the Empress Laboratory. When you play through this pedal, you quickly realize it’s unlike anything you’ve ever heard. Time and dedication have created a true masterpiece.

Deep Control + Ease Of Use

When you look at the Empress Reverb, you see it all right there before you. Everything is presented and ready to go. Changing the sounds does not require you to dive into deep menus looking for things to tweak. Using the Empress Reverb is extremely intuitive and it is very easy to quickly dial in wonderful reverb sounds. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for something simple and natural or looking to push the limits of space, you’ll get there with ease.

A great thing you can do with the Reverb is put all the knobs at “noon”, and it just sounds great. I do this when I want to scroll through modes as I go searching for a particular tone. I like the build quality. It has a clean, high-end look to it that invites you to tweak without feeling intimidated. I love top-mount jacks. I really love top-mount jacks. Previous to this, some of the Empress pedals were designed with side-mount jacks. Not a deal-breaker with me if you’re talking about 1590b-size enclosures, but if you are already using a rather wide footprint enclosure, putting jacks on the sides can make it hog up some valuable pedalboard real estate. As noted above, I turn mine sideways, anyway. But this works out really well with it being at the end of my signal chain. I just turn it sideways and the cables come right off the upper left side of my board. Almost as if it were designed that way. If you opt to orient it normally, it’s really the same thing and works out really quite nicely.

The Reverb’s presets and scrolling seemed a *little* counter-intuitive to me at first. Within a week or so, I was using it like a pro. It just took some getting used to. Same with the colored LED’s equating to preset identification. If you’re used to having an LCD display, this will also take a little while to get used to. This part depends on how many presets you are saving, and what your level of OCD is. I save a lot of presets, and my OCD, although nicely tamed, is pretty high. Not only do I keep a book and make notes about each preset, I also put a strip of tape on the pedal and write down my names of presets so, as I scroll, the LED lights up next to the name on the tape. This made it super easy to identify and recall your presets, but if you’re not all crazy like me, don’t worry about that.

Expression Control

Another great performance feature I have to mention is expression control. Controlling the “thing 1” and “thing 2” parameters on some of these modes is simply insane. The first one that comes to mind is the Destroyer Pad, which is the third “beer” mode. It mixes your dry signal with a detuned wet signal. Thing 1 is “Robot Screams” and Thing 2 is “Pitch Shift.” I made a video of this and it is posted on YouTube. In the video I am showing how the expression controls the rate of the pitch shift which includes some kind of modulation that is very fast in the heel and toe position. In the center of these two extremes, the modulation is very slow. Almost imperceptible. I like to park it around that halfway point and just play there. It’s so strange with it does with your signal and there’s nothing quite like it. Thing 1 controls the “Robot Screams.” I’d call it a “ring modulator.” It can get pretty overwhelming, so I run it kind of light. Then, there’s the obvious cool things to do with expression, like controlling the delay time on the Delay+Reverb mode, reverse delay length on the Reverse mode, Resonance on the Ghose Mode, just to name a few.

Empress Reverb vs Strymon BigSky

I’ve touched on this topic throughout my Reverb review, but the very obvious question on everyone’s mind and the question I have been asked the most in countless emails and online discussions is, “How does it compare to the BigSky?” “Is it BETTER??” I have to admit… I totally understand *why* people ask this kind of a question, and to write a review without addressing this would be falling short of hitting all the points that need to be made. We are all familiar with this question for all sorts of gear. Is a Tonal Recall better than a Memory Man? Is a Klon better than a Tube Screamer? I admit, I don’t like this question. To me things aren’t better or worse, necessarily. It’s all so subjective! What is better for one isn’t better for another. On a level of comparing a reverb pedal with 12 modes vs a pedal with one mode, ok… the one with 12 is “better” because it has more stuff. But when things are mostly on par it becomes a much less obvious statement and you start getting into personal beliefs. The only thing that would let me down in this situation is if something is just another exact copy of something already out there. So, in this case, if the Reverb had been just another exact same thing that just sounds exactly the same as a BigSky, then that would keep me from being interested at all. Is the Empress Reverb “better” than the BigSky? I don’t know, maybe to some people… but you know what it definitely is? It’s DIFFERENT. And when you have something that is DIFFERENT, you end up PLAYING DIFFERENTLY. Immediately, I found myself being more creative with the Empress than I was with other reverb pedals. The sounds, the tones, and the way that the Empress Reverb can manipulate the guitar signal. The way this impacts your ears and cycles back to your fingers… It’ll make you play things you never thought to try before. Is one of anything “better” than the other? That’s kind of missing the point. Use the one that makes YOU play better. I’m more creative when I am using the Empress as opposed to anything else out there.

There is something to be said for a pedal that writes riffs for you. That experience we have all had when a pedal is so good it just makes you play cool shit and within hours you have a few new songs to explore with your band on Thursday’s rehearsal. The Empress Reverb is THAT pedal.

I keep my BigSky in the studio. It still gets plenty of use. The Reverb went to my pedalboard. It’s quite a bit smaller (5.7”x3.75”) than the BigSky (6.7”x5.1”). Essentially, think of one as a 4×6 photo and other as a 5×7. Anyone over 40 has held a 4×6 photo in their hands and has a pretty good idea of the size. That’s pretty small. The nice thing is that if you turn it sideways, it’s just barely larger than a standard 1590b enclosure. This seems hard to believe, but it’s true. In fact, you can almost fit two of them (or a Reverb and the Empress Effects EchoSystem) positioned sideways in the space that was formerly occupied by one Strymon big box. The enclosure is rather tall. With the knobs and switches included, it comes in at 2.25 inches. Doesn’t sound like much on paper, but it feels tall. It’s maybe a compromise to get the footprint down, but I’ll gladly take it! Other comparisons to the BigSky? The ins and outs are, basically the same. Stereo input and stereo output, pretty standard for an “end of chain” pedal like a reverb. The Empress has a configurable TRS control port. This is where you can send a variety of signals into the pedal including expression, CV, external tap tempo, and my favorite, MIDI. MIDI through a tiny TRS cable? I thought that required a large 5-pin DIN cable! Nope. More of the brilliance that is Empress. You just need an Empress Effects Midibox (sold separately) to use MIDI. And it doesn’t stop there. To faciliate uploading those cool new updates and reverb modes with ease, the Empress Reverb has an SD card slot. Just drag and drop the latest firmware onto an SD card and load it into your pedal. It’s the simplest way of updating a pedal since putting a fresh battery in your TS808 back in ’81.

Just looking at the Empress Reverb, and not comparing it to anything, what is there to love? The number one thing is the sound. Isn’t that most important, anyway? And the Empress Reverb just has the best reverb sounds I have ever heard. Second thing I love is how it just does so many things, many of them unique to the Empress Reverb. When you have sounds that aren’t found anywhere else, you just really need to pay attention to that. Those are the two major things that put this pedal on my board. What else? I love the size. It’s just so small for all that it does. I like the knobs and how all control is presented in a format similar to analog gear. No menus to dive into.

Want The Empress Reverb To Be Even Better? YOU can make it better!

Covering every single base and every single need and want is a tall order. And when you run into those situations where you don’t find what you need, that brings me to the one thing that I haven’t even mentioned yet, and it may even be the best thing that the Empress Reverb has going for it. It’s backed by a company that cares and that listens to its customers. A company that wants nothing more than for the people that use their products to be completely satisfied. There are some companies out there, you buy their pedal, and you’re on your own. What are you gonna do, call the head of **** and ask them to change it? With Empress, you get the full-on hookup. Not only the usual “contact us” on the website, where you can email them and they will actually hear you and reply to you, but there is an entire Empress Effects Support Community. Empress pedal owners can create a user profile and you have full access to all of the information and forums from all of the participating users. The staff of Empress Effects makes regular appearances in these forums helping with questions and concerns you may have. Want a feature added or an entire submode created? There is a voting section where you can make suggestions and the community votes. If enough votes are cast for a certain addition, it’s done! Simple as that.

Overall-Rating-5.0

The Empress Reverb is a MIDI-capable, 24 algorithm, studio-quality reverb pedal boasting a ton of features and unprecedented characteristics that nearly put it into a class by itself. Combine that with the small size and easy-to-dial-in user interface, and it’s crystal clear why this pedal is the only reverb pedal on both of my main boards. Some reverb pedals are great because they are the best at nailing those classic tones like room, hall, and plate. Others are great because they can take you into outer space. The Empress Reverb is the best because it does both of these things. It’s like one of those things where if anything was possible… and you could pack anything you ever wanted into a reverb pedal… and you could choose how it’s laid out, everything you could imagine in a dream reverb pedal… THIS is that pedal. I’ve owned this pedal for some time now and it’s not just a stationary, hard-set thing. It’s been an ever-evolving, living, breathing piece of equipment. It’s now much more than it was on that quiet morning in my home studio. Even though, honestly, that was plenty.

That concludes our Empress Effects Reverb review. Thanks for reading.