Meris Mercury7 Reverb Review

 

The Mercury7 Reverb was the first pedal release from Meris, a Southern California based builder currently comprised of only 3 team members. While at a glance the Mercury7 may seem like a pretty standard reverb, it’s actually more of a conceptual reverb instrument. After all, the sounds of the Mercury7 were inspired by the majestic use of reverb found in Vangelis’ original Bladerunner film soundtrack from 1982, and if you’re familiar with the work, that should give you a hint as to the kinds of sprawling cinematic ambience this pedal can produce.

The Mercury7 Reverb pedal was actually derived from Meris’ Mercury7 Reverb 500 Series module, the world’s first 500 Series based algorithmic DSP reverb. When you consider the Mercury7’s inspirational source and the fact that the Mercury7 was originally designed as a studio tool first, you can further imagine the perspective with which it may be best to approach the pedal. Expanding your perceptions in this way will help you see the Mercury7 Reverb as a portal that can open wormholes to uncharted dimensions of reverberant space.

 

Features:

  • Handcrafted Algorithmic Reverbs
  • Analog Mix & Dry Signal Path
  • High & Low Frequency Damping
  • Extensive Modulation Capability
  • Auto Swell Envelope (variable and foot-switchable)
  • 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
  • Premium analog signal path and 24-bit AD/DA w/32 bit floating point DSP
  • Premium Analog Devices JFET input section
  • Color – translucent coat of deep blue over brushed aluminum
  • 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
  • -115 dB Signal to Noise Ratio (typical)
  • Premium low noise Analog signal path throughout
  • Auto Swell Envelope (variable and foot-switchable)
  • Analog Devices JFET input circuitry
  • Wet/Dry signal mix occurs in the Analog domain
  • Selectable True Bypass (Relay) or Analog Buffered Bypass
  • 150 mA total power consumption
  • Durable transparent blue powder coat over brushed aluminum
  • Current draw: <150mA
  • Dimensions: 4.25″ wide, 4.5″ long, 2″ tall

Visit Meris for more info about the Mercury7 Reverb.

 

 

Sound & Performance:

As is the case with the similarly laid-out Polymoon and Ottobit Jr. pedals, the Mercury7 Reverb has a surface arrangement of six knobs, a pair of buttons, and two foot-switches.

The main knob functions are generally self-explanatory, but some of the knobs function a bit differently from what you’ll find on some reverb pedals. For example, while the Space Decay sets the length of your reverb trails (the “decay”), there’s also a change in the way the reverb dissipates depending on where the knob is set. The knob will seem to expand and contract the reverb as you turn it, and the reverb seems to get “bigger” and more dense as you turn the knob clockwise. This makes it highly interactive with other parameters; as the reverb gets bigger and louder, you may need to attenuate the sound with the Mix knob. Likewise, the Lo Frequency and Hi Frequency knobs can help shape the atmosphere of the reverb. You can brighten the high-end to add more sheen to the reverb or dampen the highs for a boxier sound, and you can remove some low-end content for a thinner reverb sound or increase the size of the virtual room.

The two center knobs, Modulate and Pitch Vector, provide a couple extra surface options for augmenting the sound of the reverb. Modulate adds modulation to the reverb ranging from a light, smooth sway to deeper and more hypnotic movements. (We’ll discuss this a bit more when we get to the Alt functions.) The Pitch Vector knob selects between different pitch intervals that shift the pitch of the reverb. It’s worth noting the knob interplay again; when you add a Pitch Vector selection to your sound, you may wish to experiment with changing other knob values to get the perfect sound. With the -Oct setting, boosting the Lo Frequency can help dial in a booming low-end heavy reverb. With the Slight Pitch Down and Slight Pitch Up options, try using the Modulate knob to make an even more dizzying and vertigo inducing sound. With the 5th and Shimmer options use the Hi Frequency to really accentuate or suppress those glistening upper frequencies. You’ll also notice how higher Space Decay values cause the pitches to regenerate and continue cascading in the direction the pitch is shifting.

 

Alt Functions

Each of the Mercury7’s knobs has an Alt function which is accessed by pushing and holding the Alt button while turning any of the knobs. These functions add deeper levels of customization to the reverb.

The Predelay Alt function behaves slightly different from how I expected it to compared to the many other reverbs I’ve used. The maximum time you can insert before the onset of the reverb is relatively short, but it will let you add a little extra space before the reverb so that your pick attack and transients can breathe. Considering how subtle it is, this may be more of a set-and-forget parameter rather than one that’ll have dramatic effect on the placement of the reverb in a mix; however if you’re using the Mercury7 with other instruments besides guitar, you may find the Predelay useful for tweaking the response of the reverb to work well with different audio source(s). The Density Alt function “sets amount of initial build up of echoes before the reverb tank”. To my ears this seems to smooth out the reverb as you raise the Density. With shorter settings more detail of the reflections will be audible, but at higher settings the reverb seems more diffused. It’s worth exploring how this interacts with the Space Decay. If I’m using longer decay settings, I find myself liking to add more Density, but with shorter decay times, I like to keep it low to create a sparsely reflective response that seems more room-like.

There are a couple different modulation Alt parameters. The Mod Speed option sets the “dominant” speed of the modulation. I mentioned that you can dial in a range of modulation textures with the Modulate knob. As you increase the Mod Speed and raise the Modulate knob’s surface value, you’ll notice that there’s all kinds of gargling modulation happening. It sounds like the Mercury7 is using well more than one LFO to generate the movement, and it can go from subtle to sea-sickening as you increase both of these parameters. And if you add in the Vibrato Depth Alt function, you have yet even more modulation to add to your reverb, this time in the form of more subtle sine wave based pitch modulation. The vibrato has a set speed, perhaps a drawback for those wish for more from the vibrato function. You’ll probably not notice the counter-movement of the set vibrato speed if the Vibrato Depth is set low and if you’re using both of the modulation options at once; things will just get more interesting with all the movement going on.

The Pitch Vector Mix Alt parameter adjusts the mix between the normal reverb sound and the pitch-shifted reverb. It essentially lets you balance out how much of the pitch-shifting is in your wet reverberated signal. It can be tempting to just max it out so that when you activate the Pitch Vector you get a full-on pitch-shifted reverb, but it can be more effective to carefully set the Pitch Vector Mix by ear while the Mix and Space Decay are set to levels at which you generally use them. I personally went through a phase of feeling like I didn’t like the Mercury7’s pitch-shifting effects that much until I realized how critical it is to be mindful of how much Pitch Vector signal is blended into the virtual reverb tank. For me a Pitch Vector Mix setting around 11 o’clock generally works well for getting a nice Shimmer effect that is present without being overly prominent.

The Attack Time Alt parameter sets the onset time for the Swell effect. Let’s talk about that in detail…

 

Swell

The auto swell function has it’s own dedicated foot-switch. When activated the reverb will swell from silence to full volume in response to your playing. It’s good to set the Attack Time Alt parameter to get a response that suits the feel you want to accompany your playing. This function also works really well with the Mix cranked up for a fully wet reverb signal. Generous amounts of Space Decay will also help create a huge cloud of reverb, and you can hold down the Swell foot-switch to max the Space Decay to keep the reverb going while you auto-swell in more of your playing. This adds some extra performance flexibility to the Mercury7.

 

Cathedra & Ultraplate

It’s finally time to talk about the Mercury7’s two reverb modes. While some pedals come loaded with maybe a half-dozen, dozen, or even more reverbs, this pedal has only two. Is that a drawback? Well, if you just want a spring reverb sound, the Mercury7 definitely won’t be your first choice, but the two modes on tap do cover a lot of ground. Let’s discuss.

I’m a big fan of plate reverbs, and I like to try every plate emulation I can get access to. In short, the Mercury7 Reverb’s Ultraplate algorithm is my personal favorite plate reverb for using with a short pre-delay. In fact, the stereo spread of the Ultraplate is so appealing to me that I’ve been using the Ultraplate as my default “always-on” reverb for light to moderate ambience for the past six months. While the sound of the reverb may be more artificial than a room-modeled reverb, it does what I need it to do, and when compared to algorithms from other noteworthy pedals, I keep going back to the Mercury7. Since I literally just leave it on nearly all the time, if I want to use another reverb, I may stack another reverb that has a less impressive stereo sound in front of the Ultraplate. The Mercury7 Reverb creates the space for all the other pedals to sit in.

The Cathedra is arguably the Mercury7’s flagship reverb that really magnifies all of the sound design possibilities on tap. If you want something more restrained, you’ll probably stick with the Ultraplate. But if you want see how far you can travel, the Cathedra will take you beyond the horizon. The Cathedra has way more complexity in its sound and can absolutely dominate the frequency spectrum with its massive presence and extra long reverb decay. It you’re creating music with sparse instrumentation but want to create a mood through evocative use of reverb, you’ll find plenty of expressive nuance in using the Cathedra. The knobs beg to be turned while you feel audio into the pedal, and you’ll probably find it worthwhile to consider using an expression pedal to control multiple parameters at once.

 

 

Get Connected

I already mentioned how impressed I’ve been by how good the Mercury7’s Ultraplate sounds in stereo. (The Cathedra is awesome in stereo, too, by the way.) If you haven’t noticed yet, I can’t stress enough how highly I recommend trying this pedal in stereo. And running the Polymoon & Mercury7 together in stereo is the stuff dreams are made of. The Mercury7 and other Meris pedals also let you select between Line and Instrument level signals. This makes it easier to integrate the Mercury7 in a synthesizer based rig. You can also take full control of the pedal’s adjustable parameters with MIDI, allowing control of the pedal from a MIDI controller or sequencer. Meris recently released their long-awaited MIDI I/O adapter, and for my testing the Chase Bliss Audio Midibox worked perfectly fine.

 

Ups & Downs

I really want to find some faults with this pedal, but I can’t really find anything that is a deal-breaker. I will say that I’m starting to wish more reverb pedals would include a High Pass Filter to help make space for other low-frequency instruments rather than being able to do it only in post processing. It’s essential to separate elements in an audio mix, and a huge reverb can dominate the audio frequency spectrum. The Lo Frequency can tame the lows pretty well, but I usually like to just cut out all low frequencies below a certain point. Also, I have noticed that I wish the Alt parameters on all Meris pedals were labeled in small font beneath the main parameters. While I don’t spend much time adjusting them once things are set, that’s also the reason why Alt labels would be helpful – to help users remember which parameters are where for the occasion when users do need to make a quick tweak and aren’t sure which Alt parameter hides under what knob. The only other issue I can think of is that you will need a separate device (like the Meris Preset Switch) if you want to save and recall presets. I personally have all the Meris pedals set up with MIDI and find that to be my preferred way of interfacing with and controlling the Mercury7 (and other Meris pedals). The Mercury7 may not be as flashy seeming or “wow-ing” at first, but it sounds amazing and is easily among the great reverb pedals available today. And like I said, the Mercury7 has become the one reverb pedal I can’t turn off.

 

 

The Meris Mercury7 Reverb is a masterpiece of sophisticated reverb sound design, and the versatility of its two interstellar algorithms helps the pedal hold its own against reverb pedals that contain many more. The pedal’s two humble algorithms boast an incredible range of possibility thanks to a wide range of carefully calibrated parameter controls. It’s amazing how the Mercury7 (and other Meris pedals for that matter) can seem very simple to use yet house such a breadth of potential. Rather than be filled to the brim with different types of reverb (with many of them failing to inspire), the Mercury7’s Ultraplate and Cathedra are exceptionally well crafted, and the interactive parameter controls make it possible for these two modes to cover a lot of ground. The Mercury7 alone could inspire the atmosphere of whole albums, and this pedal will no doubt be used to score some cinematic masterpieces to come in the ensuing years.

That concludes our Meris Mercury7 Reverb review. Thanks for reading.

EarthQuaker Devices Pyramids Review

 

Have you ever wanted to join a cult but the worry of being judged by your peers has stopped you? Did you try to join one late at night in a McDonald’s parking lot only to be left with a handful of fries, a party hat, and never ending emptiness? I felt the same until I found EarthQuaker Devices. Harboring spirits and secrets in each pedal, EarthQuaker Devices has rapidly turned into the boutique pedal brand of choice for those who want to add an obscure, wild element to their rig. Known for their unique yet familiar pedals like the Rainbow Machine, Data Corrupter, and Avalanche Run that reimagined “standard” effects, EQD has gone even more specific and challenged the traditional flanger with the newest addition to their family tree: Pyramids.

 

 

Visit EarthQuaker Devices for more info about the Pyramids.

 

The Soul Servants Abide

Pyramids is a stereo flanger that you can mix, tweak, and morph from a smooth jet plane into something sounding like a contemporary art song played on a broken banjo.

With a first glance at this teal and purple box, right away your eyes are drawn to the 2 sets of rotary knobs offering the options of 5 Presets and 8 Modes. Unlike its pedal siblings, Pyramids not only offers the choice to construct and save sounds, but also a mix knob to level those effects with your input signal. All of these 8 Modes can be tweaked to your desire with dedicated knobs like Manual to control the delay time of your modulation, Rate to change the speed of your LFO, Width to control the range of the LFO sweep, and Mix for dry and wet control.

When you first plug into Pyramids it’s tempting to stay lost in a subtle wash from Classic Mode. With all dials turned to 12 o’clock, Pyramids gives you just a taste of what it must have felt like to be an 80’s rock star onstage with fans blowing in your long beautiful hair. Classic mode is all about that hallowed ageless tone everyone seems to be talking about these days. I like to mess with the rate and feedback to create a warping bubble that you could almost compare to a ring modulation. Classic sounds great on large open chords allowing you to hear the ebb and flow of your modulated signal in the background.

With a quick turn of the Mode knob, you’re now on Through-Zero. This preset is where you can get some whooshing jet sounds or cancel out your signal for momentary pauses. My favorite is having the Modify and Rate turned to 0 at normal speed to create a pause similar to turning the attack knobs up on your synth of choice. Roll up the feedback, slide between notes, and you get an almost reversed signal with that nice tasty layer of flange on top. Pair Pyramids with a hearty reverb pedal such as a Strymon blueSky to get some beautiful ambient chords.

With the Mix and Rate all the way up, both Barber Pole Up and Barber Pole Down sound like a Chorus mixed with the shakiness of a sawtooth wave. These modes let you control the tone of your modulated sound using the Modify knob acting as high and low pass filter. It’s interesting to hear the tonal differences between Barber Pole Up and Barber Pole Down by switching between the modes back and forth. Playing leads on these modes creates a unique warble sound that is easy to control with the Tap/Trigger foot-switch.

Like most people, I think lasers are pretty cool. Trigger Up and Trigger Down Mode are basically your excuse to point a guitar to your loved ones and show off your true musicianship with the power of “pew” “pew” “pew”. It’s a great party trick. Everyone will love you. These two modes control how your signal reacts to you picking or “triggering” a note. Trigger up lets you sound like a Kraftwerk intro by providing a high pitched rising sweep with every pick. Pick a note, then right after hit the Tap/Trigger foot-switch to get an immediate re-trigger of that rising sweep. Trigger Down is all of this, with more of a traditional sounding “pew” “pew” in which the sweep descends.

Step Mode is a huge game changer that removes Pyramids from the ranks of any basic flanger. This Mode sounds like an arpeggio constantly rising and falling. Modify controls the amount of glide between the notes, while Width controls the pitch respectively. The fun thing with Step Mode is that it can create an infinite set of steps looping forever with the Feedback turned all the way up. This means that even after the sustain of the guitar tone dies on a note you picked, the “sequence” of steps is still audible. Step Mode is very effective on synths and digital instruments, in which you are able to hold down a note without any decay.

Random is the final adventure through the elusive Pyramids, adding a chaotic mix of random steps in a fashion that is slightly more tamable than the Magic setting on EQDs Rainbow Machine pedal. Like the Step Mode, you can control the glide of these steps using the Modify knob. Having a slow/low Rate creates a beautiful Lo-Fi sounding shimmer that can suddenly drop into a lush sound of goodness. Use Random Mode on long open chords to get the full effect of sinking into a bowl of chocolate.

With so many Modes and Presets, the user is presented with a minor annoyance of having the switch between sounds manually using the assigned rotary knobs. For some this could seem cumbersome having to bend down onstage to switch between presets. This is something to think about but also something I think that is able to be helped by assigning your presets in order of your set. Of course it is ideal to have a foot-switch to shift between numerous presets in a loop, but with the rotary design on the Pyramids it is helpful to have that click of security between each sound so you can know exactly which one you’re on.

 

 

The EarthQuaker Devices Pyramids is a versatile stereo flanger that offers musicians unconventional sonic possibilities through 8 modes, 5 user presets, and multiple control knobs. As a guitarist, synth player, and producer, I’ve always appreciated those in the guitar world who aim to do something out of the ordinary. It’s easy to sum up the Pyramids as just a solid flanger, but it’s even easier to point out unusual amount of control the user has over such a simple effect. From washed chords to randomly generated leads, Pyramids is a multi-purpose tool that has a place in any rig.

That concludes our EarthQuaker Devices Pyramids review. Thanks for reading.

SolidGoldFX Electroman MKII Review

 

Maybe I’m getting older. Maybe I’ve tried too many pedals over the years. My expectations are both high and low. High in the way that I feel like I really need a pedal to do something different. Not even cool or great, but just DIFFERENT. Low in the way that this rarely ever happens. I have just come to expect so many pedals to just be “another one of those….” But from the moment I first sat down with the SolidGoldFX Electroman MKII, I knew it was very different. This came as a surprise to me. With eyes and ears open, I proceeded to dive deeper into this beautiful delay of mystery!

My first sighting of this pedal was in Andy’s demo. Right away I was in awe of the sound of the repeats and how they seemed to be wild, yet he had complete control over them. The hold function was so musical and just made sense to me. Right away, and without even really thinking about it, I assumed this was an analog delay. It wasn’t until after I had received it and was using it for about an hour that I got into the paperwork and discovered that it’s all digital! But that’s fine with me, especially when you take into consideration the quality of the sound and features of this pedal.

During that first hour of use, a few things really got my attention. First of all, the modulation. It’s really good. Maybe the best modulation circuit I have ever heard. The circuit design gets its unique qualities from having close ties to the SolidGoldFX Stutter-Lite Tremolo circuit. I spoke with the friendly sonic scientists at SolidGoldFX in hopes of getting the scoop on what makes this modulation circuit so magical. This is what I found out…

The Modulation element of the Electoman MKII is centered on a discrete transistor based circuit that is designed to provide a consistently imperfect waveform. This already sounds fabulous, as anything that has a nice natural, organic feel to it appeals to me. Many times, when using modulation or other LFO controlled effect, the thing that stands out to me as being so unappealing is the sense that it’s just a looping sound, repeating and never altering in any way. This modulation circuit is the kind you can turn up and actually use because it does not give you the sense of a looped sound at all. The intensity of the LFO in the circuit is also impacted by the speed setting of the Modulation circuit and will change depending on the speed selected. Another super unique part of the design is that the mod circuit itself is affecting the second delay chip in the Electroman MKII by creating a rippling lag in the second delay chip’s time. It is as if someone were feeding a delay into another delay and then micro-adjusting the timing of the second delay in real time. This is why the mod circuit has such a beautifully smeared quality to it. This is, literally, music to my ears.

Another really cool thing about the modulation is that it seems to change a lot when you dial in the COLOR knob. On the darker side, the modulation seems to be tamed a bit and gets murky along with everything else. That’s to be expected and is what I like to refer to as “mud-ulation.” Then, around noon on the COLOR, the modulation really comes into its own, having a very musical and distinct characteristic. When the color knob is full clockwise (the bright side) the characteristics of the modulation seem to change to a high pass filter of some kind. This ever-changing behavior of the modulation circuit really adds to the realism of the voicing of this pedal. From an analog kind of sound with warm repeats and murky modulation, to a tape sound with HPF on the repeats, to a digital sound when you dial back the depth of the modulation. The pedal makes no outward claim to be these three voicings. Nowhere on the pedal does it say “analog,” or “tape,” or “digital.” Just the knob that reads “COLOR” along with the “FLUTTER” giving subtle hints at the analog and tape sounds that await with just a few turns of these knobs.

Diving deeper I discover that there is actually an effects loop on this pedal that allows you to add any kind of effect to just the wet signal. This is just the coolest idea. I also like that they have it assigned to one simple stereo jack that you can access with a stereo TRS insert cable. Yeah, hardly any of us have one of those laying around, but they’re very easy to come by or make, and when you’re up and running you’ll find that it’s much easier to pull the one cable in and out when wanting to remove the pedal from the loop. As soon as I realized this was a thing, I threw just about everything into that loop I could get my hands on. I was surprised how well the loop handed just about every single thing I sent through it. More on that below…

 

 

Features:

Sound Design:

  • A brand new, very unique and extremely musical modulation circuit
  • Two cascaded digital delay lines using a pair of PT2399 chips
  • Delay times up to 1,000ms
  • Option for tails on or off with a convenient surface toggle switch
  • Controls for Level, Repeat, Color, Flutter, Time, Mode, Warp, Speed, and Tails
  • Tons of Self-oscillation and gritty long repeat goodness on tap
  • An effects loop that allows you to add any kind of effect to the repeats
  • A customizable Warp foot switch
  • Two modes of delay using only the first chip, or adding the second at half-time

Ins and outs:

  • One 1/4” main input (mono jack, right side mounted)
  • One 1/4” main output (mono jack, left side mouinted)
  • One 1/4” fx loop insert (stereo jack, left side mounted)
  • 9v DC, center negative power jack drawing 40mA (top-mounted)

Knobs/Toggles:

  • LEVEL
  • REPEAT
  • COLOR
  • FLUTTER
  • TIME
  • MODE (two-position toggle)
  • WARP (three-position toggle)
  • SPEED (three-position toggle)
  • TAILS (two-position toggle)

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

The controls of the Electroman MKII are fairly straightforward, but there are some interesting things to be found as many of these knobs, and the toggles interact with one another based on how you set them up.

LEVEL: Sets the wet signal from nothing to highly involved. I also noticed that when using the effects loop, level was SUPER important when dialing in dirt pedals that are in the loop. My guess is that the level control is somewhere between the loop and the delay line. When I had it up it seemed to really hit the repeats hard and went into a really cool oscillation even with the repeats only half way. When I dialed the level back a lot, it seemed to keep things more tame.

REPEAT: From a single slap-back repeat to completely overtaking your signal. The “WARP” toggle effects the behavior of the REPEAT knob even when you’re not using the warp switch. I also found the COLOR knob to be very stimulating on the repeats. The brighter you go with it, the more oscillation you get in return.

COLOR: Takes your delay from digital to “analog/tape” voicing. Some will have the opinion that the bright side of this doesn’t get super bright like some of the digital delays out there. The PT2399 delay chip isn’t really meant for full-on digital brightness. It’s always been known for more of an analog/tape kind of sound. Of course, many factors can determine this such as front end driver (if applicable), filtering (if applicable), how the PT2399 is configured, mix/summing amplifier, bypass configuration, etc. Even the guitar/amp you’re using will affect this in some ways. I would say this pedal has repeats that are definitely leaning towards the analog/tape sounds, up to, maybe, a middle of the road tone for digital delays.

FLUTTER: Controls the modulation depth, full CCW shuts off the modulation circuit. Now, here is where some of the other magic comes in. This has to be one of the best modulation circuits I have ever heard. There is also some interaction with the COLOR knob here. I can’t confirm, but I swear the modulation is adding a high pass filter on the repeats when the COLOR knob is full CW giving a very tape-like sound to the repeats. Further control of the modulation is achieved by setting the three-position SPEED toggle.

TIME: Sets your delay time from 70ms to one full second (1,000ms) of delay. Tweaking this knob with your toe gives all the warpy oscillation that you would come to expect from your favorite analog delay.

MODE: Changes between standard delay and a second mode that sends the delay signal into the second chip for half-time repeats. Great for that washy, shoegaze sound. This is a fairly common technique used in a few delay pedals. If you’re familiar with the Tonal Recall, it has the toggle for short, long, and both. This would be like long and both.

WARP: This option is kind of wonderful. Have you ever hit the “hold” function on a delay pedal and, even though it sounded cool, you really wish you could change the behavior of that switch? Well, this does exactly that. Three modes let you decide how you want it to act. Center position (my favorite) gives a subtle behavior, just dipping into oscillation and then smoothly coming out. Right position is “imminent lift-off,” as described by the manual. Full oscillation insanity ensues. Left position is somewhere between those two extremes.

SPEED: Offers three different speed settings for the modulation circuit. Slow in the center position (my favorite), fast to the right, and medium to the left.

TAILS: The Electroman MKII is buffered bypass. This switch lets you decide how you’d like the pedal to behave when bypassed. Trails are choked when the switch is to the left, and trailing when switched to the right. The pedal remains in buffered bypass whether tails is engaged or not. This helps to stabilize the design of the pedal.

Visit SolidGoldFX for more info about the Electroman MKII.

 

 

What’s new in the MkII?

Both versions of the pedal share some of the strong points of the MKII such as the effects loop and the warp foot switch. The MKII brings so many new features to the table; it’s almost like an entirely new pedal. The original knobs were very straight forward delay pedal offerings: LEVEL, REPEAT, TONE, and TIME. The MKII brings modulation to the table and adds a fifth knob with the FLUTTER control. The impressive bank of four toggles offering a combined 10 positions takes the functionality of the Electroman MKII into outer space! Options for Mode, Warp, Speed, and Tails really give you full control over this pedal. An increase in delay time from 600ms to 1,000ms rounds out the list of improvements. It’s hard to believe that all of these extra features come at an increased cost of only $25 over the original Electroman.

A delay pedal with an effects loop can change your world.

Yep. This pedal has and effects loop that allows you to input an effect or series of effects into the wet signal. That’s right, just like how the pedal adds a modulation to the delay trails, you can add in any kind of effect to the repeats. Want your delay trails to have a flanger on them? How about a ring modulator? No problem. Just plug it in and go for it!

I decided to have a little science project yesterday. I sat down with a box full of pedals and just tried each one in the loop. My first choice, Ayahuasca (a really nasty fuzz pedal), gave the repeats a low-fi, thin and gritty feel. I was surprised how much the dirt pedal really affected the repeats and the oscillation. I had my repeats set at about 3:00 and the dirt easily sent the repeats into a really nice, sustained oscillation. Dialing back the REPEAT, and to some extent even reducing the LEVEL knobs really did the job of keeping the oscillation right where you wanted it. Also, dialing back the OUTPUT on the Ayhuasca really helped to keep things under control. Next, I reached for an old 1980’s Peavey Chorus. It had a nice, subtle effect on the repeats. I even tried a few things that seemed rather unorthodox. An Empress compressor with the ratio set to 10:1 and a strong mix really made for a unique sound that almost changed the delay into a completely different pedal. Next was an Ibanez Analog Delay. Getting the TIME knobs of the two pedals to sync up made for some great rhythmic repeats and easier oscillations. A surprisingly great pedal in the loop was my Gravitas tremolo. It was just right and sounded like it belonged there. My favorite of all of the pedals I tried was the f.13 Flanger from Alexander Pedals. It just sounded incredible in the repeats. Using the mix knob on the f.13 allowed me to get it just right. Then I had a random idea. What if I could insert the Plus Pedal into the loop of the Electroman MKII and the f.13 Flanger in the loop of the Plus pedal? Took me a few tries to get it right, but I got it so that the Electroman MKII was doing its thing normally, repeats and all. Stepping on the Plus Pedal momentarily blended the f.13 Flanger smoothly into and out of the repeats. It was like magic… like gives you goosebumps magic. I’ve included a diagram on how to set all that up. Hopefully you will also find some amazing things to do with that loop!

 

 

Value, quality, and nitpicks

As I stated above, the Electroman MKII delay holds its own as a unique, feature-rich delay pedal. When you look at the asking price of $225, I think it’s an incredible value for all that you get. In fact, it’s only $25 more than the original Electroman! The price-point places it right in there with the current price for a new Deluxe Memory Man. I feel it’s a toss up between those two. Each has a few things better than the other, but overall, they’re kind of similar pedals, and I’d actually give a favor towards the Electroman MKII. For one thing, the build quality. This pedal, like all of the SolidGoldFX line of pedals, are hand-made. One look inside this thing, and I really understood the quality of workmanship. Everything has a nice, high-end feel to it. The knobs, toggles, and switches all give a sense of quality and attention to detail. I should also point out the aesthetic of the pedal is just spot on. The color of the enclosure is just gorgeous. Has that look of a 1970’s gold sparkle speedboat with a beautiful, thick layer of clear coat. The bold “ELECTROMAN” logo on the face of the pedal is also just right. My only slight nitpick of the aesthetic is that the labeling on the knobs is a little hard to read in the low lighting of my musical séance room. My other nitpicks are a little less forgiving. Let me first say, that the MORE I love a pedal… the MORE I seem to nitpick it. Feeling indifferent about an effect pedal doesn’t make me wish or hope for much of anything from it. It’s when I love a pedal that I tend to get all like “WHY???” My biggest nitpick of this pedal is the lack of a tap tempo. Especially on a delay pedal that has two foot switches. There must be a reason that the hold/warp switch doesn’t double as a tap tempo on this pedal. Hopefully, that reason isn’t that is was just deemed unimportant. That would REALLY complete this pedal for me. I mean it all depends on how you use the stuff. Lots of very fine effects, most of them vintage, do not have a tap tempo feature. However, these days, it’s really kind of expected. MIDI implementation, and even an expression pedal option, would also have been very nice. That small group of musicians that actually use MIDI is growing very rapidly. Most of us ignored MIDI until pedalboard controllers started getting very popular. Now a pedal that doesn’t store and recall presets just kinda makes you go “huh?” My final nitpick is a personal one. Some of us prefer side jacks and some of us prefer top-mount jacks. I’ve found, for the most part, side jack people are just the ones that don’t really care where they are. Top-mount jack people are mostly “top-mount or GTFO.” I understand why some compact pedals have side-mounted jacks, and I am ok with that. Then there are pedals that are in these wide enclosures and you open them up to find that the jacks cold have been mounted up top. It just kind of seems like a missed opportunity to me. That’s all. If you’re a top-mount jack fan, you understand what I’m saying. Still, all in all, the Electroman MKII is a great choice when weighing value, quality, and my wish list.

 

 

The SolidGoldFX Electroman MKII has a decidedly unique sound, insuring a firm spot in the overcrowded world of delay pedals. This one comes down to two things: uniqueness and versatility. The Electroman MKII simply sounds different than other delays out there. Hard to do and hard to believe, but they did it! An impressive list of features and a vast amount of versatility bring this pedal to your board. Whether you’re looking for the sounds of analog, tape, or digital, the Electroman MKII has you covered. Even if you get bored and want to change the sound of the pedal completely, you have the effects loops at your disposal for an unlimited potential to create any delay sound you can imagine! If you’re looking for a delay that is surprisingly easy to use, has multiple voicing capabilities, and a feature-set and sound design that sets it apart from the crowd, look no further than the Electroman MKII from SolidGoldFX!

This concludes our review of the Electroman MKII Delay from SolidGoldFX. Thanks for reading!

Alexander Pedals Colour Theory Review

 

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

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

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

 

Features:

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

Sequencer controls:

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

Step Controls:

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

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

 

 

True Colours

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

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

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

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

PIT

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

MOD

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

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

FLT

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

TRM

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

OSC

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

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

PWM

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

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

Colour Correction

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

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

 

 

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

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

Review: Electro Harmonix Canyon Delay & Looper

 

The Canyon delay from Electro Harmonix is a brilliantly designed, beautiful sounding delay/looper that will far exceed your expectations. Inside the little box you’ll find 9 delays, a reverb, two octaves, a sample and hold, a looper, some modulation, tap tempo – the list goes on and on. In fact I struggle to think of a better delay when it comes to the list of features offered vs. size and price. This delay pedal feels like when you go to a restaurant for a huge expensive meal and they forget to charge you for the drinks! With all that value, you just feel like you’re getting away with something! A delay that inexpensive, you’d surely assume it’s not going to sound very good. Do NOT make that mistake here. The Canyon delay sounds as good as the best delays on the market. Considering all that it does, how incredible it sounds, and the impossibly low price point, it will surely find it’s way onto, like, a gazillion pedalboards.

When Electro Harmonix releases a new delay/looper pedal, guitar players stop and take a listen. And rightfully so. For decades, Electro Harmonix has produced some of the best delays as well as some of the best loopers on the market and have been responsible for much of the industry’s innovation and time-tested designs. I just need to say the words “Deluxe Memory Man”, and you’ll get what I’m saying. Along the way, Electro Harmonix has continued to add features to modern versions of the DMM keeping tweak-happy delay lovers content for years. So when I saw that they now had a very compact, multi-algorithm delay plus looper to offer, I was more than intrigued. The Canyon is somewhat of a “new ground” for Electro Harmonix in a couple different ways. The only other delay of theirs I can think of in this form factor would be the Memory Toy, a great sounding, paired-down grandchild of the DMM, but, alas, a one trick pony. The Canyon delay, however, has several tricks up its sleeve. We may have expected a multi-algorithm delay from Electro Harmonix to be in their much larger enclosures like a DMM size, or, at least, a Memory Boy size. But here it is… and it’s as tiny as a Toy. Here are the Canyon’s features before we go on.

 

Features:

Sound Design:

  • 11 modes (nine delay types, sample and hold, and a looper)
  • Delay times ranging from 3ms to 3 seconds
  • Tap tempo with tap devisions utilizing the internal switch or an external switch
  • Option for trails on or off via internal dip switch
  • Simple controls for Level, Delay, Feedback
  • Easy access to secondary knob functions for added tone shaping
  • Several modes offer a nice, musical “ramping time” feel as you turn the Delay knob
  • Tons of Self-oscillation and gritty long repeat goodness on tap
  • Multi-stage LED indicates several behaviors including note division and looper functionality
  • All of this in a super compact enclosure

Ins and outs:

  • One 1/4” main input (right side mounted)
  • One 1/4” main output (left side mouinted)
  • 9v DC, center negative power jack drawing 150mA (top-mounted)

Knobs:

  • MODE SELECT: An 11 position rotary knob for selecting the delay mode/looper
  • FX LVL: Controls the blend between your dry signal and your delayed signal
  • DELAY: Controls your delay time. All the way down is 3ms, all the way up is 3 seconds.
  • FEEDBACK: Controls the number of repeats of the delayed signal. One repeat to infinity

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

Mode Select: Here you can select nine delay types, as well as the sample/hold, and looper.
The nine delay types are:

1. ECHO: A simple digital delay where each repeat sounds exactly like the dry signal and repeats fade away cleanly.

2. MOD: A modulation delay. The same as the ECHO delay, but with added modulation for warm, complex repeats.

3. MULTI: Multi-tap delay. Each repeat of the delay is played back at exactly the same volume. Feedback sets the number of constant-volume repeats.

4. REVRS: Reverse delay. The repeats come back to you in reverse. However, this isn’t your dad’s reverse delay. This one features intelligent reverse echo. It actually studies your playing so it can produce reverse echoes that best suit your playing and delayed time. Tip: Use the secondary function to adjust the sensitivity of the intelligent pluck detection algorithm.

5. DMM: Duh. Deluxe Memory Man. For my money, this mode is where it’s at. It’s a perfect example of a well-tuned delay pedal. Everything just sounds perfect and beautiful when played in this mode. Organic echoes transform as they repeat and lush modulation is available in the secondary functions. Beautiful-sounding time ramping effects are at your toe-tips. Just tweak that DELAY knob and musical pitch-shifting repeats rise and fall before your very ears.

6. TAPE: Tape delay. This mode simulates the highly sought after tape delay units of the 1970’s. Echoes degrade and distort as they repeat with plenty of wow and flutter on tap.

7. VERB: Reverb plus delay. In this mode, each repeat has a plate reverb attached to it. Turn the feedback all the way down and this mode can be used as a reverb only with DELAY controlling the pre-delay of the reverb signal.

8. OCT: Octave delay. Man! This is the mode that took me by surprise. The octaves are incredible and track with absolute perfection! There’s a POG and Pitch Fork in this thing!! It sounds really cool and trippy to use it as a delay, but you can also turn the Feedback and Delay all the way down and you have a damn good octave generator. Get into the secondary functions to adjust the octave up and octave down.

9. SHIM: Shimmer delay. This mode has some magical things going on. A rich octave-shifted harmony of delight will roll out of your speakers. They achieve this by modeling a chain of four EH pedals. First the signal is fed into a Soul Preacher Compressor then split in two. Half of the signal goes into a POG2 Pitch Shifter and then into a Stereo Memory Man. Then the signal is merged and sent into a second Stereo Memory Man. It boggles the mind to think of what’s going on in there. But it sounds incredible. I can’t imagine a shimmer delay sounding better than this.

10. S/H: Sample and Hold: First of all, I gotta say, this is the first Sample and Hold I have ever used where I actually can hear a viable use for what is coming out of the amp. I set the Delay to about 9:00 and made clicking sounds on my strings to produce some really cool machine gun sounds, à la Jamie Hince of The Kills. Feedback controls the sensitivity of the pluck detection.

11. Loop: Looper mode. In loop mode, the Canyon becomes a full-feature looper pedal with 62 seconds of record time. A loop is stored permanently, even when the looper is powered off. Wanna record that cool loop and take it to the gig. Go for it! Wanna save that cool riff from rehearsal? You’re safe!

Secondary knob functions are as follows, per mode:

DELAY KNOB, FEEDBACK KNOB
ECHO: N/A, N/A
MOD: Modulation rate, Modulation depth
MULTI: Volume decay/swell, N/A
REVRS: Pluck sensitivity, N/A
DMM: Modulation rate, Modulation depth
TAPE: Tape distortion, Flutter mod depth
VERB: Reverb Time, Reverb tone
OCT: Octave up level, Octave down level
SHIM: Low pass filter, Modulation depth
S/H: Volume decay/Swell, N/A
LOOP: N/A, N/A

*If you feel like you’ve messed with the secondary knob functions so much that you’ve now taken your pedal so far out in space and you just wanna get back? No problem. The geniuses at Electro Harmonix left nothing to chance. You can return your pedal’s secondary settings to a factory default! This is also useful if you’ve purchased this pedal used and simply want to hear it on a “clean slate” so to speak.

While in Looper Mode, the knobs will function as follows:

FX LVL: Controls the output level of the loop playback
FEEDBACK: Controls the level of the existing loop that is preserved while overdubbing

The LED is also there to help you know what you’re doing. It will change color and/or blink to tell you valuable information such as:

In Looper Mode:

  • RED: Press the switch one time, the LED goes red and begins recording immediately
  • GREEN: Press the switch again, the LED goes green and begins playing back the recorded loop. Each time the loop cycles, the LED will briefly turn off
  • GREEN (dim): To stop playback, press the switch two times. Once stopped, the LED will show as green, but dim to indicate the presence of a recorded loop that is ready for playback
  • ORANGE: The LED will turn orange when you record an overdub on top of the original loop
  • RED (blinking): To fully erase a loop you press and hold for two seconds. The LED will go red and blink rapidly six times then go out. This indicates that the loop is fully erased

In Tap Division Mode:

  • RED: Quarter notes, no tap division
  • ORANGE: Dotted 8th notes (¾ of tapped delay time)
  • GREEN: 8th notes (half if tapped delay time)

Visit Electro Harmonix for more info about the Canyon.

 

 

Into the Canyon:

The Canyon delay is kind of a lesson in the idea that you don’t have to spend a ton of money to get great quality. I’ll admit that I’m a goon. When I first took a peek at this pedal, I kind of turned my nose up thinking it was just another cheap delay pedal designed to meet a specific price point. We have all seen some examples of not only delays, but other pedals that are put out, even by great companies, that just seem to be so they can have an entry level offering in every category of effect. But the truth has been made clear in this review already. This thing is nothing short of incredible. Personally, I would probably pay upwards of $350 for a delay of this caliber of sound quality. Of course, at that price-point, I’d probably expect it to be stereo with presets and MIDI/expression control.

When I sat down with the Canyon, I was nothing short of blown away. As I went through the algorithms, I remember texting my buddy with videos of each one that I loved and how rich they sounded. I simply could not understand why and how this thing was so magical. There are several modes on this thing that, even if that one single mode was all I got for my $139.00, I would be totally fine. The “DMM” is one. The “Octave” is another. “Tape” is not far behind. Then you have a sample/hold and a looper?? Dang. Then, on top of all that, you have the secondary functions. That absolutely shoots this delay pedal over the top! Make sure you have a look at the manual to see detailed information on how far this pedal actually goes.

If I had to get really picky, I’d say stereo would be cool, similar to the TC Electronic Flashback Delay, which is the same size. That pedal comes in at about $30 more than the Canyon, but I’d gladly pay up for a stereo version of this pedal although the multi-dimensional qualities of the delays make you forget you’re running in mono. MIDI and expression would have been great as well but would likely have required a larger enclosure.

Then there is the appearance of the pedal. It has kind of a cartoonish graphic and a random, swooshy “Canyon” writing over the graphic. To me, as well as some of the guys in the forums, this just kind of lends itself to a “silly” appearance, as if it’s begging to not be taken seriously. Then again, there was that Crayon pedal, too, so maybe it’s fitting the theme? The white on white plastic knobs give it a simple, yet washed out appearance further taking the design in a somewhat “cheapie” direction. I thought that the design could have just been better planned. An appearance with more of a sharp, higher-end design, maybe something black, could have been executed and would have been a more fitting visual representation of the intricate sounds that this pedal produces. I am not saying any of this to knock on Electro Harmonix but rather to relate to you as the consumer. If you’re looking at this thing and thinking “It doesn’t LOOK cool,” fear not. This pedal delivers the goods. Just get used to the look of it and have fun with it! If the looks don’t bother you then you’re already ahead of the game. I thought the tap tempo feature felt a little clunky, but I always assume that’s just me. There is a remote tap input which helps a ton by allowing you to place the delay pedal out of reach, near the end of your signal chain, but have a remote tap close to your foot at the bottom of the board. I found that using the remote tap worked much better for a more seamless tap tempo experience. Same with the looper. It’s not the most intuitive one-switch looper I’ve ever used, but that is because this looper has a LOT more features than a standard Ditto Looper, and added features can mean added learning curve. Once I read the manual and got myself acquainted with how it works, it became a breeze to use properly. Again, a look at the manual works wonders here.

 

 

The Electro Harmonix Canyon Delay & Looper offers an astounding value and top quality delays. I cannot believe what you get out of this pedal at any price, yet it retails at under $140. I’d put this thing up against nearly any multi-algorithm delay out there. Seriously. The only place it falls short of the big boys is in its mono operation and limited external control options. Thankfully, many of us are running mono rigs and that simply won’t be an issue. At least they have the external tap tempo option, which I am sure will get used. When you cook all of this down to one simple thing it’s “how does it sound?” I’d take the Pepsi challenge with this up against any of the more expensive popular delays out there. If you were just blindfolded in a room and listening to this delay perform against its more expensive competition, you would likely struggle to tell the difference. Then you’d be struggling trying to accept that this thing does what it does. I had to just face the music and set aside my self-imposed negative opinions of a inexpensive delay pedal. Then, once that happened, I was kinda like, “Duh. This is a delay pedal from Electro Harmonix.” Why wouldn’t it be incredible? The features offered in the Canyon are as deep as they are grand.

This concludes our review of the Electro Harmonix Canyon Delay & Looper. Thanks for reading!

Review: Boss MS-3 Multi Effects Switcher

I am terrified to imagine a world where an introduction to Boss is necessary, but here we go. Founded as the guitar effects branch of Japan’s Roland Corporation during the rockstar legend-making yesterworld of 1973, Boss has always had a busy hand in helping to shape the trajectory on which guitar tones have evolved. Everyone’s had that proverbial Boss pedal on their ‘board at some point in their career, and whether you’ve taken it off for something with more bells and whistles, or it’s remained an integral part of your tone, there’s a sense of safety in those iconic enclosures that makes it difficult to depart from them entirely. Despite the boutique-saturated pedal market we enjoy, Boss still reigns supreme as the veteran CEO of dependable and innovative effects pedals, and today we’re looking at the Boss MS-3 Multi-Effects Switcher, a spiritual descendant of the MS Multi-effects series and ES-5/ES-8 Effects Switching Systems condensed into a smaller, equally utilitarian multi-effects pedal and effects loop switcher.

I’ve often expressed my general distaste for multi-effects pedals (though, paradoxically, I haven’t officially reviewed one that lacked merit), but in the case of the MS-3, we’re looking at something that takes an absolutely essential utility, effects switching, and fuses it with a ridiculously packed effects suite backed by Boss’s extensive history of quality and reliability. Atop such an already tall bastion of usefulness, Boss has also stacked a mind-boggling cadre of control features that shames even the most feature-rich pieces of gear you’ll find on the market today. This was easily one of the most complex pieces of hardware I’ve ever had the pleasure of reviewing, and even having played with it for weeks, I’m still not convinced I know it completely.

Features:

112 built-in effects with up to Six Simultaneously active Effects Blocks

Slim, angled Form-factor

5 Programmable Footswitches

3 Programmable Knobs

Mono in, Stereo out with true Stereo or Left/Right Mono

3 Mono Effects Loops

2 TRS Control/Expression inputs, each capable of controlling two parameters

Control Output for external switching of amp/pedals

Backlit LCD and panel LEDs for on/off status of loops and effects

Global EQ, Noise Suppressor, Built-in tuner

Up to 4 MIDI patches on channels 1-16

Up to 8 MIDI Continuous Control (0-127)

Build & Functionality:

I was foolishly expecting the MS-3 to be massive, but to my delight it only measures out to about 11”x4”. For comparison’s sake, it’s about 4 modern pedals wide and two inches shorter than a standard enclosure. A wedged form-factor makes stomping effortless when placed nearest to the front of your pedalboard. The brushed aluminum of the chassis is historically known for being easily scratched, but I’ve been able to buff out tour scars inflicted on similar surfaces in the past. The first thing you’ll notice when activating the MS-3 is the brightness of the LCD screen; this thing is Sirius-bright. If the blinding white is too much for you to handle or if the brightness detracts from the text displayed onscreen in a practical, dark setting, a contrast control is found in the menu.

Though you should be fine cutting power to your whole pedalboard at once, I love that the MS-3 has a power switch. Too often for comfort, I’ve seen quite a few massive digital effects suites (and even some boutique amp sims) released into the market with no dedicated on/off switch, making every subsequent power-down a nerve-wracking experience, so the tactile comfort of flipping a power switch does wonders for my peace of (obsessive-compulsive) mind. Furthermore, the MS-3 sports an auto-shutoff feature which will power down the MS-3 after a certain amount of time if it fails to detect any incoming signal, movement on the knobs, or presses on the footswitches.

Boss boasts that the 24 bit, 44.1khz A/D D/A converters built into this unit keep your signal completely intact with practically no loss translating from analog to digitally-processed signal, and I can confirm: this thing is CLEAN. The only time I noticed any significant change in sound quality or hiss was when I used some of my own dirtier pedals, particularly DSP-driven effects.

If you hate deep-menu diving as much as I do, Boss has developed a companion editor software for the MS-3 for editing and saving patches, aptly named the Librarian. You won’t find much in the Librarian that you can’t dig up in the MS-3’s internal menu aside from the potentially infinite amount of presets saveable on your hard drive, but the option to use a graphic UI can improve your workflow in spades.

Like a few other deep effects switchers, there are two ways to play, and your use may vary depending on what kind of player you are. Memory Mode changes the LED indicators blue, and gives you relatively immediate access to 200 patches in banks of four. Each footswitch represents a patch in each bank. By default, pressing footswitches 1 & 2 simultaneously will bank down, while 3 & 4 will do the opposite. The footswitches and control ins are all programmable inside of any given patch, adding to the flexibility therein. For example, in Memory Mode you can set an overdriven tone in patch 1, then activate/bypass a delay in the same patch by hitting footswitch 1 inside of that patch. (More on this later.) Manual Mode in red is more of a classic switcher format with each footswitch representing a loop or function that’s programmed in. The four blocks controlled by the footswitches are represented on the LCD screen. There’s utility here even if your immediate response is to dismiss it as the inferior mode. If you’re more the type to prefer having all of your information displayed right in front of you, you can program each footswitch to control individual effects/loops, the control outs, tap-tempo, solo triggers, or the tuner. Scrolling through patches can still be accessed via knob 1, or via an external footswitch. If you’re of the mind to use one configuration and disregard the other entirely, you can even program the Memory/Manual switch for a total of five operable footswitches.

Full Assimilation

In a skin-deep kind of way, the beauty of the MS-3 lies in its ability to integrate your pre-existing effects via its effects loops. These three mono in/outs each comprise one effects block, and the block of three loops can be placed anywhere inside of the MS-3’s signal chain which helps when deciding what effects you’ll be running before, within, and after the MS-3’s loops. If you have MIDI-enabled pedals, you don’t even need to limit your loop choices to three pedals, as you can send program changes and continuous controller (CC) messages from the MS-3 to activate your effects as you need them.

Guitarists who run between gain stages via their amp’s effects loop can utilize a Loop on the MS-3 to achieve the good ol’ “four-cable” method, so they don’t necessarily have to force their preamp to take all of the incoming signal directly to the face. Simply route your guitar into the MS-3, out from one of the Loop sends to the front of your amp, out of the amp’s effects send back to the return of the MS-3 Loop, and back out to your amp’s return imput. There’s no level control on the loops, so you’ll be using 100% of whatever signal the pedals in the loops contribute, but in most cases you’ll have a mix knob of some sort on the pedal in question. It would have been great to be able to rearrange the individual loops, and the lack of parallel routing, especially in stereo, seems like a big missed opportunity. I can forgive these shortcomings under the auspice that the MS-3 simply lacks the hardware to make this possible, and given Boss’s trend of releasing a huge, no-chill mega unit after the success of a mellower, precursory unit, one could speculate that if we’re lucky, we may see switchable parallel routing and the addition to stereo loops in a hypothetical MS-5 or other larger sibling to the MS-3. You know what else would be nice to consider for our fantasy expansion? The ability to cannibalize one of the effects loops and reintegrate that external effect into the wet signal of the delay/reverb voicings. The MS-3 concept inspires a lot of ways that Boss may take it to new plateaus in the future.

Riding the WAV (And Friends!)

Since the MS-3 followers the previously released ES-8 & ES-5 switchers, you would be correct in guessing that the programming capabilities of the MS-3’s footswitches and controls aren’t as shallow as turning effects on or off. That degree of simplicity is an option via the CTRL menus, of course, but you don’t have to dig super deep to realize the possibilities are nearly limitless. The CTRL Assign menu will allow you to select the source that controls any effect parameter or MIDI channel in the MS-3. For example, you can route your expression signal to the MIDI out to control a MIDI-enabled pedal or use a separate footswitch to change your volume pedal to a wah within a patch.

One particular function in the MS-3’s control wheelhouse is as close to black magick as I can fathom; in fact, when I discovered that it was capable of this forthcoming tone-witchery, I drew a salt circle around it to protect myself. Inside of the Ctrl Assign menus, you can tell the MS-3 to modulate any parameter from any onboard effect or MIDI-enabled pedal along a triangle, sine, or sawtooth wave LFO. I know. Those of us familiar with ramping pedals know what’s possible here, and the MS-3 excels at it. You can set the depth of the modulation to and from any point on the digital dial, and sync the cycle to either an arbitrary frequency or the internal tempo of the MS-3 divided from whole notes to 16th notes and all the dots and triplets in-between. It’s not quite a sequencer, but it comes pretty close. Oh, and did I mention there’s EIGHT Ctrl Assigns, and you can program each input to control multiple parameters? You want to sweep the rate of a dark chorus up to a tight chirp while maxing out your reverb wet mix and activate the Sound Hold effect block simultaneously? Go nuts, you beautiful crazy person.

Despite the Owners’ Manual’s insistence that we use Boss external footswitches and expression pedals, and though the Dual Expression pedal and FS-5U’s ilk are perfect for getting the most out of the MS-3, the effective list of non-Boss compatible external units is miles long. One such third-party footswitch option that I would be remiss not to mention is our very own resident overachiever Paul Uhl’s “Paul Switch”, a simple little doodad with height-adjustable soft-touch footswitches that he designed specifically as a companion piece to the MS-3. The reason I mention Paul’s pedal in particular is because he is an avid MS-3 user (the dude uses two) with an extensive history in MIDI and CV solutions. He has a few videos on programming the MS-3 on YouTube (not just in conjunction with his switch) that helped me get started, and he’s even gone so far as to create and manage a 500+ member Facebook Boss MS-3 Users Group for fellow users of the device that members of Roland UK monitor and occasionally participate in.

Building Blocks

Even if you’re convinced that you have all of the sounds that you could ever need (who are you kidding?) in your elitist boutique-only ‘board, the MS-3’s effects suite is one-hundred-and-twelve effects strong. I’ll say that again, but louder: ONE HUNDRED AND TWELVE EFFECTS! Included in this densely populated effects nation are eerily accurate facsimiles of many of the standbys that Boss has built their empire on. The OD-1, OC-3, and CS-3 are just a few classics simulated here. Most of the guitar effects have a Bass equivalent, so the MS-3 is a great addition to bass and synth effects chains alike.

Editing effects directly from the unit is a bonafide breeze. From the home screen, hitting the edit button will bring you into a menu displaying a graphic representation of the effects chain. Not including the Noise Suppressor block, we have six onboard effects that can be active simultaneously. FX 1 & 2 contain your Compressor, Drives, EQ, Pitch Shifters, and other weird goodies; MOD 1 & 2 are obviously the extended Chorus and Tremolo family; DLY and REV are what they sound like. On the front panel, Knob 1 scrolls through the effects chain, Knob 2 rearranges the blocks, Knob 3 scrolls through the effects type, and each block is activated or bypassed with the aptly named “On/Off” button on the top panel. In the “Edit” menu, the physical knobs correspond with the parameters displayed on the LCD screen. The depth of control is what I’ve come to expect from the MS-3; most of the effects have multiple pages worth of parameters and toggles to play with, in most cases adding more features than their analog predecessors had. If you want to save a patch, just hit the Exit and Enter buttons simultaneously.

In addition to the Parametric and Graphic EQs in the FX blocks, the MS-3 also has a Global EQ that covers the entire signal chain. This is a great way to dial in a nice overall tone palette going in to your amp before you even touch the patch-specific Para/Graph EQs which not only saves time but also allows more room for effects if you’re not fussy about stray frequencies.

Overdrive/Distortion

As recently as half a decade ago, digital overdrives and distortions were openly lambasted as the ugly step-siblings in the overdrive family with tone elitists relegating them to being used in emergency scenarios only with seldom few exceptions. Use a digitally rendered overdrive in a multi-effects pedal for the sake of convenience, and you were sure to earn condescending sideways glances by the overwhelming majority of your fellow guitarists. Today, however, not only has this superstition been washed away by the deluge of seamless gain plugins and software, but the pedal market has boomed with DSP-based overdrive modelers whose uncanny resemblance to the real thing has stumped many a pro, and there’s been no indication that this trend will do anything but grow in our lifetimes. Now that we’ve established how important this section is, let’s talk about the MS-3’s digital reflections of the truly essential growl-inducers we all know and love.

The first thing about the OD/DS that stood out to me was the overwhelming variety of voices available. Twenty different flavors of sweet, sweet dirt are eager to get under your fingernails in the Guitar drive channel alone, ranging from Clean Boost to Metal Zone (yes, that Metal Zone.) There’s also a much lighter Bass overdrive that includes six voices with increasing degrees of filth. It’s obvious to me that Boss has definitely taken their time to get as close to the real thing as possible, but how does it fare in practice? Favoring the language of my people, I started with the RAT voicing to see how effectively Boss was able to invoke that familiar distorted post-rock fury, and I was not disappointed; it rips in all the same ways that old black box could without tying up the same real-estate. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the clean boost added crystal clear volume and tasteful gain with no digital distortion. There are also Bass, Mid, and Treble boost variations that do what they sound like. The Blues voicing emulates its predecessor, the BD-2 Blues Driver, and effectively fattened up my tone with even-order harmonic girth, each note sizzling with surprising liveliness. I won’t expound much further, but there’s a Muff, Octo-fuzz, Guv’nor and Tubescreamer crammed in there too, to name a few more options.

All of the overdrives have a bottom-end boost/cut knob for expanded tone-sculpting on top of the obligatory Tone knob. On the third page of the Overdrive blocks, there’s an option to boost your volume further through the use of the “Solo Switch,” which like any parameter can be conveniently assigned to any of the footswitches on the MS-3 or to your chosen external footswitch. Personally, I like pairing the Solo switch in trigger mode and the Feedbacker effect in momentary mode on an external footswitch to really maximize my solo/sustain tones.

Overall, I’d say there’s an understated merit in the drives modelled here. Noise and hiss weren’t really a problem for me, and for when we’re not working with the silky-smooth cream of a boutique valve overdrive, these’ll patch any holes in your gain arsenal on a bad day. There isn’t much of a tonal gap between their interaction with real amplifiers and amp sims. I’d say the latter is closest to my taste in most instances, if only for the fact that you can more readily nail the tones you seek and not have to forego a drive that SHOULD sound good but just doesn’t like your amplifier. For that reason and for the sake of quick tweaking at gigs, I’d still advise any Tube amp users to hold onto their favorite drive(s), but once you grow comfortable with the MS-3’s drive section, you can relax knowing that you have a backup pedal that can produce a solid approximation of any kind of grit your music calls for. Plus, if you’re really eager to unload some weight on your pedalboard but lean heavily on overdrive or distortion, you can always map up to three of the OD/DS parameters to the knobs on the top panel and know that most listeners won’t be able to tell the difference between your live, MS-3 modelled tones and your carefully crafted analog studio tones.

Filters/Pitch//Weird Stuff

There are a few odds effects in the FX blocks that probably aren’t essential, and maybe two or three whose musical usefulness is nebulous at best, but most of them are nice to have, especially the few single-use effects that eliminate their physical single-use counterparts. For example, the MS-3’s Slow Gear effect is an auto-volume swell, a voltage-controlled swell that features a “Detect” threshold knob that controls how much signal it has to detect before it starts to increase your signal from zero, and an attack knob to lengthen or shorten the climb to unity volume. It’s a simple and effective way to swell in your signal without needing to tie your foot to your volume pedal. If I’m being honest, a physical auto-swell has no place taking up power or space on any ‘board in 2018, so the inclusion of the Slow Gear in the MS-3 is welcome. Sound Hold is the “freeze” in the MS-3. It’s another one of those simple effects you may not often need but can be clutch in those musical situations that require a drone, though you can’t expect much more than droning from it. It’s more or less an on/off sort of deal. There’s also a “hold”-on-steroids voicing called Warp which sounds like a delay set to infinite with flanging feedback. This is most applicable when used momentarily or in conjunction with volume swells, so Warp and Slow Gear are best buddies. The flexibility of this particular effect is stunted by a shortage of parameters with only controls for the mix and the rise and fall of the wash. Then there’s the Overtone effect which, appropriately, generates wavering overtones over the input signal to produce an organ-like effect.

If no multi-effects unit is complete without a wah filter of some sort, it would follow that the MS-3 is complete three times over with Touch Wah, Auto Wah and regular ol’ Wah. The Touch and Auto Wah effects can be set to band-pass or low-pass filters, but the classic Wah effect includes seven voicings to satisfy a range of tastes. As far as the pitchshifting & harmony effects go, almost everything you could want that involves pitch is compartmentalized into six individual effects. I almost panicked when the “Whammy” pitch shifter wasn’t where I thought it would be (filed under “Pitch Shifter”), but thankfully Boss included it in the Pedal Bend effect. Sound quality-wise, there is the occasional pitch-shift artifact here and there, and it gets expectedly crowded and discordant when playing chords, but it’s not hard to tease out a quality tone when playing single notes during solos.

The last effect in the FX block is the Sub-Delay, a short, digital-styled delay with a high-cut parameter. Initially, I wondered why this particular delay wasn’t placed in the Delay block with all the other delay voicings, but quickly came to realize that including a delay in a separate block from the only block designated for delays opens up great ambient possibilities, allowing you to stack two independent repeats. Hell, you could even go to five if you’re using the Sub-Delay in both FX blocks (2 repeats,) the Dual delay voicing (2 repeats,) and the Delay reverb voicing (1 repeat,) for truly unnecessary levels of washy ambience, but the possibilities are here if you want to indulge in excess.

MOD

The lushness is real. Chorus, flange, ring mod, panning tremolo… this entire effect block truly shines in stereo. If vanilla chorus doesn’t do it for you on its own, 2×2 Chorus is there to make all your modulation dreams come true. Two frequency-band choruses work against one another in stereo to produce vigorous warbles in the lows and serene zen in the highs or vise-versa. The Crossover parameter controls where in the spectrum the low and high modulations are split, keyed into frequency presets ranging from 100 Hz to 4 kHz. As if you weren’t spoiled enough, pre-delay parameters for both frequency bands determine the poignancy of the double effect and permit even further contrast between the flavor of your highs and lows. The Tremolo here is pretty basic, offering controls for waveform, rate, depth, and mix. Where the tremolo lacks in creative mojo, the Slicer effect swims in it. The Slicer effect is a Boss SL-20 Jr, packed with 20 mono, volume-targeting tremolo patterns. Phaser and Flanger are here too, ready to blow your head off with crazy sweeping modulations and parameters that most analog versions struggle to support. The Flanger can be run in full stereo and has a separation parameter to pan the signals left and right. There’s also a resonance control that ranges from tastefully subtle to unbearably nauseous, “Manual” that sets the center frequency that the flange modulates, and a Low Cut Filter in addition to your standard Rate, Mix, and Depth knobs. Meanwhile the Phaser has four step options (4, 8, 12, and BiPhase) for different flavours of phase-shift. The Step Rate knob controls (you guessed it!) the rate that the shifts take place and when activated produces some pretty rad digital bleeps in a similar way that a sample and hold does. This works against the actual rate of the phaser itself, and by setting them both to different tempos, you can create rhythmic patterns around which entire song structures could theoretically be built. Like most effects in the MS-3, the rate of all of the MODs can be set to either a numeric value ranging from 0-100 or to the MS-3’s internal tap tempo at multiple subdivisions.

DLY

I was thoroughly impressed when I played with the Delay branch of the MS-3. I could not find a single genuine flaw in the tones. Analog is dark and gritty in its attempt to recreate those bucket brigade delays we all love. The Tape delay even decays with wow-and-flutter. Also included is Boss’s modern classic Tera Echo which is a wild modulated delay/reverb with frequency-shifty trails. Much like its inspiration, the MS-3’s Tera Echo features a hold function that can be triggered via footswitch, perfect for building soundscapes. Setting the CTRL Assigns to momentarily max the feedback or flip the tempo will grant you access to the sorts of oscillations and pitch bends many plain Jane digital delays only dream about. I particularly like setting my expression pedal to control the tempo; you can program the heel down to leave your repeats locked in to the tap-tempo and sweep the time down to 1ms from there to pitchshift at will.

I (somewhat selfishly) wish at least one of the delay blocks had a quick loop function a la DD-6 to emulate the simple-yet-effective glitch stutters that the Boss DD-6 was capable of. You can get kind of close with the CTRL assigns programmed to max the feedback and activate the bypass in toggle mode on the same switch simultaneously but it’s not quite the same. Come to think of it, a looper would have been nice to include with the gift horse that is the MS-3, but we won’t look in that particular mouth. We’ve got plenty here.

REV

I love reverb too much. My relationship with reverb is bordering on unhealthy co-dependency. Reverb makes my wife jealous.

So I’ve been vigorously wringing my hands in anticipation of getting to this effect block, looking like a supervillian watching all the pieces of his carefully constructed plans fall into place. And as I expected, I was treated to eight super clean digital reverb voices that excel at creating the reflective ambient wash I’m addicted to.

The gang’s all here, too; Ambience, Plate, Spring, Room, two different Halls, a modulated Reverb and a Delay/Verb. The first voice in the selection is called Ambience, and it isn’t really a traditional reverb per se. It simulates a room mic picking up the sound of your instrument from a distance, the length of which is determined by the pre-delay parameter. This is an awesome way to add a 3-dimensional feel to your tone if it’s coming out dry but you don’t want a super recognizable reverb tone. The two Halls differ in the sense that Hall 1 is tight and more clear than Hall 2, the latter producing much more mellow and diffused reverberations. Plate glistens with metallic sheen, making the best use of the high-cut parameter out of any of the ‘verb voices to cut back on it’s particularly poignant high-end. Mod throws a slow modulation over the tail of the reverb, and Delay is (surprise!) a delay into a reverb. All of the reverb voicings can go full wet, of course, allowing us atmospheric nerds the space we require to transcend this lame mortal coil.

I have to say, while all the Reverbs in this block are gorgeous, I feel they could have been fleshed out a little bit more. For example, the modulated reverb voicing could have definitely used rate and depth knobs for its filter. You get high-cut and low-cut parameters, which is great, but you’re sort of stuck using the one tempo and the relatively shallow modulation that Boss gives you to work with. It sounds awesome, but the impact of that awesome sound is rendered kind of inert by the inability to tweak it in more creative ways. In fact, I couldn’t help but notice that most of the reverbs had basically the same parameters available for tweakage save a few exceptions with the only significant contrast being the fundamental differences between the algorithms themselves. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and the fact that you can put the Reverb block anywhere in the chain will help you experiment with different tones, but a few extra control additions would have been welcome.

Room for Improvement?

As impressive as the MS-3 is, we’re going to play hardball here and try to snuff out any possible room for improvement. If I were to head the project of updating the MS-3 or releasing a higher-end version and I had no resource constraints, what would I do to improve on what’s already here without adding too much to the cost of admission? Aside from the spillover, parallel routing, and Loop improvements I mentioned before, a successor could do with another CTL OUT jack (or three) for starters. The fact that there is only one Control Output (for up to two control modulation destinations when using a TRS cable) is limiting, especially if you have more than two pedals in your signal chain that don’t have MIDI but do have foot-switch enabled options switching options or exp/CV inputs. I also have to mention that being unable to relay CV expression to the pedals in the loop through the CTL OUT is mildly disappointing as well. That said, if you’re open to unorthodox and/or relatively complicated solutions, you can find a MIDI-to-CV converter by spending a few minutes on Google. So if you have a bit of money to spare in your budget and you don’t mind experimenting, something like that might make an invaluable companion piece.

While we’re on the external control tangent, how about a MIDI in? My ideal ‘board necessitates uninterrupted MIDI communication from my DAW to my MIDI-enabled devices all the way down to my vocal effects, and anyone with a similarly automated chain will make the same complaint. You can still sync to a global CV click by relinquishing a control input or output CV tap tempo by giving up the sole control out, but that in itself is a major bummer. In a band where most readers likely spend their musical time, the notion of having to actually stomp the box isn’t exactly heartbreaking, so I can’t rationally judge the MS-3’s viable utility on this fact alone. It’s also not entirely outside the realm of possibility for Boss to add MIDI-in via the USB input in the future; the prospect of future software updates is always a force multiplier for value, and while I’m not holding my breath (as full USB to MIDI capabilities would probably require a complete overhaul of the MS-3’s firmware), that addition will remain stubbornly at the top of my wishlist. I haven’t had the chance to test the viability of a MIDI-to-CV converter relaying data to the MS-3 through the CTRL ins, but coupled with the aforementioned CTRL out limit, even if it’s possible, there’s a high probability that there would be a severe bottleneck in the automation flexibility therein when compared to direct MIDI-in. For now, the lack of MIDI input creates a nigh-insurmountable obstacle for the growing population of solo musicians and bands alike that rely on MIDI automation from their DAWs and MIDI gear. I should also note in passing that the ES-5 and ES-8 feature MIDI-thru, but for the sake of comparison, it’s not a factor that justifies overlooking the extensive effects suite in the MS-3 considering nearly everything else in the MS-3 in terms of control is a direct carryover from the ES-5. It’s just an observation that I think you should consider if you’re truly happy with your effects (read: in denial) and only seek something with a little more pliability by way of integration. And as I was writing this NAMM 2018 happened, so I think it’s important to also mention that Boss’s new flagship unit, the GT-1000, features MIDI-in as well, so check that out, too, if that feature is a must-have for you.

One important feature in most huge effects suites is the implementation of reverb/delay spillover, particularly in the case of switching between patches. In a musical context, dropping out of a reverb with no trails can be a most effective mood-killer and often implies to the audience that amateur hour has begun: cue the turned backs and trips to the smoking alley. Okay, you have to have some pretty bad luck to catch such an apathetic audience, but a trail snuffed out before its time is a pretty big turn-off for me as a listener. In the MS-3, we get spillover, but only when turning the delay/reverb on or off, not when changing patches completely, or when bypassing a pedal in the loop. If you keep that in mind when you’re programming your presets you shouldn’t run into any catastrophic problems. It’s a safe bet to leave a MIDI-enabled delay or reverb after the MS-3, to prevent the dreaded cutoff. You’ll want to do this with a stereo delay in particular (if you run in stereo,) since the MS-3’s loops don’t support stereo, but the output does.

The Boss MS-3 Multi Effects Switcher will, without a doubt, be remembered as a pedal that set a new standard for all-in-one multi-effects pedals, especially at its price point. It’s just as impressive when used on its own in a pinch as it is integrated into an established pedalboard with your other pedals. The tones leave very little to be desired. The options for external control are impressive. Not to mention there’s a growing community of knob-tweakers discovering and refining the knowledge of what’s possible with the MS-3, lending their experience to beginners for the greater good. At the end of the day, what else could you want? Guys, I tried really hard to justify knocking off another half star, but I just couldn’t find a good enough reason. My suggested solutions to any “problems” mentioned here would be going way beyond the threshold of necessary features in a loop switcher or a multi-effects unit. Truly, the only thing about the MS-3 that might stress you out is that their are so many possibilities. In fact, the general unbiased consensus in the BGE crew is that with its mind-boggling effects suite, its deep and expertly crafted control array, and its flexible routing configurations, the MS-3 is arguably among the very best pedals released in recent years.

US Street Pricing: $399.99
http://www.boss.info/us/

That concludes our Boss MS-3 Multi Effects Switcher review. Thanks for reading!

Review: Effectrode LA-1A Super High Resolution Leveling Amplifier

 

A few years ago I developed an infatuation with guitar compressors – yes, those subtle and mysterious pedals that often go overlooked in many rigs in favor of flashier and more exciting effects that have a more obvious impact on your overall sound. While the workings of compressors can be elusive to some guitarists, many of you know that a good compressor dialed in right can cohesively bond your guitar with your amp to create a more consistent and smooth response which in turn can enhance the sound and playability of your instrument and your entire rig for that matter. Guitarists who use a compressor often regard them as indispensable and rightfully so.

While there are many types of compressor pedals with subtle differences in how they compress your audio signal, I’d argue that the inherent sound quality or audio fidelity of a compressor should probably be the first consideration made when buying one. Compressors typically have the inherent drawback of raising the noise floor as they level out your volume and increase the clarity and sustain of your notes, so extra consideration should be made to choose a compressor that boasts high quality, low noise operation. In this review we’re going to be taking a look at arguably the quietest and most advanced compressor ever released in pedal form: the Effectrode LA-1A Super High Resolution Leveling Amplifier.

 

Audiophilia in Pedal Form

Effectrode is a UK based pedal builder that specializes in building what they call “audiophile pedals”. Living up to that moniker (primarily due to an unparalleled expertise in vacuum tube technology) has helped them build a rabid following of dedicated fans who fill up waiting lists for the limited batches of their latest releases. One such Effectrode offering that has garnered praise among tone aficionados is the PC-2A, a photo-optical tube guitar compressor inspired by the legendary Teletronix LA-2A Limiting Amplifier – yes, the same LA-2A that’s widely hailed as the greatest rack compressor of all time and which you’ve heard on the majority of relevant albums released in the past forty or so years. While the PC-2A is a very respectable heir to the LA-2A legacy and remains a formidable compressor that is still in production, the new Effectrode LA-1A Super High Resolution Leveling Amplifier aims to set yet a new standard in stompbox format guitar compressors.

 

From 2 to 1A

Effectrode started with the topological foundation of the PC-2A and sought new ways to offer even higher fidelity dynamic volume attenuation. To achieve the lowest noise floor possible, Effectrode employed a parallel tube plate design typically only found in high-end phono preamps for turntables. This type of circuit has never before been implemented in a guitar pedal or professional grade studio leveling amplifier/compressor. The results Effectrode achieved even led to their claim that the LA-1A is “technically the quietest pedal or studio leveling amplifier ever made”. While that might be one of the most casually confident and hype inducing statements I’ve ever seen in print, the implementation of the parallel tube preamp in the LA-1A lends credibility to that statement. For the technologically inclined, here’s an entry in the Tube Cad Journal that explains how a circuit using multiple tube stages in parallel lowers effective resistance and resistance noise. We’ll discuss that more in relation to the LA-1A in a moment.

 

 

There are other notable design variances between the PC-2A and the new LA-1A. The PC-2A is a reasonably compact compressor that has only 2 knobs (Peak Reduction & Gain), and on the back is a Limit/Compress switch. This completes a simple parameter set-up that mirrors the ease of use of the original LA-2A. The PC-2A also has internal Attack & Knee trimpots which are useful for calibrating the response of the pedal to perform optimally with your guitar or other instrument of choice. The trimpots’ default settings were perfectly functional for most general uses; however, some musicians and engineers wanted to have these controls more easily accessible. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd fame is known for using a modified PC-2A pedal with external Attack & Knee controls. I’ve also used one and can attest to the merits of having external Attack & Knee controls. The larger LA-1A, housed in an Effectrode Blackbird style enclosure, draws upon the PC-2A mod and provides dedicated surface knobs for Attack & Knee. It also adds a foot-switchable Boost and some other handy functions. We’ll discuss these differences and functions in detail as we go along.

 

 

Visit Effectrode for more info about the LA-1A.

 

Sound & Performance:

While we’re not exactly doing a PC-2A vs LA-1A shootout, this review will contain notable references to both pedals throughout, so it may be a useful resource if you’re deciding whether to get one pedal or the other. The PC-2A is noteworthy for its simplicity. Just set your Peak Reduction to dial in the compression amount and then set your makeup Gain to match unity gain or add a little boost if desired. The LA-2A retains that ease of use while providing more tweaking versatility and a lower noise floor. And wow, is it quiet!

No hype or exaggeration intended, but I’ve been absolutely astounded by how clean and quiet the LA-1A is. The PC-2A is already one of the quietest guitar compressors available, but the LA-1A somehow surpasses it along with every other guitar compressor I’ve heard in terms of low-noise operation. Anyone comparing the two units side-by-side will notice this simply by setting the pedals to a similar compression response and A/Bing the pedals. According to Effectrode the measured self-noise for the LA-1A is -6dB/oct lower across the entire audio spectrum (20Hz to 20KHz) relative to the PC-2A. That provides some measured proof from a scientific standpoint, but I was convinced just by hearing the difference for myself. Compressors often pose the unwanted tradeoff of adding signal noise in exchange for the volume attenuation and audio massaging qualities they provide, but the LA-1A doesn’t suffer from this drawback even when pushing the Peak Reduction into extreme compression territory and having to boost the Gain quite a bit to compensate. It’s bizarre yet refreshing to experience first-hand as you’d generally expect to fight with the noise-floor when adding more compression. The unparalleled low-noise operation of the LA-1A compared to other guitar compressors will easily justify the cost of admission for many musicians.

The LA-1A is relatively easy to dial in. I’d recommend starting by setting the Gain, Attack, and Knee at around noon and then raising up the Peak Reduction from its minimum position until you hear the compression kicking in while you play. As you get it set to where it’s applying a gentle squeeze to your signal that sounds and feels good, you can then tweak the Gain to match your unity signal level.

I want to discuss the Knee before the Attack as this parameter is especially important in altering the response of the compression. If you set the Knee all the way counter-clockwise, you’ll notice that the Peak Reduction knob seems to have less of an effect as you turn it. The Knee control changes the response curve of the compression (re: how quickly it reaches maximum gain reduction), so as low settings it’ll seem to have a less pronounced effect as the compressor releases while played notes are ringing out before ever reaching maximum compression, making for a very subtle effect. As you increase the Knee, the compression will reach maximum gain reduction faster, resulting in a harder compression and seems to take longer to return to baseline. At extreme settings it has a much more pronounced limiting effect as the compressor achieves full Peak Reduction instantaneously (after the Attack, of course).

The Attack knob sets how fast the compression kicks in (with the Knee determining how quickly the compression reaches maximum gain reduction as mentioned before). Generally, you’ll want to have the Attack set slowly enough so that your initial pick attack gets through before the compression starts happening. To set it up, just crank the knob to fully clockwise and start cutting it back while playing until you’re happy with the transient sound of your pick attack. You can generally get away with pushing the Attack as high as around 3 o’clock without killing your pick attack as long as you’re using lower to moderate Knee settings. I often find myself pulling the Attack down to around the 1-2 o’clock area and setting the Knee to around 11-ish o’clock; then I’ll set the Peak Reduction to taste. Different styles of playing may call for a different feel; for example, try a fast Attack with higher Peak Reduction for a sound that blooms in after your initial pick attack when the compressor starts releasing. As always, let your ears guide you to what sounds good.

 

Limit/Compress

Perhaps the most controversial change to the LA-1A from the PC-2A is the removal of the classic LA-2A style “Limit/Compress” switch. On the PC-2A this switch would let you take the compression from a smoother, gentler response to a super squished sound. It’s similar to the switch you find on the front panel of an LA-2A rack unit (or any LA-2A emulation in your DAW software). On the LA-1A, the dedicated “Limit/Compress” function is absent.

Before I did my homework (meaning before I simply asked Effectrode engineer, Phil Taylor), I assumed that the Limit/Compress switch functioned by adding elements to the compression circuit to induce the harder compression response the Limit setting is known for. In actuality the switch “adds resistance in series with the photo-optical attenuator to make the limiting effect more subtle (aka compression)”. In other words the circuit’s natural response is more prominent before elements are put in place to reduce the intensity of the compression. Now at this point you may be wondering what the absence of the Limit/Compress switch on the LA-1A means in actual use. Well…

The PC-2A already added elements to the classic LA-2A style of compression courtesy of the pedal’s Attack & Knee trimpots, and the Knee in particular is a parameter that takes the Peak Reduction response from a smoother compression to a harder limiting. In use it sounds and feels like the Knee control is providing a smooth taper between the classic LA-2A style “Limit” and “Compress” settings. With the LA-1A making the PC-2A’s trimpot functions external, thus giving you quicker access to lighter compression or harder limiting, the Limit/Compress switch could be considered a redundancy among the LA-1A’s surface parameter set. After all, the Knee control on the LA-1A is essentially allowing users to dial in a custom “Limit/Compress” response rather than being restricted to only 2 static settings at either extreme.

I’m over-simplifying what’s going here as the PC-2A and LA-1A are both achieving similar styles of compression response by slightly different means because of the removal of the Compress/Limit switch, but essentially what the PC-2A achieves via a switch and 2 trim-pots the LA-1A is achieving with only 2 external knobs. I find the LA-1A a bit more convenient to use in this regard with its Knee parameter being noticeably more effective when setting a compress or limit response compared to the PC-2A’s Knee trimpot and Limit/Compress switch.

 

Dynamic EQ – “NORM – JANGLE”

In place of the PC-2A’s Limit/Compress switch is another mysterious switch at the far right of the back panel next to the Input jack. (The test prototype unit in my photos is unlabeled, but production units say “NORM – JANGLE”.) This is the LA-1A’s Dynamic EQ switch. When in the active position, the LA-1A boosts the level of audio content in the upper frequency spectrum. Why is this necessary and important? Well, a noteworthy side-effect of many compressors is that when volume peaks are reduced, you’ll tend to notice a perceptual loss of high-end content. Basically, many compressors kill your top-end. Sometimes this effect is desirable, but the perceived alteration of tone can often seem to dull the sound of your source material. This is why you sometimes see additional Tone controls on some compressor pedals – to compensate for any loss of high-end. But Effectrode’s approach to this issue is surprisingly unique and a rather compelling solution. The Dynamic EQ function boosts upper frequencies relative to the setting of the Peak Reduction knob. Basically, the more you compress your signal, the more the Dynamic EQ will compensate by increasing your high-end. It’s incredibly subtle and musical. I consider the Dynamic EQ function to be the LA-1A’s “secret weapon”, and I pretty much leave it on 100% of the time regardless of which guitar I’m using or what style of music I’m playing. As an extra tip when using the Dynamic EQ function, remember to consider how setting the Knee knob affects whether you need more or less Peak Reduction to fine-tune your compression since the amount of Peak Reduction used will affect how much Dynamic EQ compensation you’ll hear. While these shades of subtlety may go unnoticed to some ears, those of you with a keen attention to sonic detail will likely appreciate the nuances you’ll hear.

 

LA-1A’s Tube Stages

The LA-1A, like the PC-2A, has two tube stages. The first stage is a grounded cathode tube stage. It’s exactly like the first preamp stage of a Fender Twin Reverb or Blackface Deluxe Reverb. The output stage is a cathode follower circuit which also acts as a buffer. The PC-2A uses a single sub-miniature tube for these stages, but the LA-1A has a lot more tube muscle coming into play here… and protruding from its surface.

For the LA-1A’s cathode tube stage, a pair of 12AU7s provide four triode tube stages in parallel and are primarily responsible for the pedal’s incredibly low-noise compression. These stages overlay 4 identical copies of your guitar signal, and without altering your signal tonality, any self-noise from the tubes “is averaged, smoothed, and reduced.” For the cathode follower stage, two triode stages of a 12AT7 are implemented in parallel to enrich the output signal.

While the stock JJ Electronic tubes sounded fine during my testing, Effectrode also suggests trying other N.O.S. tubes for personal customization; Effectrode recommends Philips JAN 6189W or JAN 5814A in the 12AU7 positions and a JAN 12AT7WC for the 12AT7 position if you seek even “sweeter and richer tones”.

 

Need a Boost?

With the LA-1A populating a larger Effectrode Blackbird style enclosure, the increase in size afforded the possibility of another foot-switch function. A dedicated Boost function seems like a fine pairing with a compressor as a compressor will generally be running into other drive pedals or into an amp if it’s all you’re using. The LA-1A provides up to a modest +6dB of boost. That may not really sound like a lot compared to what you’ll find of some pedals (+20dB? Seriously?), but experienced ears often understand that less can be more when it comes to precise volume level adjustments and listening for the intricacies of tone variation that small adjustments can make. So the LA-1A’s Boost knob gives you a huge sweep to carefully dial in just a bit of extra volume boost, and it will be more than enough for the needs of the musicians that this pedal will most likely appeal to.

On a note worth mentioning here, the Boost isn’t exactly a dedicated “tube boost” as all the pedal’s tube stages are already being used in the circuit; however, since the Boost can only be used when the pedal is engaged for compression, you’re already getting an audio signal that’s harmonically impacted by 6 tube stages before the Boost jolts your signal a little harder into the rest of your audio path. So you are technically boosting a tube flavored audio signal, just not applying any other tube gain stages that could potentially alter or color your sound. Sure, it would be neat if Effectrode could have crammed a subminiature tube under the hood somehow for even more tube-y goodness, but the approach implemented is more respectful to the painstakingly attuned audio signal produced by the compressor.

On a side note, I did originally have minor concerns about the Boost not being able to be used independently from the compression, but then I realized that I’ve really been leaving the LA-1A on all the time. With most “always on” compressors, I still find myself sometimes turning them off on occasion; for example, a particular compressor may always sound great for leads but sound a little off when playing some styles of rhythm. In the past few months I’ve been using the LA-1A, it has become a staple of my sound. So yes, while I’d still argue from a critical standpoint that would have been nice to have at least had a dip-switch toggle option to set the Boost to be used independently (maybe in a future PCB revision?), but it most likely won’t be an issue in actual use if you find yourself leaving the compressor always on.

 

EXT. SELECT

The EXT. SELECT jack lets you plug in a TRS cable to take remote control of the Bypass and Boost foot-switches. This gives you similar control to that of using a 2-button foot-switch with your Fender Twin Reverb or other similar amp. And the external switching functionality is an indispensable accommodation that users of professional effects switchers will appreciate. If your switcher has at least two “control out” or similarly named output jacks, you have use them to operate the LA-1A. But what if you have limited control outputs and/or want to leave the LA-1A always on and just operated the Boost remotely? Simply make a custom TRS cable and short the “Tip” end of the cable. This will make the pedal be activated by default. Then use the “Ring” side of the cable with your switcher’s control output to toggle the Boost on and off as needed.

 

 

Studio Use – Direct Out

For maximum versatility in the recording studio or other professional audio environment, the LA-1A has a few extra nifty features in its arsenal. The “600 OHM BAL. OUT” jack is a ¼” TRS output that lets you connect the pedal (using a TRS to XLR cable) to a mixing console or other destination that has an XLR input. This output is fully balanced and isolated with a Triad Magnetics audio transformer to eliminate ground noise and reduce hum to an absolute minimum. A gain pad switch with +6dB, +12dB, and +18dB options facilitates matching the output level with other line level or instrument level gear.

 

Stepped Gain vs Variable Gain

A fascinating point of note about using the “Direct Out” option is that it completely bypasses the Gain knob and Boost functionality of the pedal. The idea behind this is that in some audiophile and pro-audio circles, stepped volume attenuation is preferred to variable potentiometers for improved audio fidelity. With the LA-1A this approach shouldn’t be mistaken as a means to simply achieve more transparency (as the Triad Magnetics audio transformer adds its own subtle character and colorization), but instead what’s happening is that the Balanced Output is bypassing the Gain and (switch-able) Boost potentiometers, removing any possible elements that could potentially add signal distortion. The 3-position Pad switch is instead used to select your fixed output level while the input gain on your audio interface or the level sliders on your mixer can be used for precise gain adjustment. The pro-audio crowd will likely appreciate this stepped implementation for how it facilitates integration of the LA-1A in professional audio environments.

For fun I connected the LA-1A to my pedal chain via its Balanced Output using the Tip plug of a TRS cable to feed my other pedals. It’s hard to say if the Triad Magnetics transformer was actually further sweetening my tone or if the pedal was even quieter or more “hi-fi”. It already sounds excellent, and it’s the quietest compressor pedal I’ve ever played, so it’s likely not necessary for guitarists to attempt to “hack” their way into using the Balanced Out in a typical guitar setup. Still, if you must toss conventional wisdom to the wind, you could experiment with running it this way although bypassing the Gain pot may not be ideal considering you’ll still need to use another gain stage (like your amp’s Gain or another pedal with volume control) to precisely set your volume level. Also, giving up the Boost might not be acceptable. While reading the spec-sheet might inspire the imagination to try things like this, for pedalboard use you’ll be better off sticking to recommended use of the normal Output. Save the Balanced Output for recording guitar or bass directly into a DAW (like Logic or Ableton Live) for processing with amp plugins or re-amping your dry guitar.

 

Still No Gain Reduction Metering?

Aside from all the praise I could continuing heaping upon this pedal, there’s only one other thing I’d like to have seen: gain reduction metering. Sure, it would likely be impossible to fit a real LA-2A style VU meter on the LA-1A’s already packed surface area. And even a row of metering LEDs might have been difficult and costly to implement. But perhaps a single multi-colored LED that indicated Peak Reduction could have been squeezed in somewhere. As with the PC-2A, you’ll just have to use your ears, but hearing can be deceiving and all kinds of factors like listening fatigue and the Fletcher–Munson effect can play tricks on how we think we’re perceiving sound. The LA-1A often performs best by adding very subtle compression, and it would have been nice to get some visual feedback as well as providing a helpful training aid for guitarists who are less experienced dialing in compression or really hearing the difference it’s making to their signal. The lack of gain reduction metering isn’t a deal-breaker and doesn’t really hinder performance or enjoyment of playing the LA-1A, but it’s likely to be the most notable addition that could make this pedal a more perfect guitar compressor.

 

 

The Effectrode LA-1A Super High Resolution Limiting Amplifier is a top-shelf photo-optical tube compressor for musicians who place the importance of premium low-noise operation above all else. For all the variations of compressor pedals that exist and countless iterations from various builders, the LA-1A is most likely to objectively be the quietest, reaching a new plateau I don’t expect another builder to match anytime soon. It even somehow manages to top the venerable PC-2A thanks to its external Attack & Knee controls and tone sweetening Dynamic EQ functionality – not to mention the sweet Boost function. (The PC-2A is still an excellent unit, and if board real estate is a concern, that pedal is definitely worth considering.) While my overall impressions are primarily based on how exceptionally well the LA-1A performs as a pedalboard bound guitar compressor, the potential to use it in the studio as an alternative to an LA-2A rack unit may also warrant consideration. Effectrode have spared no attention to sonic detail in designing a compressor that stands tall in all areas of operation and applicability, and in the few months I’ve spent with it, it’s become my new favorite guitar compressor pedal.

That concludes our Effectrode LA-1A review. Thanks for reading.

Meris Ottobit Jr. Review

 

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

 

Ottobit vs Ottobit Jr.

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

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

 

Features:

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

Specs:

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

Visit Meris for more info about the Ottobit Jr.

 

 

Sound & Performance:

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

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

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

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

 

To Mix or not to Mix?

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

 

Filter Goodness

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

 

Stutter

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

 

Sequencial Chaos

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

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

 

The Presets Paradox

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

 

Expression Control

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

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

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

 

External Sequencing via MIDI

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

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

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

 

 

Bit-Crushing… in Stereo?!

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

Keeley Electronics Caverns V2 Review

 

Even in my most minimal setups, there’s sure to be a dedicated delay and reverb pedal, and so I’m intrigued by the idea of these effects being designed to work together in one pedal. The Keeley Electronics Caverns V2 expresses this intent as a combination delay and reverb. It’s updated from the V1 with an improved layout of controls, wider foot-switch spacing, an optional buffer for delay/reverb spillover, and a Mod selection switch. It’s also presented in a more attractive and artful boutique appearance with a clean, modern, and airy graphic design. The colorful abstract triangle art on the case is a metaphor for the complex sound possibilities and interactions between the delay and reverb. The Caverns V2 encourages you to turn every knob, flip every switch, and get creative mingling the delay and reverb together, creating lush and complex sounds.

Features:

  • Keeley’s Magnetic Echo circuit which emulates an analogue tape delay
  • Classic Delay Blend, Time & Repeats knobs – Delay timing up to 680milliseconds
  • 3-way repeats Modulation switch with modes of Off, Deep, or Light for adding “Wow and Flutter”
  • Classic Reverb Blend & Decay knobs
  • Reverb Warmth knob that increases the analog tone or modulation intensity
  • Reverb Rate knob that increases the modulation speed of the reverb
  • A switch to choose between Shimmer, Spring, and Modulated reverbs
  • Discreet bypass foot-switches for the both the reverb and delay sides.
  • Trails or True Bypass – By default the Keeley Caverns in is trails mode, so when the bypass switch is on, the given reverb or delay will maintain the tone and continue in the buffer, ringing out again when bypass is switched off. The back-plate can be removed to change the setting to true bypass.
  • Plastic knobs with just the right amount of smooth resistance, and hexagon shaped for a sure grip
  • All metal casing

Visit Keeley Electronics for more info about the Caverns V2.

 

 

Sound & Performance:

For my testing, I used a 16-step sequenced semi-modular mono synth. I started with the delay side, then the reverb side alone, followed by mixing both effects together.

Delay side

The Magnetic Echo tape style delay is a monster. The trails are very warm and convincingly analog with a bit of lo-fi grit. I organized the delay testing by the Rate knob settings: shortest, medium, medium-long, and longest, followed by “playing” the rate name at higher blends and repeats.

Shortest Time (7 o’clock). At lower blends and repeats, the delay had a thickening effect to the sound, like a slap-back doubling. With the Blend and Repeats knob increased to around 3-plus o’clock, the delay sounded fast and metallic with an industrial bent. At the highest Repeats and Blend, it started to sound out of control from the feedback repeats, amping up the energy. This was the fastest and noisiest setting.

Medium to Medium-High Time (10 o’clock – 2 o’clock). At the medium rates, I could start to hear more musicality in the trails and modulation. Modulation in Deep mode adds a rich retro sound and wobble, and Light mode adds a delicate touch of the modulation. It’s great that the Caverns V2 offers both to suite diverse tastes. Deep mode created a greater sense of being off-balance, which can be a desired effect. At moderate Repeats and Blend, especially with the modulation switched on, there was a syncopated, wave-like quality of the music bounding in the air which added a dimensional feel. At the highest Blend and Repeats settings, the delay repeats started to tumble delightfully and deliriously into each other, the sound piling up and building further into a crescendo of a distorted and sleepy roar.

Longest Time (5 o’clock). At a low to moderate levels of Repeats and Blend, the repeats began weaving in and out of each other creating a loosely woven tapestry in the air. As the Blend and Repeats knobs were increased, Time seemed to be playing tricks as the repeats sounded slower, but catching up to other notes, bounding together in loping rolling hills. Modulation added to an off-balance drunken effect. At the highest Repeats and Blends, the distortion and feedback became an undulating belly of ambient noise.

Playing with Time. After testing with Time knob in fixed positions, I set about on a more chaotic adventure to play the Time knob. I kept Blend and Repeats in relatively high positions, toggling between just-in-control to out-of-control feedback. Starting with the shortest “metallic” sounding Time settings and quickly increasing Time, the sound rumbled into place. The effect of the repeats already in motion completing their cycle, rumbling and then settling, added a physicality to the sound. Speeding up Time had a watery trickling up effect, like a clock ticking faster into the future. There were different pitches to the delay as Time was sped up and slowed, alternating between the increasing pitch of a faster time and decreasing pitch of a slower time. Slowly moving the Time knob could be a way to introduce some intentional, almost plucked-string, musicality or evolving soundscape. Moving the Time knob faster can create gaping moments of chaos. The Time knob was fun and playable.

Reverb side

Shimmer – Shimmer mode is quite lovely and has a ‘particles ascending and spreading out’ pattern to it. The Warmth and Rate knobs act together to dial in the strength and tone of the shimmer. With Warmth and Rate at lower settings, the Shimmer is subdued and low in the background. With Warmth and Rate at higher settings, the Shimmer quality brightens into a celestial choir. When increasing the Decay, Shimmer becomes an incredibly thick and lush ambient atmosphere.

Spring – Spring mode is emulated well and is convincing. Dialing in the Warmth and Rate adds a more pronounced spring modulation. When Decay is all the way up, I could hear a more pronounced reflection in all the lush ambience, as if the sound was coming from inside a metal warehouse or stone cathedral. With a continuous tone, the spring mode adds a noticeable but small wobble of pitch modulation.

Modulation – Modulation mode adds a choral effect and can achieve reverb closer to room or hall by dialing Warmth and Rate up or down. At lower Decay and Warmth, it sounds closer to room. At the highest rate and decay the ambient sound whooshes and swirls around like a stormy cold front. It seemed almost like a subdued shimmer at the highest settings.

Delay and Reverb together – The delay and reverb are artfully well made for each other. The delay enhances and adds power to the reverb, while the reverb smooths out extreme time changes and the harsher feedback of the delay. The overall effect of them working together is lush, expansive, and stormy. It’s like painting emotion with thick expressive washes of sound.

A couple considerations

With a relatively hot input source, at a higher reverb blend and decay, and especially with the delay on, the sound would sometimes clip and distort in a bad way. I would prefer to have the sound source go directly into the pedal before the mixer, but I had better results controlling the clipping and moments of distortion by going into a mixer first where I could monitor the sound and ensure it didn’t go above the green into the yellow at all. This might not be as much of an issue for guitar but might be something to experiment with on synthesizers.

With the default trails mode out-of-box, it can be easy to forget some extreme sound is maintained in the buffer behind the scenes. One could be startled when switching the delay back on. It’s something to be mindful of, while it could also be intentionally used.

 

 

The Keeley Electronics Caverns V2 offers impressive and expressive sounds that can veer between peaceful ambience and potentially unruly soundscapes. Keeley’s Magnetic Echo is cherry. The reverbs are lush, convincing, and much desired emulations. Entire tracks could be composed with just the Caverns V2 and a sound source like guitar or synth. I could see it used in conceptual pieces that evoke concepts of time and stormy weather, as well as being a go-to favorite for making evolving ambient sounds in any context. Even at Caverns V2’s noisiest, it does a fabulous job preserving the inherent tone of the source material. It exalts both tone and your creativity. It’s also a very pretty & well-built pedal among a crowded scene of utilitarian plain designs and indie tattoo nightmares.

That concludes our Keeley Electronics Caverns V2 review. Thanks for reading.

Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal Review

 

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

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

 

Features:

Sound Design:

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

Ins and Outs:

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

Technical stuff:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Visit Gamechanger Audio for more info about the Plus Pedal.

 

 

A great starting point setting for this pedal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The best is yet to be…

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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