Empress Reverb Review – Best Reverb Pedal Ever?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi: Same as “Low” but it’s “Hi.”

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

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

And the switches are:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sound & Performance:

Pristine Classic Sounds

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

Ambient And Unique, Crazy Sounds

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

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

Easy To Use And Quick To Dial In

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

Yes, There’s More…

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

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

Reverb’s Audio Fidelity

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

Pristine VCA Mixing

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

The Emperors of Empress Speak

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

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

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

Deep Control + Ease Of Use

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

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

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

Expression Control

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

Empress Reverb vs Strymon BigSky

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Chase Bliss Audio Brothers Review – Best Gain Stage Pedal?


You know the sound this onomatopoeia represents. You’ve not just heard it, you’ve felt it. You’ve been in this room before, paced behind the writhing mass of human titillation generated before this claustrophobic rush of air a thousand times before now, but to say that each time was the same would be a disservice not just to tone, but to yourself and yes, music everywhere. And it is everywhere. Sometimes it’s an amplifier’s searing breakup, sometimes it’s a studio engineer’s worst nightmare. Every time, it is an aggressive whetstone made for sharpening your instrument’s killing edge.


Tube or Pedal, TS9 or Rat, Klon or Big Muff, it’s impossible to escape the sound of those juicy, overloaded diodes. There are endless iterations of overdrive and fuzz by endless boutique and amateur builders, and in 2017, those looking to create something new in the gain family must be sure to dig deep and create a piece that is truly innovative, lest their work be cast aside as one more buzz box in someone’s dad’s basement.

Oddly enough, in January, we first got word from Chase Bliss Audio that they were working on just such a thing: an original Analog Gainstage Pedal, replete with all the functionality and ear candy we’ve come to expect from the tonally generous and dedicated Joel Korte. The way this latest release would differ from Chase Bliss’s usual outings, however, is that this piece was a collaboration with Peter Bregman and his company Resonant Electronic Design, another (slightly-more-obscure-but-still-doing-awesome-stuff) builder steadfastly dedicated/addicted to the infinite craft of pedal design. Their combined take on overdrive/fuzz/boost is a total gain changer, and I’m humbled to get the chance to put it through its paces.


  • Two channels (JFET and IC) with a total of six distinct voicings
  • Six Parameters:
    Gain A: Controls the Gain of Channel A
    Tone A: Tone control with an emphasis on transparency
    Gain B: Controls the Gain on Channel B
    Tone B: Tone control with a mid-range boost
    Mix/Stack: Controls the level of signal coming from each voice in parallel, and acts as volume attenuator for the first voice in series.
    Master: Master volume attenuator
  • 3 Routing modes: A > B, B>A, and Parallel
  • 33 total routing configurations
  • Full MIDI functionality
  • True/Buffered Bypass switch
  • All-Analog Signal Path
  • Expression/CV in
  • 16 back-mounted dip switches control Expressed parameters and bypass method
  • Small footprint

Nuts and Bolts

If you’ve never seen a fresh Chase Bliss Audio pedal in the flesh, you’ll be stoked to know that the Brothers (and all CBA pedals) comes in a wood-burned, beautifully crafted and thematically stained goddamn wooden box, which, if nothing else, speaks to Chase Bliss’ sincere attention to detail and commitment to best serving the finished product.

The Brothers itself, while beefy in terms of stability, is also deceptively small compared to the expectation I built in my head stalking its release on the internet; it is the same size as its CBA cousins (Spectre, Tonal Recall, Gravitas, etc.), or, for a contemporary comparison, an EarthQuaker Device.

The power input takes a standard 9V center-negative power supply, and only draws 60mA thanks to its all-analog signal path, which is unprecedented for a pedal with this much tweakability outside of the CBA family.

In addition to the ¼” I/O mono jacks, there are two ¼” TRS jacks on either side of the Brothers. The left jack is a MIDI input that can be used as a bypass for Channel A with a separate normally-open momentary switch, to recall up to 6 presets with the new Chase-Bliss Faves switch (more on this in a second,) or in conjunction with a Chase-Bliss MIDI Box and your own MIDI controller for the standard 128 MIDI presets. The LED in the center indicates which preset bank is active by illuminating green, red, or not-at-all. On the right there is an Expression/CV in for your standard expression pedal or for a control voltage module. CBA recommends Mission Engineering expression pedals, but I’m testing Brothers with a Moog EP-3 which works as well. Even if you hate MIDI and all things peripheral: dudes and dudettes, use an expression pedal with this thing. The lowest-hanging fruit is setting the expression to control the master to fade in gritty violin swells, but that’s child’s play compared to what’s possible.

The knobs on the Brothers are, parametrically, exactly what you might expect to see on an average overdrive or fuzz pedal, multiplied by 2. You have a Tone and Gain knob for each voicing and a master knob to attenuate the volume. There is also a dual-function Mix/Stack knob that controls the blend of the two voices in Parallel mode, and the strength of the signal going into the second voice in A > B and B > A modes, respectively. Each knob takes digital/optical control of a given parameter, allowing not just complete MIDI controllability across the board, but also providing a carefully calibrated range of tonal possibilities dialed in to naturally occurring sweet spots. In speculative theory, this should imply that in a vacuum there is nothing you can do with this pedal that sounds inherently bad, and I trust Joel and Peter tested the validity of these sweet spots to the moon and back.

Another mainstay of the Chase Bliss Audio brand are the familiar red dip switch panels on the top side of the pedal. There are 16 individual switches affecting nearly everything about the Brothers. The six dip switches furthest to the left will control whether the Master, Mix/Stack, Gain and Tone knobs are controllable via CV and Expression with a corresponding six dip switches on the center-right that determine which direction the expression will turn those parameters. Dip switches MoToByp A and MoToByp B will turn the corresponding bypass footswitch into a momentary bypass or engage switch, depending on what state the circuit was in. This is actually a super intuitive, potentially musical feature if you plan on using presets as the main means of engaging the Brothers, one that increases transition speed to create jagged dynamics in your songs. Speaking of intuitive features, on the end of the switch board we have the Sweep dip switch, which sets where on each knob the Expression/CV-enabled parameters’ range of manipulation sits. For example, with the Sweep set to up, the expression will only sweep up from where the knob is currently set, and it’ll sweep from the knob position to minimum when the switch is set to down. Just as great for in songs that go smoothly from quiet to sort of loud as it is for songs that go from loud to really loud. Finally, the Bypass dip switch sets the Brothers to either true-bypass of buffered bypass. Icing on a very rich cake.

Your New All-Time Fave(s)

Coming back to the Faves switch (sold separately): here we have a hilariously simple multivitamin of a peripheral device that consists of a soft-touch Engage footswitch and two Preset and Bank toggles. The footswitch can be set to toggle between the black-LED “Live” and red/green preset on either the Even (green) or Odd (red) setting, or between three presets on the Both setting, which cycles in order through black, red and green presets. Each bank can be accessed on the fly by holding the footswitch for a second, and will index indefinitely through each bank by holding the footswitch. To set a preset on the Brothers (and any other Chase Bliss pedal), simply hold down a footswitch for 3 seconds, then, without removing your foot/finger, hold the other footswitch for an additional 3 seconds. This will save either preset 1 (red) or preset two (green) depending on whether the first footswitch depressed was the right or the left respectively. With the Faves switch attached, you can do this twice for each of the three banks, giving you 6 stored presets plus the black “Live” mode which is just whatever happens to be on the face of the Brothers at the time, meaning there are 7 open slots to utilize. Keep in mind, though, that if you opt to use the Faves, you’ll need an additional 9V power supply lead, which might still be worth it for the sake of flexibility.

Visit Chase Bliss Audio for more info about Brothers & Faves.

Sound & Performance:

Channel A is based on JFET circuits developed in conjunction with Resonant Electronic Design, while Channel B consists of integrated circuits that are all Chase Bliss. On both sides of the Brothers, we have a Boost, Drive, and Fuzz voicing. The ability to stack these contrasting drive voices in either direction or in parallel make the Brothers capable of accomplishing textures never before heard coming out of one box.

Channel A

Resonant Electronic Design is responsible for developing Channel A’s JFET style input; this is the Brother that wears sweater vests and calls everyone “bud” unironically, but also works at a sawmill and practices Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He’s a warm, throaty boy that hugs your tone with thick arms of mid-rangey, never-creepy affection. The tonestack for this channel “emphasizes transparency,” allowing more of your pickups’ inherent tone to shine through the gain of the signal as the tone is cranked. A transparency boost is super important on such a warm, low-end heavy voice as it’s very easy to lose your notes in the thick of all the phat tone you’ll be thumping out.

If you haven’t watched the Mini-Doc/promo on the Brothers, first of all, do. Secondly, in said Mini-Doc, Resonant Electronic Design’s founder Peter Bregman mentions that the amp which was the basis for RED’s Graviton/Manifold/Acceleron Drive line was actually pieced together by an old projector power amp which clipped asymmetrically when pushed hard by an incoming signal. This would generate incredible harmonic overtones that contributed to the musicality of the drive. Those circuits later inspired the collaborative effort that grew into the JFET voicings in the Brothers overdrive.

Engaging the Boost at its lowest possible gain setting, I learned very quickly that this voicing was going to make me work to keep it clean. On the surface, that might sound like a chore, but the grit I experienced actually appears to be a function of the responsiveness to the volume of my guitar (especially on the hot DiMarzio Super Distortions I have in my bridge,) so we know off the bat we’re dealing with an intuitive piece of hardware. Dialing back my guitar’s volume knob and swapping over to the softer neck humbuckers, I was able to get a sultry, just-barely-pushing it clean boost. Tastefully pumping the gas on the Gain and Master pushed the front-end of my amp into a sweet zone between tube-saturation and JFET clip, so I wasted a good amount of time screwing with the dynamics I could get out of my guitar’s volume knob, then saved the preset for my own personal use later. The Drive voice is immediately huge and super musical, opening up the floodgates for juicy, explosive noodle fuel. The midrangey girth of the JFET circuit paired with warm humbuckers would be well served in the thrall of any bluesy player with a propensity for a chunkier, blues driver-esque tone and deep low end. The cleanup is nice too, freeing up the headroom for a subtler, creamier vibe, showing off the full power of its asymmetrical clipping pattern only when provoked with fuller chords. As is the case with most fuzzes, Channel A’s Fuzz voicing displayed a marked decrease in volume when engaged as a result of the signal being compressed; boosting the output compensates nicely.

Channel B

Chase Bliss’s Channel B is the bitier, sassier twin, owing its aggressive pluck to a series of all original integrated circuits, 2 of them inspired by some classics. A tendency to lean toward the high-range frequencies gives off the feel of a treble-boosted overdrive, which is great for lead and soloing. The mid-centric tonestack also thickens up what the IC naturally lacks in mid-range meat, meaning that like its Brother, B is not just a one or even three-trick pony, but a scrappy multi-tool that knows its own weakness and defends it with ergonomical sonic padding. All-in-all, CBA’s side occupies a much more high-and-tight, uncompressed zone.

Cutting the Gain while pumping the Tone past 2 o’clock on Channel B’s Boost is a great way to get a clean volume boost with a neat little hump in the mid-range to beef it up, a sound reminiscent of the EHX Soul Food and its other Klone brethren. The Drive on Channel B lends itself to a much more modern-sounding “Tube Screamer evolved” overdrive tone, giving us the gift of melodious, mid-high grit that cleans up really well. It absolutely ripped when paired with the high-output of my bridge pickup, making it sit high and clear above a full band mix. When you switch to Channel B’s Fuzz circuit, be prepared for a brutal, stoner metal late 70’s Big Muff inspired Fuzz with a surprising amount of gain. With the tone knob rolled back, you get an evil sounding growl guaranteed to shake the foundation of your house, and dialed up you get an aggressive rip. I was pleased to hear that neither of the fuzz voices were afflicted by the sharp, twangy, pick-attack *p-chew* that some highly-compressed fuzzes suffer from in a misguided attempt to emulate a vintage fuzz tone. To some that sound is desirable, but for me it’s just a bit too much.

From Gain Stage to Main Stage

While all of the voices are perfectly valid and incredible on their own, the thing that’s kept me up at night since I first heard about the Brothers was its Routing switch, the very feature that makes the Brothers an “Analog Gainstage” pedal and not just an “Overdrive.” The center toggle can point the signal path from A to B, B to A, or run the twin tones in parallel. A > B and B > A benefit from a signal attenuator on the first circuit in the form of the Stack knob, allowing you to dictate how strongly the second circuit is hit. Obviously the higher you go on the Stack knob, the more compressed and gain-y the output becomes. Switching into parallel not only serves to fill any holes missing in the frequency spectrum from the individual voices, but also creates distinct, almost dual-amp-like textures. The amount of each voice that shines through is up to you, controllable with the Mix knob, formerly the stack knob.

Possibly the most important thing to emphasize about the Brothers’ tone is that it is ABSOLUTELY NOT secretly six variations on a fancy tube screamer, something that, if not objectively an advantage, is at least one more factor in a sea of factors that make it unique from a majority of the drives on the market today. There were times when, with only Channel B’s Drive engaged and the tonestack dialed back to just below 12 o’clock, I was getting some relatively Screamer-esque tones, but still never lost the IC’s obvious texture. This satisfies that common Tube Screamer need for a lot of guitarists, but when you get down to brass tacks, will also set your sound apart from the mobs of screaming mimis and their little green pedals out there. To me, that’s much more valuable.

I won’t say I had to fight to get mud, because any pedal will excrete some sour tones if not used judiciously, but working with the Brothers I really got the sense that Peter and Joel, with the help of some great engineers and testers, carefully and lovingly curated the range of expression contained within each knob to a neurotic fault. Both Channels complement not just each other, but themselves, proffering simple tools to help the guitarist to shore up any potential weakness inherent within. While I am a rabid features nut and was thoroughly satisfied on that front, I’m also impressed with how effectively the Brothers proves, perhaps paradoxically, the universally sensed truth that you don’t really need all that much to dial in a great drive tone. When it came to discussing the parameters I expected to go in a little disappointed, weakly bemoaning the lack of parametric EQ options and the missed tone-sculpting opportunities therein, but I’m happy to report that even with just the Transparency/Mid-Boost tone knobs, the Brothers’s flexibility in terms of frequency range is colossal. I don’t know why I ever doubted this collab.

Considering the incredibly wide amount of possible drive sounds and routing combinations the Brothers affords, the Faves foot-switch is an invaluable companion for helping you make the most of this pedal. It’s super handy to be able to recall a custom preset by tapping Faves and then individually activating the individual A & B channels from Brothers’ onboard footswitches. When recalling a preset, the Active/Bypass status of the 2 channels will also be recalled, and you can then choose among the different sounds available in a given preset. For example, say you recall a sound with just a Drive on channel B active. You might be running it series into channel A with a little extra Boost available if you tap the Brothers’ A footswitch. Then you could also tap the B footswitch to bypass the Drive and just use the Boost. Now imagine using Faves to access 6 preset templates.

The only real potential performance related issue for some guitarists might be the closeness of the Brothers’ 2 onboard foot-switches. On other Chase Bliss Audio pedals like Warped Vinyl MKII, Wombtone MKII, Gravitas, Spectre, & Tonal Recall, this was less of an issue because if you accidentally stomped on the Tap footswitch once while activating the pedal, you wouldn’t mistakenly change tap tempo rate since more than one tap is needed to assign a new tempo. With a drive pedal like Brothers, however, accidentally hitting a full gain fuzz when you just wanted that subtle boost could be a real issue in a live situation. If you step carefully you can avoid any potential ear carnage, and this could also be a consideration for using a MIDI enabled effects switcher to handle all preset changing and activating/bypassing duties.

In terms of what could be added to improve the Brothers, I can’t say I know of anything it lacks aside from my usual complaint, one I feel is particularly pointed in the case of the Brothers: the lack of stereo outs for the benefit of parallel routing. Perhaps, if pressed, I would suggest an effects loop to put another effect pedal or (call me crazy,) another overdrive for an extra stage of gain between the two voices, but that feels extreme and probably impractical for both the user on stage and an already jam-packed enclosure like the Brothers.


The Chase Bliss Audio Brothers stands up to the hype it generated upon its announcement and meets the CBA standard by delivering some of the best overdrive tones I’ve ever heard in an easier delivery system than I thought would ever exist in an analog based gain pedal. At $349 the Brothers is not necessarily what I’d call an “affordable” pedal, but with 6 amazing analog drive voices, presets, full MIDI/CV integration, and 33 independent routing options, it’s also not what I’d call a “pass.” On the contrary, if you need a drive (or two) and have the money, the Brothers has the potential to be the last drive investment you ever make. You won’t want for much if balanced variation is what you’re after, and you don’t need to look much further to know that the Brothers may be, presently, the best thing for it. There have been many dual overdrives in recent years, and a few parallel drives, but as far as I can tell, there’s only one other pedal that does both. All this, coupled with it’s unparalleled (ha!) tone push the Brothers into a category all its own, and you can expect the industry to follow the example it sets.

That concludes our Chase Bliss Audio Brothers review. Thanks for reading.

Malekko Scrutator Review – Best Bitcrusher/Filter Pedal?


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

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

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


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

Visit Malekko for more info about the Scrutator.

Sound & Performance:

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Adventure Audio Whateverb Review – Best Compact Multi-Reverb Pedal?


Before the dual realities that I have virtually no hands-on electronics experience and extremely shaky hands had set in, it was a personal and far off dream of mine to build effects tailored to my exact guitar needs in the hopes that someday I could tailor effects to the needs of others. I haven’t quite given up the shadow of this dream, but I’m not salty about not having attained it yet either. There’s so much to appreciate about the effects market today that I can’t help but just be grateful for the people who invent the building blocks for the sounds we make, even if those people aren’t me. The collective consciousness that permeates the atmosphere of effects building is so strongly amplified by the Internet that I can practically have a fever dream about a particular sound or pedal concept and it’ll be available for purchase within months. If you need one example of a company making pedals that sound like distortion from the dream realm, check out Adventure Audio.

Adventure Audio is a relatively new pedal company founded in Philadelphia, PA and now based out of Rochester, NY, both harboring incredible music scenes, the latter of which being only about an hour and a half from where I live. Given my proximity, I can guess with some semblance of certainty that this builder has likely been sculpted by Central New York’s harsh winters and deep talent pool and inspired to develop products for the ultimate indoor past time: riffs. They’re only four pedals deep in their musical journey, but the pedals they’ve created so far aren’t just well-developed experimentations and variations on unexpected effects; they’re quickly earning their place as some of the highest quality and sonically inspired pieces available today. Also, judging only by the headshots on their “About me” page, I can already tell I want to be their friend. Their simple vision is to inspire the world, and that’s just what they’ve done with their latest release, the Whateverb. Guess what kind of effect it is!


  • 5 knobs, with backlit LED trim pots for the Warp and Blend knobs (2 are variable control Knobs)
    Blend controls the wet/dry blend
    Decay determines the length of the reverb trail
    Warp controls the pitch and overall potential length of the reverb
  • 3 Voices:
    This is a reverb with controls for the speed and depth of a flange effect.
    That emulates room reverb with high and low-pass filter controls.
    Otherb is a shimmer with controls over the dissonance and volume of the shimmer.
  • Soft Touch Relay Bypass
  • Top-Mounted Power and I/O
  • Buffered Bypass
  • 9V DC Power

The first thing you notice when you plug in the Whateverb is the fact the clear Blend and Warp trim pots illuminate a brilliant cool-white upon activation. That is one memorable way to say hello! The sparkling white chassis sports blue text and a light grey line pattern; for size reference, the Whateverb is about the size of standard EarthQuaker Devices’ pedals. There is a comically tall voicing switch in the center that controls the voices which I was initially afraid would break, but so far it’s proven to be very sturdy. The Buffered-Bypass nature of the Whateverb implies that the trails of the reverb will continue long after you have disabled it. This is a matter of taste for most guitarists, but I could see how some might want a switch to toggle between active and non-active post-bypass tails. Personally, I love letting my reverb trail die out naturally, so the lack of flexibility here means very little to me. Founder and facial hair doyen Christian Terjesen was originally inspired to build the Whateverb by the Roland Space Echo, which as we know is the industry-defining tape echo that has time and time again produced unique progeny in the pedals inspired by it. It seems there is still a little bit of juice, somehow exempt from the more derivative works that have cropped up in the past, to be wrung out of the Space Echo.

Check out Adventure Audio for more details about the Whateverb!


Let’s dive into these voices.


On the left of the voice-select toggle we have This, which is a clean reverb paired with flangey chorus, or chorusy flange, depending on your perspective on which direction the tone leans. To my ear, it’s the former. The top left knob controls the depth of the modulation, which can range from non-existent to whistling. In this voicing the Warp knob seems to bear more control over the tonal nature of the chorus, as opposed to pitchshifting; though there is a just noticeable almost-pitchshift when we change the warp knob’s positioning, what I hear most are the peaks of the comb filter getting farther apart, essentially changing range of the Rate knob on the top right.


The center of the voicing switch opens the door to a room whose size is variable in accordance to your will via the Warp and Decay knob. Though That is the most tame of the three voices, it is still an amazingly lively space to be inside of, the depths of which I was eager to find. I was not left wanting. The High Tide and Low Tide knobs are high and low frequency controls to tweak the tone of the reverb, which sounds super rudimentary but actually makes for overtone-dense, beautifully spacious bliss. With the Warp set toward full-clockwise, I was rewarded with sweet slap-backy vibes that were made much more prominent with the High-tide cranked. The opposite configuration yielded massive, hall-like wash that was truly massive with the Low Tide cranked. Though that seems dichotomous, the Low Tide and High Tide actually work well together no matter how high you set one in relation to the other.


Welcome to… the Otherb. An atmospheric ‘board is not complete without a good Shimmer, and the pristine sonic crystals generated by this voicing push the Whateverb way past the threshold of “Good Shimmer.” The top left knob controls how thick the harmonies that are generated by the shimmer are; the top right knob controls how high the volume of the shimmer is. With the Shimmer knob maxed, the octaves are almost unbearable, but dialing the volume back makes this shrill keening not just tolerable, but a sonic tool to add to swells and sparse strumming. This voicing is where the Warp knob really shines; rolling clockwise sounds like a carnival melting in a fry-oil fire. I really would have liked to see an expression pedal out on the Whateverb for the sole purpose of manipulating the Warp in realtime.

I just reviewed the EarthQuaker Transmisser, which also features a “Warp” knob that serves as a system slew to pitch-shift and tighten/mellow out the tone of the overall effect. While I won’t draw any further direct comparisons between the two pedals, as they are distinctly different units, I will say that it would be easy to draw parallels between the Warp knob on the Transmisser and the Warp knob on the Whateverb, which prompts me to predict that we’ll see similar features start to crop up elsewhere in the industry. In my mind, the Warp knob as it applies to the Transmisser and the Whateverb is really the “Time” knob, determining the amount of time we’re working with to create whicheverb effect the Whateverb is generating at the time. (I had to.) The pitchshifts we’re hearing when the time knob is rolled are actually time changes, much like the pitchshifts we hear when changing the tempo on an analog delay. When we’re working with effects like this, it’s important to remember that Reverb and Chorus/Flange are time-based effects, being that it is fundamentally several delays colluding in a way that simulates space. The Whateverb maximizes this relationship in creative ways that flatter the more atmospheric shades of the Roland Space Echo, its spiritual catalyst.



The Adventure Audio Whateverb is evidence of the democratic nature of the effects pedal world; we’ve all wanted something like it, and here it is. Like I said, I really would have loved an expression input on this bad boy, but the Whateverb makes for a perfect addition to round out Adventure’s otherwise distortion-heavy catalogue. It could replace a single mode reverb pedal you own, or it could add it to your already burgeoning collection of weird noise makers; I’ll likely be keeping this on my pedalboard despite already having a dedicated reverb simply because the flavor is so unique from most of the reverbs on the market today. If you haven’t seen Adventure Audio’s work and you’re looking for an escape from a musical rut, I highly recommend the Whateverb. You won’t be disappointed… everb.

That concludes our Adventure Audio Whateverb review. Thanks for reading!

EarthQuaker Devices Transmisser Review – Best Modulated Reverb Pedal?


When I’m gripped by a remarkably enchanting pedal and have the distinct honor of writing about it, I always have a hard time with the first few words. Like, just now; there was a solid ten minutes of empty space disguised as thought. I mean, we’re talking SPACE. The kind of space that every prog band (mine included) writes masturbatory concept albums about. Big open expanses of nothing, run through by thick gusts of cosmic wind that strip away the comforting cocoon of conscious thought. The kind of space the EarthQuaker Devices Transmisser simulates. And now my train of thought is back.

I love playing with EarthQuaker Devices pedals. No matter how many of these weird little rectangles I let into my life I just can’t get enough. It isn’t the unique and well defined branding, or the affordability of every EQD pedal, or even the quake-inducing tone inherent in each lovingly crafted feel machine that does it for me, though these are all contributing factors. What gets me every time is EQD’s insatiable thirst for bending the rules of what sounds good inside of a realistic framework. For example (and to segue into the reason we’re here now,) EarthQuaker recently released a modulated delay as an alternative to their riotously successful Afterneath, a pedal we know as the Transmisser. The Transmisser is a multifaceted reverb with both modulation and filter aspects entwined in it’s DNA, an effect few (if any) builders have attempted. It’s a truly unique effect, and I’m going to talk about it.


  • Six Knobs:
    Decay controls the length of the reverb tail
    Darkness is a tone control
    Freq is shorthand for frequency, which controls the sweep of a low-pass resonant filter through which the reverb tail is processed
    Warp is a unique system-wide parameter adjustment, affecting the width of the modulation, the depth of the filter, and the length of the decay at once. More on this later.
    Rate controls the speed of the modulation
    Mix determines the wet/dry blend
  • Expression Pedal Input
  • True Bypass
  • 9VDC powered

The Transmisser is decorated with a light fuchsia visage of what I can only imagine is EarthQuaker artist Matt Horak’s interpretation of lightning striking a black hole, printed on a sparkling black background. The knobs are tall and thin and the I/O jacks are top-mounted to save space, like most of EQD’s smaller offerings. There is an expression jack on the right side that controls the Freq parameter, which allows hands-free control of a glistening resonant filter.

Visit EarthQuaker Devices for more info about the Transmisser.

Sound & Performance:

Immediately upon playing my first notes through the Transmisser, I was intimidated by the incredibly complex wash produced. What is going on? Even with the Decay at its lowest possible setting, every reverb tail seemed to last forever, indicating from the get-go that I was in for something worlds apart from even the most out-there reverbs I’ve played. Although this means it might not be replacing any traditional reverbs on the ‘board per se, the zealous experimenter can buy the Transmisser and not feel as guilty about keeping another pedal that might otherwise help mitigate the costs. More pedals are a win in my book.

The Warp knob is the perplexing centerpiece of the Transmisser’s parameter set, serving as a slew that fundamentally alters the entire nature of the pedal and way that the other parameters interact with the one another: clockwise for a defined sound, counter-clockwise for more of a wash. As you do this, you’ll notice quite quickly that this also downshifts the pitch of the reverb tail, which sounds terrifying. The applications of this are endless and I almost wish there were another expression out to control the Warp, but that would be an outrageous demand. The Transmisser is affected by a near-indecipherable modulation which grows more frantic the further clockwise you roll the Rate knob. This also modulates the Darkness and Freq parameters depending on where the Warp is set.

Cranking the Rate and playing with the Freq reminds me of EarthQuaker’s Spatial Delivery envelope filter, which yielded a similar harmonic purr on its way up or down in resonant frequency. With the Decay knob maxed, whichever frequency you’ve set will actually start to oscillate, but never go beyond a dull drone, adding a whole new element of ambience to long reverb tails. I was also surprised with how well the Transmisser takes any kind of dirt. With an overdrive behind a full wet Mix and the Rate rolled back to a slow yawn, I was treated to a very vocal sounding vibrato.

If all you’re looking for is a unique way to add some auditory distance between yourself and the audience, fret not! Even with all of the crazy sounds dipping in and out of the Transmisser’s mood-setting, I couldn’t help but notice that I never once lost the sense of space that justifies calling it a reverb and not something flamboyant, like “Cosmic Embellisher.” If you were so inclined, you could pretty much set the knobs anywhere and become inspired from your first note. In the harmonically dense sense, it reminds me of some high-end shimmer reverbs, only this is the effect I’ve wanted shimmer to be all along. Sorry, shimmer. It’s not you, it’s me.



The EarthQuaker Devices Transmisser is both more and less than any reverb: it is an experience. Armed with its reverb and modulations, the Transmisser is a particularly potent sound tool I never thought I needed. It is an effect all its own, a must-have for weirdos and a must-try for normies. Honestly, I can’t think of one thing I didn’t enjoy about the Transmisser. There’s just so much going on that the nuances are hard to keep track of, and the radical expressionistic power of this pedal is undeniable. Maybe in the future EQD will consider a Transmisser 2 with stereo, an expression for the warp, and maybe panning? There’s not much more beyond that that can make it better. Even if you never dial in a normal sounding reverb (and trust me, you won’t,) the Transmisser is well equipped to hypnotize anyone within earshot, and that’s totally worth your dad never understanding what’s happening when you play with it. Try it and explore the universe.

Old Blood Noise Dark Star V2 Review – Best “Pad” Reverb Pedal?


Though at times all of this effects hullabaloo can seem overwhelming and capricious, there are some givens in the world of music gear, and they usually boil down to very simple concepts: if you want Les Paul tone, buy a Les Paul (or your preferred guitar of choice). For anything beyond that, experimentation is key, and you may not come anywhere near your dream tone until a non-descript aluminum box is perforating your eardrums in a basement somewhere. Ask the guitarist in possession of the offending rectangle where they found it, and they might ramble for hours about this new company they discovered that are making pedals unlike anything they’ve ever heard. It’s happened to me countless times – a night out at a show with some artist friends and suddenly I’m obsessed with a new up-and-coming builder. That exact phenomenon drives the whole guitar pedal industry, and many an incredible company got their start making products specifically for that category of sweaty dude playing power violence in a punk house basement. It doesn’t need to be glamorous to be beautiful.

Enter Old Blood Noise Endeavors. OBNE creates their products in line with a sort of basement music bushido, focusing on niche offerings that embody the creative expression found in only the rawest of performing arts. From Reverb to Chorus to Fuzz to Delay, OBNE has not just added their own flavor to classic effects; as pedal-building veterans they’ve plumbed the depths of what’s possible and curated effects that appeal to very specific kinds of players. Each piece is a little different from anything we’ve heard before.

In this way, the Dark Star Reverb can relate to its Old Blood brothers. As an exercise in atmosphere, the Dark Star aims to accomplish a wash that many ambient guitarists have expended great energy and up to three spots on their pedalboards to pull off. In this review, we’ll see if it can stand up to that tall order.


  • 3 Voices: Pitch (Two variable pitches affect a reverb), Delay (A long reverb tail into a delay), Bitcrusher (A pitchshifter and a bit-rate reducer on a reverb tail)
  • 4 knobs, CTRL 1, CTRL 2, Reverb and Mix
    CTRL 1: Pitch Mode – Controls pitch 1, Delay Mode – Controls Delay Time, Crush Mode – Controls pitch
    CTRL 2: Pitch Mode – Controls pitch 2, Delay Mode – Controls Delay Feedback, Crush Mode – Controls a sample-rate reducer
    Reverb: Affects the length of the reverb tail. When fully cranked, will freeze whichever note was played last
    Mix: Controls the Wet/Dry blend of the effect
  • Expression Pedal Input
  • Internal trimpot for effect attenuation
  • Internal function switch affecting the hold switch/expression
  • Soft-touch True Bypass Switch
  • Latching Hold Switch
  • 9V DC Center negative power

The Dark Star harbors the balefully fey, baby blue work of Jon Carling on a textured black hammond enclosure. Four knobs direct the effect, a center switch selects the voicing, and two footswitches (one a soft-touch, one a clicking switch,) bypass and hold the effect, respectively. Inside of the enclosure are two controls, one of which is a teensy trim pot that will determine the volume of the effect in relation to your playing; you’ll need a super tiny screwdriver for this one. The other internal control is a switch that determines whether the Reverb release or CTRL 1 is affected by the expression out, and also whether the hold switch maxes CTRL 1 or freezes the last note played momentarily. The way these features interact leaves something to be desired, however: I would have liked to have been able to set the hold foot-switch to freeze the note while the expression modulated CTRL 1, or vice-versa, rather than having them both serve the same purpose. Still, since the effort was made to include expression pedal control for the Dark Star V2 update, we’ll cut ’em some slack as the expression control takes this pedal into a whole new universe of awesome.

Visit Old Blood Noise for more info about the Dark Star V2.

Sound & Performance:

Before all else, the Dark Star is a relatively simple reverb. But unlike most reverbs, which seek to emulate the space around an instrument, the Dark Star strives to be the hum of the electricity inside the walls housing the instrument, both feeding the music and embodying it.

Pitch Mode

I always try to start my reviews at the top, and at the top of the Dark Star’s voice switch we are cheerily greeted by a polyphonic pitch shifting reverb. The pitch shifting aspect of the effect is in the same vein as most polyphonic pitch shifters, boasting that organ-like bombast we all know and love, but the reverb aspect makes this effect so much more. If you’re aiming for full-wet octave swells to build an ambient loop, here you go. If you want a frozen chord writhing beneath your playing, you got it. CTRL 1 and 2 control separate pitches, which are admittedly difficult to use to dial in perfect intervals, and the tracking on the pitch controls is relatively slow, so you won’t be doing any quick octave-up solos, but that’s not what we’re here for. Just slightly offsetting the pitches and then holding makes for some pretty eerie warbles as the 2-part harmonic dissonance fights itself. Play some minor stuff over this and watch your audience grow uncomfortable.

Playing with chords, the Pitch voice actually performed better than I expected when set to produce octaves. In my experience, pitch shifters tend to grow confused and glitchy when presented with any information more complex than simple triads, but the Dark Star handily augmented even full barre chords. I wouldn’t recommend using it this way without seriously cutting the mix back to compensate for how many notes you’ll be cramming into your amp, but otherwise, in terms of its utility as a pad, the Pitch voicing passes with flying colors.

Delay Mode

This guy sits comfortably in the center of the voicing switch, and is appropriately the kind of effect that’ll make guitarists in the center of the weird/traditional venn diagram very happy. A reverb into a delay creates a smooth drone, the likes of which I’ve been obsessed with since the day I realized I could plug my guitar into something that wasn’t an amp. You can never expect attack clarity from the delay, but the wash beneath the notes blooms organically in response to your picking. Changing CTRL 1 (Delay Time) while playing yielded both interesting pitch bends and digital bubble sounds, the latter of which I’m not usually a huge fan of. In this instance, however, the changing delay address make for curious glitched-out pinging sounds that, with the tastefully slow rise and fall of your expression, can turn out to be blissfully musical compared to the palatal click of some digital delays attempting the same thing. Pair it with another delay for smeared polyrhythmic fun or run another reverb through it for endlessly clear sonic skies, either way this voicing alone makes the Dark Star a perfect companion to any ambient board.

Crush Mode

My all-time favorite and easily the most expressive voicing on the Dark Star, the Crush patch mixes up gritty, smushed, 8-bit brownie batter with both a bit-rate reducer and a pitch shifter. The combination of these two affect the overall harmonic content of your playing, something I experimented with to create beautifully harsh-sounding overtones. With the mix down low this voicing was surprisingly great coupled with distortion, as it added a distinct flavor of grit to my already clippy riffs.

When you change voices, be careful not to leave the Reverb parameter at its highest possible configuration. The Dark Star won’t pick up a frozen note in between voices, leaving you with silence upon flipping the switch. The first time this happened to me I panicked, thinking the Dark Star was broken, but after dialing back the Reverb I couldn’t help laughing in spite of myself when the wash returned.

If I’m being true to my dreams, I’d love to see the Dark Star expanded to include a parallel configuration: imagine running and blending any combination of the three Dark Star voices simultaneously, or even just the Delay with either the Pitch or Crush. Even if that never happens, I’m not above buying two or three Dark Stars to emulate it.



The Old Blood Noise Endeavors Dark Star serves as both a simple means to achieve organic pad reverbs beneath your playing and a powerful sound design tool for enveloping your entire sound in cosmic energy. The Pitch, Delay, & Crush modes offer plenty of ambient reverb possibilities. Despite the minor functionality quirks involving the expression and hold that I mentioned before (just wish the Hold and Exp could be programmed for different functions), I don’t think there was one sound I heard playing with this pedal that was unmusical. The life the Dark Star pours into any riff is songwriting fuel, and if you get the chance to have it in your hands, don’t let go.

That concludes our review of the Old Blood Noise Endeavors Dark Star V2. Thanks for reading!

Keeley Loomer Fuzz/Reverb Review – Best Shoegaze Pedal?


I was 3 months old when My Bloody Valentine exposed the unprepared world to their textural shoegaze masterpiece, Loveless. I didn’t grow up bathed in the wash of interlaced fuzzy drones, nor did I spend the springtime of my youth entering a trance state behind Kevin Shields’ wall-of-sound, but I promise you that when I did first did hear it, I was somehow overcome with waves of nostalgic bliss. It’s very important to me to know that in the age of Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a record like Loveless was made and inspired an entire generation of musicians to experiment with sonic textures, becaming a source inspiration for nearly every band I look up to regardless of genre. If you haven’t heard that record, go forth and listen to Loveless at your earliest convenience. Everything in this review will make just as much sense if you don’t, but you owe it to yourself to experience the oppressively atmospheric wash that My Bloody Valentine invented. It is arguably the entrance of shoegaze into the world of accessible music, and you too will find yourself hearing the precursor to countless undisputed champions of modern music.

Many of us to this day still struggle to suss out that distinct wall-of-sound tone borne of Kevin Shields’ exhaustive studio work and bolstered throughout by the now-mythical Alesis MidiVerb and the Yamaha SPX90. Few companies have even tried to pull it all off in one package, leaving a hole in the market that is anything but shallow. Keeley’s Loomer, named for the second track on Loveless, aims to fill the void here, featuring both a thick Big Muff Pi inspired fuzz circuit with tone-sculpting response options and three different and unique reverb modes that are not quite what they seem on the surface. Keeley’s been getting zealous with their artist-based/ “neo-vintage” workstations lately, their latest releases including the Jimi Hendrix-inspired Monterey and the Dark Side, a foray into the realm of Pink Floyd. The Loomer is one step further into this grand, tone-copping experiment, and I think we’re all happy that Keeley stepped away from the more traditional guitar pedal vibe to attempt a riskier direction.


  • Three Reverb Voices: Focus, Reverse, Hall
  • Three Fuzz Response options: Flat, Scoop, Full
  • Seven Parameters:
    Level – Controls the output volume of the Fuzz circuit
    Fuzz – Controls the gain
    Filter – Controls the tone of the Fuzz
    Blend – Controls the amount of wet signal is blended from the Reverb circuit
    Decay – In Focus mode, this is both the Reverb decay time and the feedback for the dual delays. Reverse repurposes it as an 8-way switch for decay times ranging from 150-500ms, and in Hall mode it serves as the Decay time. So basically it’s a Decay knob.
    Warmth – Tone control for the Reverb
    Depth – Multi-purpose knob, controlling the amount of shimmer in the Hall reverb or the depth of modulation in the Reverse and Focus
  • Expression pedal input
  • Version 1 features a TRS input for inserting effects by use of a TRS Y cable, Version 2 replaces this function with an order switch
  • True bypass
  • 9v Powered

Check out Keeley Electronics for more info about the Loomer.

Okay, for housing two foot-witches and seven knobs, this thing is TINY. With elbowed 1/4” cables in the top mounted inputs, the effective area taken up by the Loomer is about 4.5”x4.5”, making for a ton of tone in a tiny package. The Loomer’s dense metal enclosure features a saturated pink homage to Loveless’ album art, and the blue LEDs next to the foot-switches detract nothing from the haunting decor. I thought it was extra clever on Keeley’s part to reverse the filter of the Warmth knob, making the dark (low-range) tones the furthest point clockwise and the brighter (high-range) tones counterclockwise, as if to insist we push the Loomer to its darkest capabilities.

You may be wondering where in the loop you can put the Loomer, considering conventional wisdom tells us Overdrive and Fuzz should be near the start of the chain, while Reverb should be dead last, leaving room for modulations, pitch-shifters, etc., throughout the space in between. Originally, Keeley included a TRS input to allow for signal-chain experimentation, but due to popular demand, they opted to replace this option with a button that swaps the fuzz and ‘verb on the fly.

I am actually writing this review with the TRS version in hand, so I can’t write about how well the swap button works, but I can tell you that through use of the TRS input, I can do fundamentally the same thing. More on swapping the reverb and fuzz later.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but if I have to have one of the two, I think I’d actually prefer the TRS input over the order button to add my own flavor to the signal chain or to re-order the reverb and fuzz with an effects loop switcher. That said, for most regular guitarists, the convenience of a button to swap the order of the fuzz and reverb on the fly can’t be understated. As Gabriel mused in his initial write-up of the Loomer, “Perhaps we can have them both?” Both are pretty neat options, so I’d like to see it if popular demand insisted upon it.


On the right half of the Loomer is a 3-knob Big Muff-based circuit, the same circuit featured in Keeley’s Dark side workstation. You get a Level and Fuzz (gain) knob to control your input level, and a Filter knob to control your tone. The Filter knob is really intuitive, sweeping through a wide range of effective frequencies. Beneath the knobs there is also a neat little response switch that toggles between flat, full, and scooped responses, taking the fuzz circuit from a “nice-to-have” to a full-fledged contender ready to go toe-to-toe with any fuzz pedal on your board. This is a very versatile Muff inspired circuit.

The Scoop voicing refers, of course to a mid-scoop, leaving us with just the highs and lows of the frequency spectrum, making for a super aggressive, metal-worthy tone. Of all the voices, I found that this one was the least liable to turn to muddy mush when I cranked the fuzz knob. The Flat voicing offers a much more, well, flat EQ curve, giving you a relatively less responsive range of harmonic content. Meanwhile, Full responds openly to your playing, yielding warmer tones than the other two voices. All of them are high-gain, compressed, hairy options and which one you use primarily will largely be a matter of personal taste.

On the other half of the Loomer we have the meat of the whole enchilada: the reverb section. Now, the reverb consists of Decay, Warmth, Blend, and Depth parameters; all save the Blend knob have different functions depending on which of the Loomer’s three signature reverb voices you’re using. The Depth knob, which controls the more musical aspects of each voicing, is also controllable via expression pedal.


This gives you reverb into a dual delay into a quad-chorus. Now we’re getting exponential! The Focus is the ethereal reincarnation of the “Soft Focus” patch on the Yamaha FX500 multi effects processor, more affectionately known as “The Sound of the 80’s.” Seriously, playing with this voice clean felt like playing in a Genesis cover band. I promise that’s a good thing.

Studio engineers and atmospheric musicians alike have known since time immemorial that running a reverb through a delay garners long wispy tails of air. The dual delay aspect of this voicing is set to 250ms on one side, and 380ms on the other. This creates a thick blend of indiscernible wet signal. The quad chorus of the Focus adds even more body to the already luscious wash of reverb/delay, turning longer trails into impenetrable thickets of warble. The depth knob controls the depth of the chorus, meaning you can amplify the intensity of the effect when an expression pedal is plugged in. I’d love to be hearing this in Stereo right about now, but it’s a blast to play in mono, typical of how most guitarists play anyway.


This voicing got the most airtime in Keeley’s advertisements and tech demos leading up to the Loomer’s release and for good reason: the Reverse patch is badass. Based on the reverse effects of both the Alesis MidiVerb and the Yamaha SPX90, the Reverse is technically not a reverse reverb. Where traditional reverse reverbs applied in a studio environment are reversed wet reverb trails, the reverse voicing on the Loomer is technically a delay whose repeats play back affected by a volume swell. That swelling effect is made even crazier by the envelope-controlled vibrato, which will bend the note of your repeats upon responding to the attack of your playing. Keeley boasts that this is designed to simulate the pitch-bending of a trem-bar on a Jazzmaster or Jaguar. In that vein, the Warmth knob is meant to affect the tone the way a rhythm pickup tone pot on a Jazzmaster would. Coupled with the Filter control on the Fuzz half of the Loomer, the options for tone-sculpting are open and plenty.

I found the envelope-controlled vibrato to be a little oppressive without the use of the expression input. The rationale behind the use of the trem-bar on the strum is a matter of feel, not bending every note indiscriminately. Thankfully, we can control the intensity of each pitch-bend with an expression pedal, but that adds a layer of mastery we must surmount before truly unlocking the potential of this patch. What’s really beautiful about this setting is the way the repeats push the harmonic distortion of your signal when the Loomer is placed in front of a just-barely-overdriven amp. You know the sound of two notes a semitone away from one another behind an overdrive? Yeah? The Reverse voicing is like a constant wave of that. With the Warmth dialed toward dark and the fuzz filter just a hair past noon you get a really thick ambient rhythm tone.


The Hall voicing of the reverb half of the Loomer is a long Hall reverb with an octave-up shimmer that can be blended into the tone at will with the Depth knob (and the expression pedal as I’ve been harping on about.) There’s an undeniable musicality to slowly bringing in that choir of angels that I love to utilize as often as possible, sometimes to inappropriate effect. But getting carried away is arguably a worthwhile endeavor considering how much sheer fun results from the excess.

The brighter the warmth, the colder the shimmer will be, so I like to dial back that sharpness with the knob set toward the dark end. This keeps the shimmer from getting in the way of your playing no matter how much wet signal is blended into the chain.


Originally included in the V1 Loomer’s box was a split TRS cable, which, should you choose to accept it, allows you to do one of two things:

1: Add an effect/effect chain between the fuzz and the reverb halves of the Loomer or…

2: Swap the fuzz and reverb halves of the Loomer (and also add effects between the two if you like).

The former is fine. It makes perfect sense to the sane mind; use the well-balanced and fully featured fuzz at the beginning of your chain, add your own tremolo, phaser, what-have-you in the middle, and end the chain with the beautifully rendered reverb. Boom, pedalboard complete.

To the more adventurous (read: less sane,) the latter is too tempting to ignore in favor of what makes sense. I am one of these people. I love just a teensy bit of fuzz after any reverb. It helps to pop you out of the mix if you’re getting washed out. If you want to get really crazy, the Hall sounds downright terrifying if you crank the fuzz, and what was once a chamber of cherubs singing praises to the universe has been distorted into banshees emerging from a disturbed burial site when you bring the shimmer into the mix. The Reverse can be made to sound identical to the rhythm tone in Loveless’ “I Only Said,” confirming the Loomer as the fastest route to a shoegaze baseline. The Focus’ nuances actually flattened out a little bit when fuzzed out, which I expected, but the way the quad chorus pushed the fuzz made for a brilliant and spooky lead tone replete with clippy, oversaturated modulations pulsing underneath.



Wielding a fuzz that sounds massive no matter where you point the knobs and reverbs that are simple enough to be used by any genre but packed with experiment-worthy twists, The Keeley Loomer is bursting at the seams (screws?) with dark mysterious energy. The Loomer is the bread and butter to any shoegaze or post-rock project; it sounds like a black hole in a cathedral at its most extreme. I mentioned before that I think I’d have preferred Keeley stick with the TRS input as opposed to the order swap button, and I stand by that, but each guitarist has their own needs and reversing the order on the fly is arguably more convenient than running a cable from the output to the input and plugging your guitar and amp into the split TRS cable. Maybe Keeley could have gone stereo with the Loomer to get the full range of syncopation with the Focus and Reverse voices, but My Bloody Valentine recorded most of their heavy guitar tracks in mono, so that particular gripe is moot. The inclusion of an expression pedal input allows the guitarist a true musical flexibility that many other reverbs with similar sound quality at similar price points just don’t offer, and with a full-fledged fuzz attached, you can’t ignore it.

That concludes our review of the Keeley Loomer. Thanks for reading!

Effectrode Blackbird SR-71 Review – Best Pre-Amp Pedal?


The Effectrode Blackbird SR-71 is a two-channel tube preamp pedal inspired by the “Blackface” Fender Twin Reverb and a certain highly sought after Dumble amp. Effectrode is regarded as the premier guitar pedal builder when it comes to implementing real vacuum tubes in their “audiophile pedals”. The Blackbird is one of the builder’s flagship pedals with a range of tonal options that allow it to be integrated with a guitar amp as an additional preamp. It can even act as your pedalboard based amp solution or tube tone recording solution when in both cases used in combination with your preferred method of speaker cab simulation. I had high hopes for this pedal, and it lived up in a big way. We’ll get to the details soon, but first, let me ask you this…

Is “Good Tone” Purely Subjective?

I’ve played a lot of pedals in recent years. (That’s somewhat of an understatement.) Yet while I have a lot of experience with guitar pedals, I generally don’t like to assume that I possess any more expertise on the subject than any other tone-chasing guitarist; I just know what I like and what sounds good to my ears. But I have noticed that I’ve become much more discriminating over time. Perhaps I have indeed acquired a greater ability to discern good tones from bad, as subjective as we may assume good tone to be. But I’d argue that there is an objectivity to good tone versus bad, just as you might claim that there is more artistic merit to a Rembrandt painting than a 4-year-old’s doodling. Some pieces of masterfully crafted gear stand out “tonally” with their sound quality expressing a sonic detail and universal appeal that transcend the crude efforts of lesser luthiers, although the reasons why may be difficult to communicate in language.

I won’t ramble down the rabbit hole of that point. I just brought up that musing for two reasons. First, it’s because the Effectrode Blackbird seems to be an immaculate creation. Within less than 10 minutes of plugging in to this pedal, I had already crowned it as one of my personal top 5 favorite pedals, and it’s since become a staple in my own guitar rig. That’s perhaps greater than any critical praise I could give. And that’s also a big deal to me because, like I said, I’ve play a lot of pedals. The other reason is that regardless of my personal opinion, I believe that the Blackbird has objectively good qualities that set it apart from most pedals. Frankly, I find this product so good that it’s intimidating to write about as I fear that I may not be able to express its merits accurately. It’s not about writing a “convincing” article or about whether or not my words “sell” you on the idea of this product. Yes, this is a very special instrument. Yes, I think every guitarist should experience it. And it’s the seemingly esoteric and ineffable qualities of the Blackbird I fear you may not get out of this article. Even watching a demo video won’t convey what you experience when playing it for yourself. Just keep that in mind going forward.


Two Truly Independent Channels: Add multiple channels to your vintage/boutique guitar amp! The clean channel is a replica of the classic ‘Blackface’ circuit Leo Fender created from the RCA Receiving Tube Manual and is beautifully warm and glassy sounding. The overdrive channel is an improvement on the hot-rodded tube circuitry found in Dumble amps and packs a huge degree of flexibility ranging from warm and fat blues drive tones, through classic rock crunch, to harmonically-saturated sounds.

Classic Tone Stacks: Each channel has it’s own dedicated Bass, Mid and Treble controls based on the interactive tonestacks found on the ‘Blackface’ amps.

Tube Buffered Output: For connection to guitar amplifier. This output is a low impedance tube cathode follower stage with +10dBu of gain and is capable of driving long cable runs with lowest possible tone loss.

Transformer Balanced Out: For superb professional quality direct recording. Triad transformer isolated balanced output (600Ω impedance) with +6dBu gain allowing direct connection to mixing desk, PC sound capture card or power amplifier. The transformer is driven by audiophile discrete class AB transistor circuitry (the only solid-state components in the entire signal path) and imparts some additional sweetness to the guitar signal – in fact, speaker emulation often isn’t even necessary when recording direct, just a some eq and a little reverb can create incredible, full-bodied tones.

Adjustable Bias: External switch allows biasing to be selected for 12AX7, 12AU7 or 12AY7 tubes installed in the overdrive channel. Internal bias trim pot allows further adjustment for other types of dual stage miniature B9A tube such as 12AV7, 12AT7, etc. Swapping tubes allows the fundamental character of the drive channel to be altered to replicate a wide range of vintage guitar amps and create new sounds too.

Tube swapping: The tone and gain characteristics of the Blackbird pedal can be fine-tuned by interchanging tubes – the pedal is designed for easy access to the tubes for this purpose. In the time it takes to change a light-bulb the core tone of the overdrive channel can be tailored to your exact requirements – from subtle break-up, to mellow blues and vintage or saturated modern rock distortion, this pedal has wide versatility and all by simply removing a tube and replacing it with a different type.

All Tube: The Blackbird is an entire tube preamp section in a pedal format. The signal path is 100% pure analogue built with vacuum tubes operating at amp plate voltages. D.C. powered tube heaters ensure absolute quietest possible operation.
Audiophile Components: Absolutely no skimping on the quality of the components – polyester capacitors and instrumentation grade metal-film resistors are used throughout the audio signal path. Find out more about the Effectrode engineering ethos on component quality here!

Dakaware Knobs: Authentic phenolic Dakaware, Chicago 1510 knobs custom manufactured for Effectrode in the U.S.A using the original 1940s moulds.

Extremely compact: The Blackbird is small enough to carry in a gig bag with your cables, tuner and other tools of the trade. You’ll be sure of unparalleled tone wherever you roam and it makes a great backup as a spare rig. No guitarist should leave home (or be at home!) without it!

Housed in a real metal box: The Blackbird is built to last and for rigorous touring – each preamp pedal is housed in an aluminum alloy enclosure which powder-coated with a stoved epoxy silkscreen.

True Bypass Switching: With Effectrode’s unique ‘anti-pop’ or ‘thump’ footswitching circuitry utilizing sealed, gold-contact relay to eliminate the possibility of dirty contacts degrading the sound and minimal internal audio path.

Includes 12V Wall-wart Power Supply: High quality low-noise switched mode 12VDC at 1.5A wall-wart compatible with all our pedals. Accepts 100V to 240VAC mains input and comes with different mains outlet adaptor plugs, so there is always a plug that fits the country that you are playing in.

Named after the coolest plane ever built!: The Blackbird SR-71 operated at Mach3+ to allow the pilot to outrun ground-to-air missiles! Like it’s counterpart the Blackbird vacuum tube preamp puts you in control of your core drive sound.

I’ll give most of my commentary about the Blackbird’s features in the next section where I’ll discuss them in relation to the sounds this pedal produces. I just want to touch briefly on the design of this elegant instrument. Effectrode pedals generally have a functional, understated appearance, and that’s the case with the Blackbird. The enclosure is a bit wide, so it’ll need some accommodation on a tight pedalboard. Fortunately, all the jacks are top-mounted for convenient access and to ensure there’s no potential wasted ‘board real estate on each side of the pedal. The face of the pedal is packed tightly; control knobs and foot-switches are densely spread a bit past the left two thirds of the pedal’s surface. On the right side is a roll-bar protected trio of glowing JJ Electronic 12AX7 tubes protruding up from within. My only area of concern with the layout is that the 2 foot-switches are a bit close to the classy looking Dakaware knobs of the clean channel. Restrained performers won’t mind, but rowdy showmen will need to step a bit more carefully or consider using an external TRS 2-button foot-switch for channel switching/bypassing if the close proximity is an issue.


Opening the pedal doesn’t offer a view of the components, but be assured that what’s on the other side of the PCB is as densely packed as possible to keep what’s basically an actual “amp-in-a-box” (at least the pre-amp anyway) in as small of an enclosure as possible. You will discover the Bias trimpot, a Volume trimpot, and a jumper for changing switching functions. We’ll discuss the details of these internal options as we go.

Visit Effectrode for more info about the Blackbird SR-71.

Sound & Performance:

Let’s talk about the general sounds the Blackbird offers when used as a pre-amp in front of a traditional amp. I generally prefer cleaner amp tones that are in Fender Bassman or Blackface territory, and I’m currently running through either a Rivera Venus 5 or Venus Recording with the amp’s EQ voicing set for a Blackface style sound. For testing I used an American Standard Strat with DiMarzio HS-3 in the bridge & a Gibson Flying V with Seymour Duncan ’59 (neck) and JB 35th Anniversary (bridge) pickups.

Effectrode-Blackbird-SR-71-Review-Best-Pre-Amp-Pedal-03Clean Channel

Activating the Blackbird over a neutral clean amp sound adds further to the distinct Blackface style characteristics I’m pretty accustomed to. There is a very nice shine to the sound, a brilliant “glassy” tone that reveals some of the best Fender Twin Reverb style tonality you’ll hear outside of a pristine specimen of the actual amp. The Blackbird’s Clean Channel boasts a familiar tonestack found in those classic amps, so veterans with experience playing the Fender originals will be at home here. In addition to the Bass, Middle, & Treble controls is a single Volume knob (no Gain needed) for matching levels or applying a little boost if you want to hit your amp a little harder to induce some overdrive.

What I find especially appealing is that the Blackbird doesn’t compound your clean tone into a muddy mess when stacking it with a clean amp foundation tone. It’s surprising how incredibly low the noise floor is, and I’ve found myself often using the Clean Channel “always on” as an essential component to my clean sound when playing the Blackbird in front of a tube amp. Also, if I’m switching from a humbucker to single coil equipped guitar, I may use the pedal to add or remove certain frequencies (particularly treble) while setting the Volume to a matched level to that of the other guitar. This adds a lot versatility for performing guitarists who use multiple guitars on stage or anyone who’d find an additional clean sound appealing. And it’s generally useful if your amp’s base clean sound needs a little extra sparkle.

There’s also a Presence flip-switch that can add some instant brightness to the Clean Channel. It applies to all of the pedal’s various channel voicings, so it may not be suitable to leave on in all situations. I’ll discuss its use in a moment.

Crunch Channel

The Crunch Channel is a hot-rodded Dumble flavoring (the Dumble amp it’s based on in particular being itself an evolved Blackface Fender). This channel adds a dedicated Gain knob to the control scheme and with it a range of saturated tones to explore. There are also 2 unique configurations for this channel: Classic & Creamy.

The Classic mode yields an appropriately “classic” range of drive tones. Go here for the types of saturation you’d associate with blues rock and classic rock guitar. The Creamy mode offers a more modern sounding saturation with heaps of gain on tap. It’s worth going into the nuanced differences between these modes in relation to settings. I expect the Classic mode to be a favorite for many guitarists, so let’s start there.

Effectrode-Blackbird-SR-71-Review-Best-Pre-Amp-Pedal-04Classic: With the Gain set left of noon, the Classic mode gives you a great, alternate clean setting if you dial in the EQ a bit differently than the Clean channel. Pushing the Gain just past noon will give you a hint of bite when you dig in. Somewhere around the 1-2 o’clock area is perhaps my favorite setting for the Gain. You’ll get a nice grit that responds well to your playing dynamics; it’ll also clean up a bit when cutting your guitar’s volume knob. Background noise is relatively low around this area, too, and the sound is tight and punchy. As you push the Gain towards around 3 o’clock and higher, the sound becomes progressively louder and brighter. At this point it’s worth mentioning that this mode may come alive a bit more for humbuckers here as you’ll notice more treble bite and note articulation. You can tweak the Gain and Treble to get your top-end just right. It’s worth noting that these settings should be considered starting points as it’ll be essential to listen carefully to find the sweet spots in relation to the guitar(s) you’re using.

Effectrode-Blackbird-SR-71-Review-Best-Pre-Amp-Pedal-05Creamy: This mode immediately became my personal favorite when I first played the Blackbird as I always seem to gravitate towards more heavily saturated tones. However, I came to discover that I find the Classic mode more suited to bringing out a single-coil like clarity from humbuckers, and the Creamy mode’s saturation really works well for adding a more humbucker-like thickness to single-coils. Regardless of what guitar and pickups you use, Creamy mode provides a more harmically rich saturation that contrasts the Classic mode’s more focused and tamer tones. This mode has more complexity and richness. It also has a looser feel that isn’t too spongey. The Gain is usable all the way up to maximum settings. Despite my confession to having a propensity for gain, I don’t typically advocate for turning the Gain “to eleven”, but the wide range of excellent gain tones extends throughout the knob’s sweep which is very rare in any amp or pedal. Just be mindful; while the background noise is pretty low until around 2 o’clock, if you’re going for full saturation, some background noise will creep in.


Before moving on I need to mention the Presence switch again. This is handy for tweaking the overall response of the Blackbird to a brighter or darker rig. If your amp is a bit too warm and dark or you’re playing some vintage humbuckers, this can add a little brilliance. If your single coils are already bright enough and/or you’re playing through a modern clean amp, leave the Presence off. While I sometimes enjoy a brighter and more full-range sound, I generally find myself keeping the Presence off as the Treble knobs can add a sufficient brightness if I need it. If anything, it might be nice if there were internal Presence dip-switches to further contrast the Classic & Creamy tones, but that’s hardly anything to complain about considering the flexibility of the EQ controls.


Integrating Blackbird Into Your Rig

The Blackbird has 2 operating modes that affect the way the bypassing and channel selection works. An internal jumper lets you choose from the default mode or an “always on” mode. Let’s discuss the differences.

Default Mode: The default mode lets the Bypass foot-switch activate & bypass the pedal. The Channel switch will select from the Clean & Crunch channels. In this mode you use the Classic/Creamy flip-switch to select the voicing of the Crunch channel. The Default mode is the standard mode of operation when using the Blackbird in a rig with a guitar amp that already has a sound you enjoy. The foot-switches will thus let you have the sound of your amp with the pedal bypassed, the Clean channel, and the Crunch sound with your preferred voicing selected.

“Always On” Mode: I’ve dubbed this “always on” mode because it allows you to keep the pedal on at all times and use the Blackbird as a permanent preamp in your guitar rig. In this configuration the Channel foot-switch will select from the Clean and Crunch channels as expected while the Bypass foot-switch lets you switch from Classic to Creamy. This gives you access to all 3 preamp sounds and is ideal if the Blackbird is to become a permanent fixture of your sound. It’s worth mentioning that the Classic/Creamy flip-switch is now a master power switch for activating/bypassing the pedal in case you still want to deactivate it without opening the pedal again. It may be useful to deactivate it in the studio if need arises; the flip-switch will act like a “standby” switch on an amp..

I’ve switched between both operating modes on occasion, and there’s one concern to be aware of for guitarists that expect to use the “always on” option for quick access to both the Classic & Creamy modes. It’s fine that the Classic & Creamy modes share EQ controls; however, the Gain knob produces significantly different volume levels between the two modes. This makes it challenging to match levels. I find that the Gain works best somewhere around 1-2 o’clock as the levels are somewhat comparable here before the Classic mode spikes in volume as you increase the Gain. This is also an ideal position for moderately high Gain with low noise. Surprisingly, there’s an internal Level trimmer that reduces the volume of the Creamy mode. While this trimmer seems to thin out the Creamy tone a little which could be useful to further augment the sound if you prefer the slight difference, I’d generally suggest keeping it at max for the highest output level. While I’ve tried to be open to another possible benefit of this function, I maintain a position that it would probably be more useful as a Level trimmer for the Classic mode to better match its volume to the Creamy setting. This would theoretically add greater flexibility for matching Classic & Creamy levels.

External Control

There’s an input labeled EXT. SELECT that allows you to plug in a TRS latching foot-switch to take control of the Blackbird’s foot-switch functions. This allows you to control the pedal remotely with an amp-style 2-button foot-switch. Some effects switchers also allow amp control functions. The Blackbird is ideal in these scenarios. I’ve been using a MIDI enabled effects switcher with a DAW (Ableton Live) to automate my effects changes. It’s nice that the Blackbird can be controlled this way for optimal performance use in a complex guitar rig, and this option has become indispensable for my own needs.

Direct Out

In my research I found a Blackbird review online from a typically reputable publication mentioning that the Blackbird has a “speaker-emulated” output. The Blackbird does not have a speaker-emulated output. The author also complained about the “harsh” distortion of the pedal in isolation. If you were to connect a standard distortion pedal or any tube amplifier’s distorted preamp directly into a mixer, you’ll hear a brash, unfiltered distortion. Same with the Blackbird. That’s just how amps sound before a speaker filters out the harsh frequencies.

What the Blackbird does have is an ultra low noise ¼” TRS transformer isolated balanced direct output. This allows direct connection to a mixing desk or audio interface for further processing of your audio signal. The Triad Magnetics audio transformer also imparts its own subtle characteristics to your tone while providing an additional +6dBu of volume output. Surprisingly, in one recent rig setup I found myself running the Blackbird from the Direct Out into the Strymon BigSky with that pedal’s Cab Filter enabled. The tones were excellent, certainly gig-worthy. It’s worth exploring both output options in your setup, just be mindful of the extra +6dBu volume boost on the Direct Out if you’re feeding it into other pedals.

As Effectrode states on their website, you may not even need “speaker emulation” when using the Direct Out, “just add some eq and a little reverb”. Speakers are essentially analog, mechanical filters, so if you’re recording in a pinch without access to a mic and speaker cab, recording from the Blackbird’s Direct Out and applying some EQ can yield results from solid to excellent, depending primarily on your mastery of EQ. Any fault in the recorded tones from the Direct Out are no fault of the pedal itself. Also, be aware that there’s something to be said about possibly noticing a lack of power amp feel by just running a preamp into a cab sim or EQ, but the tradeoff will often be a minor concern for the convenience the Blackbird offers.

Effectrode-Blackbird-SR-71-Review-Best-Pre-Amp-Pedal-07Landing the Blackbird

As we wrap this up, it is with regret that I can’t give you any feedback about switching the Blackbird’s tubes as I didn’t have any on-hand to test it with. I very much enjoy the stock JJ Electronic 12AX7s, and I imagine few guitarists will find them necessary to replace. The pedal sounds incredible as is. I did, however, make a few small tweaks to the internal bias while listening just to make the pedal sound a little tastier to my ears. If you’re a tone chaser with a small collection of vintage amp tubes, you can try swapping tubes for various 12AX7, 12AU7, 12AY7 and even 12AV7 and 12AT7’s if you’ve got them. You might find a way to make a great thing even better.

My only real concern as stated previously is that I’d like to see an option implemented to better help with balancing the Classic & Creamy modes’ output levels when switching between them. Also, I’d imagine some guitarists might like different Gain settings between Classic & Creamy modes; I personally like upping the Creamy’s Gain sometimes. To get a bit more creative with my wish-list, since I love the Creamy side so much, it would be nice if I could select between two different Gain and/or Volume levels. I’m really reaching here, and that’s not a complaint by any means. Just for having access to the pristine Clean Channel and even only one of the excellent Crunch Channel sounds, the Blackbird is a can’t miss pedal.



The Effectrode Blackbird is in a class of its own when it comes to real all-tube preamp pedals. The Clean Channel is an immaculate rendition of Blackface Fender tones. The Dumble inspired Crunch Channel is excellent in either Classic or Creamy mode. There’s plenty of tonal options to perfectly integrate the Blackbird into a rig with your favorite guitar and amp. You may even be tempted to leave the amp at home and seek out a cab-simulated solution for your Blackbird centered pedalboard or home recording setup. The transformer isolated output isn’t a mere novelty and adds indispensable flexibility for recording or signal routing. As I write this final paragraph, I’m stretching my memory to ensure this last statement is still accurate, but it seems safe to say. The Effectrode Blackbird is one of my personal top 5 favorite guitar pedals and gets my highest possible recommendation for any connoisseur of great guitar tone.


That concludes our Effectrode Blackbird SR-71 review. Thanks for reading.

Atomic AmpliFire Review – Best Amp Sim/Multi-Effects Pedal?

At some point in our musical journey, we have to make a critical financial sacrifice to reach that elusive next plateau of tone that no simple effects pedal can help us reach. I’m talking, of course, about that special time when we have to upgrade the bigger, more static parts of our rig. Some of us blow our cash on the shiny Tele or Strat or even the Les Paul for the sake of aesthetics and playability, but the savvy guitarist knows that his or her amplifier plays as instrumental a role in producing their tone as their, er, instrument, and should probably be the first thing you consider upgrading. Even so, the most knowledgeable musician may struggle with which amp to pick when there are literally hundreds of great options to choose from, ranging from gritty tube amps to super clean solid states, and while the consensus tells us to err with our ear, our tone dreams are limited by the characteristics of that choice in amp. To cross the threshold of flexibility one begins entering into cost-prohibitive territory, and while we all lust after that sexy boutique half stack, the oft-four-digit price tag will have you looking at the cheaper options like rare, tolex-wrapped steak.

“But what about amp modelers?” ask primarily people from the future. “Why not those?” Whoa buddy, cool your jet-car.

The thought of simulating the sound and nuance of a real-world amp using artificial means likely makes the purists out there feel a sense of existential dread, and I have to admit, it terrified me for a long time, too. My philosophy was, if it didn’t glow a burnt orange and change noticeably in tone every time I moved it out of my practice space, I didn’t trust it. Despite my shroud of ignorance, my work at Best Guitar Effects has helped me build a real appreciation for things like MIDI and Digital Processing and lightbulbs. You know, the Devil’s work. The fact is that the world has moved on from the Luddite, tube-or-die ways of the past. In most cases, that mindset is just elitist dogma, anyway. Music technology has reached a shiny new standard through painstaking experimentation, the fruit of which must be shared with the world at large.

atomic-amplifire-review-best-amp-sim-multi-effects-pedal-02You’ve probably heard of Atomic Amps somewhere. Maybe you saw their logo out of the corner of your eye at an Animals as Leaders show, maybe your sound engineer buddy was hyped about this new pedal in the Atomic family featuring Studio Devil’s DSP, or maybe you already run a CLR monitor to get a super clean frequency response from your Axe FX. One way or another Atomic has fought their way from the back of all our minds to the forefront, boasting a well-earned Pantheon of elite artists in their roster. Their super sparse lineup of products implies that they are committed to making the absolute best and extremely specific products designed for not just the discerning guitarist, but the dedicated guitarist. Atomic’s ability to present third-party offerings that compete with or complement industry paragons is refreshing, to say the least.

Today I hope to offer you a glance into a collaborative piece developed by Atomic and Studio Devil, a white hot iceberg of an amp sim and multi-effects pedal: The AmpliFire. While this pedal has been out for some time, Atomic frequently updates the firmware, making community-driven improvements on the already potent framework in place. We’re on Version 4.0 currently, and I urge those of you who’ve played with it in the past but haven’t committed to take another look; Atomic might have added the functionality or tone it was missing the first time you picked it up.


  • All new, state-of-the-art amp modeling based on Studio Devil’s highly acclaimed and patented technology
  • Blazing dual-DSP powered hardware allowing for complex and detailed algorithms
  • Stereo 1024 point cabinet impulses with ability to upload 3rd party IRs
  • Robust effects selection including drive, modulation, delay, reverb, compression, eq, gate, etc.
  • Dedicated, physical amp control knobs for intuitive tone adjustments
  • Pristine studio quality audio and ultra low noise floor
  • Versatile i/o options including 1⁄4” Hi Z input with proprietary processing, separate stereo 1⁄4” and XLR outputs and user programmable effects loop
  • 3 fully configurable and rugged foot switches
  • Robust external control of presets & parameters via MIDI and foot switch jacks
  • PC/Mac editor
  • 128 programmable presets
  • Field upgradeable firmware

Visit Atomic Amps for more info about the AmpliFire.

See the lowest price on eBay.

Sound & Performance:

The box the AmpliFire arrived in was so light, I thought that I had been sent socks as a prank. Come to think of it, socks might have been heavier. Removing it from its cradle, I was surprised by how lightweight and sturdy the AmpliFire felt, considering how massive a footprint it’s burdened with; a cumbersome “x” berth. The candy apple finish over brushed aluminum gives a very aggressive muscle-car sort of vibe, amplified by the spicy Atomic and Studio Devil logos emblazoned front and center. The wide front panel bears three programmable foot-switches, 7 sturdy amp parameter knobs as well as an Encoder/Preset knob for browsing and selecting presets, two arrow buttons, and a preset save button. The (unfortunately) tiny screen glows tube-orange, and fits twelve characters horizontally and two vertically. On the back panel is a cadre of ins and outs, including Stereo returns that double as expression inputs, balanced XLR outs for monitoring, MIDI In/Thru, and a USB port for the AmpliFire editor. Finally, the right side panel has a sole input and the left side panel features stereo outs and a headphone out for silent playing: my wife was very pleased with this bit. Without even plugging in I know that I’m in for a radioactive thrashing.

Oh, and Atomic also sent a fireball candy with the AmpliFire. Well played, guys.

The three foot-swtiches can all be reassigned to any effect/loop, recall and browse presets, or to function as a tap tempo. I was also delighted to learn when the Amplifier arrived that the effects loop returns could be repurposed as expression controls for any parameter on the AmpliFire (WHAT!) but was a little disappointed that I couldn’t program the mono return to receive signal from a pedal and the other to serve as an expression control. It serves perfectly well as a regular ‘ol stereo effects loop though, and makes integration into your pre-existing rig a no-brainer. Any mono effect will be split into dual-mono when it reaches the loop, but I encourage you to put your best stereo effects here. I’m really fond of using an all-wet reverb in stereo and chopping it up with the AmpliFire’s hard-panned tremolo. This block also includes the option to mute just the send when the loop is switched off, allowing the effect in the loop to decay to its logical conclusion, as opposed to being cut off by a muted return.


At the moment I’m writing this, there are 21 amplifier models, cleverly alluding to and inspired by some of the best amps in the industry. The models range from standard Marshalls to boutique Cornfords and Soldanos, and while I haven’t played with all of the physical amps being simulated, I can say with confidence that those I have played or heard in the past are faithfully recreated here, down to the way they sizzle at the end of a sustained note. Corresponding cabinet impulse responses are automatically matched to each amp, but you can swap out these for other stock cabs or third party impulse responses; this feature may be vital for those of you who already use, say, RedWirez impulse responses in the studio and don’t want to give up that tone in a live scenario. You can also set the cabinet outputs to Aux or Mains only, meaning that if you’re using your cab on stage as a backwash and using a DI for front of house, your cab won’t sound like there’s another cab trying to cram through it, and the signal going to the FOH won’t lack the color inherent in your choice of cabinet response.

AmpliFire Editor

On the digital front, the AmpliFire Editor for PC & Mac is a beautifully crafted utilitarian program that relies on the user’s technical knowledge or eagerness for blind experimentation to craft tones from scratch. Each stage of the signal is presented to the user in a “block,” a submenu with specific parameters to tweak for that amp, EQ or effect. In all 19 blocks in the chain parameters are presented as virtual trim pots, appropriately giving the editor more the feel of studio software than an ancillary feature for a piece of analog gear. That said, the sheer quantity of tweakable parameters, while admirably massive, is kind of daunting when presented in a series of menus to dive or trim pots to drag. I don’t mean the time spent learning the format and perfecting your tone isn’t worth it, just that there’s more of it. My advice is to use a loop pedal to capture your riff and tweak in realtime as you’re making presets, and even then, know that you’ll be in it for the long haul. Any number of the presets can be edited, filled and recalled from the pedal, albeit painfully; the encoder knob is the sole means to browse the presets from the pedal itself without relinquishing a foot-switch, making it a chore to navigate the menus. Beyond that you’ll need a MID controller to access the presets on the fly.

Atomic Tones

atomic-amplifire-review-best-amp-sim-multi-effects-pedal-04Enough minutiae! Let’s get to the tone. Picking the low-hanging fruit, I spent my first night with the AmpliFire making a shamelessly djenty, gain-laden rhythm tone from the 5051 voicing which I shamelessly named “Djake.” The 3 parametric EQ blocks offer studio-grade tone sculpting, making a boost at 14kHz as easy as typing it into the editor. This function requires some degree of mixing knowledge, as with most of the features in the Editor, there isn’t any real visual indication as to what you’re actually doing when you play with the parameters; without an understanding of EQ, you just have to trust your ear. It would be nice to see an actual EQ grid in the editor, but I can’t begin to grasp what would go into programming that, and what is there is perfectly functional.

Next, I played with the exponentially cleaner D’luxe, which sounds d’vine. This one is based on the Fender Deluxe Reverb and she rings with every bit of chime and luster as her benefactor. I pumped the sparkle with a bit of the onboard clean boost, added a bit of the Spring 2 reverb and slow tremolo for ambience, and I was in spaghetti western heaven. The D’Luxe sim takes effects very well, making it an excellent base amp for musicians with massive pedalboards to craft tones on.

AmpliFire’s Effects

With all this talk of amp simulation, I also want to discuss the effects briefly to give you a good idea of how flexible the AmpliFire is in the effects department.


Like most of the effects you’ll find on the AmpliFire, the Wah’s parameter bank is exhaustive compared to any physical wah on the market today. Armed with the benefit of choosing the exact place in the EQ the filter sits, auto-off feature, and lowpass/bandpass variants, the Wah encompasses everything you could possibly want in a Wah. More recently, Atomic added Touch Wah and LFO Wah modes: The Touch Wah is a note-sensitive AutoWah that reacts to the volume of your notes and filters it that way, and the LFO Wah is a super-flexible envelope filter you can use to dial in some pretty gnarly synth tones. These voices free up the effects loop for use by reacting to the amplitude of your signal, rather than requiring input from an external expression pedal. Strangely enough, Atomic chose to lock the wah in one place in the chain, making it impossible to use it as a filter over say, the fuzz. There’s always the (admittedly limited) option of setting the Parametric EQ to a Bandpass boost and programming an expression pedal to control its placement in the mix. Seems to me like a missed opportunity, but there’s always the potential for future firmware updates.


Hold up. A volume pedal isn’t really an effect, right? Is there really anything we need to discuss about a volume pedal when there’s so many effects in the AmpliFire already? Actually, yes. Atomic cleverly added an automatic swell mode to the block in the latest firmware update, meaning, like its Wah cousin, the Volume block no longer asks us to relinquish an effects loop to serve a purpose. I did notice the first time I played with it that it took a fair degree of work to get a consistent swell; if the “Sense” parameter wasn’t perfectly attuned to the mean amplitude, the swell tended to hiccup, resetting the effect in the middle of a sustained note. I moved on from and came back to this effect in the process of writing this review and haven’t encountered it again, so I’d just as soon chalk it up to a short-lived bug or something I was doing wrong.


The overdrive block is very utilitarian, offering only the essential components of overdrive. The current firmware includes Overdrive, Screamer, Distortion, Clean Boost and Fuzz voicings. Each features classic three-knob configuration, so you’re familiar with the sort of tones you’ll get out of these. Frankly, there’s not much more you could ask for, considering the myriad EQ’ing options made available to you right out of the gate, but you wouldn’t be a glutton for pining for a little more variety; germanium/silicon-style clipping or maybe a more modern voice would replace a pedal on most peoples’ ‘boards right now, I’ll bet. In my playing, I kept finding myself drawn back to the clean boost, pushing the front of the amps to see what sort of gain I could get without coloring my guitar tone.


This chorus block adds 1 to 4 voices to your signal, with controls for high-cut, low-cut, speed, depth, delay and wave shape. Each voice also has a sub-menu which includes trim pots for panning, phase and mix. At the more intense, wobbly side of chorus, the AmpliFire pulls off that classic, churning modulated tone we all know and aren’t sure how to feel about. With almost everything dialed back to its least extreme and all four voices active and panned in equal intervals from left to right, you can wield a mighty quadrupled sound, as if there were four guitars playing the same part. This is great for those heavier parts when a colored overdrive will just mud up your otherwise tight mix.


Fans of Through-Zero, Rejoice! The flanger block encapsulates the spirit of the effect and dissected each possible piece for our entertainment. Rather than a sweeping knob that ranges from negative feedback to positive feedback, Atomic chose to simply offer an “Invert FB” toggle that turns your lasery signal inside out, and an “Invert Mix” toggle to invert the phase of the wet signal without changing the nature of the feedback.


Ah, good ol’ phaser. Musicians both contemporary and avant garde have used the effect to evoke weird, bubbly sensations for decades, but somehow a tasteful phaser never gets old. Atomic has included a generous helping of 2 to 12 stage phasing and supplied us with the means to go deeper into this effect than any dedicated phaser on the market (are you seeing the trend, here?)


I had a lot of fun playing with this one. The tremolo features basic depth and speed controls as well as a width control for panning, but beyond the traditional trem vibe everyone uses, there are Phase, Taper, Wave and Duty controls, the latter two of which I think deserve a bit of explanation. The Wave parameter is a slider that converts the waveform of the modulation from Sine to Triangle to Sawtooth to Square wave. This yields a range of flavors, as you might imagine, creating at its outermost reaches a smooth fade in and out of silence or jagged holes where bits of your signal were. The Duty “knob” refers to the duty cycle of the signal, which, rudimentarily explained, is the area in the LFO waveform the modulation is taking place. Think of it in terms of Attack, Sustain, Decay and Release, affectionately abbreviated to ASDR by all: the earlier in the waveform the duty cycle takes place, the more Attack you’ll hear, and so on until you’ve reached the end of the waveform, or the Release, where all of the signal should be audible.

The Tremolo, Phaser and Flanger blocks all have slightly different Wave and Duty knobs, which means with a little bit of elbow grease they all can garner modulations you never realized you wanted. Tweaker heaven. I would have liked to have seen the modulation blocks slave to the global BPM, but some musicians have a knack for using contrasting off tempos to their musical advantage, so even imperfectly synced modulations washing over one another have overwhelming potential to inspire.


As a fan of reverb, I have a tendency to overdo it. In the case of the AmpliFire’s Reverb, I found it tough to do that in the “weird Blade Runner soundtrack” sort of way, but still put more than a fair amount of reverb on all of the presets I made, as the spaces this block has to offer are truly immaculate. The voicings in this block are classic space simulations (Small, Medium, Large,) and two spring voices, one simulating a classic spring tank and the other simulating a Deluxe Reverb. Nothing really stood out to me as far as experimental tones go, but if you’re looking for clean, studio-grade stereo reverb with all the fixings, you can’t go wrong.


At this point, AmpliFire owners have been bestowed WAY more than their money’s worth in beautifully rendered amp simulations, effects, studio tools, and MIDI. But now we come to the delay, which may be as close to icing on a cake as a piece of code inside a metal box can come. Here we have a truly protean delay algorithm, with bucket-brigade options and up to four perfectly synced repeat nodes in serial, parallel or 4-tap. There are two sliders that correspond to the depth and speed of a flutter effect, which, for the uninitiated, is the sound of time being bent into unnatural contortions via variations in delay time. If you also love increasingly thin and gritty repeats then the AmpliFire has you covered there too, with low and high-pass filters as well as a Drive (formerly “Grit”) and a Bitrate parameter to add distorted dirt to your repeats. Five voicings with the option for ping-pong repeats and the delay block is a fine replacement for almost any delay on your board. You’ll need to make room anyway. My only concern with this block is the inability to dedicate each node to a different delay type; it would be really nice to hear a short digital feeding into that dark tape, feeding into the soft digital, and so forth.



The Atomic AmpliFire is undeniably the least back/bank-breaking way to get incredibly realistic amp tones on your pedalboard and also shines just as brilliantly among its multi-effects peers as an all-in-one workstation. As far as offering high-quality amp sims and effects, it gives you more than you’ll know what to do with. The stereo effects loop and MIDI functionality makes the AmpliFire less of a puzzle piece on your pedalboard and more the table underneath the whole puzzle. All things considered, I stand by the gripes I’ve made here; the amount of work that went into fine-tuning each effect was a bit of a turn-off, making it fall back to its stellar amp sims as its strongest selling point. On the other hand, you’ll never beat the immaculate tones this thing can pull off compared to anything in its price range. If you can stomach the ubiquitous sliders, the editor is as deep and the tones as glorious as you’ll find in the industry today. And we’ve only just scratched the surface in this review! There’s something awe-inspiring about cramming any combination of amps and effects into a pedal, no matter how large, without relinquishing tone. Furthermore, the prospect of Atomic’s commitment to updating and improving the AmpliFire as time goes on and the improvements they’ve made so far is enough for me to say: she’s a keeper. Professionals who’ve already got it all should consider the AmpliFire for the raw tone; younger musicians who’ve just reached a home studio level should consider it to maintain a consistency from their recordings to their live set. And again, the raw tone. I’m starting to get buzzwordy, but I promise: if you should choose to trust the AmpliFire, the only sacrifices you’ll be making will be to the Dark Lord of Tone.

That concludes our Atomic AmpliFire review. Thanks for reading!


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DryBell Vibe Machine V-2 Review – Best “Uni-Vibe” Pedal?


We previously featured the original DryBell Vibe Machine V-1 and sung its praises for being arguably the best sounding compact “Uni-Vibe” style pedal available in recent years. But DryBell weren’t satisfied with how close they already were to vibe perfection, and thus, the Vibe Machine V-2 was born from DryBell’s desire to re-create the ultimate Vibe Machine.


  • Faithful “Uni-Vibe” circuit in a regular sized enclosure
  • ‘Intensity’ control
  • ‘Speed’ control
  • ‘Vibrato/Chorus’ switch
  • ‘Custom/Bright/Original’ (input buffer) switch
  • Expression pedal & Foot-switch input
  • Foot-switch accessed Tap Tempo, Cancel, & Leslie Fast/Slow modes
  • 9-16 volts DC operation (regular center negative boss style adapter only, no battery)
  • External trimmers for ‘Volume’, ‘Range’, ‘Grit’, ‘Chorus’, & ‘Symmetry’
  • True Bypass
  • Multi-Colored Status LED indicates speed & settings

Visit DryBell for more info about the Vibe Machine V-2.

See the lowest price on eBay.

Here’s Pete Thorn’s great DryBell Vibe Machine V-2 demo.

Here’s our original V-1 demo for comparison. The V-2 does all this and more.

Sound & Performance:

Vibe Machine V-1 vs V-2

As we’ve already published a long and comprehensive Vibe Machine V-1 review, you can check out that article for an in-depth perspective on the features and sounds of the original pedal. We’re going to focus primarily on the new features found in the DryBell Vibe Machine V-2.

Custom Impedance

drybell-vibe-machine-v-2-review-best-uni-vibe-pedal-02The short version of the argument about which pedal sounds better is that DryBell made no changes to the inherent sound quality of the V-2 in comparison to the V-1. However, there are a few options that expand upon the sounds of the original. The V-2’s new Custom option lets the guitarist set an input impedance that falls between the Bright & Original settings carried over from the V-1. This 3rd option lets you set an impedance level that may more closely match your preferred guitar & pickup combination. Essentially, these options decide how dark or bright the pedal sounds. The Original mode is the darkest and typically a great place to start for classic “Uni-Vibe” sounds or if you’re playing brighter pickups. The Bright setting is much brighter and more modern sounding and is may be better suited to darker humbucker pickups. The Custom setting can be voiced anywhere in between the other two voices via a small trimmer accessible on the side of the pedal. (DryBell includes a small trimmer adjustment tool to make it easy for you.) I personally prefer this setting, and ears more sensitive and experienced than mine will probably go for this option as well. You can tune the Custom setting for your “A” guitar, and maybe select the other options if they’re more closely suited to your backup guitars.

Pedal+ Input & DryBell F-1L Foot-Switch

The V-1 had an expression pedal input. That’s here on the V-2 as well, and it works with the same expression pedals (including the Mission Engineering EP-100K) and even CV control. You can adjust the taper as well as set the max sweep range. You can also custom calibrate the pedal to achieve a full sweep when using expression pedals that don’t quite access the V-2’s full sweep range. You can even access the V-2’s Cancel & Tap Tempo functions while using an expression pedal, but I find a dedicated foot-switch like the DryBell F-1L to be better suited for these functions.

Leslie Fast & Slow Ramping

The Pedal+ input jack also allows the use of an external foot-switch such as the DryBell F-1L (which matches the V-2’s paint job nicely, I must say) for several live performance options. You can use the F-1L foot-switch to trigger Leslie style fast & flow vibe speeds. You can easily set 2 different speeds and also set the ramp rate as slow as 10 seconds or instant so that the V-2 jumps between the fast and slow speeds when you tap the foot-switch.

Cancel & Tap Tempo

drybell-vibe-machine-v-2-review-best-uni-vibe-pedal-03Another option for the foot-switch is using it to “Cancel” the vibe effect while still letting your guitar signal be colored by the sound of the V-2, similar to the original “Uni-Vibe”. Use this with the Grit trimmer, Volume trimmer, and Custom, Bright, or Original settings to tweak the colored sound. The V-2 is true bypass, so your sound will be uncolored when you disengaged the pedal.

Perhaps more useful is the Cancel + Tap Tempo foot-switch mode. This condenses the full range of knob selectable Speed to the area between minimum and about 1 o’clock. If you click the F-1L while the knob is in this Speed range, it’ll activate the Cancel function. If you push the speed knob a bit higher, you can select from 3 different tap quantize settings (more multipliers available in the sub-menu) and use the foot-switch to tap in a tempo. There are markers around the Speed knob to show you where you have it set, and the LED will flash different colors as you turn the knob through the different tap settings. You could use the side of your foot to adjust the Speed knob during a live performance if you need to adjust tap settings on the fly or switch back to Cancel mode and access manual rate adjustment with the Speed knob.

Grit Trimmer

There was an Output Buffer jumper on the V-1 that allowed you to create a slightly “hotter” sound coming out of the pedal. That’s been replaced on the V-2 with a dedicated Grit side trimmer. To really hear how this trimmer affects your tone, engage the Cancel function via foot-switch and listen to the “dry” colored sound of your guitar as you play. A/B various Grit settings against your bypassed tone, and you’ll notice a bit more presence in your sound as you increase the Grit. I like to keep it around the factory setting (1 o’clock-ish) and use some overdrive or fuzz if I want to bring out a more harmonically rich sound. But it’s important to note that the Grit trimmer interacts with the Volume trimmer and which impedance setting you’re using. Try adjusting this trimmer when setting your Custom impedance to hone in on your preferred sound.

Chorus Trimmer

This parameter affects the harmonic modulation of the vibe and dials in the swirly, watery, chewy character of the effect. The V-1 didn’t have this control and was preset to around the noon position of this trimmer. The V-2 comes preset around 2-3 o’clock, so you may notice a slight variation between the two pedals at first. DryBell recommends setting the Chorus to noon for a sound that cuts through the mix in a band setting better, but if you want it to be intense with plenty of ‘throb’, leave it around the factory setting. Don’t be afraid of all the options as the default settings are all a great place to start, and I typically came back around to where DryBell had already set the trimmers.

drybell-vibe-machine-v-2-review-best-uni-vibe-pedal-04One thing I’m really happy about is that DryBell removed the internal controls and made everything available on the top or side of the pedal. Gotta love the handy little DryBell Trimmer Adjustment Tool they include as well. You probably won’t need it much after the initial setup. Frankly, most guitarists could get away with just plugging it in and finding a great sound on the surface. If you’re going to use Tap Tempo or one of the expression pedal modes, you’ll probably just want to consult the manual for those instructions. But this review doesn’t even cover everything the V-2 is capable of. There are plenty of other calibration settings available via digging into the sub-menus of this pedal. Your vibe adventure can be as simple or as deep as you want it to be. If you love vibe effects, most guitarists will agree that it probably doesn’t get any better than this.




The DryBell Vibe Machine V-2 took the world’s most versatile compact vibe and made it better thanks to the inclusion of Tap Tempo via the F-1L foot-switch and the Custom input setting for matching the V-2 to your favorite guitar. It was always commendable how DryBell managed to fit so much into the V-1, and the V-2 somehow surpasses its predecessor in usability. If you’re happy with your V-1 and don’t need tap tempo, the upgrade may not be essential. But if you love vibe sounds and have yet to try a Vibe Machine, the V-2 is a must play.

That concludes our DryBell Vibe Machine V-2 review. Thanks for reading.


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