Catalinbread Belle Epoch Deluxe Review

 

With unparalleled attention to detail and a perfectly executed design, the Belle Epoch Deluxe from Catalinbread is THE final word in Maestro Echoplex emulation pedals. From the 22 volt power rail, to the later spec JFET preamp, to the mixer stage, to the high gain silicon transistor based record and playback amplifiers, to the feedback loop, this pedal is the exact EP-3 circuitry. Add to that the all-discrete, through-hole construction with orange drop 225P capacitors, carbon composition resistors, germanium diodes, and other premium parts. Beyond the technical aspects of this pedal, none of which matter when you are actually using the thing, the idea was to create both the sound and the experience of the EP-3. Look no further. This pedal harnesses the delay tones and preamp characteristics that made the original a legend.

Just for the record, let me start by saying that I have never used a Maestro Echoplex EP-3 delay unit. Because of this, I make no claims to have an understanding of what that “Echoplex feel” is. However, I’m not alone on that. There are only so many of those units around. Certainly not enough to fulfill the demands of all of us seeking that unique tape delay and preamp circuit tone. I wish I owned one. Sorta. I mean, I guess I’d want to also know how to service it and be sure I had a lifetime supply of parts and tape. With all of that in mind, I think I’m with the majority of you when I say that I’ll just rely on modern technology and look for the next best thing. Possibly even something…. better?

 

What’s in a name?

“Belle Époque,” French for “Beautiful Era,” is a phrase referring to a time when things were significantly more wonderful than they are now. When everyone smoked cigarettes, drank lots of booze, and fearlessly lived life to the fullest. A time when imagination ran wild and skilled artisans crafted incredible things that were meant to inspire, and were built to last a lifetime. It could be argued that the Maestro Echoplex was one of those things built at a time when quality mattered and inspiration ran high. It inspired countless recordings and became a legendary piece of gear that has been copied again and again. Even to this day, the original units are coveted for their ability to create some of the finest delay tones of the modern era.

When I first heard about this pedal, I was super excited. I’ve owned a few of the other emulations of the EP-3, both in delay form and the isolated preamp circuits. The EP Booster (Xotic Effects), the Echoplex Delay (Jim Dunlop), and even I’ll even consider something loosely based on the EP-3 like the El Capistan (Strymon). I like all of these pedals, but they just don’t seem like they are doing all they can to bring that faithful sound. Not to blame the designers, I know the intention of these pedals was not an all-encompassing EP-3 emulation. And even if they come close, I am sure there is an element that goes further… that “vibe” I was referring to, that feeling where if you’ve used an EP-3 and you closed your eyes as you played the Belle Epoch Deluxe, maybe you’d struggle to detect a difference. The Belle Epoch Deluxe just has all the bells and whistles, and Howard’s attention to detail could not be more in focus for this pedal. This is truly his masterpiece, his Magnum Opus, and it really shines as the finest in EP-3 emulations.

 

 

Features:

 

Sound Design:

  • 6 modes or types of “tape” to choose from
  • Delay times ranging from 80ms to 800ms (exactly like an EP-3) (Sort of, more on that below)
  • Option for trails on or off via internal dip switch
  • Controls for program, depth, record level, echo volume, echo sustain, echo delay, expression control toggle, bypass switch, and a user-tunable latching runaway oscillation switch. (record level, echo volume, and echo sustain are all analog controls)
  • Expression control of delay time, delay playback volume, rotary speed, or filter sweep
  • Tons of self-oscillation and gritty long repeat goodness on tap
  • Painstakingly recreated circuit with vintage-correct components, and even the 22 volt power rail achieved by way of a voltage tripler and shunt regulator
  • All of this in a perfect size, road-worthy enclosure with, my personal favorite, top-mount jacks!

Ins and outs:

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

Knobs:

The up-front controls on the Belle Epoch Deluxe offer the same functionality of the original EP-3 bringing the familiarity of the experience directly to the user.

  • PROGRAM: Let’s you select one of six mode types (classic/bright, analog/dark, roto-swirl/leslie, resonant filter/wah, DMM chorus, DMM vibrato)
  • DEPTH: Controls the depth of the modulation
  • RECORD LEVEL: (analog) Sets the gain of the input signal hitting the record amplifier. (how hot the virtual “tape” is being hit) On the original EP-3 unit, this was a screwdriver-adjustable setting on the back of the unit. Essentially, it adds dirt or cleans up the repeats
  • ECHO VOLUME: (analog) Full-clockwise gives maximum echo volume, full counter-clockwise reduces the echo volume so that the instrument is the only thing you hear. Anything in between allows you to create the perfect balance between the two
  • ECHO SUSTAIN: (analog) Another word for “repeats.” Allows you to set the desired number of echo sustain. Anything beyond “5” and runaway oscillation will kick in
  • ECHO DELAY: This is your “time” knob. Anywhere from 80ms to 800ms (maybe, more on that below) On the original unit, this was a slider knob on the top of the unit. Fun to slide back and forth. Get that same experience here on the Belle Epoch in one of two ways. The knob is conveniently located in the top right edge of the pedal. This makes it easy for you to access it with your foot, rolling it up and down with ease. The other way would be an expression pedal. Plug it in and go crazy!

A more in-depth look at that PROGRAM knob:

Fairly straightforward “mode” knob, but it get’s pretty deep. Let’s take a look.

PROGRAM:

Here you can select one of six different modes, or as the manual refers to, “six types of tape.” They are really different-sounding delays with additional options for the modulation or filtering characteristics, as well as expression pedal options. Let’s look at each one in depth.

1. CLASSIC:

Description: Classic EP-3 Tape voicing. Slightly bright repeats. This is the main voice of the Belle Epoch Deluxe. You want that Maestro Echoplex in a box? This is the one.
Depth/Modulation: Adjusts the amount of tape warble. Start at “noon” for classic EP-3 tape characteristics.
Expression Pedal: Controls volume of repeats from off to full.

2. ANALOG:

Description: Dark voicing inspired by BBD delays. Darker repeats sit nicely under your dry signal.
Depth/Modulation: Adjusts the depth of a medium-rate chorus. Set to minimum for no chorus to emulate classic BBD delay units.
Expression Pedal: Controls volume of repeats from off to full.

3. LESLIE:

Description: Your repeats will have a nice “roto-swirl” as if running though a Leslie Speaker. (use the expression options to unlock the full capabilities of this feature)
Depth/Modulation: Adjusts the depth of the rotary effect.
Expression Pedal: Classic Leslie Speaker controls. Toe-down for fast rotor, toe-up for slow rotor.

4. FILTER:

Description: This mode features a manually sweeping resonant filter. As if your repeats were running through a wah pedal. (use the expression options to unlock the full capabilities of this feature)
Depth/Modulation: Adjusts the amount of tape warble. Start at “noon” for classic EP-3 tape characteristics.
Expression Pedal: Controls the sweeping filter. Go from wah-like tone at shorter delay times all the way to sweeping synth filter sounds at longer delay times. (because this is a resonant filter, you may need to turn down SUSTAIN slightly to avoid going into oscillation)

5. DMM CHORUS:

Description: Replicates the “chorus” sound on a classic Deluxe Memory Man.
Depth/Modulation: Adjusts the chorus depth. Just like the original, it’s capable of extreme settings at max.
Expression Pedal: Controls volume of repeats from off to full.

6. DMM VIBRATO:

Description: Replicates the “vibrato” sound on a classic Deluxe Memory Man.
Depth/Modulation: Adjusts the vibrato depth. Just like the original, it’s capable of extreme settings at max.
Expression Pedal: Controls volume of repeats from off to full.

Visit Catalinbread for more info about the Belle Epoch Deluxe.

 

 

Value, quality, and nitpicks:

 

The Belle Epoch Deluxe is simply fantastic. No other way around it. The strongest points are the attention to detail and the massive array of expression options available for the delay explorer. The bread and butter of this pedal is the classic EP-3 tone, captured by the seemingly magical hands of Howard Gee. What takes this pedal to the next level are the expression options, opening up possibilities of incredible sounds that you will struggle to find elsewhere.

Let’s talk about value. The street price on the BED is around $359.00. Right away, some of you are like “No. That’s too expensive.” But think about it… It’s $60 more than an El Capistan. One of the greatest delay pedals ever, yes, but the BED is hand-built with premium analog, through-hole parts. (I hear that it takes 90 minutes just to populate the board on these things.) You’re honestly getting the entire EP-3 experience (plus more) for less than half of the price of an actual EP-3. It’s definitely in the “you get what you pay for” category. Nothing about the entire user experience makes me feel like anything was left to chance on this thing. From the look of it, to the feel of it… from the beautifully-crafted insides, to the thoughtfully-designed outsides, to the incredible-sounding tones… Buying the Belle Epoch Deluxe will not make you feel like you got punched in the gut.

Let me get a few “nitpicks” off my chest. These aren’t my nitpicks… but I read forums from time to time, like when I need to research for a review. There are three concerns from the peanut gallery. Most of the ones who are expressing these concerns fall into one of the following groups: the ones who either just don’t like the concept of the EP-3 (whether the original, or this pedal) and those who are looking to buy the pedal and are out searching for all those reasons and opinions to help make that decision. In other words, neither of those groups are owners of the pedal. Those that actually have the thing, myself included, are far less likely to have the following concerns. I’m covering these issues below, not so much to bring them to light, but, rather, in hopes of debunking them.

Lack of TAP TEMPO switch. Ok. This is probably the most obvious thing to most of you. “A delay pedal that has two switches and one of them isn’t TAP TEMPO??” Get over it. The second switch is for latching self oscillation. “But it could have been momentary oscillation with TAP like all the other pedals!” No. This isn’t that pedal. And, if you haven’t used latching oscillation before… it’s killer. Tap it once and it creates sustaining feedback while your foot is now free to control that Echo Delay (time) knob function via expression pedal. This approach is like grabbing the slider on a real EP-3 and using it to create rising and falling pitched echo oscillations. And besides… it’s not like the original unit had tap tempo. Howard set out to make a faithful recreation. Period. I honor and respect that. Not all pedals are supposed to have all the things all the other pedals have. This pedal is based on a philosophy. You get it, or you don’t. Which brings me to the next point.

Faithful recreation to a fault? Some have argued about making this pedal so true to the original that you lose some of the technological advancements made in the decades since the original EP-3 came to market. Oh, jeez. Come on. There are plenty of delays out there that dive into the EP-3 tone and yet throw out all the quirky limitations of the original. If that’s what you need, then you know what to buy. When I set out in search of that original EP-3 vibe, that feel… I want the faithful reproduction. I want the classic experience of the original. I want the limitations. The same limitations that forced the musicians of the day to create some of the most powerful music ever recorded. The music we love now and sit around and wonder why no one else can pull that off anymore. Maybe you need a few limitations in your life? It makes you get more creative.

So, what kind of limitations am I referring to? Lack of TAP, quirky input gain trim, warble, thinned repeats, crazy oscillation, a delay range of 80ms-800ms. Now, some of you are thinking “But some of that is what makes this pedal cool!” No, all of that is what makes this pedal cool. If you look at a block diagram of the original EP-3 and a block diagram of the Belle Epoch Deluxe, they share the same architecture. There is no reason to be that faithful to the original and then ruin it with a bunch of flair.

Delay time range of 80ms-800ms. Ok, I’ve been waiting to talk about this one. First of all. The goal was to get it just like the original. If you look at the manual for the Belle Epoch Deluxe, you’ll see that it lists the delay times as follows: “80ms-800ms Exactly like an EP-3” Then you read a few things online and you find out that the actual delay range is more like 15ms to 666ms. Then you wonder if you’ve been cheated. Now it’s not like the original, right?? Then you find a video on Instagram where someone has an original EP-3 unit and a Belle Epoch Deluxe sitting side-by-side on a table. Both set to max delay times and they are going back and forth. Not only are you totally unable to tell the difference in tone (!) but the max delay times are exact copies of one another. I don’t understand where this leaves things, officially. The delay times of 80-800 are still on the Catalinbread website. I am satisfied with the fact that the BED is the same as the actual EP-3 and I’ll just leave it at that.

How about a few of my very own nitpicks? If you’ve read any of my other reviews, these nitpicks are always the same… I wasn’t even going to put this in here, since it runs counter to the BED philosophy of a “perfect emulation” that has everything you need, and nothing you don’t, but I’ll say this anyway. MIDI is always nice. In most cases, MIDI is literally the difference between “on my board” and “off my board.” That’s why it’s always worth mentioning, for me. You don’t really take anything away from the experience of the BED by having MIDI. It’s one of those things where it’s there when you need it, and is totally meant to be ignored when you’re not using it. Certainly with all the different sounds you can come up with on this thing, MIDI presets would have been HUGE for guys like me. Stereo ins and outs? Maybe. Many of us like to run a stereo board, but probably not enough of you out there to make it that big of a deal. But that may be something that would keep it off someone’s stereo board. For me, this pedal has been an indispensable tool in the studio. I’ve been working on a couple records kind of in the trip-hop genre. Think about Adrian Utley’s guitar work and how important that EP-3 sound is. It’s just got that cool, lo-fi tape vibe that I was looking for, and the Belle Epoch Deluxe sounds totally authentic. You’ll notice that my personal nitpicks have nothing to do with the experience or the sound. I don’t miss a tap tempo, I don’t care that the pedal has “narrowed specifications” to match the original EP-3. I don’t miss a full second of delay time. I feels good and sounds great. That’s what really matters here.

 

 

The pedal is what it is. If you honestly crave that EP-3 tone but don’t see yourself picking up one of the original units anytime soon, this is the pedal you want. If you already own an EP-3 but want something you can actually take on the road, look no further. I am sure you’ll be very satisfied with the characteristics of this pedal. And, not only did they bring us that faithful recreation, they took it a few steps further with the program options. Why just have the original EP-3 tape sound when you can also mix in a few additional tones? I’ve been using the BED in my studio now for the past 6 months. I know it very well at this point, and I feel like it has revealed to me what the true EP-3 experience is. I’ve mentioned a few times in this review that I don’t know what that true “EP-3 feel” is. But, maybe now I do. I just believe in this pedal so much that I am confident that it has just given me the experience from a different direction. It made me say “Ah, now I see why people love the EP-3 so much.” The real thing going on here is Howard’s design and how it directly translates right to the user experience. The expression options open up the other half of the pedal. When you put all that together you’ll be in preamp, tape loop, record head, modulation, and oscillation heaven. This thing is definitely its own beast. I love the beast just the way it is. There is nothing out there quite like it. To play it is to understand. I mean, why do you think the original EP-3 is one of the most emulated delays on earth? Pick up the Belle Epoch Deluxe from Catalinbread and you will know why.

This concludes our review of the Belle Epoch Deluxe from Catalinbread. Thanks for reading!

Catalinbread Echorec Review – Best “Binson Echorec” Delay Pedal?

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Binson is a name I had come across a couple of times, but since it’s rare to encounter one of their legendary delay units in the wild, I must admit I didn’t know much about these until Catalinbread, a Portland based boutique company, released their Echorec inspired delay pedal, unsurprisingly called the ‘Echorec’.

The original Echorec is most famous for its use by Pink Floyd, mainly their epic (and one of my personal favorites) “Live at Pompeii”, recorded in 1972 at the amphitheater of the ancient Roman town which was frozen in time as a result of a volcano eruption in 79 AD. This is why the Catalinbread Echorec combines the black on gold color scheme of the original Bison Echorec with ancient Roman inspired graphics. I’m glad I finally get to experience the multi head, syncopated delay concept, and can find out how it compares to my regular non-pattern delays.

Features

  • ‘Swell’ control
  • ‘Tone’ control
  • ‘Delay Time’ control 40ms – 1000ms
  • ‘Mix’ control
  • ‘Program Select’ control to choose from any of the 12 delay patterns
  • Internal True/Buffered Bypass switch
  • Internal Modulation trimmer
  • Internal Gain trimmer
  • 9/18v DC input (standard center negative, no battery)
  • ‘Matrix’ card included in box, manual available on Catalinbread website

The Binson Echorec, built in Italy between the 1950’s and 70’s, consisted of a rotating metal drum with four play heads positioned around it. The user was able to independently activate any number of these, creating an echo with a distinctive rhythmical pattern, created by the combination of active playheads. Like most electro-mechanical guitar effects it had plenty of reliability issues, but whenever it did work properly it was that same quirky unpredictability that was responsible for its unique sound, apparently so much so that Pink Floyd deemed it worth the hassle of integrating it into their live rig.

Catalinbread attempted to capture the sound of the Binson Echorec while obviously avoiding the practical downsides by going digital, as well as making some improvements by increasing the relatively short fixed 300ms maximum delay time to 1000ms and making the delay time itself variable as well.

Going over the controls, on the top left, ‘Swell’, as it was originally labeled, simply changes the amount of repeats, from a single repeat at minimum to oscillating repeats at higher settings. ‘Tone’ affects the overall frequency range of the repeats only, acting somewhat like a bandpass filter. Fully counter-clockwise it’s really dark, at maximum it is bright, and in the middle it’s neutral. The delay time ranges from 40ms at minimum to 1000ms at max, and the ‘Mix’ ranges from no delayed signal at all, up to 100% wet. The last control is the somewhat mysteriously labeled ‘Program Select’ knob, which is what the Echorec is all about, as it allows the user to choose between any of the 12 possible combinations of the four ‘virtual’ playheads. The included ‘Matrix’ card clarifies which setting relates to which combination of playheads.

Catalinbread-Echorec-Review-Best-Binson-Echorec-Delay-Pedal-02

On the inside is a switch to change the bypass mode from true bypass to buffered, allowing delay trails to spill over when the pedal is bypassed, and two trimmers, one to control modulation depth and another for the amount of gain in the buffer circuit. Like most Catalinbread offerings including the Dirty Little Secret & Talisman pedals among others, the Echorec is housed in a 1590b sized enclosure, featuring the aforementioned Binson/Pompeii inspired paint job.

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Visit Catalinbread for more information about the Echorec.

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Sound & Performance

The first thing I noticed when plugging in the Echorec is that it’s incredibly easy to just set the controls somewhat randomly and start making music with it. There isn’t much of a learning curve and it’s difficult to find a bad setting. But as suggested in the user guide found on the website, I started cycling through the patterns with the ‘Swell’ set to minimum and the other controls at noon, in order to get a feel for each of the 12 patterns.

Catalinbread-Echorec-Review-Best-Binson-Echorec-Delay-Pedal-07The first pattern is the so called ‘single head mode’, and at this setting the Echorec functions like a regular tape echo style delay. The 11 settings that follow are where things get a lot more interesting, and some patterns are easier to play with than others, also depending on the ‘Delay Time’ setting, since at faster settings the more complex ‘programs’ almost sound like a reverb, which makes for some unique sounds.

The ‘Delay Time’ and ‘Mix’ controls function as you’d expect, are easy to tweak, and the pots have the right curve. With the ‘Mix’ knob maxed out, the signal is 100% wet, which is useful for more elaborate or experimental rigs (although it can be a little confusing rhythmically).

The tone control is very well executed and really adds a lot to the Echorec’s character, allowing the oscillations to develop into this chirpy sound at maximum or really and dark and bassy at minimum, so much so that the amount of low end causes the circuit to actually oscillate a little earlier and obviously pushes the amp into breakup sooner.

Catalinbread-Echorec-Review-Best-Binson-Echorec-Delay-Pedal-04The modulation, with the trimmer set to the factory setting, is quite apparent but not obtrusive, and although I preferred it this way, it’s nice to have options, as I could imagine situations where a lighter modulation or maybe none at all, might be appropriate.

Catalinbread-Echorec-Review-Best-Binson-Echorec-Delay-Pedal-05On the inside, apart from the modulation trimmer, the bottom of the circuit board houses the buffer circuitry. This is an important aspect of the Echorec, and Catalinbread recommend it to be set to buffered bypass as an overall tone enhancement, meaning the buffer and its adjustable gain setting are affecting the signal at all times. I did like the sound of the buffer after I tweaked it to be at unity gain. And of course this method keeps the trails intact after switching the pedal off, which is essential when going for smooth transitions, but again, it’s great to have the choice.

With the ‘Gain’ trimmer set to maximum it overloads the circuitry to the point of heavy clipping, turning it into a fuzz, or fuzz/delay with the Echorec engaged. I thought this was fun when pushing a somewhat dirty amp (to smooth out the highs), but it’s not for everyone as the volume boost is huge.

Running it any higher than 9v (up to 18v) does indeed increase the headroom, which is useful when running instruments or pedals with a higher dynamic range in front of it, which I did briefly when using it with a synth.

As with all Catalinbread guitar pedals, I dig the aesthetics and overall feel, and it wouldn’t be hard to justify having it occupy a small corner on any pedalboard.

The Echorec is not perfect, however, as for an effect that relies so heavily on it’s rhythmical aspect, it’s unfortunate there is no tap tempo. Although it’s understandable that there is no tap tempo foot-switch on the pedal itself, as it certainly wouldn’t have fit on this small enclosure, perhaps a tap input would have improved functionality for live use somewhat. Using it without any way to accurately sync the delays to the tempo of the music, a more old school approach is required of just dialing in the delay time until it sounds close enough. My other main concern is that the ‘Program Select’ control is a continuous, regular style pot, labeled with a rather unspecific white dot, so sometimes it’s difficult to see which pattern is selected. On top of that it is possible to set it exactly in between two settings, resulting in no repeats at all, which is rather frustrating. These aren’t deal breakers, and I certainly learned to work around them, but improving these minor faults would undoubtedly take the Echorec to another level performance-wise should Catalinbread ever decide to update this pedal.

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Overall-Rating-4.0

The Catalinbread Echorec is a highly inspiring and musical piece of equipment, great for guitarists who are looking to add some ambience with a lot of character to their setup. Obviously some way to conveniently set the delay time would make it a lot more practical, and the ‘Program Select’ control is a bit of a compromise, but sonically it’s an absolute thrill. There isn’t much choice when it comes to pattern based delays in this format, especially with such a unique character, and the Echorec is certainly a no brainer pedal in that regard that uniquely recreates the style of tape echo made famous in the original Binson Echorec.

That concludes our Catalinbread Echorec review. Thanks for reading.

 

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Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret Review – Best “Marshall” Distortion Pedal?

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It’s no secret that the classic Marshall Super Lead and Super Bass “Plexi” amplifiers produce some of the most sought after guitar tones in rock history. From mild bluesy warmth to the roaring sound of a cranked Marshall stack, these legendary amps laid the foundation for great tones that guitarists still seek to this day. But with vintage amp prices soaring ever higher and the sounds of a cranked Marshall requiring, well, a cranked Marshall, Catalinbread have released what could be the end-all pedal for conveniently capturing that classic Marshall Super Lead/Super Bass sound: the Dirty Little Secret.

Catalinbread’s latest Dirty Little Secret is the 3rd iteration of their Marshall-inspired “foundation overdrive” as the DLS has gone through a few incarnations as Catalinbread strove ever towards achieving the ultimate Marshall-in-a-box pedal. But this version may well be the pinnacle of the DLS’s evolution as it finally reproduces the authentic tone stack characteristics of both Super Lead & Super Bass amps, complete with a 3-band EQ and internal Presence trimmer. Here’s a rundown of features before we find out if this is the best “Marshall” distortion pedal around in our Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret review.

Features:

  • Classic Plexi to early 70’s Marshall Super Lead and Super Bass sound and response.
  • Master knob controls overall output level.
  • Pre-amp knob sets level of input gain distortion.
  • Bass, Middle, & Treble knobs control tonal response.
  • Presence internal trimmer adjusts overall high-frequency response.
  • Super Lead/Super Bass mode switch selects between 2 difference modes of operation. The Tone circuit gets reconfigured when switched from Super Lead to Super Bass mode and vice versa.
  • Power by 9-18VDC power adapter.

Visit Catalinbread for more info about the Dirty Little Secret.

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Sound & Performance:

This pedal rocks. The Dirty Little Secret holds a record with me for being the fastest pedal to win me over from plugging it in to earning a place on my pedalboard. I’ve played a lot of great distortion pedals, even some pedals that capture solid Marshall style distortion tones, but the Dirty Little Secret is truly something special beyond the norm.

When first plugging into the Dirty Little Secret, you’ll find it set to Super Lead mode. This mode offers a highly versatile distortion with a focused attack, a searing amount of gain on tap, a tighter frequency response, and an altered tone stack with an upper-midrange emphasis. In short, the Dirty Little Secret is one of the most Marshall-sounding stompboxes I’ve ever plugged into. I generally like to set the Pre-amp knob (gain) pretty high and use the guitar’s volume knob for any subtle tweaks or cleanup. You’ll also notice the feel and distortion character change a little in the upper range from around 3 o’clock to maxed out. And frankly, this is one of the few distortion pedals that I like with fully cranked gain as it can take you into ripping JCM800 territory. Throw an overdrive in front, and Super Lead mode kills!

Catalinbread-Dirty-Little-Secret-DLS-Review-Best-Marshall-Distortion-Pedal-02I’ll go ahead a cover the tone knobs before we get into Super Bass mode as it’s vital to understand how and why this pedal’s tone controls are unique and how to use them with best results. Essentially, the Dirty Little Secret was designed to accurately reproduce the same characteristics of the passive tone stacks found in Super Lead and Super Bass amps. Basically, you’re dealing with a real Marshall tone stack, and thus, you’d use the controls on the DLS as you would on an actual Marshall amp. If you’re expecting to just dial the knobs to noon for a flat setting, that isn’t the case here. The controls are passive, so they attenuate, or cut, the frequencies. Also, the Treble knobs works as a sort of blender between the treble and middle/bass frequencies. You’ll generally notice a slight mid-scoop in the sound with more presence in the bass and treble frequencies when the knobs are straight up. When cranking the Pre-amp it may also be worth attenuating the bass to significantly lower levels to keep your bottom end from getting muddy. Otherwise, it’s nearly impossible to dial in a “bad” sound from this pedal, contributing to why the Dirty Little Secret is such a joy to play.

Now I must admit, I played the Dirty Little Secret for weeks before even trying Super Bass mode. I knew it was there. And I intended to try it. But the Super Lead mode sounds so good that I was already in love and couldn’t bring myself to pop off the bottom plate to flip the mode switch. But I must say, try not to make the same mistake when you get your hands on the DLS. I figured the the whole “2-pedals-in-one” hype surrounding the Dirty Little Secret was just the usual marketing talk about a mode that would essentially just have a slightly bassier sound. This is not the case at all…

The Dirty Little Secret’s Super Bass mode starts by offering a fuller frequency input response compared to Super Lead mode. This immediately gives it a more open sound that’s less compressed and more dynamic. It’s a little darker sounding at first, but you can reduce the Bass and boost the Middle & Treble to find less bass heavy tone if you’d like. Super Bass mode also has less gain than Super Lead mode, but this works exceptionally well if you’re stacking an overdrive or fuzz pedal in front. This gives you an experience like stacking pedals in front of a real amp. You must hear it and feel it to believe how amp-like the Dirty Little Secret is. You’ll also notice that Super Bass mode has a Fender Bassman kind of vibe going on which is not surprising considering that those early Marshall amps were Fender clones. Of course, it still has that distinctive Marshall flavor which is what made the Super Bass a desired amp in its own right. The “British Bassman” vibe becomes even more fun when you stick a Tube Screamer in front for some Stevie-meets-Jimi jamming. Ultimately, the Super Bass mode is this pedal’s dirty little secret and is well worth exploring. It may quickly become your default mode.

I expected the DLS to be a good pedal as it’s been growing in repute for a while among players who’ve discovered its charms. But it’s quickly become one of my favorite guitar pedals regardless of its classification as a distortion or Marshall-in-a-box pedal. It just sounds great and is a blast to play through. There are only 2 minor points of fault to consider with the Dirty Little Secret in its present form. For one, the Presence control, while typically a set-once-and-forget parameter, is something I’d like to see receive it’s own dedicated external knob. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it would still be handy for experimentation. Also, and this is a somewhat bigger wish, I’d love to see an external Super Lead/Super Bass mode switch. Frankly, both modes are so different in sound, response, and playability that the DLS really is 2 pedals in one. It would be incredibly convenient to have these great modes accessible without having to open the pedal. This doesn’t compromise my final score as this pedal is supremely good in either mode you should choose. The fact that you do have access to another great mode is an incredible bonus.

The Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret is rock ‘n roll in pedal form. Let’s see the final result.

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Overall-Rating-5.0

The Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret is one of the most incredible Marshall inspired distortion pedals I’ve played. It’ll go from classic Super Lead and Super Bass tones all the way to hot-rodded JCM800 style grind. While the default Super Lead mode already offers an incredibly wide range of ways to get your Marshall fix, the Super Bass mode captures a great “British Bassman” vibe that must be experienced firsthand. Super Bass mode is amazing on it’s own or with your choice of fuzz or overdrive pedal placed in front. The Dirty Little Secret rocks hard and is a must-play.

That concludes our Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret review. Thanks for reading.

 

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Catalinbread Talisman Review – Best Plate Reverb Pedal?

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The Catalinbread Talisman is a compact reverb pedal that seeks to emulate the sounds of the legendary EMT 140, a hulking 7ft long x 4ft tall studio plate reverb. While plate reverb has long been a mainstay effect in the studio, guitarists have had relatively few sources for attaining authentic plate reverb sounds as most digitally modeled “plate” algorithms seem to fall short of capturing the mesmerizing detail of an actual resonating reverb plate. Thankfully, rather than trying to emulate the concept of plate reverb, Catalinbread spent some time with an actual EMT 140 in their pursuit of charging the Talisman with the magical essence of its iconic predecessor. Is this the best digital plate reverb pedal around? Our Catalinbread Talisman review will reveal whether or not this amulet deserves a place on your pedalboard.

Features:

  • Era-defining plate reverb with studio-style controls.
  • 479.99% smaller than the leading plate reverb.
  • Vol knob controls level of a discrete preamp and offers a lot of boost on tap.
  • Pre Delay knob adds space before the reverb and delays it by up to about 100mS.
  • Time knob controls length of the reverb and offers infinite sustain possibilities.
  • High Pass knob rolls of the low frequencies of the reverb to increase clarity.
  • Mix knob alters the wet to dry ratio of the unaffected and reverberated signals.
  • Buffered mode (default) for reverb trails when bypassed. True Bypass mode for no trails and letting signal pass unaffected when disengaged.
  • Powered by 9-18VDC power adapter.

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Sound & Performance:

I had a chance to hear the Catalinbread Talisman at Winter NAMM 2015 and was immediately impressed by the sounds of this pedal. The Talisman deserves to be recognized for its greatness as it’s simply one of the most impressive compact reverb pedals I’ve played. It’s arguably the best plate reverb you’ll find in a compact stompbox. Catalinbread nailed the essence of what makes a plate reverb inspiring to behold and have added a few nice touches to make this pedal standout among the swarm of multi-algorithm reverb processors available that feature plate reverb modes.

Starting with all the knobs rolled down and activating the pedal in its default buffered mode, you’ll be treated to your same pristine dry tone without any audible “pop” as you engage the pedal. Bringing up the Mix to around noon (50%) introduces a healthy ambience heard behind your playing. It’s a short slap-back style wash with a quick decay. The initial reverb tone is already very pleasing to the ears and easily as good as any other quality reverb pedal you’ve played. Increasing the Time value extends the decay from that short ambient smear to an all-encompassing void of eternity. Is that too abstract? Basically, with only simple adjustments of Mix and Time, the Talisman offers huge reverb that not only rivals other digital plate reverbs but larger hall and cathedral style reverbs as well. Try cranking the Time to around 3 o’clock, kicking on a Dirty Little Secret in front, and hitting some big rock chords and fading them into the reverb with your guitar’s volume knob. The Talisman sounds huge! Now come ye neophytes; these sounds are but your introduction to the order of the Talisman. There are still 3 features – or 3 degrees of initiation to attaining true mastery of the Talisman’s many secrets.

Catalinbread-Talisman-Review-Best-Plate-Reverb-Pedal-02The first uniquely “Talismanic” feature is the Pre Delay knob. Sure, many reverb pedals have some variation of a pre-delay or reflections control that affects the initial timing of the reverb’s placement, but the Talisman gets it right. The old EMT 140 plates were miked, EQ’d, and fed into the reverb returns of mixing consoles. Delay was introduced to create the perfect timing for when the reverb would initially hit. The Talisman provides a sufficient amount of delay to give you a quick eighth note or quarter note delay, depending on your song’s tempo. Of course, you can also simply keep it short for a generally always-on reverb without concern for timing.

The second interesting inclusion is the High Pass knob. The Talisman’s High Pass control is perhaps its most useful parameter, far surpassing the generic “tone” controls of most reverb pedals. It essentially removes the low-end content from the reverb for a sound that always maintains maximum clarity while preserving the top-end sheen of the plate’s reflections. Remember how I mentioned that EMT 140 units were miked and EQ’d? Well, the Talisman nails the utility of this technique, and its High Pass is absolutely indispensable for getting the most out of this pedal. Too much bass from a wet reverb signal will muddy up your low-end and ruin your mix in a live setting or in the studio. The Talisman delivers on its promise to give you studio style control thanks to this simple knob. Crank it up around half-way and tweak; you’ll hear its impact on your sound. You can even get away with longer Time settings for a reverb that floats above your playing.

The third and final grade of the Talisman’s illumination is its Vol knob. This controls the level of a discrete preamp. If you keep it turned down, it pretty much lets your signal pass at unity gain. But if you start cranking it up your overall signal gets hotter and louder. I find a little boost to be helpful with very high Mix knob settings where having less dry signal results in some slight volume loss. Pushing up the Vol knob a bit restores it. Also, if you have the Talisman in your amp’s effects loop, you can add a little more girth and presence to your sound before it hits your power amp. Be mindful and follow your ears as always. And of course, you can just throw the book out the window and crank the Vol, sending the whole mess into the front of your amp with reckless abandon. The increased output will also induce some overdrive from your amp for wild and nasty lead tones.

It’s again worth emphasizing that the default buffered mode sounds great. With all the hoo-rah about “buffered bypass vs true bypass”, Catalinbread gives you the best of both worlds. I especially prefer the default buffered setting as this lets your reverb decay naturally when you bypass the pedal. You can even crank the Time and play over sustaining reverb when bypassed, activate the pedal to “record” new reverb, and bypass it again to continue playing over it. Very fun. If you want the abrupt silence of true bypass, simply open the bottom plate and flip the switch. Otherwise the buffer is solid and also shouldn’t be a compromise of your tone.

These days you can find plenty of great multi-algorithm reverb guitar pedals, but the Talisman is still worth considering despite that it essentially offers one kind of reverb. That’s a testament to just how good it is at what it does. Just like how Catalinbread tackled the classic Binson Echorec with their wildly successful namesake Echorec tape delay pedal and the Marshall Super Lead & Super Bass guitar amplifiers with the Dirty Little Secret, the Talisman sought to capture an EMT 140 in a stompbox and came out with a stellar plate reverb. If I had to complain about something, I’d ask for slightly longer Pre Delay times as I find myself really enjoying using it as a heavily delayed rhythmic reverb effect. But it’s really hard to find fault with this one. Whether it becomes a companion reverb in your collection or the defining reverb on your pedalboard, the Catalinbread Talisman is an exceptionally well-executed pedal.

Let’s see the final result.

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Overall-Rating-5.0

The Catalinbread Talisman is an excellent plate reverb and one of my personal favorite standard sized reverb pedal. It’s truly impressive how Catalinbread was able to achieve such an array of great reverb tones from a pedal with a seemingly singular focus: emulating an EMT 140 plate reverb. But thanks to its intuitive and easy-to-use controls (especially the High Pass), the Talisman can cover always-on ambience to huge infinite reverb and a range of sounds in between. The Talisman reigns supreme among stompbox verbs and is definitely worth checking out.

That concludes our Catalinbread Talisman review. Thanks for reading.

 

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