Free The Tone AS-1R Ambi Space Review – Best Digital Reverb Pedal?

Forget about all that “multi-reverb A” vs. “multi-reverb B” stuff. The Free The Tone Ambi Space Reverb is in a class by itself.

There are so many ambient/octave/soundscaping reverb pedals on the market already. No one wants just another iteration of those reverbs. They’re already out there, and they’re great. It’s not that you can’t use this pedal for ambient music. Any fan of ambient guitar that plugged in and fired up the Cave or Serene modes would be in ambient guitar heaven. But to just call this an “ambient reverb” would be selling this pedal short. The AS-1R stands on its own as a unique sounding reverb. I can’t think of a single reverb that does what the Ambi Space does, especially if you consider how you’ll get your ideal tones at an absolute minimum of tweaking.

Ambi: “Ambient” Vs. “Ambience”

When I first heard the name “Ambi Space Reverb,” I thought of the familiar reverb catch-phrase “ambient,” as in “ambient/octave/soundscapey” kinds of tones. I guess my first assumption of this pedal was that it was just going to be this “ambient playground” kind of thing.
Yet when I played through it, I soon realized it wasn’t just another “ambient reverb.” And, believe me, that’s a good thing.

I then considered that maybe “Ambi” doesn’t stand for “Ambient,” but rather “Ambience.” Conclusion: The AS-1R is definitely an ambience reverb. What’s the difference? Consider the following definitions:

*am·bi·ent
ˈambēənt/
adjective
adjective: ambient

  1. relating to the immediate surroundings of something.
    “the liquid is stored at below ambient temperature”
         • relating to ambient music.

*am·bi·ence
ˈambēəns/
noun
noun: ambience; plural noun: ambiences; noun: ambiance; plural noun: ambiances

  1. the character and atmosphere of a place.
    “the relaxed ambience of the cocktail lounge is popular with guests”

Ambience Synonyms: atmosphere, air, aura, climate, mood, feel, feeling, character, quality, impression, complexion, flavor, look, tone, tenor, setting, milieu, background, backdrop, element, environment, conditions, situation.

First Look

When the pedal first arrived at my door, I took it into my home studio and sat down in front of my stereo amp rig. Upon opening the box, I was impressed by the aesthetics of it all. The box, the packaging, and most of all, the pedal. It’s simply a work of art. Never before had I seen a multi-anything pedal so nicely and intuitively laid out. Not a soul on earth would have a single problem if this pedal was handed to them one minute before a gig and they were told, “Go for it!” Every single thing is just right there in front of you. With the AS-1R, there’s no “what does this knob do?” In an age where every pedal maker seems preoccupied with making the most knobs and toggles to tweak, I am finding (in my later years) that I tend to favor simplicity in design. This is especially true if I am going to use a pedal in a live situation. Beyond that, just the look of the Ambi Space begs you to appreciate the thought put into it. The colors, the LED’s, and the “technical equipment” style lettering all appeal to me. The AS-1R has this look that is a cross between old military gear, and that wood-trimmed stereo gear from the 70’s. I’m a huge fan of both of those aesthetics. Another thing that was a shocker was the size of this little guy. Coming in at 4”x4.75” it’s nearly an inch narrower in width than the already small Empress Reverb.

My first instinct was to just put it on my board. But, because it was completely new to me, I REALLY wanted to isolate it from anything else. I pushed my board back a bit and set the AS-1R right in front of it. I plugged my guitar straight into the input and the left and right outputs out to the stereo amps. Knowing that I’d be writing a review, I thought it would be great to just record my first impressions, good or bad, of this pedal. You can find that video posted here:

Right away I was impressed with how this reverb pedal was giving me unique sounds. Not just copies of copies of other reverbs. It’s very warm and rich-sounding. The Plate mode, alone, may honestly be worth the price of admission. I was less than impressed by the Spring mode (there I go, again, being that spring snob). It still just didn’t have that “drip” tone. Room and hall are both great and are exactly what you’d want them to be. Cave and Serene are unlike anything I’ve ever heard from another pedal. Kind of like the Cloud mode on the BigSky, but darker with tons of tasty reflections. At first, I wondered if what I was hearing was some kind of digital artifact, but it was actually the reflections of the reverb. Straight from the FTT website, “In Free The Tone’s unique reverb modes “CAVE” and “SERENE”, sounds with a rich harmonic structure are created by complex reverberation patterns being added to the reverb sound in multiple stages to realize unprecedented, transparent and spatial reverb sounds.” That’s actually a really great description of what I’m hearing. There is also a trace of some kind of modulation in the wet signal, although I can’t find it officially documented anyplace.

The pedal is DSP-based, stereo in/out, analog dry through, and utilizes Free The Tone’s exclusive Holistic Tonal Solution which manages signals comprehensively from input to output to retain the integrity of your tone whether the pedal is on or off. The pedal does not feature reverb trail spillover. It does not have trails in the preset to preset spillover, and does not have trails when bypass is pressed. Personally, this isn’t a huge deal for me; however, this will be a deciding factor for some people. Hopefully, with a firmware update, this can be added.

Features:

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

The first four of these are the classics we are all familiar with, the remaining two are exclusive to the AS-1R. They are:

* Spring
* Plate
* Room
* Hall
* Cave
* Serene

Rack Quality Sound In A Small Box. The AD/DA converter is 24 bit, 48 kHz and utilizes a dual-core chip with a 32 bit main CPU and 32 bit co-processor. This allows the Ambi Space to perform high-speed calculations using the 32 bit high precision DSP to generate sounds comparable to those found only in much larger rack units. And I have to say, as an example, the Plate mode on this thing is just gorgeous.

Four Presets. Now, I know what you’re thinking… “Only four??” Yeah. It only has four. They can be saved and recalled with the pedal without using any other MIDI controller. Think about this in relation to simplicity. I am going to put the simplicity and intuitive design of this pedal as one of its greatest strengths. To achieve this, you have to make certain sacrifices along the way. There could be more switches, and more knobs, and more LED’s, but then you lose the simplicity of the design. And, y’know, there are other reverb pedals out there like that. You can choose to use those. For just “grab a reverb and make four great presets to play a gig” I’ll take the Ambi Space. I would have liked to have seen the option for additional presets to be recalled with a MIDI controller. I don’t need 122, but I think 20 or so would have been great. But, again, this just isn’t that pedal. Allow yourself to be set free by the simplicity.

Two Modes of Operation. With the Mode switch, you can toggle between your “live” mode and your “presets” mode. Live mode reflects the current knob settings. Preset mode allows you to cycle through your four presets. The mode you are in will also determine how the edit switch behaves. More on that later.

Input Level And Kill Dry Adjustments. Two dip switches located inside the pedal, although very conveniently accessible through tiny openings in the enclosure, allow for input level and kill dry adjustments.

Input level: -10 (instrument), +4 (line)
Kill Dry: On, off

Use “line level” when running the effect through an effects loop of an amplifier. Use kill dry when you want the signal 100% wet, as in a “wet/dry/wet” kind of rig.

Analog Dry Path. Your instrument’s dry signal is left untouched the entire time. Blended with the wet signal utilizing Free The Tone’s exclusive Holistic Tonal Solution which manages signals comprehensively from input to output to retain the integrity of your tone whether the pedal is on or off.

Ins And Outs. The AS-1R has stereo ins and outs, as well as a 5-pin MIDI input. There’s also a 9V, center negative power input. The pedal requires 280mA of current. All jacks are top-mount.

Small Size. Lastly, the Ambi Space Reverb is a very small pedal. Coming in at only 4.72” x 4.03” x 2.91” 120mm x 102.3mm x 74mm.

The Knobs.

The simple control and intuitive layout is one of the ways this pedal REALLY shines. Let’s have a look at the AS-1R’s control surface.

Mode Encoder: This control is used to switch
reverb modes when the unit is in Manual or Edit mode. Turning this encoder changes reverb modes. Note that turning this control in Preset mode does not change
reverb modes.

Mix: Mixes the reverb sound with the original (dry) sound. When the knob is turned fully counterclockwise, the original (dry) sound is 100% and the reverb sound is
0%. When turned fully clockwise, the mix ratio becomes about 50% to 50%. This is another place I kind of wish it was just a little different. I’d prefer a more standard control here. I am used to 50/50 being between about 1:00 and 3:00, with full wet at full clockwise. I can’t say that I have ever used a FULL wet reverb, but I often go to near full wet. Like a 80/20 kind of mix.

Tone: Adjusts the tone of the reverb sound. Turning it clockwise cuts the low frequencies and turning it
counterclockwise cuts the high frequencies. Note that this control adjusts the tone of the WET signal, only. The dry signal is not affected.

Decay: Adjusts the decay time of the reverb sound. Note
that the DECAY knob’s adjustable time length differs
according to the selected reverb mode.

Pre Delay: Adjusts the delay time before the wet signal. This is a very useful tool in making your reverb sound more realistic. The adjustable range is 0–250 ms. There’s something special going on here with the Pre Delay. It has this very natural feel to it. Can’t put my finger on it, but it has a nice effect on the different reverb modes. I found myself playing with the Pre Delay a lot on this pedal, as opposed to just setting it and forgetting it like I do on others.

The Switches.

Mode Switch: Adjusts between Preset Mode and Manual Mode.

Edit Switch: Used to put the pedal in “Edit Mode.” This has different functions depending on whether you’re in Preset Mode or Manual Mode. Essentially, when you enter Edit Mode from Preset Mode, you are overwriting that preset. When you enter Edit Mode from Manual Mode, you are creating a preset from the current knob settings.

On/Off: This is the bypass/engage switch, located on the bottom left side of the pedal.

Preset: This switch, located on the bottom right of the pedal, scrolls between the four presets saved on the pedal. Pressing it from the forth preset cycles back to preset one. In Edit Mode, you can press the Preset switch to select the desired destination you would like the current settings to be saved to. The preset destination will be designated by a flashing LED.
In Manual Mode, you can press the Preset switch to select which preset will be loaded when the unit is put into Preset Mode. It seems to me that this was one more opportunity for a “5th preset.” If there was a way to recall the “live mode” using a MIDI controller, that could have been one more “available sound.”

Visit Free The Tone for further information on the AS-1R Ambi Space Digital Reverb.

Sound & Performance:

Pristine Classic Sounds

I have already mentioned the intuitive interface combined with the solid, compact design as one of the two strong points of this reverb. The other reason this pedal sits high on a cloud in a sky is that it’s filled with some incredible reverb sounds. It’s nearly in a class by itself. As I said, the Plate, alone, is enough to crown this pedal a king. The best Plate-style reverb on the market in a pedal form? I’ve seen many players make that claim, and I struggle to argue against it. Plate is one of my favorite reverbs, both on my board, and in the studio. There is just something about it that makes it such a great “all-around” reverb. It has a more focused sound than a Hall and just seems to work well anyplace you put it. Though I have never used a real plate, those who have say that this is the real deal. All of the modes on this pedal are warm, rich, and loaded with reflections. The hall is this deep, warm, full-bodied experience that just makes you wanna play some great soaring solos. They’re all very dynamic and reactive to your playing. I’m not sure that I have ever experienced that with another reverb pedal, but it’s plain as day here, and I love it.

A Pair Of Unique Modes

The AS-1R boasts two modes that are unique to this pedal. Cave Mode and Serene Mode. Cave Mode is about what you’d expect, only…. MORE. This mode is all about the reflections. My description was that the reflections sounded like a million racquet balls being poured out onto a far-away gym floor. Although I can’t find any documentation to support this, I swear I can hear modulation. I also can hear something like a reverse delay thing just barely in there. Cave Mode sounds incredible when you set the decay very long, the mix low and the tone kinda dark. It makes this huge wall of sound sitting just under your guitar. Serene Mode is something special. According to designer, Yuki Hayashi, this lovely sound was discovered by accident. And what a beautiful accident it is. Is it a shimmer? Kinda, but not really. The description from the website states: “Frequency bands of reverberation sounds will also change according to the complex reverberation pattern design. You can get pleasing reverberation sounds as if they were resonating from another space.” I’m not exactly sure what this means. “Frequency bands” makes sense instead of “octaves” in that it’s kinda similar to shimmer without being a shimmer. Playing with the Serene Mode in stereo was nothing short of incredible.

The Quest For The Greatest Reverb Tones

In the development process for crafting the perfect reverb tones for the Ambi Space Reverb, designer Yuki Hayashi described the steps taken to design and test the sounds for this pedal. Within the Free The Tone recording studio, “On-pa,” (Japanese for “sound wave”) a special recording booth was built that has absolutely no reflections. It’s a completely dead space where the only reverberations were those coming from the pedal. Even though it was possible to test the sounds with headphones, he said that it was much better to use an actual room and hear the reverb in the air. Special emphasis was placed on focusing on the harmonic overtone components. He felt this was extremely important for a guitar reverb. He wanted to be sure that when the wet signal is mixed with the dry signal, that the original warmth, character, and harmonic qualities were not masked. Thus, creating a reverb that stands tall as an organic and cohesive overall sound. Yuki says “…a reverb pedal is kind of a magical effector.” He enjoyed citing Eddie Van Halen as an example of how a great reverb tone can completely transform the feel of the guitar. “A good example is Van Halen’s first album where the reverb sound is essential for Eddie’s guitar sound,” he says, “The album wouldn’t be the same without it.”

The Ambi Space AS-1R Digital Reverb is arguably the greatest way to get excellent reverb sounds in the smallest package with a minimum of tweaking. The quality of the reverb sounds coupled with the incredibly simple and intuitive layout, all in a beautiful package, puts this reverb forever within my reach as a strong contender for “tonight’s grab and go reverb pedal” on any given night. Yes, there are reverbs out there that are more complicated and reverbs that have more modes. The Ambi Space reverb is in the “everything you need and nothing you don’t” category. I have no doubt that I could play a full set with this pedal even with no preparation. Set up a few presets within a minute and I’d be totally good to go. There is something very favorable about that kind of simplicity in today’s market of “My pedal does EVERYTHING!” If you need 10,000 sounds, maybe this pedal isn’t for you. If you only feel comfortable when gazing at 20 knobs, maybe this pedal isn’t for you. I mentioned the couple of things I would have liked to have seen on this pedal. More presets with MIDI, 100% wet on the mix knob, spillover, and expression control (even if over MIDI only) would have given this pedal a higher rating. At the same time, as I mentioned above, allow yourself to be set free by the simplicity of this pedal. Think about that for a second. It’s a completely different way of approaching the entirety of pedalboarding. I’m not just grading this pedal on a list of its merits. I’m also grading it on a philosophy. An approach to playing and using effects in a way that favors better outcomes. I have started to go “the other way” with a lot of my set ups. I have lately been gravitating towards the simple in favor of just playing the guitar and a lot less thinking about pedals. The Ambi Space allows you to do that. And best of all, it sounds so damn good that you won’t even realize you’re “missing” something. Trust me. You aren’t missing anything at all.

That concludes our Free The Tone AS-1R Ambi Space Reverb review. Thanks for reading.

Free The Tone Tri Avatar TA-1H Review – Best Digital Stereo Chorus pedal?

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Besides designing and building pro rigs for the session elite in Japan and elsewhere, the Japanese company Free The Tone are also well known for their insanely high quality effects pedals. I doubt they would even consider releasing a product unless it offered something truly unique, so I was curious to see in what way their latest creation, the Tri Avatar Multi-Dimensional Chorus pedal, would stand out.

Considering Free The Tone’s background in building rack-mount systems for pro guitarists, it quickly became apparent to me (and confirmed later by Mr. Yuki Hayashi himself) that the the Tri Avatar Multi-Dimensional Chorus is inspired by the legendary Dytronics/Dyno-My-Piano Tri Stereo Chorus and Roland Dimension D rack units of the 1980’s, although the Tri Avatar isn’t a clone by any means as Free The Tone sought to create their own unique chorus sound. These chorus units were originally designed for use with electric pianos and their (at the time) state-of-the-art digital emulations, but they also ended up in the racks of famous LA session guitarists like Michael Landau, Steve Lukather and Dann Huff to name a few. It’s an instantly recognizable classic chorus sound which doesn’t get a lot of love lately due to it’s association with the 80’s, but when used with taste it certainly has its place, especially in today’s retro-oriented musical landscape. The original TSC units are analog, undoubtedly somewhat temperamental, and very rare and therefore expensive, not to mention they certainly aren’t pedalboard friendly.

To my knowledge this is one of the first attempts at implementing a similar three voice chorus in guitar effects pedal format, and I’m excited to have the chance to spend some time with it.

Features

  • ‘Depth’ controls for Left, Center and Right channels
  • ‘Hi-Cut’ control
  • ‘Rate’ control
  • ‘Level’ control
  • ‘Dry Mix’ control (50% to 100% wet)
  • 4 Presets selectable by foot-switch, with LED indication
  • Mono Input
  • Stereo Outputs
  • MIDI input (DIN style) allows for manipulation of all parameters
  • Expression pedal input, controls either ‘Rate’ or ‘Hi Cut’
  • 9v DC input, adapter included (consumption approximately 140mA)
  • Signature Free The Tone HTS (Holistic Tonal Solution) buffered bypass switching

The term ‘Multi Dimensional’ refers to the fact that there are three separate modulation ‘voices’, which are placed 120 degrees apart in sequence, so that each voice is timed 1/3rd of a complete cycle after the previous one. This means the signal is modulated three times, creating a musically pleasing symmetrical modulation pattern. Here’s a diagram that illustrates this concept:

 

Free-The-Tone-Tri-Avatar-Review-Best-Digital-Stereo-Chorus-Pedal-05

With a single chorus, the wobble is generally quite obvious, but with multi voice chorus like the Tri Avatar, the modulation is a lot more complex and rich, due to the difference in phase and modulation depth. The ‘tri chorus’ concept works well in both mono and stereo, so stereo operation is by no means essential to experience the Tri Avatar the way it was meant to be. In Mono operation all three phases are simply mixed down to the single mono output, with the option of blending in the clean signal as well. In stereo operation the first and middle phases are fed to the Left output, and the middle and third phases are fed to the Right output, while the dry mix is fed to both. Keep in mind that, like with the original TSC rack units, these voices share the same LFO and therefore the same rate setting, but have individual depth controls.

Another notable feature of the Tri Avatar is its preset selection foot-switch, allowing the user to switch between a total of four completely independent presets, whenever the unit is placed in ‘Preset’ mode via the ‘Mode’ button. During this time all other controls are deactivated and one of the four LED’s positioned above the foot-switch illuminates, indicating the currently selected preset. As soon as the unit is switched to ‘Manual’ mode all controls become instantly active and the sound reflects their current settings.

A second button labeled ‘Edit’ is used to modify an existing preset, so initially the sound is that of whichever preset is currently selected and changes are only made when specific controls are tweaked.
After selecting the desired preset slot, saving is done by holding down the ‘Edit’ button for 1.5 seconds regardless of whether a new sound has been created from scratch using the ‘Manual’ mode or was tweaked by entering the ‘Edit’ mode from ‘Preset’ mode.

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Cosmetically, the enclosure has the distinctive Free The Tone matte finish, black on blue in this case, with a very sober but detailed styling that fits in nicely with the rest of the Free The Tone line-up. The connections (In, Out L, Out R, Exp, MIDI and 9v) are neatly top mounted, making for practical board implementation. Its size is actually fairly modest and, although a somewhat unique design, the enclosure is sturdy, and all the inputs, controls, and buttons feel solid. I particularly appreciate the classy buttons instead of the usual toggle switches. Unfortunately, I was not able to open it up to take a peek inside since it would require removing a lot more than the screws on the side.

Visit Free The Tone for more information about the Tri Avatar Multi-Dimensional Chorus TA-1H.

See the lowest price on eBay.

Sound & Performance

The first thing I noticed after plugging in the Tri Avatar is that the sound is very clear and detailed, possibly due to the 24-bit AD/DA converters and 32-bit processing of the chorus signals. If this is too much sparkle, lowering the ‘High Cut’ control makes it sound closer to the warmer analog chorus tones like the classic Boss/Roland CE-2, which were used as the starting point for the design of the original analog Tri Stereo Chorus rack units.

The ‘Level’ control is fairly subtle, clearly meant to match the effect volume with the bypassed signal, or provide a slight boost if necessary, and the ‘Mix’ control blends in the clean signal when a more subtle chorus is required. In general the Tri Avatar isn’t the most extreme chorus out there, even with the ‘Rate’ and ‘Depth’ controls maxed out, and it’s clearly designed for more practical and conventional applications.

Most importantly though, due to the more complex modulation, the sound is pretty mesmerizing, and I’ve found that it indeed does do a great job at recreating those 80’s rack unit type clean chorus sounds, especially when paired with some compression/detuning/delay in stereo, but when set to a faster rate and almost 100% wet mix it does a decent faux ‘Leslie’ rotating-speaker sound as well.

Free-The-Tone-Tri-Avatar-Review-Best-Digital-Stereo-Chorus-Pedal-07

Navigating the unit is pretty intuitive, from recalling, storing and editing presets, to assigning the expression control. Although at first it makes sense to keep the manual nearby, after a little use I’d only need to reference it for maybe the MIDI table and such.

The Tri Avatar’s small classy buttons used to switch between the three different modes are somewhat uncommon on guitar pedals but work really nicely. In preset mode, moving the controls doesn’t affect the sound at all, which did take me a little while to get used to, but on the other hand, this means there is no risk of accidentally changing the settings during a gig or in transport.

Although I did not test its MIDI functionality, the manual is clear as can be in this regards, and judging by our experience with other MIDI enabled Free The Tone products like the Flight Time Digital Delay and ARC-53M Audio Routing Controller, the setup should be a breeze.

As far as possible improvements go, most notably there is no stereo input, which means it requires a little planning to integrate the Tri Avatar in certain stereo rigs, and I can’t help but wonder what the chorusing would sound like with an individual rate control for each phase as well as that could have provided some interesting poly-rhythmic chorusing effects. It’s understandable Free The Tone decided against both of these options however, as they would have added a whole new level of complexity to the circuit.

In regards to the ‘Dry Mix’ I could imagine situations where a setting even more subtle than a 50/50 dry/wet signal is required, although the current range does allow for finer control in the most crucial area, and it’s obviously something that can be solved by using a wet/dry setup.

As for the expression pedal input, I liked this so much that it made me wonder how it would be to control any (and all combinations) of the other parameters this way, maybe with a customized range. This can obviously be achieved via MIDI, but that would unfortunately require a much more elaborate setup.

When tweaking parameters in real time (and possibly via MIDI?) I noticed there is some slight clock noise while the ‘Level’ control is being turned. This is not the case with any of the other controls, and the only way I could see how this could be a big deal, is if one would use it as a volume control, which is a fairly exotic way of using a chorus pedal anyway. But that shouldn’t ever be an issue in most set-and-forget situations or when simply recalling presets.

Considering all of the Tri Avatar’s features, Free The Tone may have a hit on their hands with guitarists, and perhaps even studio engineers & producers, looking to add some incredibly lush and beautiful chorusing to their effects palette.

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Overall-Rating-4.5

The Free The Tone Tri Avatar Multi-Dimensional Chorus is a joy to play, especially in stereo, with its three separate modulation cycles creating a richness that really stands out from any regular chorus pedal I’ve tried. The sound quality itself is as pristine as it gets, and I really enjoyed the wide variety of sounds available which reinvigorated my appreciation for chorus effects in general, as it does both subtle modern sounds, as well as those over-the-top crystal cleans. The preset switch, MIDI implementation and expression pedal input add another layer of usability, making it a very solid addition to any medium sized pedalboard or full fledged pro rig without being overwhelming, and like any Free The Tone product I’ve had the pleasure of plugging in, build quality really is second to none.

That concludes our Free The Tone Tri Avatar Chorus review. Thanks for reading.

 

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Free The Tone Flight Time FT-1Y Review – Best Digital Delay Pedal?

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The Free The Tone Flight Time FT-1Y is a very unique design in the world of digital delay pedals. Forgoing knobs for tiny buttons and 5 digital display screens make it look more like the interior of the Delorean from Back To The Future than a typical guitar pedal. But the Flight Time’s unique interface was designed to give guitarists unprecedented, yet simple control over a studio-grade, 32-bit high-precision DSP delay powerhouse for your pedalboard.

For the creation of this pedal Yuki Hayashi of Free The Tone received much feedback from the many professional musicians who rely on Free The Tone’s guitar pedals and pedalboard/rack effects switching systems (which include the ARC-3 and ARC-53M). Of particular consideration was creating a new, simple to use delay pedal interface while maintaining the highest possible delay sound quality. Particular attention was paid to the digital display layout and the selection of editable parameters. There are some obvious similarities in appearance to the TC Electronic 2290, the famous rack delay from the 80’s, but with a serious modern upgrade in terms of processing power and – hopefully – sound quality. The Flight Time is also loaded with 99 presets, tap tempo, MIDI, and 2 “world-first” features: Realtime BPM Analyzer and Delay Time Offset. It has the makings of what could be the new best digital delay pedal available. Here’s a rundown of the features before we find out it lives up to the hype in our Free The Tone Flight Time FT-1Y review.

Features:

  • Free-The-Tone-Flight-Time-FT-1Y-Review-Best-Digital-Delay-Pedal-02Implemented HTS (Holistic Tonal Solution) circuit and analog mixer.
  • HPF (high-pass filter) and LPF (low-pass filter).
  • Modulation (controls for Rate & Depth).
  • Sound Hold.
  • Record & Repeat.
  • Delay Phase.
  • MIDI support.
  • Trail function.
  • Subdivision function (whole note, half note, dotted quarter note, triplet in four, quarter note, dotted eighth note, triplet in two, eighth note, triplet in one, and sixteenth note).
  • Dry On/Off.
  • Boost function.
  • Tap-Preferred mode.
  • High-speed calculation by a 32-bit high-precision DSP.
  • 99 presets (user: 90, factory 9).
  • Powered by included 12VDC power adapter.

Visit Free The Tone for more info about the Flight Time FT-1Y.

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Sound & Performance:

The Flight Time has a retro yet futuristic vibe going on aesthetically, and this is carried over in its sounds and functionality as well. This pedal has a pristine audio quality that isn’t sterile like some digital delays, just perfectly accurate in how it replicates the sound of your guitar. The Flight Time is a precision instrument designed to do one thing exceptionally well: delay your guitar sound. On that front it succeeds greatly. This pedal doesn’t follow the trend of packing in tons of delay algorithms, but the control you have over the Flight Time’s single digital delay line is very commendable. This pedal also has a few surprising tricks up its figurative sleeve as you’ll soon learn.

Especially important to shaping Flight Time’s delay sound are its High-Pass and Low-Pass Filters which give you surgical precision in sculpting the tone of your delay effects. While analog delays are typically characterized by their reduced upper frequencies, it’s rare to have this much control over dialing in just the right amount of high-end rolloff to get that perfect analog-like sound. While there isn’t a continuous reduction of high-frequency rolloff on each repeat or continuous degradation of fidelity, the added warmth provided by the LPF does go a long way towards created a delay sound that is much more lively than your typical digital delay pedal. The HPF also lets you cut out the low-end frequencies of the delays, helping you maintain the focus of your bottom end and creating delay trails that float over your playing. At extreme settings this HPF can create a metallic sounding magnetic drum tape echo vibe.

The modulation is useful for adding movement to your delays, further entering the realm of 2290-style modulation and tape echo simulation although it’s really difficult to say the Flight Time is like either as it has its own unique sound. Modulation controls for Depth and Rate let you dial in the degree of pitch-shift and the speed of the modulation. The modulation isn’t synced to the tempo, so whether you speed up the delay time or slow it down (manually with control buttons or via tap tempo), the modulation remains consistent.

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This brings me to some very interesting possibilities that the Flight Time has hidden within. Thanks to its ridiculously fast 32-bit processor, the delay time can be as low as 1ms; the Flight Time’s calculations are near instantaneous. You can reduce the Delay Time to 1ms and use the Flight Time’s modulation to produce some excellent digital chorus effects. In fact, thanks to the flexibility of the HPF and LPF you can dial in a very wide range of chorus sounds to blend with your dry signal. You can have a full-range wet signal or a dark lo-fi sound and even heavily high-passed chorusing that only affects your upper range notes. If Free The Tone were to update the firmware with a Modulation Rate tap tempo option, you’d have a strong contender for the best digital chorus pedal right here, even without additional waveform options. But if you don’t necessarily need the modulation to sync to your BPM, the extra chorusing sounds are certainly good enough to add a little extra versatility to this slot on your pedalboard. You can also use this option to achieve some doubling effects that add emphasis to frequencies selected by the HPF and LPF, making the Flight Time a potential tone-enhancing secret weapon. (I demonstrate these possibilities in our Flight Time review YouTube video.)

Considering its lack of knobs, in some ways the Flight Time doesn’t lend itself especially well to quick on-the-fly adjustments, at least not quite as easily as just grabbing a knob and twisting. This means that you’ll probably want to find and save your delay settings in rehearsal and recall them as presets during a performance, not tinker around with the pedal on stage. Pro guitarists who’ve used rack delays will be familiar with this. While the Flight Time’s presets can be recalled via the pedal’s 2 foot-switches, for most efficient performance I’d recommend a pedal switcher like Free The Tone’s own ARC-53M or any pedal switcher that has MIDI capabilities. While the delay (and chorus) sounds this pedal produces are so good that every guitarist who hears them will probably want a Flight Time, this pedal is especially suited to professional guitar players who require the utmost in “elite” grade hardware performance and integration in their most likely MIDI-controlled rig. If any guitar techs are reading this, know that this pedal is up to par with the best high-end digital delays around and was built with pro rigs in mind. And any guitarist still building their rig up to that level will be in for a serious upgrade by adding the Flight Time to their setup.

Having optional delay trails per preset is great. This feature has its own dedicated button, so you don’t have to go into a menu to turn trails on and off. Selecting your MIDI channel is easy with it’s own button (shared with Preset selection), again emphasizing this pedal’s desire to be added to a MIDI guitar rig. The Delay Phase button is brilliant and will ensure your delay and chorus sounds pop through the mix instead of canceling itself out against your dry signal. Some guitarists may look at this pedal and say, “Wait, no stereo?” There is a dedicated Dry On/Off switch. This removes your dry signal from the pedal’s audio chain, letting only the wet signal pass through the pedal. You could put the Flight Time in either the left or right side of a stereo signal chain and leave it on for stereo delay and chorus effects, selecting a 1ms preset from an effects switcher for “dry” sounds on that side for “bypassed” sounds. I wouldn’t call this an ideal solution. But then again, most gigging guitarists aren’t actually dragging around 2 amps to their gigs. While guitarists who buy for specs love having a delay with stereo ins and outs, let’s face it, most guitarists really don’t need them. 

I was also able to create some amazing vibrato sounds by turning the Dry switch to Off and using the modulation with the HPF and LPF. The only problem is that bypassing the pedal kills the signal making the vibrato only usable (assuming you don’t want it on all the time) if you put the Flight Time in an effects switcher loop. But this isn’t the most efficient way to use the pedal since it can usually be bypassed via MIDI, sparing you from wasting a loop on your effects switcher. I’d prefer to see a software update that allows the Output parameter to reduce the dry signal volume all the way down to zero without affecting the volume of the wet delay signal, leaving the Delay parameter to set the delay level independently. This would enable independent Wet/Dry level control, allowing vibrato presets and making it easier to create delay presets with a lower volume dry signal and boosted wet signal if you’re into that. Having separate level controls would add more flexibility for sequencing the Flight Time with MIDI for programmed delay effects. I’ve experimented with sequencing the Flight Time’s Hold function with jaw-dropping results similar to the Beat Repeat effect in Ableton Live, only somewhat limited in that I can’t program independent wet and dry volume automation. There’s a fully programmable glitch delay monster waiting to be unleashed if Free The Tone were to implement this minor adjustment.

The BPM Analyzer allows a top-mounted mic to detect music being played and adjust the tempo by +/- 20% to compensate for fluctuations in tempo. You know that drummer who keeps speeding up or slowing down a little during a song? This might be your solution if your drummer refuses to use a click. I was unable to test the BPM Analyzer with a band but did manage to test it out in some context. I loaded up various songs in Ableton Live and tapped in a tempo on the Flight Time. Then I adjusted the BPM in the software to speed up and slow down the music. After a few seconds the tempo display on the pedal would change to match the new tempo the song was playing at. It’s really neat to watch the pedal keep up with old songs that weren’t recorded to a click track. Very cool! Of course, I had great results syncing music with straight ahead rock drum beats and 4/4 electronic music. Songs with complex time signatures are hit or miss. As you can probably imagine there will be many factors affecting how well this feature works, most notably the proximity of the Flight Time’s microphone to the meter keeping musical element (your drummer!). Since it stays within reason of your tapped tempo, you shouldn’t have to worry about it jumping to some crazy tempo mid-song. This feature actually seems potentially more useful than I gave it credit for at first. Try it in a band context during spontaneous jam sessions when you’re not already playing to a click track.

The Delay Time Offset is particularly useful for having your delays come in a little early, ahead of the beat. This adds a sense of energy to your playing and contributes to a more organic delay feel. The difference is subtle (although you can dial it in to be more extreme or even behind the beat) but contributes to giving the Flight Time a unique playability that more experienced guitarists will notice and appreciate.

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The Hold function has it’s own dedicated foot-switch input. It’s not quite up to par with a fully featured looper, but it is a novel way to repeat a phrase and play over it. As I mentioned before, there are some very interesting possibilities to be had from sequencing this option with MIDI (and also automating Subdivision changes). Some guitarists may have preferred some form of expression pedal control in terms of additional plugin possibilities, but this feature can be worth exploring for layering textures or adding moments of repeated passages or harmonize with or jam over.

The Flight Time really won me over the more I played it. I’ll admit that I was apprehensive about a knob-less pedal, but I did find the buttons on Free The Tone’s ARC-53M very useful. Likewise, I’ve found myself really appreciating this pedal’s depth and it’s menu-less interface. I was surprised to learn that considering its MIDI implementation and the fact that you can control every parameter via MIDI that there is no support for MIDI clock. This means you should save your tempo with presets and/or use tap tempo, perhaps with the BPM Analyzer. Most guitarists won’t mind. A few of us MIDI nerds might be annoyed. It would be a dream come true for me if Free The Tone added the ability to receive MIDI clock on a per preset basis as that’s one of my most desired features in a MIDI compatible delay pedal. The one update I’d most like to see is what I mentioned before about making the Output be a Dry level control (down to zero) with the Delay controlling the Wet delay level. This would allow the excellent vibrato sounds to shine and be savable as presets while adding essential MIDI programming flexibility. While it would be fantastic if Free The Tone released a modulation pedal, it would be interesting if there was a way to implement tap tempo for the modulation rate for tempo-synced chorus and vibrato sounds. That would also expand the sound palette and help some guitarists justify purchasing this excellent delay pedal for its equally great chorus/vibrato effects.

The Flight Time is a new foray for Free The Tone (compared to their all-analog Red Jasper Overdrive, Silky Comp Compressor, & Gigs Boson Overdrive pedals) and is an innovative delay pedal that deserves attention. Let’s see the final result.

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Overall-Rating-4.5

The Free The Tone Flight Time FT-1Y is a stellar digital delay pedal. The sounds it produces are immaculate, and the option to filter the delays makes it easy to achieve an ideal delay tone to fit in your mix. The modulation sounds are so good that it also makes the Flight Time worth considering for its pristine (and lo-fi!) digital chorus effects. The lack of knobs may put off some guitarists, but those who can appreciate the Flight Time’s retro aesthetic will be in delay heaven. While the ideal place for this pedal is in a MIDI-controlled rig, it really sounds so good that it deserves serious consideration for non-MIDI pedalboards as well. The Delay Time Offset and Realtime BPM Analyzer are signs that Free The Tone are thinking outside the (stomp)box. The Flight Time is definitely up there with the best digital delay pedals available, and it’s only a few minor software updates away from most likely becoming my favorite delay pedal.

That concludes our Free The Tone Flight Time review. Thanks for reading.

 

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