Before we talk about the Chase Bliss Audio Tonal Recall, let’s talk about analog delay. When guitarists think of legendary analog delay tones, pedals like the Boss DM-2, Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man, and Moog MF-104M come to mind. The most sought after versions of these classic delay pedals rely on the same component: Panasonic MN3005 Bucket Brigade delay chips. These chips have long been discontinued with costs for pedals containing authentic NOS MN3005 BBDs surging on the second-hand market. No one suspected that a worthy substitute would ever come along until a company called Xvive recreated the famed chip in collaboration with Howard Davis, creator of the EHX Deluxe Memory Man.
As Good As Old?
Electro Harmonix was quick to substitute the new Xvive MN3005 BBD chips in their current Memory Man analog delay pedals to the confusion of some guitarists who obsess over tonal details down to every component used. Some customers would have preferred that EHX made an official statement regarding their decision to use the Xvive chips, but at least the new Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man 1100TT has a different appearance from the NOS MN3005 unit in case you plan to search the second-hand market for a specific version of the pedal. Hopeful tone chasers may suggest that the Xvive chip rollout is evidence that EHX considers them as good as original Panasonic MN3005s. However, their price-focused advertising of the Memory Man lineup since the component change could imply that cost, not tone, may have been the primary reason for adopting the new chips.
While opinions on the new Xive MN3005 chips from boutique pedal builders has been largely positive, I’m aware of one company that wasn’t satisfied with the quality of these replacements when testing samples in their highly regarded analog delay pedals. Thus, a reissue of another famed MN3005 based pedal won’t be happening anytime soon.
While the jury isn’t unanimous on how these chips compare when retrofitted within pedals utilizing the original BBDs, we’re not necessarily here to relish in the old. We’re here to find out how an all-new design based around these chips measures up and if old made new again can be even better.
Mission To Mars
The Chase Bliss Audio Tonal Recall is the most noteworthy all-new delay pedal created from the ground up with reissue Xvive MN3005 BDD chips. Many modern guitarists would say that Chase Bliss Audio has drawn a line in the sand where they stand alone among pedal companies capable of taking archaic analog circuit design into new sonic frontiers. Captain Korte and his crew set out to boldly go where none have gone before in creating an analog delay pedal that would recapture the essence of what made those classic delay pedals so great, while offering an analog delay experience unlike any pedal previously released thanks to Tonal Recall’s complete digital control over its analog delay effects.
Disclaimer: Before we set out to discover if the Tonal Recall is the dream pedal guitarists wish it to be or an implanted false memory, I want to mention that I was among the few people who tested the unit before its release. Part of what sets Chase Bliss Audio apart from other builders is the openness of CBA founder & engineer, Joel Korte, to the opinions and criticism of his peers, friends, and customers. Having played some role in the creation process of this pedal through the feedback I provided, I was hesitant to review the Tonal Recall on Best Guitar Effects. But considering my experience with the pedal and knowledge of where the product started out and what it became, I’ve decided to communicate my uniquely informed perspective to our readers.
- 100% All-Analog Signal Path
- Original design utilizing re-issued Xvive MN3005 bucket brigade chips
- Tap Tempo
- 6 Tap Divisions including quarter notes, eighth notes, dotted eighth notes, triplets, sixteenth notes, & sextolets
- Delay controls for Time, Regen, Mix, & Tone
- Modulation controls for Rate & Depth
- 3 Modulation LFO options including Sine, Triangle, & Square
- 3 Delay Modes – Short (1 x MN3005), Long (2 x MN3005), & Both (2 x MN3005 alternating)
- Ramping, Expression Pedal control, or CV control over Mix, Rate, Time, Regen, and/or Depth
- Smart True Bypass or Buffered Bypass w/ Trails
- 2 user presets accessible via onboard flip-switch
- 122 user presets accessible via MIDI
- Additional MIDI Implementation – parameter knob control, MIDI Note Divisions, MIDI Clock Ignore, Tap Switch, Expression, & Bypass
- Powered by 9VDC power adapter (150mA)
Sound & Performance:
Where to begin? Hmm, let’s talk tone. I could probably stop with the following statement. The Tonal Recall can be brighter or darker than a Boss DM-2 and is lower noise than a vintage EHX DMM. That might be enough for many of you to know if this pedal is right for you or lives up to the analog delays that came before. Still, it’s unfair to simply assess this pedal against the relics of yesterday as there are many nuances that make the Tonal Recall something very special.
The Tone knob itself is where a lot of ‘ole Tony’s mojo lies. Fully clockwise, it gives you its brightest delay sound. Now it’s still pretty dark, mind you, especially compared to digital delay standards. But Tonal Recall’s tone is brighter than your average analog delay while being able to get darker and warmer as you cut the knob back. It gets super dark at lower settings left of noon down towards 9 o’clock. There’s a lot of beautiful murky goodness to be found in that range. Sounds like someone dropped a bucket (brigade) into an oil can (delay). With the Tone any lower it rolls off so heavily that it’ll cut the repeats even if you’re using high Regen settings.
It’s worth further emphasizing the interplay between the Tone knob and Regen control. The way the Tone rolls off the high-end impacts the way the repeats dissipate. If you crank the Regen up towards the point just before it starts to self-oscillate, you’ll notice the different length of repeats you get when adjusting the Tone knob through its range. For the longest possible amount of delay repeats, set the Tone fully clockwise. If you need to cut it down a bit for a darker tone to suit your guitar or amp setup, you may want to consider increasing the Regen to compensate for any shortening of repeats.
From here let’s explore how the Regen affects the fidelity of the repeats. The higher the Regen setting, the more times the recorded guitar signal is copied/repeated by the BBD(s). On each repeat the sound loses some fidelity and distorts or breaks up a little. This is part of the tonal charm of analog chips, and the breakup character of various BBDs contributes to what makes certain chip models stand out. Of course, the tone inherent in the chips goes hand-in-hand with how the engineer implements them within a circuit.
Meet Tony & Tony
The pre-production Tonal Recall pedals pushed the aforementioned breakup characteristics to an extreme that yielded very distorted and lo-fi sounding delay repeats. The original Tonal Recall video from Knobs Demos exemplifies these characteristics well. Allow me to present Exhibit A for your viewing pleasure.
The original Tonal Recall video from Knobs Demos showcasing the pre-production Tonal Recall’s gritty, lo-fi repeats.
That video presents some interesting sounds that parallel my experience with the pre-production version of the pedal. However, that early iteration of the pedal was arguably not the DMM/DM-2 killer that many guitarists were expecting considering all the growing hype surrounding Chase Bliss Audio releasing an all-new MN3005 based analog delay pedal. While this version of the pedal did have a trailblazing attitude in taking analog delay into a novel, lo-fi zone, Mr. Korte decided just before the Tonal Recall’s imminent launch to release the crowd-pleasing pedal that guitarists were expecting.
Did CBA succeed? Does the Tonal Recall live up to the hype? And is it the best analog delay pedal money can buy?
One thing that was already apparent with the pre-production Tonal Recall is that it was an incredibly low-noise pedal, commendable considering that analog delays are usually significantly less quiet than digital delays. And if the repeats weren’t driven so hard into a chewy distortion, the low noise floor would further shine.
Here’s the new Knobs Demo of the Tonal Recall that portrays the sounds of the current production unit.
Tony part 2. Much cleaner, right?
The production version of Tonal Recall backed off on the amount of saturation present in the repeats, resulting in a much cleaner and smoother delay line. The repeats still degrade nicely as they dissipate which is more noticeable on longer delay times with high Regen settings. As the delays trail ever towards silence, you’ll sometimes hear a more percussive character creep in. I rather like this sound as it reminds me of the percussive “knock” of a dbx style compressor. Or maybe it’s the presence of the beating analog heart contained in all Chase Bliss Audio pedals. With shorter delays, you won’t notice it as much which is especially great for clean slapback delay echos, but it adds to the special feel of this pedal’s delays when you do hear it. Also, your picking dynamics can impact the way the delay line distorts, so experiment with guitar volume level and alternating between softly picking and digging in to vary the response.
Short & Long
Speaking of delay times, there are multiple modes to determine how long the delays can be. The Short (S) toggle-switch setting provides shorter delays from about 20ms to 275ms and uses 1 of the pedal’s 2 Xvive MN3005 BBD chips. This is what you’ll set it to when dialing in slapback echos or general shorter delays. If you shorten the Time to minimum you can even use the modulation for chorus tones or vibrato. (More on that in a moment.) Flipping over to the Long (L) position brings in the 2nd Xvive MN3005 chip and extends the available delay time to between 40ms and 550ms. This’ll give you those longer analog delays that, when combined with higher Regen, will linger behind your dry sound and emphasize the warm degradation characteristics of the dual MN3005 chips.
Best of “Both” Worlds?
I originally suspected the Both setting to be a tacked on feature because CBA engineer, Joel Korte, couldn’t think of anything better to include in the 3rd flip-switch position. Okay, maybe I still suspect that, and maybe it’s true. But as it turns out this mode utilizes both MN3005 chips to create a quick burst of 2 delays that sounds quite interesting. With longer time settings it gives you an Echorec style pattern of 3 delays. Minimum Regen just gives you those 2 extra delay hits. Boosting Regen carries on the trails with a rhythmic pulse. With the Time down to around 9-10 o’clock or lower the pedal creates a reverb-like dwell behind your playing because the delay times on both BBD chips are so short. Increase modulation and Regen to taste, and it gets really interesting. Roll down the Tone for some murky reverb.
With a slight boost of the Rate & Depth, Tonal Recall will bring a little Warped Vinyl inspired modulation to the delay line. On short slapback echos, this’ll add a little tape-echo style movement. With longer delay times it’ll add some atmosphere to those lingering trails. With the Mix dialed up to around 3 o’clock, you’ll get a 50/50% wet/dry sound that works well with Short delays, minimum Time, and no Regen to bring in a new variation of the chorus flavor round in the Chase Bliss Audio Warped Vinyl MKII. The Tonal Recall’s dedicated Time knob lets you adjust the “voice” and phasing characteristics of the chorus by moving the placement of the wet signal against your dry tone. If you want a full-on vibrato, keep the Time at minimum and crank the Mix while using the Tone to brighten or darken your tone.
The Tonal Recall features the usual array of 16 dip-switches found on all Chase Bliss Audio pedals released so far. There’s a full spectrum of Ramping options that let you make the parameters either morph to a set position when activating the pedal or Bounce back and forth when that option is selected. This adds a lot of creative performance potential when you’re ready for a fresh breath of Martian air. Ramping Rate, Depth, Mix, & Regen are all good for subtle changes to your delay sounds (or dramatic if you push the Rate & Depth into upper extremes). Ramping Time gives you warped, analog pitch modulation effects while you play. You can also plug in an expression pedal and control any parameter set to Ramp.
Trails/Buffered vs True Bypass
Where you’d often find a Mode switch on some CBA pedals, the Tonal Recall lets you choose between a True Bypass mode and a Buffered mode with spillover delay trails. This comes down to a general matter of personal preference or what a song needs. If you want a buffer at the end of your signal chain, the Tonal Recall can be it. If you’re using short delays, you may opt for True Bypass. For extra long delays with high Regen, definitely consider the Trails & Buffer setting for letting that long delay ambience spillover when you bypass the pedal.
Ah, yes. For the first time a Chase Bliss Audio pedal gives you a unique dual function for the Tap foot-switch. Pressing and holding it down makes the Regen swell to its max setting for self-oscillation. When you release the foot-switch, your Regen returns to its previous setting. A really cool performance trick I found is to use the Momentary Bypass mode with Trails. Alternate between pressing and holding Bypass to activate the delay on certain notes/chords and also pressing and holding both Bypass & Tap foot-switches to activate the delay with self-oscillation. Release to let it spillover as it recedes. If you press Tap closely in succession or spaced farther apart, you can jump to faster delay times or slower delay times for some weird noise.
Divisions & S/L/B (MIDI Presets)
All the expected division settings are here – quarter notes, dotted eights, triplets, and more. Try them in conjunction with the S/L/B settings for a huge range of different Tap Tempo delay timing. When exploring all the weird sounds this pedal can make, I noticed that switching between the available Tap Divisions causes the delay time to jump to the new settings while warping your delay pitch as it shifts. If you’re using MIDI preset switching, you can control the Tap Divisions with a MIDI CC message or create different presets with unique Tap Divisions (and S/L/B settings) and select between them to make the pedal jump to the new settings for weird pitch-modulated timing adjustment effects. Don’t mind me. I just enjoy discovering all the strange sounds a pedal can make, and Tonal Recall can get crazy.
With a CBA modded Empress Midibox (or new CBA branded Midibox) you can control all knob parameters via MIDI. As per usual I got in deep with Ableton Live and journeyed down the rabbit hole of automating parameters via MIDI CC messages. You can always just stick to using a MIDI compatible effects switcher to select presets, a feature that makes the Tonal Recall a must have for MIDI-enabled pro pedalboards and rack rigs. The pedal also responds to MIDI Clock, so you can easily lock it in time with any clock source.
Tonal Recall X 2
I’ve always been a huge fan of linking two delay pedals in series. While it’s fun to use two digital delays or one analog and one digital delay together, the added noise of compounding two analog delay pedals often keeps me from that option. The quiet operation and deep tap division options make a dual Tonal Recall setup a huge temptation. If dual delays are an essential part of your sound, you can Tap sync 2 Tonal Recalls or set both pedals to the same MIDI Channel and make companion presets for both pedals so that you can always easily recall a host of dual delay settings. I’ve posted several clips of 2 Tonal Recall pedals in series on our Instagram. Here’s one.
Makes me wish I had two free hands.
While most guitarists don’t have the delay devotion (or budget) to spring for two Tonal Recalls, one is more than enough to compliment any other delay on your board or take over sole analog delay duties. The pedal’s compact size makes it especially tempting for a crowded pedalboard. As this review comes to a close, I find myself searching for any aspects of this pedal that I dislike or that could be significantly improved. Perhaps the repeats could be even longer without needing a second pedal to further extend the feedback. Maybe a triple or quadruple chip Tonal Recall MKII at some point could extend the possible delay time. Stereo analog delay? That might be pushing it. Here’s one more notable complaint: when using the Hold function, the self-oscillation could be compressed or limited more so as not to get too loud. I often use it with a limiter in the chain after the pedal or just press Hold in short bursts. I’d also bet that a few more little tweaks could be made for an even cleaner delay signal path with perhaps even less degradation, but the overall package still exceeds the quality of this pedal’s nearest competitor. See you at the party.
The Chase Bliss Audio Tonal Recall is a new breed of analog delay pedal that will appeal to fans of bucket brigade delay tones as well as any guitarist seeking out new delay sounds. It’s not that Tonal Recall offers any single feature that is revolutionary by itself (well, maybe presets in an analog delay and Ramping, of course). It’s the fact that this pedal does so many things very well that puts it into a class of its own. Between the digitally controlled functionality (MIDI, presets, Ramping, tap tempo, etc.), super low noise floor, and incredibly wide range of great tones, this pedal is a strong contender in a world of noisier analog delays and digitally recreated analog delay emulations. And if you consider yourself an analog delay aficionado, the Chase Bliss Audio Tonal Recall is an absolute must play. Now get your GAS to Mars.
That concludes our Chase Bliss Audio Tonal Recall review. Thanks for reading.