In the spirit of full disclosure, I am morally obligated to be honest and say that not only do I LOVE Chase Bliss Audio’s work, I like everyone on the Chase Bliss team on a personal level. You’re free to call bias, but let’s be real: we’re all CBA fan-folk. You can’t love guitar pedals and not be. From the very first Warped Vinyl to today’s Warped Vinyl HiFi, everything Joel and the rest of the Chase Bliss team altruistically toils away to serve the undeserving worms that we are is almost guaranteed to blow us away. And some of us will even take a break from the “will I/won’t I” nail-biting and pull the trigger on tossing a portion (or the sum) of our savings into a Tonal Recall or Brothers, consequences be damned.
Earlier in December 2017, CBA made it even more difficult to remain frugal. In a totally unexpected announcement, Joel & Co. put the world on notice: the third (and likely ultimate) Warped Vinyl pedal was to be released with “HiFi” attached to the moniker. In the face of this news I was, like my gear nerd brethren everywhere, floored, then inquisitive as to why Chase Bliss chose to reissue the pedal a third time. Of course I made plans to get one of these in my hands by any means necessary.
We’ve reviewed both the Warped Vinyl and Warped Vinyl MKII, so to avoid beating a dead horse, I plan to focus on what has changed in the Warped Vinyl HiFi in this review rather than expounding in great detail the features that have always been there. I will say before we get started: this is more than just an alternate skin.
- All-analog signal path.
- Bypass foot-switch activates or bypasses the effect via true relay bypass. Can by changed to a momentary bypass via a dip switch in the back of the pedal.
- Tap Tempo foot-switch sets the tap tempo and always honors the last two stomps. Serves as a tap tempo with the Hold dip switch active
- Preset toggle switch recalls presets. Middle position reflects current knob positions, right position recalls right preset, and left position recalls left preset. Further presets can be recalled via MIDI through the use of a Chase Bliss MidiBox or Faves switch (both sold separately)
- Exp input jack allows expression pedal control of parameters selected via dip switches on back of pedal.
- Midi/Tap input jack can be used for tap input or output with a regular ¼” instrument cable.
- Powered by 9-volt battery or 9VDC power adapter (consumes ~25mA).
- Ramp control knob can be set to control any of the 5 parameters (Volume, Mix, RPM, Depth, Warp) individually or simultaneously via dip switches on the back of the pedal. Controls the ramp time in which this takes place.
- Tone (Ramp) control knob dials in the tone of the wet vibrato voice when no Ramp dip-switches are in use. All the way clockwise is transparent and shimmery, and all the way counter-clockwise is dark and murky.
- Lag controls the Delay time of the wet signal
- Mix control knob can be set from 100% wet, to 100% dry, or anything in-between.
- RPM control knob sets the rate of the modulation. Can be overridden by the tap tempo switch.
- 1/2/3 (3/6/8) toggle switch sets the tap division for tap tempo. A dip switch on the back accesses the “3/6/8” divisions. Activating the Hold dip switch also enables the R/-/+. More on this later.
- Depth control knob sets how deep the mod goes. Crank it clockwise for insane, pitch-bending modulation.
- Warp control knob sets the center point of the modulation. Set it counterclockwise to make the wave ramp up quickly and down gradually. Set it clockwise to make the wave ramp up gradually and down quickly. Set it at noon for a perfectly symmetrical wave.
- Left Wave Shape toggle switch sets the first half of the wave modulation. Left for sine, middle for triangle, right for square.
- Right Wave Shape toggle switch sets the second half of the wave modulation. Left for square, middle for triangle, right for sine.
- Lag, Mix, RPM, Depth, and Warp dip switches on the left side simply turn that parameter on or off for ramping or expression pedal capability.
- Lag, Mix, RPM, Depth, and Warp dip switches on the right side control whether the parameters rise or fall in ramp mode. This also affects the direction of movement with an expression pedal.
- Bounce dip switch makes parameters go back and forth (i.e. modulate) or ramp and hold.
- Hold dip switch activates the Tap switch’s Hold function
- MoToByp dip switch activates momentary bypass, activating pedal only when Bypass foot-switch is pressed in.
- Tap Control dip switch allows tap tempo to modulate RPM rate (P) or Ramp speed (R). Bounce needs to be on to modulate Ramp speed.
- Tap Division dip switch selects from “1, 2, 4” tap divisions (1) to “3, 6, 8” tap divisions (3).
- Sweep dip switch selects where Ramp sweeps. In “T” (top) the ramping (or expression control) will occur between the current Ramp knob position and the max position (fully clockwise). In “B” (bottom) the range is set between the current knob position and the minimum position (fully counterclockwise).
Build, Sound Quality, & Performance:
My test unit arrived in an orange-stained wooden box. The first and most obvious change made to this new model is the glassy burnt-orange finish, tastefully accentuated by heavy-duty rose gold knobs. The already-chiropractically-burdened will be pleased to know the Warped Vinyl HiFi retains the classic slim and lightweight Chase Bliss form factor, fitting effortlessly on any pedalboard.
While ostensibly cut from the same cloth, I can’t say for sure whether the HiFi is objectively “better” than the previous Warped Vinyls. I can say, however, that the HiFi is capable of a much wider range of chorus tones than previous versions. The HiFi’s predecessors were geared toward the darker vibrato/chorus side of the modulation spectrum as was appropriate for its wobbly name that recalled the warmth of an old phonograph, and so more often than not, that’s how they were used in practical applications: to conjure up a murkier, warmer, grittier kind of modulation akin to an old sun-warped record. Now, with an upgraded audio fidelity, the removal of the LoFi swich, and the simple addition of the Lag knob (replacing Volume), the HiFi focuses on its livelier chorusing powers to great tonal benefit.
Depending on how you aim to play the Warped Vinyl HiFi, you may not even need to use the EXP/CV Input, but it can be rewarding. With no dip-switches active, the Tap Tempo ceases functioning when an expression pedal is plugged in, and the chorus movement becomes fully dependent on the expression input for modulation. I can actually see how this would be useful in some scenarios: you won’t get the benefit of automatic ramping, but with an expression pedal you can ease in the effect to add chorus/vibrato flavor to taste as opposed to relying exclusively on the pedal’s internal tempo. It sounds kind of similar to a flanging effect. This is a great way to thicken up your sound by adding harmonic content and pushing your preamp statically without necessarily committing to the stereotypical writhing choral sound.
There have been three times (so far) that a new Warped Vinyl has struck the Earth, each time irreparably tilting our perspective on what is achievable in the realm of Chorus and Vibrato, particularly in such a tiny package! This latest addition to the family hosts a few key changes that have been asked for in the effects community for some time, and we’ll run through all of them.
Lag vs. Volume
Sometimes, in moments of weakness, I forget that chorus effects are actually super-short delays tethered to an LFO source signal to create glistening harmonic movement. The Lag knob is a highly-requested addition to the HiFi that takes advantage of this reality and is arguably THE most sizable improvement on the Warped Vinyl’s framework. It controls the length of the delay on the wet signal, thickening the overall sound and in some cases adding pitch-bendy effects to the tone in a significantly more active way than the Depth knob when used in tandem with the Ramp feature. Yes, cranking the Lag expectedly increases the noise in the signal in bucket-brigade-like fashion, and discerning ears will notice a very slight hiss in the signal, particularly with higher Tone settings. I noticed it when I left the HiFi on Ramp while I was writing this review with my headphones on. CBA does disclaim this phenomenon in the manual, but I should inject the caveat that in a musical context the difference is so negligible I had to fight with myself to even mention it.
Warped Vinyl MKI & MKII featured a volume knob in the center top row which was both expression and ramp-enabled, allowing the user to achieve limited tremolo effects through dip-switch powered volume modulation should they so choose. With the Lag knob now in that slot, the sum signal level of the pedal is now controlled by a trim pot inside of the enclosure and is no longer dip-switch enabled. I wrote in my 2017 Pedals of the Year mention of the Warped Vinyl HiFi that some of us will miss the tremolo capabilities, but I for one think that switching to a Lag knob and going all-in on a fully-featured chorus/vibrato pedal was the absolute best possible choice. From an outsider’s perspective it completely rounds out Chase Bliss Audio’s catalogue and allows further room for the Gravitas to breathe as the CBA family’s specialized tremolo.
Like the Tonal Recall, the HiFi now features a Hold foot-switch. Through the use of the new Hold dip-switch, the tap tempo becomes a momentary hold switch, the functionality of which depends entirely on what dip-switches are active, much like the expression/CV input. With just the hold dip-switch engaged, the HiFi ramps up in tempo from wherever you are on the RPM to a slow and easy 10 o’clock. Activate the RPM Ramp dip-switch on the left-hand dip-switch row and the Hold switch serves as an activator for the RPM ramping, a low-hanging fruit for those looking to get weird. The toggle that once controlled the Tap Tempo Division now controls how the Hold switch interacts with the Ramp knob. “R” will cause the HiFi to begin ramping, as long as Hold is depressed. Releasing Hold freezes the Ramp where it is, tapping it once will instantly bring the Ramp back to 0 on its sweep. The “Minus” on the toggle sets the ramp to be constantly active until the hold switch is stomped. So “Plus” predictably only allows Ramping when the hold switch is held down, freezing the Ramp when it’s released.
You can see the Hold switch in action in Chase Bliss’s demo featuring Zack Warpinski here:
Signal Clarity & Brightness
One of the characterizing aspects of the previous Warped Vinyl models was their inherently dark, lo-fi tone. On those iterations, there was a Lo-Fi dip-switch that added even more to the eerie grit of an era long buried by the sands of time. Not only has that switch been replaced by the Hold dip-switch on the HiFi, but the special darkness that was so specific to the earlier MKI and to a lesser degree in the MKII has been engineered out via higher-quality components and a more refined circuit layout, making way for a brighter, cleaner future. If you’re a fan of the old ways, you can still get pretty close to those darker tones by dialing back the Tone(Ramp) knob when no parameters are set to ramp.
Surface Mount vs. Through-Hole
Most people will skim over this section, and I’ll admit that the prevailing thought process when I vet effects is: “I don’t care if it’s a box of tiny humanoid entities translating my signal into their native alien tongue. If it sounds good, I’m playing it!” In this case though, I’ll still point out Chase Bliss Audio’s choice to switch from through-hole to surface mount design (aka SMD/SMT). Why is this important? Historically, while surface mount components are a decidedly more efficient and streamlined delivery system for increasingly complex electronics than the larger components used in through-hole design, they are also more notorious for what’s called parasitic capacitance (and some would argue less tonal mojo). This is an unwanted and nigh-unavoidable interaction between individual electronic components and sometimes the circuit board itself that can create resonant circuits and cause ugly high-frequency oscillation or component cross-talk, thus at best effectively ruining any hope for true signal clarity, and at worst rendering reliable operation a distant fantasy. There are computer programs that can calculate the parasitic effects of components to help mitigate them, but builders have to take this phenomenon into consideration any time they make the choice to utilize SMT, often necessitating much more complex building techniques and convoluting the build process. Despite the increased difficulty threshold inherent in making the switch, Joel and his team actually managed to RAISE the aforementioned headroom and increase the signal clarity of the Warped Vinyl HiFi (as accomplished previously with the Tonal Recall). To me, that demonstrates a craftsmanship and care I already knew embodies the Chase Bliss Audio spirit and will be evident to anyone who gets to experience this pedal in all its glory.
Weird CV/EXP Fun
So you probably already know about the fun that can be had using an expression pedal to modulate multiple parameters at once via the Ramp functionality. And you may know about using a CV signal from a modular Eurorack source for similarly inspiring escapades. But here’s something you’ve probably never tried…
Through the use of a drum machine, synth, or other external audio sound source, I encourage you to experiment with sending audio to the EXP/CV input to add spontaneous, organic modulation of the chorusing or Ramped parameters. While using a TRS cable, send audio to the EXP/CV jack via the Tip while the Ring remains floating unconnected. (Using a standard guitar cable would draw too much mA and cause the pedal to act more wonky than intended.) Without the benefit of having a drum machine here to test, I plugged in my iPhone and played around a little bit with a metronome track to interesting (and possibly unintended) effect, but I noted a relatively anemic response at first. Switching to a louder fully featured backing track was much more interesting, yielding aggressive reactions to the snare hits in the track. The response wasn’t extremely precise, but it did yield some very interesting movements along with the rhythm of the source material. With any parameter dip-switch set to Ramp, the ramped parameter will react to the input, and the tap tempo will be active. This all came about due to my weird/stupid curiosity, but maybe you’ll find some cool sounds this way, too.
A few months ago I’d have probably kvetched that the HiFi, a bastion of chorus (subjectively an effect most well served by stereo) isn’t in stereo, and the HiFi doesn’t get off of that particular hook just because it’s a great device. I won’t name names, but there are a handful of popular companies with pedals that accommodate a single-input, single-output TRS stereo configuration to split your signal two ways, and with the addition of the Lag in the HiFi, this would have been a great opportunity to do just that. However, it is worth noting that while the HiFi further demonstrates CBA’s ability to resolve complex electro-tonal needs, and TRS stereo does exist, such an upgrade would require a complete retooling of Chase Bliss’s “universal motherboard,” the basis around which all CBA circuits are built. If I were feeling particularly sadistic, I’d suggest that they should at least consider it in the future. All of CBA’s pedal line-up, not just the HiFi, would sound INCREDIBLE in stereo (even simply via Wet/Dry outputs) and though each one fills a niche that satisfies those already running Chase Bliss pedals, the addition of stereo signal routing could really help to meet the needs of those in the market who are on the fence between CBA and some other legacy effects companies offering stereo pedals, as well as those of us who already run full stereo rigs and would like the option to split our signal from toe to tip. Masturbatory diatribe aside, let’s relinquish this fantasy and enjoy the truly immaculate pieces in this Blissful wheelhouse. With this latest release, we have to assume CBA is locked into the current mono configuration in one unnavigable way or another. Besides, stereo really isn’t necessary in this instance, merely a nice-to-have option on something that is already very nice to have in the first place.
The Chase Bliss Audio Warped Vinyl HiFi is a serene work of beauty that offers unparalleled audio fidelity and tonal options in a compact all-analog chorus/vibrato pedal. To put it in musical parlance, the HiFi is not Chase Bliss experiencing a case of megalomania; it’s more a thematic variation, a reharmonization of a prevailing melody. With the addition of the Hold switch and Lag knob, the Warped Vinyl HiFi adds a new element of control and flexibility that was missing from the classic formula, and the added bonus of that cleaner signal path should convince any past doubters who weren’t feeling the lo-fi vibe. Is it good enough to be the LAST Warped Vinyl? That’s not my call to make, and I’d never presume to assume that that’s the case. All I know is that the updates are significant enough to differentiate the HiFi from its forebears, and in my opinion, forward-thinking enough to justify discontinuing the MKII with no regrets. You can still accomplish most of the tones that the last two models could, but now you don’t need to relinquish signal clarity. So for all we know, it may not be the last Warped Vinyl, but it’s definitely the cleanest and most refined to date. At any rate, it’s the best analog chorus/vibrato pedal of it’s kind in my book.
That concludes our review of the Warped Vinyl HiFi by Chase Bliss Audio. Thanks for reading!