Chase Bliss Audio recently had me shaking my head and throwing my hands up. After releasing the Warped Vinyl and Wombtone – 2 of the best guitar effects pedals I’ve ever played – the up and coming builder decided to refine those designs with MKII versions in a surprisingly short time timespan. (The Wombtone MKII was birthed in less than a year of the release of its earlier sibling!) I can’t emphasize enough when talking about Chase Bliss Audio that their focus isn’t just on making guitar pedals. They’re not content with having designs that already outclass and outperform nearly all (if not all!) other designs of a specific type of effect. No, that’s not their focus either. What they do is sleeplessly refine their designs in pursuit of the ultimate in tonal perfection, versatility, and every conceivable definition of quality. This makes Chase Bliss Audio perhaps the company that best captures the essence of why Best Guitar Effects exists.
Follow Your Bliss
Being the best isn’t about simply outdoing what others have done in terms of specs, sound quality, performance, etc. There’s a certain almost fanatical calling when you pursue something you’re good at or are sincerely passionate about. When creativity transcends thinking about the “bottom line” and “profit margins”, when you’re pursuing your passion, your true will or calling, there’s a certain magic that happens. No, I’m not talking fantasy and fairydust. It’s just what happens when you’re in the zone, your flow, and you’re divinely inspired to create something that simply leaves others in awe. Here’s an example: imagine when Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton (aka the guitarist-formerly-known-as-God) saw Jimi Hendrix perform for the first time. The creatively of what Chase Bliss Audio is doing in the realm of guitar effects pedals is on that level, and any builder looking on at what the future of innovative analog pedal design holds should look to Chase Bliss Audio first and foremost.
Back to the Womb
If you missed our Chase Bliss Audio Wombtone review, check it out to see why it was one of the best phaser pedals ever made. There really wasn’t much to improve upon really. I actually wrote to Chase Bliss Audio and mentioned that it would be neat if the Depth knob set the maximum sweep range when using an expression pedal. Yes, that’s here in Wombtone MKII. Did I mention Chase Bliss Audio is a company that appreciates customer feedback? And once the Eureka light-bulb went off to have the Ramp knob serve dual functions on the Warped Vinyl MKII, it must’ve seemed only natural assign Feed to the Ramp knob and include a new dedicated Mix control for the Wombtone MKII that now lets you go from completely dry to 100% wet. And while the Wombtone’s 4 & 6 stage options were more than adequate, the Wombtone MKII now features 2, 4, 6 stages for more floaty phaser fun. There’s also crazy deep MIDI functionality including CC knob parameter control, 122(!) MIDI selectable presets, and MIDI channel selection (Wombtone MKI was pre-assigned to channel 6). Chase Bliss Audio also refined the Feedback function and added more range to the slower side of the Rate. And yes, like the Warped Vinyl MKII and Gravitas, the dip-switches are now top mounted for easier access.
Here’s a feature rundown before we dig into our Chase Bliss Audio Wombtone MKII review and discover whether or not this is still the best analog phaser pedal ever created.
- All-analog signal path.
- Ramp control knob can be set to control any of the 5 parameters (Volume, Feed, Rate, Depth, Form) individually or simultaneously via dip switches on the back of the pedal. Controls the ramp time in which this takes place.
- Feed (Ramp) control knob controls the amount of feedback on the phasing effect when no Ramp dip-switches are in use.
- Volume control knob sets the level of the effect.
- Mix control knob can be set from 100% wet, to 100% dry, or anything in-between.
- Rate control knob controls the rate of the phasing effect. Can be overridden by the tap tempo switch.
- 1 – 2 – 3 (3 – 6 – 8/STG:2 – 4 – 6) toggle switch sets the tap division for tap tempo. A dip switch on the back accesses the “3 – 6 – 8” divisions. Another dip-switch allows this switch to select between 2, 4, and 6 stage modes.
- Depth control knob sets how wide the phaser goes. Vocal tones can be found somewhere around 11 o’clock.
- Form 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.
- 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.
- Preset toggle switch recalls presets. Middle position reflects current knob positions, right position recalls right preset, and left position recalls left preset.
- Exp input jack allows expression pedal or CV control of parameters selected via dip switches on back of pedal. When no parameters are set to Ramp, it manually controls the phaser sweep.
- Tap/MIDI 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).
- Volume, Feed, Rate, Depth, and Form dip switches on the left side simply turn that parameter on or off for ramping or expression pedal capability.
- Volume, Feed, Rate, Depth, and Form 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.
- Stages dip switch allows left flip-switch to select tap divisions or stages.
- MoByp dip switch activates momentary bypass, activating pedal only when Bypass foot-switch is pressed in.
- Tap Control dip switch allows tap tempo to modulate Ramp rate (r) or phaser Rate (p). 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).
Sound & Performance:
As in our Warped Vinyl MKII review, I’m going to focus on the primary differences in the Wombtone MKII versus it’s predecessor. Visit our original Wombtone review for a deeper delving into its functionality. For all intents and purposes, they’re quite similar with these few (and major!) exceptions.
One issue I’ve always had with most phasers is their lack of Mix control. They’re typically just wet. You activate them, and that’s the amount of phasing effect you get. Then you just set the rate and have at it. If you’re lucky you might get a Depth control. The original Wombtone was similar in this regard, but the possibility opened up to include a Mix parameter when Chase Bliss Audio discovered a way to have the Ramp knob easily serve 2 functions. Basically, if you’re not using all those crazy dip-switches to create wild Ramping effects, the Ramp knob controls Feed instead, a parameter that feeds the phased signal into itself for more intense phasing effects. The Mix control is now on the right side of the pedal where the Feed knob was located on the MKI.
Having a dedicate Mix knob is useful for a few reasons. First, when seeking subtle phasing effects, the Mix lets you keep the Depth high for a wider phasing sweep while still lowering the overall effected signal in your mix, giving your dry signal more space. This also helps the pedal stack well with other modulation pedals like, say, the Warped Vinyl MKII. But this really helps make the Wombtone MKII more usable in rigs that typically don’t have much of a modulation focus. If you don’t usually like the “extreme” or unnatural sound of phasing, you might be pleasantly surprised at how the Wombtone MKII can add interest to clean sounds in a way different from your typical chorus, vibrato, or tremolo effects. Also, as I’m about to explain, the Mix knob adds tone shaping for the pedal’s “notched-phase” effects.
2, 4, or 6 Stages?
The inclusion of a 2 Stage phasing option is another big testament to the extra versatility of this pedal. The 4 and 6 Stage options go from moderate to intense (and very extreme if you crank the Feed with the 6 Stage mode!), but the 2 Stage mode gives you an extra level of lighter phasing if you’re into the more mild sounds. It can be soothing like a sweet sonic lullaby. I also find the new 2 Stage option especially useful for “notched-phase” effects. This is fun for seekers of strange and bizarre tones. If you plug in an expression pedal with no Ramp parameters selected, the pedal will override the ModuShape LFO and manually control the sweep of the phasing. This lets you set it at certain points to achieve cool filtered tones, similar to how you get notched-wah sounds. Another neat trick is to just leave the expression pedal in the toe down position and use the Depth knob to set the exact notched sound. The Mix knob also comes in handy for letting you manually blend in that notched sound with your dry signal for an emphasis or de-emphasis on certain frequencies. Very cool. Be sure to use the Feed, too, and try the 2, 4, and 6 Stage modes to further explore this playground of phase filtered sound.
It really didn’t take much to improve upon the Wombtone, but the added Mix control and 2 Stage option bring the MKII even closer to perfection. I was already perfectly content regarding the Wombtone as the best phaser pedal around, but the MKII is pretty much ideal in terms of what I’d want in a phaser. It offers smooth, lush phasing and has heaps of options for controlling the sound.
Feed & Rate Improvements
There’s a little extra tweaking that happened from the MKI to MKII. The Feed function underwent a little adjustment. It wasn’t refined to an extent that seems to overly affect the sound in a significantly noticeable way. The Rate control gives you a huge mount of additional range on the slower side of the swirling spectrum. If you prefer to simply grab a knob and twist to set your phasing rate, you can find a ton of slow, churning range all along the left side of noon, a very welcome addition.
Let’s briefly touch on a couple carried over features in this review.
The ModuShape functionality adds a level of waveform control beyond what you’ll find in any other analog phaser. This serves an appropriate purpose with the Warped Vinyl MKII as it allows you to get those cool “warped record” sounds, but on the Wombtone it may appear more novel at first. At the very least it’s worth exploring the differences in Sine and Triangle waveforms. But if you’re feeling adventurous you can experiment with Sine, Triangle, and Square shapes to add some real unconventional movement to the phasing that is quite unlike any other phaser you’d ever heard. Couple that with the Tap Tempo and 6 selectable Tap Divisions, and you’ve got endless rhythmic possibilities. Then there’s the ramping…
The Wombtone MKII’s 16 dip-switches may seem daunting at first, especially if your last phaser was a single knob unit. But after you’ve become comfortable with the surface controls, you may want to try setting some of the parameters to Ramp. You can set parameters to Ramp up to the values you’ve set the knobs to when you engage the pedal, useful for a phase sound that fades in or swells up to the full effect. Or you can flip the Bounce dip-switch and have the selected Ramp parameters modulate back and forth. This lets you do some really neat things like having a variable Rate, raising and lowering Depth, and/or adjusting the Mix from Wet to Dry. That’s not even scratching the surface really. You can get lost for days playing with the Ramping effects.
Okay, back to the new stuff. There are a couple more things worth mentioning.
Top Mounted Dip-Switches
If you tried the original Wombtone or Warped Vinyl, you were probably excited that Chase Bliss Audio had the 16 dip-switches protruding from a hole in the bottom plate instead of requiring you to unscrew plate to access them. But with all the control available it was still a bit annoying to have to keep flipping the pedal over to try new sounds. And if you’ve already mounted it to your pedalboard, forget about it! Ever the company to keep refining their designs, Chase Bliss Audio moved the dip-switches from underneath the pedal to the north side above the knobs. This means you can more easily access them without having to remove the pedal from your board. This is a most welcome convenience. It’s the little things that set this company’s products apart from the rest.
The original Wombtone, like the original Warped Vinyl, allowed you to use MIDI commands to Activate/Bypass the pedal and choose between Live Mode and the Left & Right Presets. The Wombtone was also pre-programmed to function on MIDI channel 6. The Wombtone MKII allows you to control all knob functions via MIDI, select and save 122 additional MIDI recallable presets, and use the pedal on any of the 16 available MIDI channels. This is cool news if you use a MIDI effects selector/router as you can now access a huge plethora of different presets with ease. And if by any chance you’re a MIDI nerd like me, try using a MIDI controller or software like Ableton Live to control and automate the pedal’s parameters in realtime. Never before has so much control been available in a 100% analog pedal until Chase Bliss Audio came along.
What’s left to say about the Chase Bliss Audio Wombtone MKII? The best phaser available just got better. Hey, someone should put that in an ad! Let’s see the final result.
The Chase Bliss Audio Wombtone was arguably the best analog phaser around. Now the Wombtone MKII is even better thanks mostly to its additional 2 Stage option and Mix control knob. The tones are immaculate even if you never delve into the Ramping functions. But once you begin exploring all this pedal has to offer, you’ll likely never play another phaser pedal again. The expanded MIDI functionality is a huge plus, especially for accessing the 122 additional presets. Chase Bliss Audio’s digitally controlled analog pedals take the greatest analog sounds of the past and combine them with the best technology of today for sounds you’ll be hearing long into the future. The Wombtone MKII is hands-down the best analog phaser pedal ever made.
That concludes our Chase Bliss Audio Wombtone MKII review. Thanks for reading.
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