Review: Spaceman Orion Analog Spring Reverb


Reviewed by:
Rating:
5
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Last modified:August 23, 2018

Summary:

 

While this article is arguably a “review” of the Spaceman Orion Analog Spring Reverb pedal, I’m approaching it from a different perspective than a typical pedal review. This article is more of a “showcase” of the Orion pedal. Yes, I’ll be assessing the benefits and features of the pedal as well as critiquing any areas in which its design and functionality could be improved, but I feel that this pedal deserves being approached from a point of view that transcends the goals typically inherent when writing a review. Of the Spaceman pedals released to date, the Orion seems like the builder’s greatest work and is more of a creative statement of artistic expression and the culmination of the builder’s ambition and expertise, and thus it warrants appreciation beyond just the measure of its utility. The Orion is unlike any pedal the world as seen, and that will become more clear as we delve in. So without a space related pun to get things moving…

I first saw the Spaceman Orion when it was unveiled way back at Summer NAMM 2015. It was hands-down the most exciting pedal I saw at the show, and you’ll see the Orion sitting firmly at the top of our Best Pedals of SNAMM ’15 article. In that writeup my hasty introduction to Spaceman mentioned the “master craftsmanship” that the builder is known for although that is something that can’t be fully appreciated simply by exposure to a few descriptive buzz words. I also mentioned how the Orion’s four knob controls exceed the versatility that you’ll typically find in amp-based (or amp-top for that matter) spring reverb units. It’s worth pointing out that at SNAMM I was only able to listen to the Orion through a custom headphone amp that Spaceman brought along to the convention, but the presentation was more than sufficient enough to reveal the Orion as an instrument very deserving of attention.

 

 

When I finally got to spend some time with an actual Orion unit in my studio, I was able to fully appreciate the nuances and intricacies of this remarkable pedal. Facing formidable competition from a host of multi-algorithm digital reverb pedals out there, the Orion still appears at a very respectable placing in our Best Reverb Pedals article. Even though the pedal is currently out of production, the Orion still remains on the top reverb pedals list. Pardon us if the continued exposure contributes to increased second-hand market prices, but the Orion will likely remain on our list until Spaceman decides to release an Orion II… And I really hope they do.

So let’s talk more in-depth about the Orion and why it’s the definitive spring reverb pedal.

Visit Spaceman Effects for more info about the Orion.

 

 

Sound & Performance:

I want to cover three aspects of the Orion reverb that seem to go unnoticed and under-appreciated by people glancing over and discussing this pedal.

 

Deeply Interactive Parameter Control

Perhaps the most favorable aspect of the Orion is how much flexibility it provides through its seemingly simple parameter layout. The pedal’s 4 knobs are neatly arranged across the surface of the pedal and are pretty self explanatory. But what isn’t as apparent without playing the pedal is how interactive and essential each knob is to dialing in the overall sound. This is one of those pedals that can pretty much sound good wherever you set the knobs (as long as the Volume is set high enough to achieve unity gain or add a little boost if you need it); it really just depends on the kind of sound you’re trying to achieve for a given part of a song.

The Blend knob dials in the reverb amount from nearly dry to about 95% wet. Surprisingly, the pedal sounds pretty amazing even when the Blend is maxed out, providing a wide range of wet reverb textures that can suit many needs. The Dwell knob “controls how hard the dual springs are pushed” and essentially drives the signal harder to produce more drip and reverberation. You can adjust the Blend with the Dwell to get the right balance of reverb presence. While the Dwell isn’t exactly a “decay” style knob, how hard the springs are hit can determine how long the reverb sustains. If you’re using lower Dwell settings, you might want to boost the Blend to make sure the lighter reverb is still audible in your mix; if you’re maxing out the Dwell for an ultra drippy spring sound, you might not need as much reverb blended in. In any case a nudge of the Volume will make sure your output volume is consistent in the mix when you activate the pedal.

The Tone knob is extra special and also essential to the Orion’s overall sound. Spring reverb units are typically at least somewhat dark in tonality, and the high-end is often rolled off to attenuate upper frequency noise inherent in the crude, lo-fi process of running a signal into springs and then capturing the spring vibrations. With the Orion’s Tone knob set lower in its range, you’ll be able to achieve the characteristically common frequencies of darker spring reverb units. And if you turn the knob clockwise, you can begin to brighten the tone significantly, boosting the top-end well beyond what is typical of vintage units or the single-knob spring reverb on an amp. If you were to push the Blend and Tone to higher settings, you may experience more pronounced noise (which is due to the nature of spring reverb design and not necessarily a fault of the Orion), but this wider range of parameter control can help dial in some unique sounds that can still find use in song parts and/or in a band setting where added noise would be less noticeable in the mix. The noise is never too distracting for me, but some users who’ve become accustomed to digital reverbs and are less familiar with the drawbacks inherent in actual hardware spring reverb units may need to readjust their expectations to begin appreciating the brighter (and somewhat noisier) tones the Orion offers.

 

Subtle Switching & Spring Suspension

Aside from the superbly interactive parameters, there are a couple interesting aspects of the Orion’s design which emphasize how much attention to detail was paid to ensuring that this pedal would be an ideal spring reverb for general pedalboard use. The foot-switch is of the soft-touch type that triggers a true bypass switching relay. This means that instead of hearing a loud click that causes noisy reverberations when you activate the pedal, you instead get a smooth switching operation that is consistently quiet no matter how hard you stomp on the foot-switch. This is critical for live use when you may activate and bypass the Orion multiple times during a performance.

Another noteworthy design aspect is that Spaceman have managed to suspend the spring reverb tank (with springs!) within the pedal so that stage vibrations don’t transfer to the reverb unit. Booming kick drums and low-frequency bass rumblings are less likely to be heard through your amp in the reverb – which is important if you plan on performing with the Orion.

 

 

These two features may be overlooked but are key aspects that contribute to the Orion’s stageworthiness. A lot of thought went into designing this pedal, and the effort and attention to detail shows. While the premium boutique build quality and collectible scarcity can make Spaceman pedals seem like studio novelties, the Orion has clearly been designed to be a stage ready ‘verb that earns its place on performing guitarists’ pedalboards.

 

Reverb Pan Crashing

So while the carefully suspended reverb module is resistant to external vibrations, you can still get those brash reverb pan crashes by jarring the pedal. Some guitarists may be wary of kicking their pedalboards, but you could always put the Orion in your amp’s effects loop and have a guitar tech by the backline jolt the pedal at key moments in a song performance. Extreme pedal abuse is never recommended, but the Orion seems well enough constructed to be able to withstand some mild force for the sake of performance flair. If anything this is a great trick you could try in the studio to produce some unique reverb sounds, and if you’re feeling extra expressive during the peak of a set, give the Orion a small kick or two.

 

 

Orion vs Full-Size Spring Reverbs

Amps with full-size spring reverb tanks often have just a single “Reverb” knob to dial in the amount of reverb you want. Amp top reverb units may offer some variation of Dwell (decay), Tone, and/or Blend (mix) controls, but they’re bulky, massive units that take up a lot of space. The Orion presents itself as a compelling alternate option as it has a real dual spring reverb tank and 4 parameter controls, yet it’s in the form of a reasonably small pedal which is very compact compared to amp-top reverb units.

It’s important to correct some possible misperceptions and hype-inducing assumptions before we continue. While the Orion does offer excellent spring reverb tones, it shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as attempting to be a superior replacement for your Fender ’63 tube spring reverb unit or the full-size reverb pan in your Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb. Yes, the Orion is a real spring reverb and has plenty of real spring reverb “drip”, but its sounds and character are best measured on their own merits instead of compared for 1:1 sonic accuracy beside vintage reverb units. The Orion uses an Accutronics Blue Reverb spring tank which is much smaller than the massive 16-inch long 2 & 3 spring behemoths associated with “classic” spring reverb tones, and this particular reverb module is part of a machine that aims to share its own voice rather than replicate the sounds of other spring reverb units. Still, considering that the Orion can achieve a respectably long reverb decay that can pass the 4 second threshold and has a wide range of sonic flexibility thanks to its Blend, Tone, and Dwell controls, some users will be able to argue in favor of the Orion offering superior performance in some circumstances. If you want the most accurate sounding spring reverb for classic surf guitar tones, maybe you’ll want to stick with your preferred vintage unit or reissue; if you want a modern spring reverb that produces its own spring reverb sounds and offers greater performance convenience, you may want to seek out an Orion and experience it for yourself.

 

Orion vs Digital Reverb Pedals

It’s really important to understand that since the Orion isn’t meant to be a compact clone of any vintage reverb unit, it isn’t attempting to rehash the sounds that digital reverb pedals try (often in vain) to emulate. Yes, the Orion does have that drippy character that digital reverbs usually have a tough time getting right, and I’m particularly impressed with how the Orion’s response to Dwell knob adjustments changes the feel of the reverb in a more organic and authentic way than I’ve heard from any digital reverb pedal. But there are two key tradeoffs to bring attention to in the Orion vs digital spring reverb debate. Digital reverbs are arguably cleaner and quieter, and multi-algorithm pedals usually give you access to presets which can give you a wider selection of quickly accessible sounds in a live performance situation. The Orion is a 100% analog pedal with real spring characteristics and other elusive qualities that I’ve yet to hear in a digital spring reverb. The analog nature of the Orion also means that, yes, it can be noticeably noisier than the pristine quietness found in a digital spring reverb; however, some guitarists would argue that such sanitized, noise-free spring reverb tones are sterile in comparison to the grittiness of a real spring reverb. I’ve played many of the most notable digital spring reverb pedals available, and I feel that overall, the Orion can hold its own against any digital spring reverb pedal. This owes thanks to the Orion’s authentic analog spring tank, its organic response to your playing dynamics and the nuances of your audio signal, and the wide range of parameter flexibility the Orion provides for affecting the reverb’s sound and response.

 

The Analog Difference

It’s really important to emphasize that the Orion is a unique sounding pedal that offers something beyond what can be achieved with most reverb pedals. When I compared it directly to many of the digital algorithms I’ve become accustomed to hearing, I could hear subtle differences in the way the Orion articulates its reverb sounds. This goes beyond the obvious different “types” of reverb I compared it, too. The differences I’m referring to likely stem from the contrast between the precise mathematical calculations of a digital reverb versus the real-world fluctuations of the Orion’s actual springs interacting in an organic way to create its reverberated ambience. The Orion just seems to have a more interactive quality and a character that I didn’t realize I’ve been missing from many of the digital reverbs that I’ve grown to love.

One of the most surprising aspects of dialing in the Orion is how many pleasing textures you can find hidden within its simple parameter layout. It can’t be overstated how crucial the Blend is. Rather than just set it and forget it, notice how the reverb’s droning quality becomes more apparent as you increase the Blend. Adjusting the Dwell then seems to make the reverb sound more or less intense. And since the pedal never quite gets 100% wet, you can play with a super wet signal that still contains the presence of your dry tone. While you can just dial in your ideal spring reverb sound and leave the knobs stationary, the rewarding interactivity of the knobs can inspire all kinds of unique sounds that may make the Orion even more fun to use during a recording session or in a creative jam.

Perhaps my favorite way I’ve come to use the Orion is in tandem with another reverb. As I’ve said the Orion can easily stand on its own, but rather than argue in favor of using this single analog pedal over a multi-algorithm digital reverb, I’ve discovered that the Orion can enhance other reverbs, particularly when placed before other reverbs in my signal chain. I’m very fond of smooth plate reverbs and using room reverbs for ambience, and by placing the Orion in front of another reverb, you can either create a space for the Orion to sit in (as if playing an amp with spring reverb within a room) or augment the reflections of the second reverb with spring-like qualities and extend these beautiful textures with the decay of the second reverb. Basically, if I’m already playing a digital reverb that I’m enjoying, adding the Orion in front of it seems to often create an even more pleasing ambience. This trick even works well when running the mono Orion into a stereo digital reverb.

I only have two seemingly minor criticisms of the Orion, and neither of my issues involve the sound quality of this pedal in any way. For all the efforts made towards design efficiency, I am somewhat disappointed that the Orion has side-mounted audio and power jacks, a particularly glaring annoyance on wider pedals that take up more precious pedalboard real estate. Sure, that’s been the norm on every Spaceman pedal to date, but while it would have involved cramping together some of the components on the Orion’s pair of beautifully arranged PCBs, I think the extra half inch of space reduced on each side of the pedal would have been well worth the change. A more glaring issue for me personally is that I prefer to avoid pedals with “lazy” relay bypass when using an effects loop switcher. Such pedals default to the bypassed state when powered up. I like when relay bypass pedals either remember the previous bypass state when powered up (“smart” relay bypass) or can be manually set to default to “active” when powered up. For guitarists that don’t use effects switchers this is a non-issue though, but for guitarists who buy premium pedals and control their pedalboard from a fancy central switching hub, I’d like to see this detail taken into consideration in the future.

 

 

Summary:

The Spaceman Orion is simply a beautiful sounding and incredibly well-crafted analog spring reverb with a rewarding palette of ambient textures unlike any you’ll find in a digital reverb pedal. Rather than try to emulate the sound of other vintage units, the Orion treats musicians to its own reverb voices and should be celebrated for its own accomplishments. That’s not to say guitarists who prefer classic spring reverb won’t love the mojo and real spring “drip” of the Orion; many will most certainly love it, but this pedal may likely be best appreciated by approaching it from a fresh perspective. If you’ve grown used to playing only the cold and precise digital reverb pedals that have ruled the market for years, the Orion will open your perception to new articulate and responsive reverb textures.

That concludes our Spaceman Orion Analog Spring Reverb review. Thanks for reading.

   
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