My Strymon BigSky review came about in an interesting way as I just so happened to be in attendance during the unveiling of the BigSky Multidimensional Reverberator at the first ever Strymon Social event here in Southern California. It didn’t even cross my mind that Strymon would be unveiling a new product. Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised and decided this might be a great time for an intel-gathering reconnaissance mission. It’s rare to have an opportunity for an in-depth discussion with company founders and chief designers before a product review, yet here were all 3 Strymon founders/engineering gurus at the unveiling and hands-on presentation of the BigSky.
My Q&A sessions weren’t formal interviews per se, just me picking the brains of founders, Gregg, Pete, and Dave, about Strymon’s design philosophy, company history, and of course, the new BigSky. My most illuminating revelation was simply gaining a better understanding of the roles of these three men during product development and how their individual areas of expertise come together in crafting the outstanding effects Strymon has become well-known for. People often just look at the final product, but remarkable insights can be had by gaining an understanding of a company’s mission and development process.
Gregg is the Senior Analog Engineer, a.k.a the hardware guy, whose primary contributions are of the physical nature. He’s responsible for creating the BigSky’s functional and gorgeously streamlined form-factor and ensuring that uncompromising audio fidelity is maintained from the moment your guitar signal enters the pedal to the moment it leaves. Pete, Strymon’s resident DSP Algorithm Genius, is the number-crunching guru who comes up with the complex mathematical equations responsible for the BigSky’s ultra-complex and realistic reverb algorithms. And Dave, the Firmware Architect, takes care of the coding and software aspects, merging Pete’s mathematical formulas and sound designs with Gregg’s master-crafted hardware, bridging the two worlds seamlessly with his software expertise. These 3 masterminds form the core trinity behind Strymon’s product development, although spending some time around the Strymon offices gives the impression that every member of the Strymon family plays an invaluable role in the company’s overall success.
Few companies seem to take working hard and having fun as seriously as these folks, and their extensive range of quality guitar pedals including the Strymon TimeLine and Mobius shows that it pays off. With so many big companies mass producing clones and spin-offs, it’s refreshing to see a small boutique company producing very high-quality products that are on par with, and often surpassing, the best effects pedals and rack gear available. Strymon’s products are created with a passion and drive for perfection that results in a reinvention of the wheel in every area they set out to conquer. They did it with delay and modulation with their Timeline and Mobius pedals, respectively, and they’re aiming to do it again with their flagship BigSky Multidimensional Reverberator.
Big Sky, No Limit
The BigSky ups the ante with 12 studio-grade reverb machines, powered by an insanely powerful SHARC DSP processor for some of the most complex, realistic, and otherworldly reverb sounds available in a pedal or any other format. It also comes in Strymon’s familiar larger stompbox enclosure that fans of the Timeline and Mobius will recognize. The BigSky’s features are extensive and very impressive. Here’s a full rundown of specs before we dive into our Strymon BigSky review.
- Hand crafted, studio-class reverb algorithms deliver lush, gorgeous, and musically inspiring reverb experiences
- Twelve reverb machines to choose from: Room, Hall, Plate, Spring, Swell, Bloom, Cloud, Chorale, Shimmer, Magneto, Nonlinear, Reflections
- Seven front-panel tone shaping knobs: Decay, Pre-Delay, Mix, Tone, Mod, Param 1, Param 2 (Param knobs assignable per preset)
- Additional menu parameters allow for easy customization of reverb sounds
- 300 easily accessible and namable presets
- Press-and-hold Infinite Sustain and Freeze functions, savable per preset
- Spillover and Reverb Persist modes, savable per preset
- Selectable Speaker Cabinet emulation for direct-to-PA gigs or recording applications
- Three rugged metal footswitches for preset selection and effect bypass
- LED display for preset info, reverb decay time, and extended parameter control
- Multi-color preset LEDs (green for active preset, amber for edited preset)
- Full MIDI implementation allows extended control for those with more complex rigs
- Sturdy and lightweight light blue anodized aluminum chassis, with laser-etched artwork
- Durable black anodized aluminum knobs
- Studio-grade audio input and output jacks
Ins & Outs:
- Stereo input and output
- Expression pedal input with selectable control over any knob or combination of knobs, saveable per preset (also configurable as external tap input)
- MIDI input and output
- Included 9V center-negative power supply (300mA minimum required)
- Analog dry path for a zero latency dry signal that is never converted to digital
- Premium analog front end and output section
- Ultra low noise, high performance 24-bit 96kHz A/D and D/A converters
- 115dB typical signal to noise at 50% wet mix (120db at 100% dry mix, 109dB at 100% wet mix)
- 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response
- +8dBu maximum input level easily handles instrument and line signals
- Super high performance DSP in a compact form factor
- 32-bit floating point processing
- 333MHz SIMD SHARC processor core, capable of 2.4 Gigaflops peak performance
- True Bypass (electromechanical relay switching)
- High quality, transparent Analog Buffered Bypass mode
- +/- 3dB Boost/Cut, savable per preset
- Optional Kill Dry mode mutes dry signal, for use in parallel effects loops
- Dimensions: 6.75″ (171mm) wide, 5.1″ (130mm) deep
- Designed and Built in the USA
Sound & Performance:
I was really excited to get my hands on the BigSky after the impressive unveiling at Strymon Social. I decided to take things slow and really delve deep into what this pedal has to offer. I spent nearly a month testing and using the BigSky before even beginning to write this review. I’ll break this into 3 sections because there’s a lot to go over. I’ll start with the interface, covering the general layout and usability of the BigSky. Then I’ll give my in-depth sound report, covering all 12 reverb machines. And finally, I’ll talk about a few of the extra standout features of the BigSky. In the accompanying Strymon BigSky Review video, I’ve given you a brief rundown of the different reverb machines and how easy the pedal is to use.
The BigSky sports a look and knob layout similar to Strymon’s other flagship pedals, the Mobius and Timeline, and users of those pedals will be at home here. For those of you unfamiliar with Strymon’s other offerings, let me assure you of one thing: the BigSky is remarkably easy to use with a convenient knob layout that will satisfy any guitarist who just wants plug and play convenience. One of the hallmarks of Strymon’s engineering expertise is their ability to offer deep and complex programmability in a simple to use interface. The BigSky is no exception.
On the left side of the pedal, below the digital display, is the Type knob. This selects the reverb machine you want to use. Pushing the knob toggles between bank title and Decay Time value on the digital display. It may be pushed and held to Save preset changes.
The top row of knobs includes Value, Decay, Pre-Delay, and Mix controls. The Decay and Pre-Delay provide your standard reverb adjustments for decay time and the initial delay before the reverb onset. The Mix function ranges from 100% dry to 100% wet with the 50/50 point occurring around 3 o’clock. This is useful as you have a wider range of control over the level of reverb below the volume of your dry signal which is typically the volume range reverb is most often used. The Value knob may be used to quickly scroll through available presets. A particularly useful function of the Value knob is letting you fine-tune the reverb decay when the Decay value is shown on the display from having turned the Decay knob or clicked the Type knob.
The bottom row of knobs includes Tone, Param1, Param2, and Mod controls. The Tone knob attenuates the high end of your reverb. This helps achieve a reverb tone that fits nicely in your mix. The Param1 and Param2 knobs provide auxiliary tone-shaping power by being assigned to additional parameter functions. Every factory preset already has these knobs assigned to useful functions for each preset. Need to quickly assign different parameters to these knobs? Just push the Value knob, turn it to select a parameter, and click in the Value knob while turning Param1 or Param2 to assign parameter control to whichever knob you want. Easy. The Mod knob adds modulation to your reverb, ranging from subtle to more prominent movement. It’s a nice addition that adds a bit more color to your reverbs.
The BigSky offers remarkably deep reverb sound designing prowess for those who want no less than the very best in stompbox and studio-grade reverb processing. It’s really worth spending some time with each reverb machine and delving into the different parameters to become familiar with what each has to offer. Most of the machines (all but Chorale) offer the Low End parameter for additional tonal adjustments, and there are multiple parameters unique to each reverb that are essential to getting the most of out each algorithm and sculpting your perfect reverb sounds.
The Strymon BigSky is one of the most fully-featured and sonically diverse pieces of reverb hardware available. If you just want basic, classic-sounding reverbs (with uncompromisingly high sound quality, of course), the BigSky over delivers as a quick scroll through the various Room, Hall, Plate, Spring, and Reflections presets will show. If you have more eclectic tastes and want something more than variations of traditional reverb ambience, there are plenty of choices in the BigSky to satisfy just about any reverb need. Without further ado, let’s introduce the reverb machines.
The BigSky’s first preset called “Studio Time” sets the stage for what this particular reverb machine has to offer. The Room algorithm offers your standard reverb fare for spacious room ambience although it’s far from standard. Do not be fooled by the humble namesake of the Room reverberator; copious amounts of Decay will make this ‘verb sound huge. Between its Studio and Club size options and easy to use controls, you’ll find the foundation for plenty of great sounding reverb spaces in this one machine alone. I prefer to set the size beforehand (Studio or Club) and assign the Low End and Diffusion to the Param 1 and Param 2 controls for on-the-fly adjustment.
Another reverb staple, the Hall machine picks up where the Room mode leaves off with even “bigger” ambience available thanks to its 2 size options: Concert and Arena. This mode offers deep sound shaping control via the Tone knob and the Low End and Mid parameters. The Hall is quite warm and creates a very spacious reverb that surrounds your guitar in an enveloping ambience while still leaving room for your playing to shine through with attenuation of the Mid value. This is a very inspiring reverb for expressive playing that allows you to add depth your sound with room for your guitar to “breathe” in the mix.
The Plate mode provides the expected fast-building plate-style reverbs. The Plate reverb machine’s Small plate will give you short, snappy reverbs while the Large plate provides yet another excellent alternative for creating massive waves of lush reverb. Low End and Tone adjustments provide plenty of EQ flexibility over the traditional, less versatile plate reverbs of old that had to be equallized with outboard gear.
The Spring algorithm delivers Strymon’s compulsively detailed emulation of a real standalone spring tank reverb. It offers 4 dwell settings – Clean, Combo, Tube, and Overdrive – and the ability to emulate a spring reverb using 1, 2, or 3 springs. It’ll cover the range of surf and spaghetti-western style sounds and is absolutely dripping with classic spring mojo. While some spring reverbs tend to mud up your tone a bit, Strymon’s Spring reverb sounds exceptionally clear in the Clean and Combo settings. If you want to dirty it up a bit, the Tube and Overdrive Dwell options will saturate your reverb for some trashy sounding reverb tones. Yes, that is a good thing. Some folks like it messy.
The Swell reverb is where things start to get a bit more interesting and out of the ordinary. This algorithm lets the reverb rise up behind your dry signal for evolving, ambient textures. The Swell reverb gives you the option to let the wet reverb signal swell or swell your wet and dry signal together for atmospheric effects reminiscent of using a volume pedal. Adjusting the Rise Time allows you to control how long it takes for the reverb to swell to its maximum volume. Short Time settings work well for soloing while long settings are useful for slow-building, ambient chord work.
Bloom is yet another standout reverb of the BigSky and offers enveloping, slow-building reverbs that “bloom” around your sound. The Bloom model rewards experimentation with the Decay, Length, and Feedback parameters to sculpt the perfect “blooming” reverberations. Push up the Mod knob for a dose of sweeping resonant harmonics that add some gorgeous sounding movement to the reverb.
This reverb machine sounds surreal and is another one of my favorites. Cloud creates cascading soundscapes for some of the most lush and fantastical reverb effects available. Three words: pure atmospheric bliss. Reduce the Diffusion for some grainy stuttering effects, and max it out to send your music into the stratosphere.
The Chorale reverb machine is a novel little effect that offers a surprising range of interesting reverb sounds. The concept of Chorale is to simulate having a vocal choir accompanying the music with a selection of various vowel-like voicings, resulting in a reverb sound with a vocal-like timbre. Adjustment of the Q value via the Resonance parameter will make the effect more pronounced. Without debating about the realism of the simulated vocal sounds, Chorale simply offers really cool notched phase sounds for unique textural coloring.
The majestic Shimmer reverb machine adds 2 tunable pitch-shifted tones to the reverberated signal, resulting in some divinely inspired reverb effects. You can tune each voice to the full range of available notes from -1 to +1 octaves with additional settings for +/- 10 cents, + octave & 5th, and +2 octaves. With the higher note intervals you can add some sparkling sheen to your reverb or tune the voices low for some quaking, deep sounds. It can even do synth-like pad sounds.
Magneto, another standout algorithm, provides multi-head echo reverberations, combining the worlds of delay and reverb like the classic echo units of old. Control over the number of heads and their spacing lets you dial in your repeats and their rhythm. Using 3 heads produces some really great swinging delays. The Diffusion parameter will let you make the delays more defined at lower settings or more blurred at higher settings. The Decay and Pre-Delay controls adjust Delay Time and Feedback respectively for traditional delay-style control. I also really like using the Magneto with Uneven spacing for great rhythmic delay effects.
The Nonlinear reverb is one of the most complex algorithms of the BigSky, offering plenty of reversed reverb effects and textural, rhythmic sound-shaping possibilities. While most of the BigSky’s reverb machines are pretty simple to dial in, the Nonlinear reverb benefits the most from digging in and searching for the ideal sound, a real tweaker’s delight. All of the available shapes (Swoosh, Reverse, Ramp, Gate, Gauss, and Bounce) offer very usable results that are worth exploring. This is one reverb machine that you may find yourself getting lost in, but the journey down the rabbit hole will be well worth the adventure.
Reflections is another one of the BigSky’s painstakingly modeled reverbs, giving you the ability to position your amp (or monitors) within a small space room while the 250(!) precisely calculated reflections react accordingly. Strymon refers to this machine as being “psycho-acoustically” accurate. I’ll just say it sounds really, really good. This one will be the go-to choice for many studio producers seeking to add more realistic ambient-space to their mixes. The Location X and Location Y parameters let you position your sound source within the left/right and front/back coordinates. It really captures the feel of positioning your amp across a room with audible reflections.
Here are some of the BigSky’s other noteworthy features with my review commentary.
Infinite Sustain/Freeze: Every preset features selectable Infinite Sustain or Freeze modes, easily accessed by holding down the foot-switch of the preset you’re currently using. Infinite Sustain allows you to build an ever-expanding wall of reverb with each note you hit. Freeze triggers a sustained sampling of your reverberated signal to form a foundation to continue playing over. Both functions have useful applications for the live performer. I especially enjoy the Freeze function for creating ambient sections to solo over. The Infinite Sustain is also really cool for dramatic build-ups. Let the reverb build to a massive wave of sound, then bypass the preset to cut it off abruptly.
Persist/Spillover: Of course, sometimes you may not want your reverb to cut off abruptly when bypassing the BigSky. The Persist parameter allows you add spillover reverb trails when bypassing, very useful for more subtle transitions in your songs. Persist is also available per preset. There is also a global Spillover mode which allows spillover when switching between presets. This provides some interesting possibilities for having one reverb sound morph into another.
Expression Pedal/Tap Tempo: The BigSky’s expression pedal control is an extra boon for live performance. It’s easy to program via the parameter menu. Under EP Set, you set the knobs under the Heel setting, then switch to Toe and set the knobs again. The BigSky can control all knobs at once. You also have the option to use a tap switch for tapping in Pre-Delay, useful if you prefer to tap in timed reflections on the fly or adjust the timing of your Magneto ‘verbs in real-time.
Cab Filter: The BigSky’s Cab Filter is another great innovation to have on a reverb pedal. Since reverbs are typically placed last in the effects chain, Strymon thought it would be useful to add a dedicated speaker cab emulator to make the BigSky especially useful for direct recording and live performance without an amp. During my testing period I took the BigSky to a gig and used the Cab Filter with 3 of my favorite amp-like dirt pedals, running the BigSky directly into the club’s sound system. The Cab Filter sounds impressive and is a very viable solution for live performance that lets you run your guitar signal directly into the mixer when an ampflier is unavailable. I also used the BigSky for a recent recording session and achieved similar useable tones by running the output with Cab Filter engaged directly into the board. You could also try running the effects send from your amp to the BigSky with the CabFilter for home recording flexibility and low-volume, late-night jamming through your studio monitors or headphones. Big kudos to Strymon for including this feature.
I could go on about how easy it is to name your presets and, oh yeah, the Dry Kill option is great for running the BigSky in parallel. Strymon have thought about just about everything, making the BigSky one of the finest reverb pedals available. Let’s see the final result.
The Strymon BigSky Multidimensional Reverberator is simply one of the best reverb processors available today, and having so much studio-grade power in a performance-friendly stompbox makes it even better. The complexity of the BigSky’s reverbs and simplicity of its operation unifies the worlds of left-brain logic and right-brain creativity, making the BigSky a joy to use all around. Spending plenty of time getting lost in the majestic ambience of the BigSky confirms that this one was well worth the extensive effort Strymon put in. If you’re a stage or studio musician of any kind and need reverb of the highest caliber, you must audition the BigSky. It’s definitely one of the leading contenders for best reverb guitar effects pedal on the market.
That concludes our Strymon BigSky review. Thanks for reading.