Empress Reverb Review – Best Reverb Pedal Ever?

When I first heard of this thing called “The Empress Reverb”, I was kinda like “Yeah… I need another reverb like I need a hole in the head.” Already a very satisfied Strymon BigSky user, I was the reverb pedal equivalency of a married man. Show me another one and I’d hold up my hand proudly flaunting my “BigSky ring” as I say “I’m taken.” However, repeated glances at the Empress Reverb were making me very curious, at the very least, pushing me to expand upon my reverb arsenal. Thankfully, there is no such thing as cheating in the pedal world… Right?

It seemed that everywhere I turned there was another demo video. The first thing that really impressed me was the GHOST mode. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. I began to do that thing we all do when we finally decide to pull the trigger on a big pedal purchase, start looking for the funds to make it happen. What can I sell? How much blood can I safely give before my ears no longer function? You know the deal. One way or another, I finally ended up with mine. Of course, it arrived while I was out of town on a mini vacation. We got home very late and the next hour was filled with unpacking the car and soon everyone headed for bed. Not long after, I must have nodded off on the couch as the next thing I recall was waking up in the middle of the night to head upstairs to bed. I went into the kitchen for a drink of water and glanced down to see that package from Empress Effects staring up at me, tempting me to pick it up. It’s 3:00 in the morning… I can’t possibly give it a try now, I’d wake everyone up! I started to walk up the stairs and realized this wasn’t going to happen. I picked up the box and went into my home studio. I really didn’t want to even try it at this hour, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to spend a lot of time with it and get the satisfaction I was seeking. I took it out of the box, and I remember thinking how small it seemed! I set it on top of my amp, ran some cables, and powered it on. It popped up on the very first algorithm, “blue hall.” I gave it a light strum on an E minor chord with my ’95 Strat and I was immediately blown away. It was as if everything I had heard before was in VHS and this was full on BluRay 4K premium quadraphonic HD. It didn’t sound anything like a small box of electronics attempting to emulate the sound of a large, empty theater. It actually sounded like I was IN that large, empty theater and was hearing my guitar reflecting off of the walls. Completely satisfied, and knowing that if I even strummed one more chord I’d be there for hours, I immediately turned it off and went to bed. I lay there, smiling. I knew that from this moment on, things were going to be very different. The Empress Reverb is something different.

Features:

Let’s have a look at the features of this pedal. I can’t cover everything, but I’m going to get pretty close:

24 Studio-Quality Algorithms (and counting). And that is one of the strong points of this reverb pedal. After purchasing it, you’re not left alone and wished the best of luck. New variations of existing algorithms are being added as they are requested and developed, making the Empress Reverb your new best friend. Whether it’s your birthday or not, it will continue to bring gifts of new reverb sounds. Let’s just look at a list of the 12 modes without even getting into the sub modes:

* Hall
* Plate
* Spring
* Room
* Sparkle
* Modulation
* Ambient Swell
* Delay + Reverb
* Reverse
* Ghose
* Lo-Fi
* Beer

Tap Functions. Several of the algorithms on the Empress Reverb have infinite hold or the ability to tap in a delay time. This is one of my favorite things to do. A must-have for any ambient reverb pedal.

Low Noise Signal Path. A signal to noise ration of >104dB and an all-analog signal path. What does >104dB mean? Simply put, the level of the signal is greater than 104 times the amount of noise floor. It means it’s a very quiet pedal.

Up To 35 Presets. Settings can be saved to 35 presets. This is plenty to get you going. I have only saved about half that many so far. You can recall and save them all right on the pedal without the need for a separate MIDI controller.

Two Preset Modes. You can opt for “Scrolling Presets Mode” or “Bank Presets Mode.” In “Scrolling Preset Mode” (the mode I like to use) you have a continuous series of presets. Even though the other mode is called “Bank Presets” this one has “banks” as well. There are 5 presets per bank (one for each of the 5 LED’s) and as you scroll though them, the LED’s will change color for each bank of 5 presets. In other words 1-5 are blue, 6-10 are green etc. There are seven banks of 5 presets. Then there is “Bank Presets Mode.” In this mode, you have one preset per switch. This allows you to quickly get to each preset with just the press of one switch. In this mode, there would be three presets per bank. Use this mode if you need presets to change with just a single tap and you’re not using a MIDI controller. When you reach the end of all of the presets, all 5 LED’s will flash white. This is “Live Mode” and this “preset” reflects the current knob positions.

True Bypass Or Buffered Bypass. Let’s not start this debate here. You can chose your own adventure with the Empress Reverb. Buffered bypass if you wanna hear trails. Yay for trails!

Cabinet Simulator. Three cabs to choose from. Perfect for recording applications or gigging without an amp. I’ve used this in the studio. I dig it for tone-shaping.

Output Transformer. If you’re using two amps in stereo. (Wait, you’re not?? You should totally do this. Oh, you are? Ok, good.) Output two is isolated with a transformer for hum-free operation in stereo. This avoids those pesky ground loops those of us daring enough to run in stereo have encountered a time or two.

High Quality Audio. 48kHz sampling, with 24 bit conversion, and 32 bit internal processing. Yeah, I don’t know what those numbers mean either, but that sounds like a lot. All those numbers together add up to 104. And, as you know, 104 is the minimum signal to noise ratio of this pedal. Do you think this is a coincidence? No way, man. No way. It’s science and art.

Analog Dry Path. Your instrument’s dry signal is left untouched the entire time. Blended with the wet signal using Voltage Controlled Amplifier (VCA). This makes for noise-free operation.

Unsurpassed Connectivity. With the Control Port, you can choose your own adventure again! Expression pedal, external tap, control voltage, external audio, or MIDI input. All this with just a single TRS jack! I use MIDI for mine. Then you have access to tap and expression over MIDI from your controller.

Advanced Configuration. Several things can be configured in the Advanced Configuration menu. Too many to mention here. But this is how you configure your Empress Reverb to be customized for your purposes. For example, if you’re going to use MIDI, you’ll need to set your Control Port for “MIDI” and you will need to assign your pedal to whichever MIDI channel you need for your rig.

Small Size. Lastly, and we’ve already discussed this, but the Empress Reverb is quite small. Basically, just smaller than a 4×6 photo. Those of you under 40, that is about the size of your iPhone 7. Just slightly taller.

KNOBS.

Let’s have a look at the control surface of the pedal:

Mode Selector: Selects the mode and submodes within the pedal. This has a nice feel to it as you scroll… has like a slight “click” feel. The LED’s change color as you scroll through and It just has a nice, kind of rich feel to it. Very nice. The LED’s look so cool (and purdy) as you scroll through, I’ve always thought it would look cool if the pedal just did that as like a “sleep mode” or something.

Decay: Controls the length of the reverb decay, or “trails” as some call it. I tend to use kind of long decays with lower mix settings or short decays with higher mix settings.

Mix: This controls the ratio between wet and dry. Full CCW is 100% dry and full CW is 100% wet. 50/50 is around 2:00 on this.

Output: Strangely, this is one of my favorite knobs! Haha! This pedal is at the end of my chain and is always on, right? So I am constantly using this knob to be like the master volume of my entire board. It’s very handy for that. Unity is at 12:00

Low: These are very useful controls that shape the tone of the reverb through EQ and damping. I tend to like my reverb light and airy. You’ll get there easily with these controls.

Hi: Same as “Low” but it’s “Hi.”

Thing 1: These are great. Inspired by Dr. Seuss, these control two “things” per submode. They control things like modulations, early reflections, pre-delay, sparkle, octave level, delay time, and feedback. These are most fun to assign to an expression pedal!

Thing 2: Same as “Thing 1”, but it’s “2.”

And the switches are:

Select: Used to select a preset that you have scrolled to using the scroll switch. It has secondary functions of tap tempo for the delays and for infinite hold on the reverb trails.

Save: A handy little switch that allows you to save your desired sounds into designated preset locations. This is also used when going into Advanced Configuration mode.

Scroll: The Scroll switch moves you forward through your presets. To move back, press Scroll and Select together.

Bypass: Bypass and engage the pedal. You can also set up your Empress Reverb to be true bypass or buffered bypass in the Advanced Configuration.

INS and OUTS…

What does the Reverb offer for connectivity? Let’s take a look:

Stereo Inputs and Outputs: The Empress reverb offers Stereo ins and outs. This is, thankfully, the standard practice now. Very helpful for stereo rigs and rigs going to two amps. Of course, you can still set it up in mono. Just use the left in and out.

Power Input: The Empress Reverb requires standard 9v, center negative power with a minimum of 300mA.

SD Card Slot: Yes. You read that right. The pedal has an SD card slot. This is actually one of my favorite things about the Empress Reverb. Want to update that firmware? Load it to an SD card with your computer. Then just pop it in, let it do its thing, and you’re done. Very handy as you could even do this on the road without having to bring your laptop to where your board is. Just show up at your gig, plug it in…. after it loads, the SD card makes an excellent guitar pick. (Editor’s Note: Best Guitar Effects is not responsible for damaged SD cards used as guitar picks.)

Control Port: Ok, here’s where things get really fun. Seriously. This port, which is a standard 1/4” TRS jack, can be configured one of several ways. 1. Control port. This is how the pedal ships from Empress. The port is ready to receive incoming signal from you favorite expression pedal. 2. Control Voltage. When configured this way, the Empress can receive signals fro 0-5 volts. Much the same way an expression pedal works. 3. External Tap Tempo: The Reverb can receive signal from an external tap tempo device. Configurations for both normally open, or normally closed. 4. MIDI. This one is my favorite. It can actually receive a MIDI signal through the TRS jack. Kind of magic, really. This is what I use for the obvious reasons in that you can control the pedal as well as change presets via MIDI, but you can also send expression and tap over MIDI. Furthermore, the Empress Reverb’s control port can also be set up for “MIDI with Preset Out.” This means that it can change MIDI presets on the four channels above the channel the Reverb is assigned to.

Visit Empress Effects for further information on the features and specs of the Empress Reverb.

Sound & Performance:

Pristine Classic Sounds

In my opinion, The Empress Reverb has two main strong points. Its ability to get freaky, and the insanely beautiful sounds of its classic tones. The meat and potatoes of reverb such as ROOM, HALL, and PLATE are represented well in the Empress Reverb. If it only had the first point, the ability to get freaky, it would only just be that, a cool new weird reverb. You take that, plus the best-sounding classic tones available and you get a reverb pedal that is destined to be crowned victorious in the battle for the best reverb pedal on the planet. The sounds of all previous digital reverb units sounded… well, digital. The BigSky, for example, always had kind of a “light and airy” sound to it (it is called “BigSky” afterall). And don’t get me wrong, that’s beautiful, too. But there is just something about the classics on the Empress that set it apart from anything out there. I don’t know what the magic is… but my ears know this: It just sounds REAL. The ROOM sounds like you are in a ROOM. I can even hear the sound reflecting off of an old tapestry, a velvet Elvis, and a pile of clean comforters straight from the dryer. Well, maybe I’m embellishing, but how else do you explain these tones??? The PLATE mode is simply stunning. I feel like before the Empress Reverb, I always overlooked plate reverb sounds. Now, with the Empress Reverb, this is probably the mode I use the most. It seems to be a perfect blend between ROOM and HALL. I have a nice PLATE set up as my first preset, which auto-loads when the pedal is powered on.

Ambient And Unique, Crazy Sounds

As a player that loves to explore, the Empress Reverb really satisfies my need for sounds that can always get me outta my comfort zone. I remember when I first got this thing, my buddy came by and I was showing it to him. I was running through all these different sounds… a few standards, for reference, but then lots of wacky things… filters, flangers, tremolos, delays… after 15 minutes or so, he was like “Wait. WHAT? All that was JUST that REVERB PEDAL??” I just looked up and smiled. I mean think about it. You could nearly run a set up with just this pedal. In fact, I should try that. Do an entire show with a DMC-3xl and an Empress Reverb! While we’re on the subject, let me just run through a list of all the sounds you can get outta this thing. Not a complete list, I’m sure I’ll leave something out… but just off the top of my head you have the following:

* Reverb (duh)
* Delay
* Chorus
* Tremolo
* Flanger
* Filter
* Modulation
* Octave Up
* Octave Down
* Swell
* Reverse
* Glitch
* Ring Modulator
* Swell
* Destroyer
* Overdrive
* Gate

Easy To Use And Quick To Dial In

Another thing I love about this pedal. No menus. If there WERE menus, with more things to tweak, could it possibly be that this pedal would be that much better? Maybe. But I don’t wanna know. I like it just the way it is. It has a feeling of simplicity. A feeling of an analog pedal with everything just sitting there for you to tweak immediately. Sometimes, diving into those menus just makes you lose your groove, that moment of inspiration lost. Sometimes, being limited to what you can tweak, forces you to be more creative. I know it works for me.

Yes, There’s More…

In an effort to be sure I covered everything (well, close as I can get) I just went and sat with it again. No presets. Just sitting and scrolling through the submodes like I did the very first time. Hall is just simply beautiful. No other way to say it. When just playing… this is the mode I am probably using the most. Room is incredibly realistic. Sparkle is wonderful and usable in many applications. The Green submode of Sparkle is call “Glummer” with Thing 1 and octave down amount and Thing 2 is octave up amount. Modulation sounds like magic. And with four different modulation types, you’ll find a use for it. Delay + Reverb mode covers about anything I ever need. Reverse, with its Red submode is musical and inspiring. The greatest “reverse anything” I’ve ever used. Ghost is a serious head-turner. Like I said before, it’s the reason I picked this pedal up in the first place. The subtle and spooky modulation that churns away in those trails is just perfect. The kind of thing that makes you wanna just play and play. The kind of thing that makes you wanna write a song, or two, or ten. Lo-Fi is crazy cool with its gritty and dirty thinned out tones that you can blend full wet. Lastly, the “Beer” mode. Now, come one, isn’t just the fact that this pedal has a mode labeled “Beer” reason enough to love it? At the very least, from the start it told me that this pedal was going to be very different from anything I had ever used before. The Beer mode is great for exploring. Like when you’re feeling like you are stuck in a rut and need something new. Usually, when you feel this way, you grab a crazy pedal and slap it on your board to get you through. With the Empress Reverb, you just turn a dial.

If I had to pick one mode that didn’t blow me away, one chink in the Empress Reverb’s glittering silver armor, it’s the Spring mode. But I’m kind of a cork-sniffing spring reverb lover, so my expectations are pretty high in this department. I do love the SPRING mode on the Empress. It has a very unique and usable sound in all three currently available sub-modes, but contrary to the other classic modes, it just lacks the realism of an actual spring reverb tank and it is not what I go to when I am playing my surf guitar stuff. I prefer the Red, Overdriven Spring submode out of all of them. But they all seem to lack that funny “drip” or “kiss” sound on the attack of a spring reverb. Like I said, I’m a self-professed spring reverb snob as I spent some time in a surf guitar band, and a great spring reverb was where it was at. But I have to say that it’s possible to get a great, realistic-sounding spring on a digital platform. The Strymon BigSky still has one of the best sounding spring reverb sounds to be found in a multi-algorithm pedal, and its Spring machine nails that drippy spring thing perfectly. I’ve heard many that are worse than the Empress, so it’s not like it’s THAT bad. Of all the digital spring reverbs I have heard in multi-algorithm reverb pedals, maybe the Empress is second best. There’s nothing wrong with that! It is certainly a useful sound. I have heard others say it’s their favorite spring sound. So, there you go, that subjective thing again. The Empress will give you plenty of sounds to choose from. Trust me, you’ll never get bored with it.

Reverb’s Audio Fidelity

As stated above, my first impression of the Empress Reverb was that of significant high-definition ear candy. There are many great reverbs out there and I have tried almost all of them. This was the first time I used a reverb pedal and (on the more standard settings) it just sounded like REAL REVERB. Like the sound of the room you’re in. I am sure that the 48kHz sampling, and 24 bit conversion, and 32 bit internal processing has a lot to do with it. But I’m not only a scientist, I’m an artist. I believe in magic. I believe there is some kind of magic going on inside this pedal. There is a secret to this thing…

Pristine VCA Mixing

The Empress Reverb uses Voltage Controlled Amplifiers to combine the wet and dry signal. Let’s talk more about Voltage Controlled Amplifiers, or VCA’s. Like the name suggests, a Voltage Controlled Amplifier is an amplifier whose amplification, or gain, is controlled by a voltage. By varying a voltage input, we can change the amplitude of a signal, making it quieter or louder by supplying a smaller or larger voltage as a control signal. Technically, they are current-controlled, but once you put current through an element, such as a resistor, you convert a current to a voltage. The innovators of VCA decided they wanted to call it “voltage-controlled.” It was good enough for them, so it’s good enough for us. Using other kinds of tech, like digital potentiometers, leads to some nasty compromises. With digital pots, you get zipper noise (an audible artifact caused by the quantization of digital control signals for various parameters) so you have to hide it somehow which requires a whole lot of scheming. With VCA’s the noise is a bit higher than the noise of their codecs. What they did to compensate for this was to parallel three of them together and this brought the noise way down. The VCA’s of choice in the Empress Reverb are Cool Audio V2164’s. An analog VCA based upon the now discontinued SSM 2164’s made by Solid State Micro, then Analog Devices.

The Emperors of Empress Speak

In a recent conversation with Steve Bragg and Jason Fee, we talked about some of the “magic” that is present within this pedal. I mean, come on, you can’t just add a reverb pedal to an over-saturated market and have it be the favorite of so many right from the start. You can’t flood the secondhand market with used BigSky Reverb pedals without some magic. I asked Jason what the process was for coming up with the sounds that you find inside the Empress Reverb. Although he denied any kind of magic, he did give me some insight to the process of developing the characteristics of the algorithms. “It all started with reading a LOT of AES White Papers, and then a TON of hours of experimentation.” He went on to tell me about the hours spent recording samples of all the classic hi-end studio reverbs… Lexicons, Bricasti Boxes, and even a real EMT 140 Plate Reverb. If you’ve never seen one of those, it’s like a bed turned on it’s side. They also included some oddball stuff like the old Yamaha SPX 90 that so many guitar players loved back in the 80’s and 90’s. To take it even further, they also tested with real spring reverb tanks. They bought some original Hammond tanks and mounted their own electronics to drive them so they could figure out how much of the sound was the electronics, and how much was the actual spring. Damn. I wish I could have been in that room. Where are those tanks now, I wonder. I’d buy one.

Another thing Jason talked about was creating a plug-in version of the algorithms. (can I get that, too???) This allowed them to tweak a pile of parameters in real time, allowing tons of experimentation that would have been otherwise impossible with only seven knobs. Here’s a pic of the slider array below. Imagine all that on a reverb pedal… Nah… but I’m glad it went INTO it instead!

It’s no surprise to me that all of these classic reverbs were studied, scrutinized, dissected, poked, and prodded down in the Empress Laboratory. When you play through this pedal, you quickly realize it’s unlike anything you’ve ever heard. Time and dedication have created a true masterpiece.

Deep Control + Ease Of Use

When you look at the Empress Reverb, you see it all right there before you. Everything is presented and ready to go. Changing the sounds does not require you to dive into deep menus looking for things to tweak. Using the Empress Reverb is extremely intuitive and it is very easy to quickly dial in wonderful reverb sounds. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for something simple and natural or looking to push the limits of space, you’ll get there with ease.

A great thing you can do with the Reverb is put all the knobs at “noon”, and it just sounds great. I do this when I want to scroll through modes as I go searching for a particular tone. I like the build quality. It has a clean, high-end look to it that invites you to tweak without feeling intimidated. I love top-mount jacks. I really love top-mount jacks. Previous to this, some of the Empress pedals were designed with side-mount jacks. Not a deal-breaker with me if you’re talking about 1590b-size enclosures, but if you are already using a rather wide footprint enclosure, putting jacks on the sides can make it hog up some valuable pedalboard real estate. As noted above, I turn mine sideways, anyway. But this works out really well with it being at the end of my signal chain. I just turn it sideways and the cables come right off the upper left side of my board. Almost as if it were designed that way. If you opt to orient it normally, it’s really the same thing and works out really quite nicely.

The Reverb’s presets and scrolling seemed a *little* counter-intuitive to me at first. Within a week or so, I was using it like a pro. It just took some getting used to. Same with the colored LED’s equating to preset identification. If you’re used to having an LCD display, this will also take a little while to get used to. This part depends on how many presets you are saving, and what your level of OCD is. I save a lot of presets, and my OCD, although nicely tamed, is pretty high. Not only do I keep a book and make notes about each preset, I also put a strip of tape on the pedal and write down my names of presets so, as I scroll, the LED lights up next to the name on the tape. This made it super easy to identify and recall your presets, but if you’re not all crazy like me, don’t worry about that.

Expression Control

Another great performance feature I have to mention is expression control. Controlling the “thing 1” and “thing 2” parameters on some of these modes is simply insane. The first one that comes to mind is the Destroyer Pad, which is the third “beer” mode. It mixes your dry signal with a detuned wet signal. Thing 1 is “Robot Screams” and Thing 2 is “Pitch Shift.” I made a video of this and it is posted on YouTube. In the video I am showing how the expression controls the rate of the pitch shift which includes some kind of modulation that is very fast in the heel and toe position. In the center of these two extremes, the modulation is very slow. Almost imperceptible. I like to park it around that halfway point and just play there. It’s so strange with it does with your signal and there’s nothing quite like it. Thing 1 controls the “Robot Screams.” I’d call it a “ring modulator.” It can get pretty overwhelming, so I run it kind of light. Then, there’s the obvious cool things to do with expression, like controlling the delay time on the Delay+Reverb mode, reverse delay length on the Reverse mode, Resonance on the Ghose Mode, just to name a few.

Empress Reverb vs Strymon BigSky

I’ve touched on this topic throughout my Reverb review, but the very obvious question on everyone’s mind and the question I have been asked the most in countless emails and online discussions is, “How does it compare to the BigSky?” “Is it BETTER??” I have to admit… I totally understand *why* people ask this kind of a question, and to write a review without addressing this would be falling short of hitting all the points that need to be made. We are all familiar with this question for all sorts of gear. Is a Tonal Recall better than a Memory Man? Is a Klon better than a Tube Screamer? I admit, I don’t like this question. To me things aren’t better or worse, necessarily. It’s all so subjective! What is better for one isn’t better for another. On a level of comparing a reverb pedal with 12 modes vs a pedal with one mode, ok… the one with 12 is “better” because it has more stuff. But when things are mostly on par it becomes a much less obvious statement and you start getting into personal beliefs. The only thing that would let me down in this situation is if something is just another exact copy of something already out there. So, in this case, if the Reverb had been just another exact same thing that just sounds exactly the same as a BigSky, then that would keep me from being interested at all. Is the Empress Reverb “better” than the BigSky? I don’t know, maybe to some people… but you know what it definitely is? It’s DIFFERENT. And when you have something that is DIFFERENT, you end up PLAYING DIFFERENTLY. Immediately, I found myself being more creative with the Empress than I was with other reverb pedals. The sounds, the tones, and the way that the Empress Reverb can manipulate the guitar signal. The way this impacts your ears and cycles back to your fingers… It’ll make you play things you never thought to try before. Is one of anything “better” than the other? That’s kind of missing the point. Use the one that makes YOU play better. I’m more creative when I am using the Empress as opposed to anything else out there.

There is something to be said for a pedal that writes riffs for you. That experience we have all had when a pedal is so good it just makes you play cool shit and within hours you have a few new songs to explore with your band on Thursday’s rehearsal. The Empress Reverb is THAT pedal.

I keep my BigSky in the studio. It still gets plenty of use. The Reverb went to my pedalboard. It’s quite a bit smaller (5.7”x3.75”) than the BigSky (6.7”x5.1”). Essentially, think of one as a 4×6 photo and other as a 5×7. Anyone over 40 has held a 4×6 photo in their hands and has a pretty good idea of the size. That’s pretty small. The nice thing is that if you turn it sideways, it’s just barely larger than a standard 1590b enclosure. This seems hard to believe, but it’s true. In fact, you can almost fit two of them (or a Reverb and the Empress Effects EchoSystem) positioned sideways in the space that was formerly occupied by one Strymon big box. The enclosure is rather tall. With the knobs and switches included, it comes in at 2.25 inches. Doesn’t sound like much on paper, but it feels tall. It’s maybe a compromise to get the footprint down, but I’ll gladly take it! Other comparisons to the BigSky? The ins and outs are, basically the same. Stereo input and stereo output, pretty standard for an “end of chain” pedal like a reverb. The Empress has a configurable TRS control port. This is where you can send a variety of signals into the pedal including expression, CV, external tap tempo, and my favorite, MIDI. MIDI through a tiny TRS cable? I thought that required a large 5-pin DIN cable! Nope. More of the brilliance that is Empress. You just need an Empress Effects Midibox (sold separately) to use MIDI. And it doesn’t stop there. To faciliate uploading those cool new updates and reverb modes with ease, the Empress Reverb has an SD card slot. Just drag and drop the latest firmware onto an SD card and load it into your pedal. It’s the simplest way of updating a pedal since putting a fresh battery in your TS808 back in ’81.

Just looking at the Empress Reverb, and not comparing it to anything, what is there to love? The number one thing is the sound. Isn’t that most important, anyway? And the Empress Reverb just has the best reverb sounds I have ever heard. Second thing I love is how it just does so many things, many of them unique to the Empress Reverb. When you have sounds that aren’t found anywhere else, you just really need to pay attention to that. Those are the two major things that put this pedal on my board. What else? I love the size. It’s just so small for all that it does. I like the knobs and how all control is presented in a format similar to analog gear. No menus to dive into.

Want The Empress Reverb To Be Even Better? YOU can make it better!

Covering every single base and every single need and want is a tall order. And when you run into those situations where you don’t find what you need, that brings me to the one thing that I haven’t even mentioned yet, and it may even be the best thing that the Empress Reverb has going for it. It’s backed by a company that cares and that listens to its customers. A company that wants nothing more than for the people that use their products to be completely satisfied. There are some companies out there, you buy their pedal, and you’re on your own. What are you gonna do, call the head of **** and ask them to change it? With Empress, you get the full-on hookup. Not only the usual “contact us” on the website, where you can email them and they will actually hear you and reply to you, but there is an entire Empress Effects Support Community. Empress pedal owners can create a user profile and you have full access to all of the information and forums from all of the participating users. The staff of Empress Effects makes regular appearances in these forums helping with questions and concerns you may have. Want a feature added or an entire submode created? There is a voting section where you can make suggestions and the community votes. If enough votes are cast for a certain addition, it’s done! Simple as that.

Overall-Rating-5.0

The Empress Reverb is a MIDI-capable, 24 algorithm, studio-quality reverb pedal boasting a ton of features and unprecedented characteristics that nearly put it into a class by itself. Combine that with the small size and easy-to-dial-in user interface, and it’s crystal clear why this pedal is the only reverb pedal on both of my main boards. Some reverb pedals are great because they are the best at nailing those classic tones like room, hall, and plate. Others are great because they can take you into outer space. The Empress Reverb is the best because it does both of these things. It’s like one of those things where if anything was possible… and you could pack anything you ever wanted into a reverb pedal… and you could choose how it’s laid out, everything you could imagine in a dream reverb pedal… THIS is that pedal. I’ve owned this pedal for some time now and it’s not just a stationary, hard-set thing. It’s been an ever-evolving, living, breathing piece of equipment. It’s now much more than it was on that quiet morning in my home studio. Even though, honestly, that was plenty.

That concludes our Empress Effects Reverb review. Thanks for reading.

Old Blood Noise Dark Star V2 Review – Best “Pad” Reverb Pedal?

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Though at times all of this effects hullabaloo can seem overwhelming and capricious, there are some givens in the world of music gear, and they usually boil down to very simple concepts: if you want Les Paul tone, buy a Les Paul (or your preferred guitar of choice). For anything beyond that, experimentation is key, and you may not come anywhere near your dream tone until a non-descript aluminum box is perforating your eardrums in a basement somewhere. Ask the guitarist in possession of the offending rectangle where they found it, and they might ramble for hours about this new company they discovered that are making pedals unlike anything they’ve ever heard. It’s happened to me countless times – a night out at a show with some artist friends and suddenly I’m obsessed with a new up-and-coming builder. That exact phenomenon drives the whole guitar pedal industry, and many an incredible company got their start making products specifically for that category of sweaty dude playing power violence in a punk house basement. It doesn’t need to be glamorous to be beautiful.

Enter Old Blood Noise Endeavors. OBNE creates their products in line with a sort of basement music bushido, focusing on niche offerings that embody the creative expression found in only the rawest of performing arts. From Reverb to Chorus to Fuzz to Delay, OBNE has not just added their own flavor to classic effects; as pedal-building veterans they’ve plumbed the depths of what’s possible and curated effects that appeal to very specific kinds of players. Each piece is a little different from anything we’ve heard before.

In this way, the Dark Star Reverb can relate to its Old Blood brothers. As an exercise in atmosphere, the Dark Star aims to accomplish a wash that many ambient guitarists have expended great energy and up to three spots on their pedalboards to pull off. In this review, we’ll see if it can stand up to that tall order.

Features:

  • 3 Voices: Pitch (Two variable pitches affect a reverb), Delay (A long reverb tail into a delay), Bitcrusher (A pitchshifter and a bit-rate reducer on a reverb tail)
  • 4 knobs, CTRL 1, CTRL 2, Reverb and Mix
    CTRL 1: Pitch Mode – Controls pitch 1, Delay Mode – Controls Delay Time, Crush Mode – Controls pitch
    CTRL 2: Pitch Mode – Controls pitch 2, Delay Mode – Controls Delay Feedback, Crush Mode – Controls a sample-rate reducer
    Reverb: Affects the length of the reverb tail. When fully cranked, will freeze whichever note was played last
    Mix: Controls the Wet/Dry blend of the effect
  • Expression Pedal Input
  • Internal trimpot for effect attenuation
  • Internal function switch affecting the hold switch/expression
  • Soft-touch True Bypass Switch
  • Latching Hold Switch
  • 9V DC Center negative power

The Dark Star harbors the balefully fey, baby blue work of Jon Carling on a textured black hammond enclosure. Four knobs direct the effect, a center switch selects the voicing, and two footswitches (one a soft-touch, one a clicking switch,) bypass and hold the effect, respectively. Inside of the enclosure are two controls, one of which is a teensy trim pot that will determine the volume of the effect in relation to your playing; you’ll need a super tiny screwdriver for this one. The other internal control is a switch that determines whether the Reverb release or CTRL 1 is affected by the expression out, and also whether the hold switch maxes CTRL 1 or freezes the last note played momentarily. The way these features interact leaves something to be desired, however: I would have liked to have been able to set the hold foot-switch to freeze the note while the expression modulated CTRL 1, or vice-versa, rather than having them both serve the same purpose. Still, since the effort was made to include expression pedal control for the Dark Star V2 update, we’ll cut ’em some slack as the expression control takes this pedal into a whole new universe of awesome.

Visit Old Blood Noise for more info about the Dark Star V2.

Sound & Performance:

Before all else, the Dark Star is a relatively simple reverb. But unlike most reverbs, which seek to emulate the space around an instrument, the Dark Star strives to be the hum of the electricity inside the walls housing the instrument, both feeding the music and embodying it.

Pitch Mode

I always try to start my reviews at the top, and at the top of the Dark Star’s voice switch we are cheerily greeted by a polyphonic pitch shifting reverb. The pitch shifting aspect of the effect is in the same vein as most polyphonic pitch shifters, boasting that organ-like bombast we all know and love, but the reverb aspect makes this effect so much more. If you’re aiming for full-wet octave swells to build an ambient loop, here you go. If you want a frozen chord writhing beneath your playing, you got it. CTRL 1 and 2 control separate pitches, which are admittedly difficult to use to dial in perfect intervals, and the tracking on the pitch controls is relatively slow, so you won’t be doing any quick octave-up solos, but that’s not what we’re here for. Just slightly offsetting the pitches and then holding makes for some pretty eerie warbles as the 2-part harmonic dissonance fights itself. Play some minor stuff over this and watch your audience grow uncomfortable.

Playing with chords, the Pitch voice actually performed better than I expected when set to produce octaves. In my experience, pitch shifters tend to grow confused and glitchy when presented with any information more complex than simple triads, but the Dark Star handily augmented even full barre chords. I wouldn’t recommend using it this way without seriously cutting the mix back to compensate for how many notes you’ll be cramming into your amp, but otherwise, in terms of its utility as a pad, the Pitch voicing passes with flying colors.

Delay Mode

This guy sits comfortably in the center of the voicing switch, and is appropriately the kind of effect that’ll make guitarists in the center of the weird/traditional venn diagram very happy. A reverb into a delay creates a smooth drone, the likes of which I’ve been obsessed with since the day I realized I could plug my guitar into something that wasn’t an amp. You can never expect attack clarity from the delay, but the wash beneath the notes blooms organically in response to your picking. Changing CTRL 1 (Delay Time) while playing yielded both interesting pitch bends and digital bubble sounds, the latter of which I’m not usually a huge fan of. In this instance, however, the changing delay address make for curious glitched-out pinging sounds that, with the tastefully slow rise and fall of your expression, can turn out to be blissfully musical compared to the palatal click of some digital delays attempting the same thing. Pair it with another delay for smeared polyrhythmic fun or run another reverb through it for endlessly clear sonic skies, either way this voicing alone makes the Dark Star a perfect companion to any ambient board.

Crush Mode

My all-time favorite and easily the most expressive voicing on the Dark Star, the Crush patch mixes up gritty, smushed, 8-bit brownie batter with both a bit-rate reducer and a pitch shifter. The combination of these two affect the overall harmonic content of your playing, something I experimented with to create beautifully harsh-sounding overtones. With the mix down low this voicing was surprisingly great coupled with distortion, as it added a distinct flavor of grit to my already clippy riffs.

When you change voices, be careful not to leave the Reverb parameter at its highest possible configuration. The Dark Star won’t pick up a frozen note in between voices, leaving you with silence upon flipping the switch. The first time this happened to me I panicked, thinking the Dark Star was broken, but after dialing back the Reverb I couldn’t help laughing in spite of myself when the wash returned.

If I’m being true to my dreams, I’d love to see the Dark Star expanded to include a parallel configuration: imagine running and blending any combination of the three Dark Star voices simultaneously, or even just the Delay with either the Pitch or Crush. Even if that never happens, I’m not above buying two or three Dark Stars to emulate it.

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Overall-Rating-4.0

The Old Blood Noise Endeavors Dark Star serves as both a simple means to achieve organic pad reverbs beneath your playing and a powerful sound design tool for enveloping your entire sound in cosmic energy. The Pitch, Delay, & Crush modes offer plenty of ambient reverb possibilities. Despite the minor functionality quirks involving the expression and hold that I mentioned before (just wish the Hold and Exp could be programmed for different functions), I don’t think there was one sound I heard playing with this pedal that was unmusical. The life the Dark Star pours into any riff is songwriting fuel, and if you get the chance to have it in your hands, don’t let go.

That concludes our review of the Old Blood Noise Endeavors Dark Star V2. Thanks for reading!

Eventide Space Review – Best Multi-Algorithm Reverb Pedal?

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This review is something of a throwback. The Eventide Space has been around for a few years now, and these days plenty of builders are throwing their hats into the multi-algorithm reverb pedal arena. But we’re taking a look back and a look ahead for a few pivotal reasons. Some enthusiastic modern guitar players often get carried away with chasing the latest and greatest pedals, but that doesn’t always mean that what’s new is essentially better than what came before. Processing power is already at a level that can produce amazingly high-quality effects in the hands of the best DSP engineers. We’re at the point now that while the newest pedals may offer technically improved specs, the quality of sounds possible may not even be conceivably better by a significant degree if builders don’t have the expertise to make the most of the power that’s available.

Eventide has a reputation spanning several decades in which they have maintained their position on the cutting edge of digital effects algorithms. Their Harmonizer rack units are legendary. And their “Factor” series of pedals sealed their place as a leader in the field of digital guitar pedals. The Space was the final frontier of their large format stompbox series before the arrival of the H9 Harmonizer stompbox which can run all of the effects algorithms from Eventide’s entire stompbox lineup including Space. But the fact that Eventide still produces their entire pedal lineup should indicate that are perhaps still some advantages to owning one of their dedicated stompboxes, and Space is arguably the flagship offering from their original pedal lineup warranting this dedicated review as we assess its merits in the modern guitar pedal market.

Features:

  • 12 Reverb Types: Room, Plate, Spring, Hall, BlackHole, Shimmer, Reverse, ModEchoVerb, DualVerb, MangledVerb, DynaVerb, & TremoloVerb
  • 100 Presets, including Artist presets
  • Studio Quality Sound
  • Instant Program Change
  • Real-time control with 10 knobs, MIDI or expression pedal
  • Tap Tempo and MIDI Clock Sync/Generate
  • True Analog Bypass
  • Rugged cast metal construction
  • Metal foot-switches for instant Preset access
  • Mono or Stereo operation
  • Guitar or Line Level Inputs and Outputs
  • Programmable HotSwitch

Visit Eventide for more info about Space.

Sound & Performance:

There is a clear distinguishing factor (no pun intended) setting Eventide stompboxes apart from many others. It’s simply their ultra high-quality algorithms which are more akin to what you’d find in a high-end digital studio environment than a guitar pedal. Considering Eventide’s experience making cutting edge digital effects algorithms for their acclaimed rack processors, it’s no surprise that the reverb algorithms in Space contain a level of detail that still surpasses what you’ll find in many other reverb pedals in 2017.

Let’s talk about a few of Space’s standout reverb effects in no particular order.

Hall

I’ve always loved a good hall reverb. For big cavernous ambience or that concert hall sound, a hall ‘verb is what you need. But the general issue I have with nearly all hall reverbs is that the sound can often be too cluttered or messy to warrant much applicable use. A hall reverb can dominate your mix if you let it get out of control. Space’s EQ section gives you discreet control of the Low, Mid, & High levels for creating a well composed hall sound. In addition to having a master Decay control, you can even increase the decay of the high and low bands individually. Combining longer Decay and more High and/or Low level settings with a restrained Contour (Mid Level) lets you create potentially massive hall reverbs that won’t drown out your guitar.

Plate

Plate reverbs typically have a more controlled response than halls, adding a characteristically bigger presence to your guitar sound. Space’s Plate algorithm nails the essentials, providing a smooth metallic sheen behind your playing. The Contour knob acts as a Tone control in conjunction with the other EQ knobs’ High & Low Damping functions to dial in a range of brighter or warmer reverb tones. Essential to this algorithm is the Delay knob, letting you add a pre-delay to the ambience to place the reverb up to 1500mS away from your playing. With shorter to moderate Delay settings you can set up a nice rhythmic placement of the ‘verb to sit along with your music.

Spring

Okay, there aren’t many digital spring reverbs I find myself interested in, but the one in Space is excellent. There are parameters to set the number of springs (1-3), spring tension, and resonance. High and Low damping is present. Decay and Mix round out the parameters for dialing in traditional spring reverb effects. The sounds can get pretty splashy, particularly when using 2 or 3 springs with the Tension dialed in just right. The X & Y knobs let you added a vintage style tremolo to the reverb, and FxMix brings in some additional modulation. You can tweak these with higher tension settings to get some weird sounds, but most guitarists will probably be happy getting a solid spring reverb that’s pristinely clean and playable that doesn’t require a dedicated analog spring reverb unit to use when inspiration strikes.

Reverse

Space has one of the best reverse reverbs around. Decay sets the length of the rising reverse reverb. The Size knob lets you apply additional reverb after the reverse swell. The Delay knob is a feedback control to repeat the reverse swell kind of like a reverse delay effect. Particularly interesting is the Resonance parameter which will let you achieve smoother swells or a mechanical sounding buzzing reverb swell. This is a very versatile reverse reverb.

BlackHole

The BlackHole algorithm is arguably the Space’s flagship reverb. This modern classic sound derived from the Eventide H8000 is a huge hall-esque reverb that’s been pushed into the stratosphere and beyond. The Gravity and Inverse Gravity modes adjust the decay response of a gargantuan ambience. The Size increases the depth to cosmic proportions. A Feedback parameter lets it trail into infinity. This is a killer ‘verb for ambient guitarists as it’ll suck your guitar into the vacuum of space, in a musical way that is.

Shimmer

The Space’s Shimmer algorithm is one of the best shimmers I’ve ever heard. It gives you twin voices spanning -2 to +2 octaves. The pitch shifted ‘verb is incredibly smooth and glitch-free, not surprising considering Eventide’s leading expertise in digital pitch shifting. The sounds are surreal and beautiful for some of the most majestic shimmer reverb you’ll ever experience.

Those are some of my personal favorite reverbs that Space has to offer, but there are some other gems in here. The Room is particularly nice, simulating the indispensable qualities of a guitar being played in a small to medium sized acoustic space. MangledVerb adds distortion to reverb for some cool gritty textures. The TremoloVerb adds aggressive tremolo modulation to chop up your trails and includes several waveform options. ModEchoVerb adds echo with modulation for a killer multi-effect (gotta try the flange mode!). DualVerb combines two reverbs in one algorithm for complex reverb sounds; ou can activate a Freeze on either or both reverbs for huge layering possibilities. The DynaVerb combines Eventide’s Eclipse reverb with an Eventide Omnipressor variation for dynamic reverb effects and gated reverb; you can even use the Omnipressor alone as a compressor or limiter.

An underestimated aspect of many reverb pedals that plays a key role in what makes Space’s ‘verbs sound so good in use is the EQ section. The placement of your reverb in a mix is vital for achieving a balanced sound that doesn’t cause a conflict in the frequency spectrum. This applies whether you’re playing solo guitar or in a full band setting. Many reverb pedals are severely lacking in this area. You’re often limited in the tone adjustment area and are left with a generic Mix control for setting how much reverb you want. Space’s flexibility in this area gives you vital control for a reverb that will nearly always sit perfectly with your instrument.

Performing with Space

There are several noteworthy options that make Space a reverb well-suited for live performance. If you generally don’t use much reverb or just need a decent spring or room ‘verb sound, these features may not much use to you. But if you’re a guitarist who’s looking to take your atmospheric guitar-scapes to new heights, you’ll most likely appreciate what Space has to offer.

There are two operating modes for live performance: Play and Preset Mode. Preset Mode lets you use the foot-switches to select and recall presets. Play Mode gives you a couple handy real-time performance options: Tap & HotSwitch. The Tap function lets you tap in a tempo and generally works with the Delay to create custom offset reverb for rhythmic placement. The HotSwitch lets you instantly recall a second set of parameter values for creative reverb adjustment on the fly. This is particularly useful for creating sudden Freeze effects or changing from a mild to more intense reverb sound. You can easily select between Play and Preset Mode by simply pressing and holding the right foot-switch for a moment.

If you need more live flexibility, there are still more options to dive into. The Aux Switch jack lets you plug in up to 3 momentary foot-switches for taking control of various functions. For example, you could access the Space’s onboard foot-switches to scroll through and select presets and the Barn3 OX System to access the HotSwitch and Tap functions. There’s also an expression pedal input that lets you control multiple parameters in real-time. And that’s not to mention the MIDI possibilities which let you take full control of Space from an external MIDI controller or other MIDI source. You’re in for a long voyage once you blast off with this pedal.

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Space as an Outboard Processor

Considering that Eventide is well-known for their iconic rack gear, it’s worth exploring the possibilities of Space for outboard reverb processing. The stereo inputs & outputs have options for guitar/amp configurations or line level signals so you easily apply Space in a mixer’s send & return loop. You can also set up external effects with most DAWs (like Ableton Live) to use Space in a production environment. You can activate Space’s Killdry function to eliminate any dry signal at the outputs. Then crank the Global Mix parameter and use the mixer or DAW to set how much reverb from Space is blended in with your audio material.

Space Vs H9

As mentioned previously the Space came out before the H9, and the H9 Max contains all of the algorithms from Space (plus the H9 exclusive SpaceTime, a unique delay, reverb, & modulation algorithm). So are there any distinct reasons to go with Space over the H9? There are a few noteworthy advantages, the most important of which is the tactile control the Space stompbox offers without needing an external app. If you like the twist and turn functionality of using real knobs as opposed to a mouse or touchscreen, you’ll appreciate using Space. It is indeed easier to get the creative process going when you don’t have to launch an app to intricately adjust the pedal. In that regard, the Space and other Factor series pedals offer a quicker, more intuitive approach to sound design. Also, if you primarily need just reverb sounds, the Space will more than cover that sole duty. And if you weren’t intended to spring for the H9 Max to get all of the available algorithms, you’ll appreciate the fact that all of the Space’s reverb sounds are included right out of the box. The biggest advantages of going the H9 route are its smaller size, vast array of algorithms, and getting SpaceTime if you think you’ll want that extra reverb algorithm.

Considering that the H9 holds its own against other reverb pedals available today, it needs to be understood that the Space is right up there with it and may even be a better option if you just need reverb sounds and will appreciate quick access to the extensive parameters available. And while some reverb pedals are now offering flashy features like speaker emulation and more algorithms, the quality of Space’s sounds still edges out most of the competition, often by more than a marginal degree. It’s highly unlikely that Space’s algorithms will being sounding stale anytime soon, and this pedal remains one of the best reverb pedals on the market for ambient obsessed guitarists.

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Overall-Rating-5.0

The Eventide Space is a masterpiece of exceptional reverb algorithms and offers enough interstellar possibilities to be your go-to ‘verb of choice for a long time to come. The sounds produced indicate an attention to sonic detail that most builders can’t come close to rivaling. The vast array of knob parameters give it a depth and ease of use that eclipses other multi-algorithm reverb pedals. The vibrant and clearly visible 12 digit screen makes navigating and creating presets very intuitive. It can be argued that Space contains perhaps the best hall, plate, and shimmer reverbs you’ll find in a multi-algorithm reverb pedal, and let’s not forget the innovative BlackHole reverb. The biggest competition for Space isn’t other builders’ reverb pedals, but Eventide’s own H9, and the matter of which is the better option for reverb seeking guitarists comes down to whether or not you want Space’s tactile knob control or H9’s smaller size and SpaceTime algorithm. Either way, Space stands as reverb pedal that every guitarist should experience, and the quality of its sounds warrant no less than a perfect score.

That concludes our Eventide Space review. Thanks for reading.