Malekko Scrutator Review – Best Bitcrusher/Filter Pedal?

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In order for your guitar to make sense to your computer, its signal has to be converted to a series of numbers that represent the crests and troughs of the waveform. These are called samples; the higher the sample rate, the more high-range frequencies can be accurately expressed. Those samples are then recorded as on/off memory bits that contain the volume information of the waveform. The more bits, the less compressed and more nuanced your signal will be. Bitcrushers take advantage of this music-computer relationship by taking your analog signal into it’s loving, digital arms and manipulating the sample rate and bit depth to create an increasingly crude compression/distortion effect.

If you’re confused, you’re not alone. It was only recently that I became sure I understood the bitcrusher, and I’m still not sure I’m not afraid of it. The bitcrusher sits somewhere between overdrive and Armageddon machine, yielding surreal warmth at its most conservative and absolute mangled mush at the extremes. Originating as a popular offering in the realm of plugin software, a glut of savvy pedal builders have thrown their hat in the bitcrusher ring, reproducing and building on the effect in amazing and unexpected ways.

One such builder is Malekko Heavy Industry, a company one could describe as “enigmatic.” Today we’re taking a look at Malekko’s Scrutator, the first in a series of (so far, three) new units designed with Malekko’s proprietary DSP platform. The word “Scrutator” is an old, almost never used word which means “one who examines,” an appropriate nomenclature for a pedal designed to reduce your signal to its basest attributes and lay bare the grating nature of the bits below.

Features:

  • Six Knobs:
    Pre Amp control for effect input gain/attenuation
    Bit Rate reduction control from 16bit to 2bit
    Sample Rate reduction control from approximately 48kHz to 300Hz
    Q control for bandwidth and amplitude filter amount
    Mix controls the wet/dry
    Filter controls a filter sweep
  • Expression Pedal Input
  • Low-Pass or Band-Pass Filter
  • Clip LED indicates input clipping
  • True Bypass
  • 9VDC powered

Visit Malekko for more info about the Scrutator.

Sound & Performance:

Those of us with already overloaded pedalboards (myself especially) will rejoice hearing the news that the Scrutator is an MXR-sized baby compared to most pedals with this much meat. A few companies have packed their bitcrushers with really intense modulation parameters that transform your signal into angry, whirring will-o-whisps: the Scrutator is not one such pedal. The Scrutator is a much more straightforward piece of hardware, giving you a ‘crusher, a filter, and that’s it. The parameters manipulating the effects within, however, make the Scrutator one of the most musical bitcrushers on the market.

The lynchpin of the Scrutator is of course, the Sample knob, which serves as more an auditory gradient from clean to slightly overdriven to ringmod to broken fuzz to, eventually, a series of question marks and exclamation points. I found that the most useable (in terms of traditional) tones were found no further than 7 o’clock, and rolling past that point we entered into some pretty bloopy territory. Every reviewer who has ever reviewed a BitCrusher has already said something like this, but so help me, the video game nostalgia is palpable here. Stacked with an overdrive, the dirt that the Scrutator adds cannot be overstated. A laser-focused filter is amazing over overdrive on a bad day; add that bitcrusher into the mix, you’re in for some clippy, synthy insanity.

The Expression pedal input is a swiss-army knife for this effect; you can set it to any combination of the Filter, Q, Bit or Rate parameters, and also the directional sweep can be altered to sweep up or down when the expression pedal is brought to heel or toe. What’s great about this is that the knobs continue to serve a purpose after the expression has taken their duties. For example, I set the filter to sweep up when I brought my expression to toe, while simultaneously crushing the Sample Rate, but I didn’t like how bright the filter or how squashed the sample rate parameter made my signal when maxed out. To fix this, I simply dialed the Filter and the Rate knobs back ever so much and voilá! A much more usable and chewy filter tone, fully adaptable to your notes by use of the expression pedal.

I feel like I should also talk about the Mix and Preamp knobs, because despite being unaffected by the expression, they play an integral role in the Scrutator’s character. Through use of the Preamp, you can attenuate the volume of the bitcrusher; you might choose to set it at unity for rhythm bloops or boost it for lead bloops. Either way, whenever you clip the Scrutator, a tiny LED light under the Preamp knob will flicker to let you know: “Hey! That’s loud!” Clipping the Scrutator actually has a pleasing, compressed effect to my ear, making the loss more obvious the further the Bit knob is cranked. The Mix knob, on the other hand, will allow you to mix in any amount of crushed or not-crushed signal into the sum signal. You might not use it this way, but I set it at about 2 o’clock and cranked the preamp to be just above unity, then swelled in filtered digital space whales. Fun.

The Scrutator can also be set to be affected by either a low-pass or band-pass filter by deactivating while holding down the footswitch, unplugging, and then plugging back in the device. It is kind of annoying that one has to power down the Scrutator to change the filter setting when this could have just as easily been featured using a toggle switch, but with the sheer quantity of variables and no preset option I could see why this is a better design, from a live performance standpoint. The Scrutator is already a small target to hit, and unless you have very long and dextrous toes, having one more thing to look out for is a figurative pain in the neck. Or a literal pain in the feet if you’re a Steven Wilson type and play barefoot.

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Overall-Rating-5.0

With its slight profile, clever design, and expression out The Malekko Heavy Industry Scrutator stands out to me as one of the best bitcrushers on the market today. It is a carefully considered piece of hardware, built for the initial confusion and lifelong delight of its master. It’s also a very specialized pedal, but the few things it does, it does with gusto, and considering some of its more popular competitors retail for up to 50% more, I’d be stunned if we didn’t see a ton more Scrutators on ‘boards around the world. It’s certainly not a sound for everyone, but guitarists who love mangling their sound bit by bit will love what this pedal can do.

That concludes our review of the Malekko Scrutator. Thanks for reading!

Adventure Audio Whateverb Review – Best Compact Multi-Reverb Pedal?

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Before the dual realities that I have virtually no hands-on electronics experience and extremely shaky hands had set in, it was a personal and far off dream of mine to build effects tailored to my exact guitar needs in the hopes that someday I could tailor effects to the needs of others. I haven’t quite given up the shadow of this dream, but I’m not salty about not having attained it yet either. There’s so much to appreciate about the effects market today that I can’t help but just be grateful for the people who invent the building blocks for the sounds we make, even if those people aren’t me. The collective consciousness that permeates the atmosphere of effects building is so strongly amplified by the Internet that I can practically have a fever dream about a particular sound or pedal concept and it’ll be available for purchase within months. If you need one example of a company making pedals that sound like distortion from the dream realm, check out Adventure Audio.

Adventure Audio is a relatively new pedal company founded in Philadelphia, PA and now based out of Rochester, NY, both harboring incredible music scenes, the latter of which being only about an hour and a half from where I live. Given my proximity, I can guess with some semblance of certainty that this builder has likely been sculpted by Central New York’s harsh winters and deep talent pool and inspired to develop products for the ultimate indoor past time: riffs. They’re only four pedals deep in their musical journey, but the pedals they’ve created so far aren’t just well-developed experimentations and variations on unexpected effects; they’re quickly earning their place as some of the highest quality and sonically inspired pieces available today. Also, judging only by the headshots on their “About me” page, I can already tell I want to be their friend. Their simple vision is to inspire the world, and that’s just what they’ve done with their latest release, the Whateverb. Guess what kind of effect it is!

Features:

  • 5 knobs, with backlit LED trim pots for the Warp and Blend knobs (2 are variable control Knobs)
    Blend controls the wet/dry blend
    Decay determines the length of the reverb trail
    Warp controls the pitch and overall potential length of the reverb
  • 3 Voices:
    This is a reverb with controls for the speed and depth of a flange effect.
    That emulates room reverb with high and low-pass filter controls.
    Otherb is a shimmer with controls over the dissonance and volume of the shimmer.
  • Soft Touch Relay Bypass
  • Top-Mounted Power and I/O
  • Buffered Bypass
  • 9V DC Power

The first thing you notice when you plug in the Whateverb is the fact the clear Blend and Warp trim pots illuminate a brilliant cool-white upon activation. That is one memorable way to say hello! The sparkling white chassis sports blue text and a light grey line pattern; for size reference, the Whateverb is about the size of standard EarthQuaker Devices’ pedals. There is a comically tall voicing switch in the center that controls the voices which I was initially afraid would break, but so far it’s proven to be very sturdy. The Buffered-Bypass nature of the Whateverb implies that the trails of the reverb will continue long after you have disabled it. This is a matter of taste for most guitarists, but I could see how some might want a switch to toggle between active and non-active post-bypass tails. Personally, I love letting my reverb trail die out naturally, so the lack of flexibility here means very little to me. Founder and facial hair doyen Christian Terjesen was originally inspired to build the Whateverb by the Roland Space Echo, which as we know is the industry-defining tape echo that has time and time again produced unique progeny in the pedals inspired by it. It seems there is still a little bit of juice, somehow exempt from the more derivative works that have cropped up in the past, to be wrung out of the Space Echo.

Check out Adventure Audio for more details about the Whateverb!

SOUND & PERFORMANCE:

Let’s dive into these voices.

This

On the left of the voice-select toggle we have This, which is a clean reverb paired with flangey chorus, or chorusy flange, depending on your perspective on which direction the tone leans. To my ear, it’s the former. The top left knob controls the depth of the modulation, which can range from non-existent to whistling. In this voicing the Warp knob seems to bear more control over the tonal nature of the chorus, as opposed to pitchshifting; though there is a just noticeable almost-pitchshift when we change the warp knob’s positioning, what I hear most are the peaks of the comb filter getting farther apart, essentially changing range of the Rate knob on the top right.

That

The center of the voicing switch opens the door to a room whose size is variable in accordance to your will via the Warp and Decay knob. Though That is the most tame of the three voices, it is still an amazingly lively space to be inside of, the depths of which I was eager to find. I was not left wanting. The High Tide and Low Tide knobs are high and low frequency controls to tweak the tone of the reverb, which sounds super rudimentary but actually makes for overtone-dense, beautifully spacious bliss. With the Warp set toward full-clockwise, I was rewarded with sweet slap-backy vibes that were made much more prominent with the High-tide cranked. The opposite configuration yielded massive, hall-like wash that was truly massive with the Low Tide cranked. Though that seems dichotomous, the Low Tide and High Tide actually work well together no matter how high you set one in relation to the other.

Otherb

Welcome to… the Otherb. An atmospheric ‘board is not complete without a good Shimmer, and the pristine sonic crystals generated by this voicing push the Whateverb way past the threshold of “Good Shimmer.” The top left knob controls how thick the harmonies that are generated by the shimmer are; the top right knob controls how high the volume of the shimmer is. With the Shimmer knob maxed, the octaves are almost unbearable, but dialing the volume back makes this shrill keening not just tolerable, but a sonic tool to add to swells and sparse strumming. This voicing is where the Warp knob really shines; rolling clockwise sounds like a carnival melting in a fry-oil fire. I really would have liked to see an expression pedal out on the Whateverb for the sole purpose of manipulating the Warp in realtime.

I just reviewed the EarthQuaker Transmisser, which also features a “Warp” knob that serves as a system slew to pitch-shift and tighten/mellow out the tone of the overall effect. While I won’t draw any further direct comparisons between the two pedals, as they are distinctly different units, I will say that it would be easy to draw parallels between the Warp knob on the Transmisser and the Warp knob on the Whateverb, which prompts me to predict that we’ll see similar features start to crop up elsewhere in the industry. In my mind, the Warp knob as it applies to the Transmisser and the Whateverb is really the “Time” knob, determining the amount of time we’re working with to create whicheverb effect the Whateverb is generating at the time. (I had to.) The pitchshifts we’re hearing when the time knob is rolled are actually time changes, much like the pitchshifts we hear when changing the tempo on an analog delay. When we’re working with effects like this, it’s important to remember that Reverb and Chorus/Flange are time-based effects, being that it is fundamentally several delays colluding in a way that simulates space. The Whateverb maximizes this relationship in creative ways that flatter the more atmospheric shades of the Roland Space Echo, its spiritual catalyst.

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Overall-Rating-4.5

The Adventure Audio Whateverb is evidence of the democratic nature of the effects pedal world; we’ve all wanted something like it, and here it is. Like I said, I really would have loved an expression input on this bad boy, but the Whateverb makes for a perfect addition to round out Adventure’s otherwise distortion-heavy catalogue. It could replace a single mode reverb pedal you own, or it could add it to your already burgeoning collection of weird noise makers; I’ll likely be keeping this on my pedalboard despite already having a dedicated reverb simply because the flavor is so unique from most of the reverbs on the market today. If you haven’t seen Adventure Audio’s work and you’re looking for an escape from a musical rut, I highly recommend the Whateverb. You won’t be disappointed… everb.

That concludes our Adventure Audio Whateverb review. Thanks for reading!

EarthQuaker Devices Transmisser Review – Best Modulated Reverb Pedal?

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When I’m gripped by a remarkably enchanting pedal and have the distinct honor of writing about it, I always have a hard time with the first few words. Like, just now; there was a solid ten minutes of empty space disguised as thought. I mean, we’re talking SPACE. The kind of space that every prog band (mine included) writes masturbatory concept albums about. Big open expanses of nothing, run through by thick gusts of cosmic wind that strip away the comforting cocoon of conscious thought. The kind of space the EarthQuaker Devices Transmisser simulates. And now my train of thought is back.

I love playing with EarthQuaker Devices pedals. No matter how many of these weird little rectangles I let into my life I just can’t get enough. It isn’t the unique and well defined branding, or the affordability of every EQD pedal, or even the quake-inducing tone inherent in each lovingly crafted feel machine that does it for me, though these are all contributing factors. What gets me every time is EQD’s insatiable thirst for bending the rules of what sounds good inside of a realistic framework. For example (and to segue into the reason we’re here now,) EarthQuaker recently released a modulated delay as an alternative to their riotously successful Afterneath, a pedal we know as the Transmisser. The Transmisser is a multifaceted reverb with both modulation and filter aspects entwined in it’s DNA, an effect few (if any) builders have attempted. It’s a truly unique effect, and I’m going to talk about it.

Features:

  • Six Knobs:
    Decay controls the length of the reverb tail
    Darkness is a tone control
    Freq is shorthand for frequency, which controls the sweep of a low-pass resonant filter through which the reverb tail is processed
    Warp is a unique system-wide parameter adjustment, affecting the width of the modulation, the depth of the filter, and the length of the decay at once. More on this later.
    Rate controls the speed of the modulation
    Mix determines the wet/dry blend
  • Expression Pedal Input
  • True Bypass
  • 9VDC powered

The Transmisser is decorated with a light fuchsia visage of what I can only imagine is EarthQuaker artist Matt Horak’s interpretation of lightning striking a black hole, printed on a sparkling black background. The knobs are tall and thin and the I/O jacks are top-mounted to save space, like most of EQD’s smaller offerings. There is an expression jack on the right side that controls the Freq parameter, which allows hands-free control of a glistening resonant filter.

Visit EarthQuaker Devices for more info about the Transmisser.

Sound & Performance:

Immediately upon playing my first notes through the Transmisser, I was intimidated by the incredibly complex wash produced. What is going on? Even with the Decay at its lowest possible setting, every reverb tail seemed to last forever, indicating from the get-go that I was in for something worlds apart from even the most out-there reverbs I’ve played. Although this means it might not be replacing any traditional reverbs on the ‘board per se, the zealous experimenter can buy the Transmisser and not feel as guilty about keeping another pedal that might otherwise help mitigate the costs. More pedals are a win in my book.

The Warp knob is the perplexing centerpiece of the Transmisser’s parameter set, serving as a slew that fundamentally alters the entire nature of the pedal and way that the other parameters interact with the one another: clockwise for a defined sound, counter-clockwise for more of a wash. As you do this, you’ll notice quite quickly that this also downshifts the pitch of the reverb tail, which sounds terrifying. The applications of this are endless and I almost wish there were another expression out to control the Warp, but that would be an outrageous demand. The Transmisser is affected by a near-indecipherable modulation which grows more frantic the further clockwise you roll the Rate knob. This also modulates the Darkness and Freq parameters depending on where the Warp is set.

Cranking the Rate and playing with the Freq reminds me of EarthQuaker’s Spatial Delivery envelope filter, which yielded a similar harmonic purr on its way up or down in resonant frequency. With the Decay knob maxed, whichever frequency you’ve set will actually start to oscillate, but never go beyond a dull drone, adding a whole new element of ambience to long reverb tails. I was also surprised with how well the Transmisser takes any kind of dirt. With an overdrive behind a full wet Mix and the Rate rolled back to a slow yawn, I was treated to a very vocal sounding vibrato.

If all you’re looking for is a unique way to add some auditory distance between yourself and the audience, fret not! Even with all of the crazy sounds dipping in and out of the Transmisser’s mood-setting, I couldn’t help but notice that I never once lost the sense of space that justifies calling it a reverb and not something flamboyant, like “Cosmic Embellisher.” If you were so inclined, you could pretty much set the knobs anywhere and become inspired from your first note. In the harmonically dense sense, it reminds me of some high-end shimmer reverbs, only this is the effect I’ve wanted shimmer to be all along. Sorry, shimmer. It’s not you, it’s me.

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Overall-Rating-5.0

The EarthQuaker Devices Transmisser is both more and less than any reverb: it is an experience. Armed with its reverb and modulations, the Transmisser is a particularly potent sound tool I never thought I needed. It is an effect all its own, a must-have for weirdos and a must-try for normies. Honestly, I can’t think of one thing I didn’t enjoy about the Transmisser. There’s just so much going on that the nuances are hard to keep track of, and the radical expressionistic power of this pedal is undeniable. Maybe in the future EQD will consider a Transmisser 2 with stereo, an expression for the warp, and maybe panning? There’s not much more beyond that that can make it better. Even if you never dial in a normal sounding reverb (and trust me, you won’t,) the Transmisser is well equipped to hypnotize anyone within earshot, and that’s totally worth your dad never understanding what’s happening when you play with it. Try it and explore the universe.

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.

MOOG MF Trem Minifooger Review – Best Analog Tremolo Pedal?

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The guitar effects industry is and always has been an eye-filling landscape pockmarked with never-ending, cavernous rabbit holes. Some of us who traverse this plane seeking a sound all our own find ourselves unproductively wrapped up in ancillary selling points, designating ever-changing value and brokering favor based on how high the latest offering sets the bar. I’m particularly guilty of ignoring some truly great pedals in favor of sleek, artfully adorned pieces of hype that I ended up dissatisfied with just as often as I was pleased. The mercurial nature of the consumer-level pedal nerd is not a universally bad thing for the craft of effects-building or for music itself as we often crave and demand new combinations of effects and new ways to use them. While the industry is happy to oblige this demand, an intuitive return to the basics of what makes a core effect great is seldom met with less than a sigh of refreshed relief and familiar nods in acknowledgement of “Yes, I know exactly how I’m going to use that!”

The updated classic has been the crux of many a great company in this, the golden age of guitar effects. For example, MOOG (counterintuitively pronounced “mōg”) has stood conspicuously tall as an innovator in the music industry since the company’s inception in the 1950’s and has lead the charge into modern music without rest, frequently releasing products that build on previous works and change what we think is possible in any piece of music hardware.

For guitarists, the Moogerfooger line of effects pedals, first released in 1998, have become a boutique pedal lover’s wet-dream, offering flexibility and unreal tone, albeit in a massive package. MOOG later released the Minifooger line in 2013 to great critical acclaim, packing simplified interpretations of their legendary Moogerfoogers in enclosures designed to fit comfortably on a pedalboard. The Minifooger line included Delay, Drive, Boost, Ring Mod, and Tremolo and in 2015 was bolstered by Chorus and Flange units and an art update. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Minifooger 03 MF Trem, an intuitive and diverse tremolo that lives up to the MOOG family name.

Features:

  • 100% Analog Circuitry built around a balanced modulator and Sub-Audio VCO (voltage controlled oscillator)
  • Harmonically eclectic range spanning into bass and synthesizer voices
  • True Bypass
  • Four Knobs for Shape, Tone, Depth and Speed
  • Expression input control for Speed (+5VDC)
  • Compact and lightweight

MOOG is the sort of company that can get away with giving their product a name that is literally a number and the function of the product, as opposed to a whacky nickname. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sh*t out of whacky pedal names (I browse Reverb listings in the morning for a laugh) but when you’re flexing the bicep of a company name like MOOG, people will trust anything that comes after it. Luckily for us, MOOG is also the sort of company that is not just known for their innovative and high-quality music products, they practically invented the innovative and high-quality music product.

Skin deep, the Trem is an unapologetic exercise in utilitarian design, bearing an angular black and silver countenance that would make Sol LeWitt smirk in appreciation. As if weaponized, the Trem possesses a bolted-on faceplate with its function and place of origin printed on. Unsurprisingly the cast aluminum enclosure is tightly constructed and appropriately lightweight, making it perfect for travel. Knobs for Tone, Speed, Depth, and Shape are in their logical, upward-facing configurations; the Trem’s mono I/O, 9V power in, and expression pedal input are all top-mounted to save room, effectively making the total footprint (provided you are using elbowed 1/4” cables) a respectable 3”x7”. The importance of size in this case is nothing to sneeze at, considering the tone inside these negligible borders is anything but negligible.

Check out MOOG for more info about the MF Trem!

SOUND & PERFORMANCE:

Let’s talk knobs. With a dedicated pot crossfading the Shape of the modulation from smooth rise/sharp fall to sharp rise/smooth fall, you can dial in a subtle optical tremolo vibe or go ham and knock chunks out of your signal at will. The Tone knob is a low-pass filter affecting only the Wet signal, holding dominion over the entire harmonic spectrum of the signal. This determines how lively the Trem’s reaction is when presented with the harmonic content and dynamics of your playing. Speed is pretty obvious, while Depth is actually a Wet/Dry control. The MF Trem relies on phase cancellation and addition, so as you crank the Depth, more frequencies will be added and cancelled by the Tremolo effect. The Depth and Speed play off of one another in intuitive ways with the Depth slowly doubling the tempo of the modulation the further into full-wet territory you go. To get the most out of the Trem, an expression pedal or control voltage is an absolute must. The expression opens up a much wider range of speeds, pushing the effect into the Ring-mod realm of modulation. Changing the speed in real-time yields beautifully disorienting rotary feels; it was also really fun to dial in a quarter-to-triplet modulation with the output control on my expression pedal and change the tempo in real time.

MOOG includes a printed list of suggested knob positions when they ship the MF Trem, so I’ll run through those as well with my feedback on each.

RAY GUN

The “RAY GUN” configuration has our Shape and Tone knobs maxed, the Depth at noon and Speed set at about 2 o’clock. The sharp rise/smooth fall waveform feels pointy, adding a succinct urgency to the tone. With an expression pedal, this configuration is less of a tremolo and more of a low-frequency ring mod, adding an oscillating metallic chime to your playing even with the treadle heeled. Sweeping up and down through the frequency spectrum after a fuzz is a particularly nice way to add some thickness to your dynamics.

HARD TREM

This configuration is similar to the RAY GUN in that the Tone and Speed are set to five and three respectively, but it calls for the Depth to be brought to nine and the Shape brought back to three. The smoother decay of the waveform rounds out the edges of the Tremolo while still retaining the abruptness of the cancellation. I also noticed while setting up this configuration that the shape knob slowed down the tempo of the modulation the closer you are to the center of the pot. This might be a function of the waveform being lengthened from one end as you dial the Shape knob back for a smoother, er… shape.

OPTO TREM

Next I dialed the shape even further back, to noon. This is where the waveform becomes smooth from its attack to its release. This flavoring, with the knobs nearing the center, is an example of one of the more mild tones the Trem is capable of. If you’ve got a whammy bar and a spring reverb, you’ve got a whole effects loop here.

REVERSE

Crank the shape hard left for a smooth attack and abrupt cutoff, like quick little swells overtaking your tone. Paired with an expression you can get some pretty dope Leslie vibes at higher speeds that cool off into the reverse feel for which MOOG nicknamed the configuration. I really enjoyed putting this after a full wet reverb to get a sound like building momentum while falling down a mile-long exhaust shaft.

MOOG boasts that the Minifooger line’s extended range capabilities make them a perfect addition to bass and synth utilities, as well. At band practice I had the chance to plug a MOOG Sub Phatty synth into the Trem, and unlike many other guitar effects on the market that would fizzle out when confronted with the vastness of a synth’s voice, the Trem’s function remained fundamentally the same, even pushed into extremely low octaves. With such an extensive range of instruments readily affected by it, I’d say the MF Trem is perfectly suited for its $139 price point.

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Overall-Rating-4.5

The MOOG Minifooger MF Trem yields nearly every feel in the tremolo family, even extending into the realm of limited phase and ring-modulation. The way the knobs interact to generate vastly varied tones, even when parameter changes are slight, is a degree of building artistry that reflects MOOG’s synthesizer history in a simply articulated way. Its flexibility makes it the perfect addition to any pedalboard and may even have the analog-leaning studio engineer ready to invest. The market today is soaked in tremolos with similar features, so to give the MF Trem a perfect score I would have liked to see some sort of tap-tempo feature. Failing that, if you’ve been seeking a decked-out, versatile, small-enough-for-your-baby-‘board pound of flux, you’ve found it.

That concludes our review of the MOOG Minifooger MF Trem. Thanks for reading!

Keeley Loomer Fuzz/Reverb Review – Best Shoegaze Pedal?

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I was 3 months old when My Bloody Valentine exposed the unprepared world to their textural shoegaze masterpiece, Loveless. I didn’t grow up bathed in the wash of interlaced fuzzy drones, nor did I spend the springtime of my youth entering a trance state behind Kevin Shields’ wall-of-sound, but I promise you that when I did first did hear it, I was somehow overcome with waves of nostalgic bliss. It’s very important to me to know that in the age of Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a record like Loveless was made and inspired an entire generation of musicians to experiment with sonic textures, becaming a source inspiration for nearly every band I look up to regardless of genre. If you haven’t heard that record, go forth and listen to Loveless at your earliest convenience. Everything in this review will make just as much sense if you don’t, but you owe it to yourself to experience the oppressively atmospheric wash that My Bloody Valentine invented. It is arguably the entrance of shoegaze into the world of accessible music, and you too will find yourself hearing the precursor to countless undisputed champions of modern music.

Many of us to this day still struggle to suss out that distinct wall-of-sound tone borne of Kevin Shields’ exhaustive studio work and bolstered throughout by the now-mythical Alesis MidiVerb and the Yamaha SPX90. Few companies have even tried to pull it all off in one package, leaving a hole in the market that is anything but shallow. Keeley’s Loomer, named for the second track on Loveless, aims to fill the void here, featuring both a thick Big Muff Pi inspired fuzz circuit with tone-sculpting response options and three different and unique reverb modes that are not quite what they seem on the surface. Keeley’s been getting zealous with their artist-based/ “neo-vintage” workstations lately, their latest releases including the Jimi Hendrix-inspired Monterey and the Dark Side, a foray into the realm of Pink Floyd. The Loomer is one step further into this grand, tone-copping experiment, and I think we’re all happy that Keeley stepped away from the more traditional guitar pedal vibe to attempt a riskier direction.

Features:

  • Three Reverb Voices: Focus, Reverse, Hall
  • Three Fuzz Response options: Flat, Scoop, Full
  • Seven Parameters:
    Level – Controls the output volume of the Fuzz circuit
    Fuzz – Controls the gain
    Filter – Controls the tone of the Fuzz
    Blend – Controls the amount of wet signal is blended from the Reverb circuit
    Decay – In Focus mode, this is both the Reverb decay time and the feedback for the dual delays. Reverse repurposes it as an 8-way switch for decay times ranging from 150-500ms, and in Hall mode it serves as the Decay time. So basically it’s a Decay knob.
    Warmth – Tone control for the Reverb
    Depth – Multi-purpose knob, controlling the amount of shimmer in the Hall reverb or the depth of modulation in the Reverse and Focus
  • Expression pedal input
  • Version 1 features a TRS input for inserting effects by use of a TRS Y cable, Version 2 replaces this function with an order switch
  • True bypass
  • 9v Powered

Check out Keeley Electronics for more info about the Loomer.

Okay, for housing two foot-witches and seven knobs, this thing is TINY. With elbowed 1/4” cables in the top mounted inputs, the effective area taken up by the Loomer is about 4.5”x4.5”, making for a ton of tone in a tiny package. The Loomer’s dense metal enclosure features a saturated pink homage to Loveless’ album art, and the blue LEDs next to the foot-switches detract nothing from the haunting decor. I thought it was extra clever on Keeley’s part to reverse the filter of the Warmth knob, making the dark (low-range) tones the furthest point clockwise and the brighter (high-range) tones counterclockwise, as if to insist we push the Loomer to its darkest capabilities.

You may be wondering where in the loop you can put the Loomer, considering conventional wisdom tells us Overdrive and Fuzz should be near the start of the chain, while Reverb should be dead last, leaving room for modulations, pitch-shifters, etc., throughout the space in between. Originally, Keeley included a TRS input to allow for signal-chain experimentation, but due to popular demand, they opted to replace this option with a button that swaps the fuzz and ‘verb on the fly.

I am actually writing this review with the TRS version in hand, so I can’t write about how well the swap button works, but I can tell you that through use of the TRS input, I can do fundamentally the same thing. More on swapping the reverb and fuzz later.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but if I have to have one of the two, I think I’d actually prefer the TRS input over the order button to add my own flavor to the signal chain or to re-order the reverb and fuzz with an effects loop switcher. That said, for most regular guitarists, the convenience of a button to swap the order of the fuzz and reverb on the fly can’t be understated. As Gabriel mused in his initial write-up of the Loomer, “Perhaps we can have them both?” Both are pretty neat options, so I’d like to see it if popular demand insisted upon it.

SOUND & PERFORMANCE:

On the right half of the Loomer is a 3-knob Big Muff-based circuit, the same circuit featured in Keeley’s Dark side workstation. You get a Level and Fuzz (gain) knob to control your input level, and a Filter knob to control your tone. The Filter knob is really intuitive, sweeping through a wide range of effective frequencies. Beneath the knobs there is also a neat little response switch that toggles between flat, full, and scooped responses, taking the fuzz circuit from a “nice-to-have” to a full-fledged contender ready to go toe-to-toe with any fuzz pedal on your board. This is a very versatile Muff inspired circuit.

The Scoop voicing refers, of course to a mid-scoop, leaving us with just the highs and lows of the frequency spectrum, making for a super aggressive, metal-worthy tone. Of all the voices, I found that this one was the least liable to turn to muddy mush when I cranked the fuzz knob. The Flat voicing offers a much more, well, flat EQ curve, giving you a relatively less responsive range of harmonic content. Meanwhile, Full responds openly to your playing, yielding warmer tones than the other two voices. All of them are high-gain, compressed, hairy options and which one you use primarily will largely be a matter of personal taste.

On the other half of the Loomer we have the meat of the whole enchilada: the reverb section. Now, the reverb consists of Decay, Warmth, Blend, and Depth parameters; all save the Blend knob have different functions depending on which of the Loomer’s three signature reverb voices you’re using. The Depth knob, which controls the more musical aspects of each voicing, is also controllable via expression pedal.

FOCUS

This gives you reverb into a dual delay into a quad-chorus. Now we’re getting exponential! The Focus is the ethereal reincarnation of the “Soft Focus” patch on the Yamaha FX500 multi effects processor, more affectionately known as “The Sound of the 80’s.” Seriously, playing with this voice clean felt like playing in a Genesis cover band. I promise that’s a good thing.

Studio engineers and atmospheric musicians alike have known since time immemorial that running a reverb through a delay garners long wispy tails of air. The dual delay aspect of this voicing is set to 250ms on one side, and 380ms on the other. This creates a thick blend of indiscernible wet signal. The quad chorus of the Focus adds even more body to the already luscious wash of reverb/delay, turning longer trails into impenetrable thickets of warble. The depth knob controls the depth of the chorus, meaning you can amplify the intensity of the effect when an expression pedal is plugged in. I’d love to be hearing this in Stereo right about now, but it’s a blast to play in mono, typical of how most guitarists play anyway.

REVERSE

This voicing got the most airtime in Keeley’s advertisements and tech demos leading up to the Loomer’s release and for good reason: the Reverse patch is badass. Based on the reverse effects of both the Alesis MidiVerb and the Yamaha SPX90, the Reverse is technically not a reverse reverb. Where traditional reverse reverbs applied in a studio environment are reversed wet reverb trails, the reverse voicing on the Loomer is technically a delay whose repeats play back affected by a volume swell. That swelling effect is made even crazier by the envelope-controlled vibrato, which will bend the note of your repeats upon responding to the attack of your playing. Keeley boasts that this is designed to simulate the pitch-bending of a trem-bar on a Jazzmaster or Jaguar. In that vein, the Warmth knob is meant to affect the tone the way a rhythm pickup tone pot on a Jazzmaster would. Coupled with the Filter control on the Fuzz half of the Loomer, the options for tone-sculpting are open and plenty.

I found the envelope-controlled vibrato to be a little oppressive without the use of the expression input. The rationale behind the use of the trem-bar on the strum is a matter of feel, not bending every note indiscriminately. Thankfully, we can control the intensity of each pitch-bend with an expression pedal, but that adds a layer of mastery we must surmount before truly unlocking the potential of this patch. What’s really beautiful about this setting is the way the repeats push the harmonic distortion of your signal when the Loomer is placed in front of a just-barely-overdriven amp. You know the sound of two notes a semitone away from one another behind an overdrive? Yeah? The Reverse voicing is like a constant wave of that. With the Warmth dialed toward dark and the fuzz filter just a hair past noon you get a really thick ambient rhythm tone.

HALL

The Hall voicing of the reverb half of the Loomer is a long Hall reverb with an octave-up shimmer that can be blended into the tone at will with the Depth knob (and the expression pedal as I’ve been harping on about.) There’s an undeniable musicality to slowly bringing in that choir of angels that I love to utilize as often as possible, sometimes to inappropriate effect. But getting carried away is arguably a worthwhile endeavor considering how much sheer fun results from the excess.

The brighter the warmth, the colder the shimmer will be, so I like to dial back that sharpness with the knob set toward the dark end. This keeps the shimmer from getting in the way of your playing no matter how much wet signal is blended into the chain.

SWAPPING CHAIN ORDER 

Originally included in the V1 Loomer’s box was a split TRS cable, which, should you choose to accept it, allows you to do one of two things:

1: Add an effect/effect chain between the fuzz and the reverb halves of the Loomer or…

2: Swap the fuzz and reverb halves of the Loomer (and also add effects between the two if you like).

The former is fine. It makes perfect sense to the sane mind; use the well-balanced and fully featured fuzz at the beginning of your chain, add your own tremolo, phaser, what-have-you in the middle, and end the chain with the beautifully rendered reverb. Boom, pedalboard complete.

To the more adventurous (read: less sane,) the latter is too tempting to ignore in favor of what makes sense. I am one of these people. I love just a teensy bit of fuzz after any reverb. It helps to pop you out of the mix if you’re getting washed out. If you want to get really crazy, the Hall sounds downright terrifying if you crank the fuzz, and what was once a chamber of cherubs singing praises to the universe has been distorted into banshees emerging from a disturbed burial site when you bring the shimmer into the mix. The Reverse can be made to sound identical to the rhythm tone in Loveless’ “I Only Said,” confirming the Loomer as the fastest route to a shoegaze baseline. The Focus’ nuances actually flattened out a little bit when fuzzed out, which I expected, but the way the quad chorus pushed the fuzz made for a brilliant and spooky lead tone replete with clippy, oversaturated modulations pulsing underneath.

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Overall-Rating-4.5

Wielding a fuzz that sounds massive no matter where you point the knobs and reverbs that are simple enough to be used by any genre but packed with experiment-worthy twists, The Keeley Loomer is bursting at the seams (screws?) with dark mysterious energy. The Loomer is the bread and butter to any shoegaze or post-rock project; it sounds like a black hole in a cathedral at its most extreme. I mentioned before that I think I’d have preferred Keeley stick with the TRS input as opposed to the order swap button, and I stand by that, but each guitarist has their own needs and reversing the order on the fly is arguably more convenient than running a cable from the output to the input and plugging your guitar and amp into the split TRS cable. Maybe Keeley could have gone stereo with the Loomer to get the full range of syncopation with the Focus and Reverse voices, but My Bloody Valentine recorded most of their heavy guitar tracks in mono, so that particular gripe is moot. The inclusion of an expression pedal input allows the guitarist a true musical flexibility that many other reverbs with similar sound quality at similar price points just don’t offer, and with a full-fledged fuzz attached, you can’t ignore it.

That concludes our review of the Keeley Loomer. Thanks for reading!

Effectrode Blackbird SR-71 Review – Best Pre-Amp Pedal?

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The Effectrode Blackbird SR-71 is a two-channel tube preamp pedal inspired by the “Blackface” Fender Twin Reverb and a certain highly sought after Dumble amp. Effectrode is regarded as the premier guitar pedal builder when it comes to implementing real vacuum tubes in their “audiophile pedals”. The Blackbird is one of the builder’s flagship pedals with a range of tonal options that allow it to be integrated with a guitar amp as an additional preamp. It can even act as your pedalboard based amp solution or tube tone recording solution when in both cases used in combination with your preferred method of speaker cab simulation. I had high hopes for this pedal, and it lived up in a big way. We’ll get to the details soon, but first, let me ask you this…

Is “Good Tone” Purely Subjective?

I’ve played a lot of pedals in recent years. (That’s somewhat of an understatement.) Yet while I have a lot of experience with guitar pedals, I generally don’t like to assume that I possess any more expertise on the subject than any other tone-chasing guitarist; I just know what I like and what sounds good to my ears. But I have noticed that I’ve become much more discriminating over time. Perhaps I have indeed acquired a greater ability to discern good tones from bad, as subjective as we may assume good tone to be. But I’d argue that there is an objectivity to good tone versus bad, just as you might claim that there is more artistic merit to a Rembrandt painting than a 4-year-old’s doodling. Some pieces of masterfully crafted gear stand out “tonally” with their sound quality expressing a sonic detail and universal appeal that transcend the crude efforts of lesser luthiers, although the reasons why may be difficult to communicate in language.

I won’t ramble down the rabbit hole of that point. I just brought up that musing for two reasons. First, it’s because the Effectrode Blackbird seems to be an immaculate creation. Within less than 10 minutes of plugging in to this pedal, I had already crowned it as one of my personal top 5 favorite pedals, and it’s since become a staple in my own guitar rig. That’s perhaps greater than any critical praise I could give. And that’s also a big deal to me because, like I said, I’ve play a lot of pedals. The other reason is that regardless of my personal opinion, I believe that the Blackbird has objectively good qualities that set it apart from most pedals. Frankly, I find this product so good that it’s intimidating to write about as I fear that I may not be able to express its merits accurately. It’s not about writing a “convincing” article or about whether or not my words “sell” you on the idea of this product. Yes, this is a very special instrument. Yes, I think every guitarist should experience it. And it’s the seemingly esoteric and ineffable qualities of the Blackbird I fear you may not get out of this article. Even watching a demo video won’t convey what you experience when playing it for yourself. Just keep that in mind going forward.

Features:

Two Truly Independent Channels: Add multiple channels to your vintage/boutique guitar amp! The clean channel is a replica of the classic ‘Blackface’ circuit Leo Fender created from the RCA Receiving Tube Manual and is beautifully warm and glassy sounding. The overdrive channel is an improvement on the hot-rodded tube circuitry found in Dumble amps and packs a huge degree of flexibility ranging from warm and fat blues drive tones, through classic rock crunch, to harmonically-saturated sounds.

Classic Tone Stacks: Each channel has it’s own dedicated Bass, Mid and Treble controls based on the interactive tonestacks found on the ‘Blackface’ amps.

Tube Buffered Output: For connection to guitar amplifier. This output is a low impedance tube cathode follower stage with +10dBu of gain and is capable of driving long cable runs with lowest possible tone loss.

Transformer Balanced Out: For superb professional quality direct recording. Triad transformer isolated balanced output (600Ω impedance) with +6dBu gain allowing direct connection to mixing desk, PC sound capture card or power amplifier. The transformer is driven by audiophile discrete class AB transistor circuitry (the only solid-state components in the entire signal path) and imparts some additional sweetness to the guitar signal – in fact, speaker emulation often isn’t even necessary when recording direct, just a some eq and a little reverb can create incredible, full-bodied tones.

Adjustable Bias: External switch allows biasing to be selected for 12AX7, 12AU7 or 12AY7 tubes installed in the overdrive channel. Internal bias trim pot allows further adjustment for other types of dual stage miniature B9A tube such as 12AV7, 12AT7, etc. Swapping tubes allows the fundamental character of the drive channel to be altered to replicate a wide range of vintage guitar amps and create new sounds too.

Tube swapping: The tone and gain characteristics of the Blackbird pedal can be fine-tuned by interchanging tubes – the pedal is designed for easy access to the tubes for this purpose. In the time it takes to change a light-bulb the core tone of the overdrive channel can be tailored to your exact requirements – from subtle break-up, to mellow blues and vintage or saturated modern rock distortion, this pedal has wide versatility and all by simply removing a tube and replacing it with a different type.

All Tube: The Blackbird is an entire tube preamp section in a pedal format. The signal path is 100% pure analogue built with vacuum tubes operating at amp plate voltages. D.C. powered tube heaters ensure absolute quietest possible operation.
Audiophile Components: Absolutely no skimping on the quality of the components – polyester capacitors and instrumentation grade metal-film resistors are used throughout the audio signal path. Find out more about the Effectrode engineering ethos on component quality here!

Dakaware Knobs: Authentic phenolic Dakaware, Chicago 1510 knobs custom manufactured for Effectrode in the U.S.A using the original 1940s moulds.

Extremely compact: The Blackbird is small enough to carry in a gig bag with your cables, tuner and other tools of the trade. You’ll be sure of unparalleled tone wherever you roam and it makes a great backup as a spare rig. No guitarist should leave home (or be at home!) without it!

Housed in a real metal box: The Blackbird is built to last and for rigorous touring – each preamp pedal is housed in an aluminum alloy enclosure which powder-coated with a stoved epoxy silkscreen.

True Bypass Switching: With Effectrode’s unique ‘anti-pop’ or ‘thump’ footswitching circuitry utilizing sealed, gold-contact relay to eliminate the possibility of dirty contacts degrading the sound and minimal internal audio path.

Includes 12V Wall-wart Power Supply: High quality low-noise switched mode 12VDC at 1.5A wall-wart compatible with all our pedals. Accepts 100V to 240VAC mains input and comes with different mains outlet adaptor plugs, so there is always a plug that fits the country that you are playing in.

Named after the coolest plane ever built!: The Blackbird SR-71 operated at Mach3+ to allow the pilot to outrun ground-to-air missiles! Like it’s counterpart the Blackbird vacuum tube preamp puts you in control of your core drive sound.

I’ll give most of my commentary about the Blackbird’s features in the next section where I’ll discuss them in relation to the sounds this pedal produces. I just want to touch briefly on the design of this elegant instrument. Effectrode pedals generally have a functional, understated appearance, and that’s the case with the Blackbird. The enclosure is a bit wide, so it’ll need some accommodation on a tight pedalboard. Fortunately, all the jacks are top-mounted for convenient access and to ensure there’s no potential wasted ‘board real estate on each side of the pedal. The face of the pedal is packed tightly; control knobs and foot-switches are densely spread a bit past the left two thirds of the pedal’s surface. On the right side is a roll-bar protected trio of glowing JJ Electronic 12AX7 tubes protruding up from within. My only area of concern with the layout is that the 2 foot-switches are a bit close to the classy looking Dakaware knobs of the clean channel. Restrained performers won’t mind, but rowdy showmen will need to step a bit more carefully or consider using an external TRS 2-button foot-switch for channel switching/bypassing if the close proximity is an issue.

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Opening the pedal doesn’t offer a view of the components, but be assured that what’s on the other side of the PCB is as densely packed as possible to keep what’s basically an actual “amp-in-a-box” (at least the pre-amp anyway) in as small of an enclosure as possible. You will discover the Bias trimpot, a Volume trimpot, and a jumper for changing switching functions. We’ll discuss the details of these internal options as we go.

Visit Effectrode for more info about the Blackbird SR-71.

Sound & Performance:

Let’s talk about the general sounds the Blackbird offers when used as a pre-amp in front of a traditional amp. I generally prefer cleaner amp tones that are in Fender Bassman or Blackface territory, and I’m currently running through either a Rivera Venus 5 or Venus Recording with the amp’s EQ voicing set for a Blackface style sound. For testing I used an American Standard Strat with DiMarzio HS-3 in the bridge & a Gibson Flying V with Seymour Duncan ’59 (neck) and JB 35th Anniversary (bridge) pickups.

Effectrode-Blackbird-SR-71-Review-Best-Pre-Amp-Pedal-03Clean Channel

Activating the Blackbird over a neutral clean amp sound adds further to the distinct Blackface style characteristics I’m pretty accustomed to. There is a very nice shine to the sound, a brilliant “glassy” tone that reveals some of the best Fender Twin Reverb style tonality you’ll hear outside of a pristine specimen of the actual amp. The Blackbird’s Clean Channel boasts a familiar tonestack found in those classic amps, so veterans with experience playing the Fender originals will be at home here. In addition to the Bass, Middle, & Treble controls is a single Volume knob (no Gain needed) for matching levels or applying a little boost if you want to hit your amp a little harder to induce some overdrive.

What I find especially appealing is that the Blackbird doesn’t compound your clean tone into a muddy mess when stacking it with a clean amp foundation tone. It’s surprising how incredibly low the noise floor is, and I’ve found myself often using the Clean Channel “always on” as an essential component to my clean sound when playing the Blackbird in front of a tube amp. Also, if I’m switching from a humbucker to single coil equipped guitar, I may use the pedal to add or remove certain frequencies (particularly treble) while setting the Volume to a matched level to that of the other guitar. This adds a lot versatility for performing guitarists who use multiple guitars on stage or anyone who’d find an additional clean sound appealing. And it’s generally useful if your amp’s base clean sound needs a little extra sparkle.

There’s also a Presence flip-switch that can add some instant brightness to the Clean Channel. It applies to all of the pedal’s various channel voicings, so it may not be suitable to leave on in all situations. I’ll discuss its use in a moment.

Crunch Channel

The Crunch Channel is a hot-rodded Dumble flavoring (the Dumble amp it’s based on in particular being itself an evolved Blackface Fender). This channel adds a dedicated Gain knob to the control scheme and with it a range of saturated tones to explore. There are also 2 unique configurations for this channel: Classic & Creamy.

The Classic mode yields an appropriately “classic” range of drive tones. Go here for the types of saturation you’d associate with blues rock and classic rock guitar. The Creamy mode offers a more modern sounding saturation with heaps of gain on tap. It’s worth going into the nuanced differences between these modes in relation to settings. I expect the Classic mode to be a favorite for many guitarists, so let’s start there.

Effectrode-Blackbird-SR-71-Review-Best-Pre-Amp-Pedal-04Classic: With the Gain set left of noon, the Classic mode gives you a great, alternate clean setting if you dial in the EQ a bit differently than the Clean channel. Pushing the Gain just past noon will give you a hint of bite when you dig in. Somewhere around the 1-2 o’clock area is perhaps my favorite setting for the Gain. You’ll get a nice grit that responds well to your playing dynamics; it’ll also clean up a bit when cutting your guitar’s volume knob. Background noise is relatively low around this area, too, and the sound is tight and punchy. As you push the Gain towards around 3 o’clock and higher, the sound becomes progressively louder and brighter. At this point it’s worth mentioning that this mode may come alive a bit more for humbuckers here as you’ll notice more treble bite and note articulation. You can tweak the Gain and Treble to get your top-end just right. It’s worth noting that these settings should be considered starting points as it’ll be essential to listen carefully to find the sweet spots in relation to the guitar(s) you’re using.

Effectrode-Blackbird-SR-71-Review-Best-Pre-Amp-Pedal-05Creamy: This mode immediately became my personal favorite when I first played the Blackbird as I always seem to gravitate towards more heavily saturated tones. However, I came to discover that I find the Classic mode more suited to bringing out a single-coil like clarity from humbuckers, and the Creamy mode’s saturation really works well for adding a more humbucker-like thickness to single-coils. Regardless of what guitar and pickups you use, Creamy mode provides a more harmically rich saturation that contrasts the Classic mode’s more focused and tamer tones. This mode has more complexity and richness. It also has a looser feel that isn’t too spongey. The Gain is usable all the way up to maximum settings. Despite my confession to having a propensity for gain, I don’t typically advocate for turning the Gain “to eleven”, but the wide range of excellent gain tones extends throughout the knob’s sweep which is very rare in any amp or pedal. Just be mindful; while the background noise is pretty low until around 2 o’clock, if you’re going for full saturation, some background noise will creep in.

Presence

Before moving on I need to mention the Presence switch again. This is handy for tweaking the overall response of the Blackbird to a brighter or darker rig. If your amp is a bit too warm and dark or you’re playing some vintage humbuckers, this can add a little brilliance. If your single coils are already bright enough and/or you’re playing through a modern clean amp, leave the Presence off. While I sometimes enjoy a brighter and more full-range sound, I generally find myself keeping the Presence off as the Treble knobs can add a sufficient brightness if I need it. If anything, it might be nice if there were internal Presence dip-switches to further contrast the Classic & Creamy tones, but that’s hardly anything to complain about considering the flexibility of the EQ controls.

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Integrating Blackbird Into Your Rig

The Blackbird has 2 operating modes that affect the way the bypassing and channel selection works. An internal jumper lets you choose from the default mode or an “always on” mode. Let’s discuss the differences.

Default Mode: The default mode lets the Bypass foot-switch activate & bypass the pedal. The Channel switch will select from the Clean & Crunch channels. In this mode you use the Classic/Creamy flip-switch to select the voicing of the Crunch channel. The Default mode is the standard mode of operation when using the Blackbird in a rig with a guitar amp that already has a sound you enjoy. The foot-switches will thus let you have the sound of your amp with the pedal bypassed, the Clean channel, and the Crunch sound with your preferred voicing selected.

“Always On” Mode: I’ve dubbed this “always on” mode because it allows you to keep the pedal on at all times and use the Blackbird as a permanent preamp in your guitar rig. In this configuration the Channel foot-switch will select from the Clean and Crunch channels as expected while the Bypass foot-switch lets you switch from Classic to Creamy. This gives you access to all 3 preamp sounds and is ideal if the Blackbird is to become a permanent fixture of your sound. It’s worth mentioning that the Classic/Creamy flip-switch is now a master power switch for activating/bypassing the pedal in case you still want to deactivate it without opening the pedal again. It may be useful to deactivate it in the studio if need arises; the flip-switch will act like a “standby” switch on an amp..

I’ve switched between both operating modes on occasion, and there’s one concern to be aware of for guitarists that expect to use the “always on” option for quick access to both the Classic & Creamy modes. It’s fine that the Classic & Creamy modes share EQ controls; however, the Gain knob produces significantly different volume levels between the two modes. This makes it challenging to match levels. I find that the Gain works best somewhere around 1-2 o’clock as the levels are somewhat comparable here before the Classic mode spikes in volume as you increase the Gain. This is also an ideal position for moderately high Gain with low noise. Surprisingly, there’s an internal Level trimmer that reduces the volume of the Creamy mode. While this trimmer seems to thin out the Creamy tone a little which could be useful to further augment the sound if you prefer the slight difference, I’d generally suggest keeping it at max for the highest output level. While I’ve tried to be open to another possible benefit of this function, I maintain a position that it would probably be more useful as a Level trimmer for the Classic mode to better match its volume to the Creamy setting. This would theoretically add greater flexibility for matching Classic & Creamy levels.

External Control

There’s an input labeled EXT. SELECT that allows you to plug in a TRS latching foot-switch to take control of the Blackbird’s foot-switch functions. This allows you to control the pedal remotely with an amp-style 2-button foot-switch. Some effects switchers also allow amp control functions. The Blackbird is ideal in these scenarios. I’ve been using a MIDI enabled effects switcher with a DAW (Ableton Live) to automate my effects changes. It’s nice that the Blackbird can be controlled this way for optimal performance use in a complex guitar rig, and this option has become indispensable for my own needs.

Direct Out

In my research I found a Blackbird review online from a typically reputable publication mentioning that the Blackbird has a “speaker-emulated” output. The Blackbird does not have a speaker-emulated output. The author also complained about the “harsh” distortion of the pedal in isolation. If you were to connect a standard distortion pedal or any tube amplifier’s distorted preamp directly into a mixer, you’ll hear a brash, unfiltered distortion. Same with the Blackbird. That’s just how amps sound before a speaker filters out the harsh frequencies.

What the Blackbird does have is an ultra low noise ¼” TRS transformer isolated balanced direct output. This allows direct connection to a mixing desk or audio interface for further processing of your audio signal. The Triad Magnetics audio transformer also imparts its own subtle characteristics to your tone while providing an additional +6dBu of volume output. Surprisingly, in one recent rig setup I found myself running the Blackbird from the Direct Out into the Strymon BigSky with that pedal’s Cab Filter enabled. The tones were excellent, certainly gig-worthy. It’s worth exploring both output options in your setup, just be mindful of the extra +6dBu volume boost on the Direct Out if you’re feeding it into other pedals.

As Effectrode states on their website, you may not even need “speaker emulation” when using the Direct Out, “just add some eq and a little reverb”. Speakers are essentially analog, mechanical filters, so if you’re recording in a pinch without access to a mic and speaker cab, recording from the Blackbird’s Direct Out and applying some EQ can yield results from solid to excellent, depending primarily on your mastery of EQ. Any fault in the recorded tones from the Direct Out are no fault of the pedal itself. Also, be aware that there’s something to be said about possibly noticing a lack of power amp feel by just running a preamp into a cab sim or EQ, but the tradeoff will often be a minor concern for the convenience the Blackbird offers.

Effectrode-Blackbird-SR-71-Review-Best-Pre-Amp-Pedal-07Landing the Blackbird

As we wrap this up, it is with regret that I can’t give you any feedback about switching the Blackbird’s tubes as I didn’t have any on-hand to test it with. I very much enjoy the stock JJ Electronic 12AX7s, and I imagine few guitarists will find them necessary to replace. The pedal sounds incredible as is. I did, however, make a few small tweaks to the internal bias while listening just to make the pedal sound a little tastier to my ears. If you’re a tone chaser with a small collection of vintage amp tubes, you can try swapping tubes for various 12AX7, 12AU7, 12AY7 and even 12AV7 and 12AT7’s if you’ve got them. You might find a way to make a great thing even better.

My only real concern as stated previously is that I’d like to see an option implemented to better help with balancing the Classic & Creamy modes’ output levels when switching between them. Also, I’d imagine some guitarists might like different Gain settings between Classic & Creamy modes; I personally like upping the Creamy’s Gain sometimes. To get a bit more creative with my wish-list, since I love the Creamy side so much, it would be nice if I could select between two different Gain and/or Volume levels. I’m really reaching here, and that’s not a complaint by any means. Just for having access to the pristine Clean Channel and even only one of the excellent Crunch Channel sounds, the Blackbird is a can’t miss pedal.

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Overall-Rating-5.0

The Effectrode Blackbird is in a class of its own when it comes to real all-tube preamp pedals. The Clean Channel is an immaculate rendition of Blackface Fender tones. The Dumble inspired Crunch Channel is excellent in either Classic or Creamy mode. There’s plenty of tonal options to perfectly integrate the Blackbird into a rig with your favorite guitar and amp. You may even be tempted to leave the amp at home and seek out a cab-simulated solution for your Blackbird centered pedalboard or home recording setup. The transformer isolated output isn’t a mere novelty and adds indispensable flexibility for recording or signal routing. As I write this final paragraph, I’m stretching my memory to ensure this last statement is still accurate, but it seems safe to say. The Effectrode Blackbird is one of my personal top 5 favorite guitar pedals and gets my highest possible recommendation for any connoisseur of great guitar tone.

 

That concludes our Effectrode Blackbird SR-71 review. Thanks for reading.

Top 17 Best Guitar Effects Pedals of Winter NAMM 2017

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Here we are. Another year of NAMM. Another roundup of the best guitar pedals of this year’s show.

After covering The NAMM Show for several years, I’ve noticed that it takes more to impress me than it once did. I’m not a brand loyalist, and I don’t really get excited about a pedal just because it’s a new release from a fan favorite builder. I maintain a healthy skepticism towards the builders that have innovated in the past, looking for any indication that they’re resting on their past successes or running out of ideas. Ultimately, I seek out pedals and gear that may inspire new perspectives on creating music with guitar, the “best guitar effects” that will produce the sounds in music yet to be heard.

There were several pedals at the show that are pushing boundaries (and not just musically as I’ll discuss more near the end of this article). While there were many more pedals at this year’s NAMM Show than listed here, this article will focus on the very best pedals, narrowed down even further than previous Best Pedals of Winter NAMM lists to place greater emphasis on the innovative guitar pedals that are most deserving of your attention.

As always these initial impressions do not constitute a final review verdict in any way. The busy NAMM Show floor isn’t an ideal listening environment, and many of these products are still in development and may change and evolve before their actual release. But overall I feel positive about this assessment, and it should give you a great starting point for researching the best guitar pedals from Winter NAMM 2017 for any new additions to your pedalboard.

Now here are the Top 17 Best Guitar Effects Pedals of Winter NAMM 2017!

 

Empress Effects Echosystem

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I’d been waiting on this announcement for quite a while: a successor to the Empress Effects Vintage Modified Superdelay. But what Empress Effects unveiled at Winter NAMM 2017 is something on a whole different level warranting a new name for a new generation of delay tones. This isn’t a novel update to the Superdelay. It’s the Echosystem Dual Engine Delay, and it’s shaping up to be a game changer.

What sets the Echosystem apart from the multi-algorithm delay pedal pack? Well, let’s start with the fact that it’ll give you 25+ delays modes out of the box. You can use these modes individually or use 2 delays at once in dual parallel, dual serial, or left/right. The possibilities for stacking delays are staggering.

Let’s get back to the Superdelay (and VMSD) to contrast and elaborate on the known improvements made. While I was a huge advocate for the merits of the Vintage Modified Superdelay, it was mono only. The Echosystem has stereo I/O. The VMSD wasn’t MIDI enabled. The Echosystem will support extensive MIDI implementation. And if you’re a fan of the classic Superdelay sounds, you can expect to see plenty of them here. The user generated multi tap possibilities will return as will my personal favorite algorithm, the reverse octave up (it wasn’t in the NAMM units, but Empress Effects assured me it’s on the way). Expect to see some of the builder’s renowned tape delay sounds making a return.

The Echosystem sports a similar design to the company’s hit Empress Reverb. You can expect to find the pedal’s 25+ delay modes indicated by the RGB LEDs next to the 12 mode types. All the expected classic delay types are covered: Digital, Analog, Tape, Reverse, and many more. There will be Delay + Reverb types as well. Whisky (similar to the Reverb’s “Beer” mode) is where the more outlandish and bizarre delays will reside (like the must hear “stutter” delay). Kudos to Empress Effects for a dedicated Lo-Fi section as the sounds at NAMM are already promising. And yes, there will be a dedicated Looper function to come. Expect to see more forum voting for new modes as well.

Not even scratching the surface here, but let me make a closing statement. As excited as I was about the Empress Reverb, my expectations for the Echosystem are above and beyond, and this may be the new digital delay to beat when it drops this Spring.

 

WMD Geiger Counter Pro

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So what happens when you take an analog distortion engine and feed it into a computer to be filtered, bit-crushed, and mangled by 700 or so wave tables? I’ll tell you what happens. Faces melt. Heads explode. Old worlds are destroyed, and new ones are formed form the ashes. The WMD Geiger Counter Pro is the sound of armageddon and sonic revolution happening simultaneously.

Been waiting on this pedal… for… ev… er. But fear not as the delivery of its payload is imminent. The Geiger Counter Pro is your post-rock, post-apocalyptic survival tool-kit. So many options here. You’ll be tweaking this one for a long time to come.

Dedicated “Samples” & “Bits” knobs induce bit-crushing. Crank the Bits clockwise for a Gate, sure to come in handy when dropping megatons of gain on your audience. The Bank & Table knobs dial in the wave tables for mathematic destruction – or deconstruction – of your audio signal. This will decimate your sound beautifully, resulting in harmonically complex textures. There’s also a dedicated Filter for some some classic synth-style low-pass filtering. This’ll tame the extremities and maybe get you jonesing for the epic WMD Protostar. There’s also a dedicated knob for the optional Tone circuit and a Mix control.

You can save and recall a host of presets from the pedal itself. With deep MIDI implementation you can take even deeper control on the pedal. Got a modular synth rig? There are 2 assignable CV ports (that are also expression pedal compatible) for crazy external control possibilities. WMD is about to drop a bomb on the pedal world. Brave guitar players will dare to detonate the Geiger Counter Pro; those who can’t handle it: take cover.

On a side note, as my expectations for this pedal are very high, it’s important that I mention the one area of pre-release constructive criticism I have. The Samples knob has a huge range of great ring-mod style tones to be dialed in. The Fine button near the knob jumps the range to a smaller area in the upper register. Since it sounds so great using the Samples knob to tune the pitch to a note that’s in key with what you’re playing, it might be interesting if the Fine button allowed “fine tuning” in the range where the knob is currently set instead of jumping to a different register with a limited tuning range. Just a curiosity of mine that might allow more flexibility.

 

Red Panda Tensor

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The Tensor is the most exciting Red Panda pedal since the Particle. Yeah, I just said that. When I heard that this pedal could do “tape stop” effects, I was excited and had to check it out. When I discovered that it could “stretch” your playing, I was more deeply intrigued. When I heard the smooth expression pedal controlled pitch-shifting in selectable intervals spanning -2 to +2 octaves, I was blown away. When I sampled and played audio via the Hold function and had it loop, play in reverse, and bounce back in forth, well, I was already communing with the clockwork elves, so I can’t really explain how beyond stoked I was. But when I returned from this all too brief journey and heard about something else that might make it into the production version, I imagined musical possibilities that could make the Tensor one of the most creative and inspiring pedals released for years to come. As it stands, the Tensor will be amazing. But if you’re really intrigued, cross your fingers with me in hoping it becomes a perpetual bridge to the fractal universe.

 

Source Audio Ventris Reverb

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So you’re familiar with the Nemesis Delay, right? It’s one of the best delay pedals to come along in recent years. Well, Source Audio are about to release the similarly awe inspiring Ventris Reverb. This is another example of a pedal that looks very promising and may further exceed expectations before its release.

The biggest wow factor of this compact treasure trove of reverb is that it boasts an extra processor from the Nemesis Delay. This gives you true reverb spillover when changing from one preset to the next, a dream come true for guitarists who use multiple reverb sounds within a single song. While the Ventris looks like it may allow users to run two reverbs in parallel (and in stereo), I’m hoping Source Audio can crack the code to allow stacking reverbs in series (and in stereo, of course).

Like the Nemesis, the Ventris has presets, MIDI implementation, Neuro App connectivity, and a host of onboard parameter knobs that negate the need for menus. In addition to the Neuro App, a desktop compatible app is on the way for arguably more convenient preset editing.

Expect the reverbs onboard (and the ones to come via the Neuro App) to be stellar. It won’t be a question of whether or not this pedal is any good. I’m expecting greatness. But if I find a worthy excuse to forgo stacking the Eventide H9 & Strymon BigSky for series reverb, the Ventris may greatly exceed my loftiest expectations.

 

Chase Bliss Audio Brothers

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For those of you waiting for Chase Bliss Audio to stop innovating, don’t hold your breath. Brothers is a veritable playground of analog dirt/boost circuits that can be run separately, in series, and/or in parallel. The pedal has 2 sides, a JFET side & an IC side, each providing Boost, Drive, & Fuzz modes that were conceived by different minds. Mr. Joel Korte of CBA tackled the IC side (B), giving us a nice vanilla boost, a Tube Screamer inspired overdrive, and a ’77 IC Muff style fuzz. The JFET side (A) was designed by Wes Kuhnley and Peter Bregman of Resonant Electronic Design. Essentially, side A provides interpretations of the company’s Graviton Boost, Manifold Drive, and Acceleron Fuzz. That’s a whole lotta dirt in a single pedal that could potentially wipe a whole slew of pedals off your pedalboard. Will all the routing possibilities considered, that’s like 33 different dirt options from a single pedal.

As Chase Bliss Audio did with the Tonal Recall at Winter NAMM 2016 before its Spring release, Brothers was shown at this year’s NAMM to get more feedback. I’m personally enjoying the sounds of the circuits when combined in series or parallel. (Disclaimer: I’m also helping CBA beta test it before release.) The trajectory is looking solid for yet another hit as Brothers is certainly unlike any dirt pedal to become before it and will likely be much greater than the sum of its parts.

 

Neunaber Iconoclast

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Neunaber is known for making some of the best reverb pedals you’ll hear, the Immerse being their most recent and notable offering. The Iconoclast looks to further extend Neunaber’s hold on the end of your signal chain by boasting what is arguably the most advanced speaker emulation technology in a dedicated compact pedal to date.

With overdrive, pre-amp, and amp-in-a-box pedals achieving increasingly spectacular sounds in recent years, sounds that are more than sufficient for recording with or running live in an amp-less direct to mixing board guitar rig, an advanced speaker simulation pedal of this quality is long overdue.

You’ll notice that there’s no foot-switch as the Iconoclast is an “always on” sort of effect. The pedal’s 3 middle knobs labeled Low, Mid, & High provide dead simple contouring of the frequency response of your virtual stereo speaker cabinet. The Gate knob lets you cut noise from your signal chain. A Headphone knob sets the volume for the dedicated headphone output, useful for late-night bedroom jamming or running an extra stereo signal to some other destination.

That’s only the tip of this immense iceberg. Connect the Iconoclast to your computer via USB, fire up the Iconoclast Software, and take complete control over the tonal sculpting that this innovative pedal offers. I experienced this at NAMM and got a taste of the dynamic interaction between audio signal and the Iconoclast thanks to its real-time on-screen feedback. While our ears have grown accustomed to flawed and irregular frequency responses from actual speakers, it was intriguing to see a grotesque, jagged speaker impulse response juxtaposed with the smoother and tonally balanced EQ curves from the Iconoclast. You can use the editor to sculpt a smoother, more balanced version of your favorite IR. You can also tweak the many Gate and Output parameters for ideal response and integration with your guitar setup.

It’s not surprising that Mr. Brian Neunaber has taken such a hi-fi approach and displays great expertise in this area considering his background developing professional speakers for QSC Audio. The sounds produced by the Iconoclast are beautiful and yet another compelling reason for leaving the amp at home when gigging.

 

Catalinbread Belle Epoch Deluxe

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The Belle Epoch pedal was Catalinbread’s compact digital emulation of the legendary Echoplex EP-3. That pedal is dead now. Catalinbread just killed it. Long live the Belle Epoch Deluxe Echo Unit CB-3.

Okay, the story isn’t that simple. And many folks will undoubtedly still love and appreciate the original Belle Epoch just as countless music fans still love the classic recordings that contain sounds made with an Echoplex.

The Echoplex is famous for two reasons: beautiful delay echos & equally beautiful tonal coloration when used as a preamp. Catalinbread has attempted to distill the essence of both in two distinct products.

Mr. Howard Gee spent months studying the circuitry of the iconic EP-3, painstakingly attempting to reproduce a component accurate recreation of the famed unit heard of countless iconic recordings. In the Belle Epoch Deluxe, you’ll get a static EP-3 preamp sound along with a glorious emulation of the kinds of delay echos heard from a vintage Echoplex along with some DMM style modulation thrown in. Howard had only to follow his muse and trust in the many loved records and tones that have become part of his DNA. I don’t think he was led astray as the sounds at NAMM were killer.

I know there are guitarists who will gripe about there not being tap tempo. Did Jimmy Page have tap tempo? No. If you want glorious runaway echo oscillation, it’s here. If you want expression pedal control over delay time or feedback, the CB-3 has it. If you want a mojo that’s been lovingly crafted and unattainable from your typical multi-algorithm delay with digital tape echo mode, you’ve gotta hear this. And if you just want a killer Echoplex preamp sound and don’t need the delay, then keep reading…

 

Catalinbread Epoch Pre Preamp/Buffer

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Catalinbread went the extra mile and made a little something extra during pursuit of the EP-3 holy grail. The Epoch Pre is meant to be the ultimate pedal solution for any guitarist who wants the distilled sonic elixir of EP-3 preamp tone on their pedalboard.

Just as guitarists would set an Echoplex on their amp to run directly into it when pre-amping, the Epoch Pre is meant to add that final tonal touch to your guitar signal before it hits your amp.

The Epoch Pre uses the same large components and up-converted voltage as the Belle Epoch Deluxe, hence its seemingly larger size for a “boost” pedal. And while this pedal boasts the same Echoplex flavor as the Deluxe, the Epoch Pre takes the EP-3 preamp concept a bit further.

The Early/Later button lets you get early EP-3 sounds with that characteristic mid-range bump or later sounds with a broader frequency response. The Bias lets you go from the classic EP-3 sound to a hotter, wider sound. The Boost foot-switch gives you a second preset amount of boost. The optional Buffer lets you drive long cables back to your amp. The Balance controls volume from minimum to noon settings and creates subtle frequency and phase shifts at higher settings. You even get two outputs.

Catalinbread may have just released the ultimate EP-3 inspired booster pedal.

 

Atomic Ampli-Firebox

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Atomic & Studio Devil previously teamed up to release the Atomic AmpliFire, a powerful DSP based amp & speaker simulator that put plenty of quality sounding emulations on your pedalboard. While the AmpliFire is an excellent solution for leaving your amp at home in favor of a unit that’ll fit on your pedalboard, it was still a bit larger than some guitarists would prefer. If size was your most notable gripe with the AmpliFire, the Ampli-Firebox may be the solution for you.

Essentially, this pedal trims all the fat, cutting out the onboard effects (except for an amp-style Reverb) while maintaining a full set of of amp-style controls. Guitar pedal junkies are increasingly ditching multi-channel amplifiers in favor of a single great clean amp foundation and using pedals for overdrive and distortion tones. If that’s all you need, the Ampli-Firebox can give you that clean amp with speaker cabinet sound and run the signal to the FOH (front of house) mixing board via the ¼” output or XLR output. If you need a Boost, there’s also a dedicated foot-switch and Level for that as well.

The AmpliFire provided several amp options, many of which are very, very good. The Ampli-Firebox can accommodate up to 9 amp models accessible via onboard flip-switches. A Cab switch also lets you select from 3 different speaker cabinet impulse responses. (Amp and speaker sounds can be selected/changed via USB connectivity.) While this pedal will let you play through a gig-worthy single amp option (with boost), I wish Atomic included a MIDI input for allowing easier selection of the 9 amp models from a switcher when gigging. I’m sold on the idea of having one excellent amp sound at my feet, but I’d rather not do “the bend” and mess with knobs/switches when playing a gig. This will be an excellent product. A 1.5 hardware update with a MIDI in will be even better.

 

Fox Pedal Novaplex Delay & Quiver

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Been waiting on the Novaplex Delay for a while. And now Fox Pedal have another interesting looking pedal to watch for: the Quiver Harmonic Tremolo.

Essentially, these are two digitally controlled effects pedals with some deeper functionality. The Novaplex is a digital delay; the Quiver is an analog harmonic tremolo. Both pedals feature tap tempo, plenty of parameter controls, tap divisions, and Modulation on the Novaplex and Waveform options on the Quiver, respectively.

Back at Summer NAMM 2016, when Fox Pedal first teased the Novaplex Delay, there was an intriguing external control pedal (the Storehouse) that was intended to allow preset selection on upcoming pedals. Now, if you look carefully near the bottom right knobs of each pedal, you’ll see “MIDI”. There’s a dedicated full-size MIDI input jack on both of these pedals. I was shocked to see this at Winter NAMM 2017. So many builders claim they simply don’t have room for a full-size MIDI jack on compact pedals, but Fox Pedal is attempting the task. Effects loving guitarists who want ultra-compact MIDI enabled pedals, these will definitely be worth watching out for. And, yes, they look gorgeous as always. (Note: forgot to snap photos of these while at The NAMM Show. This photo is from the Fox Pedal Instagram account.)

 

Amptweaker PressuRizer

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I love guitar compressor pedals. It became an area of study for me to discover the nuanced differences that various types of compressors can have on the sound of a guitar and understand how compression changes my approach to playing guitar. While there are relatively few compressor pedals that push the creative boundaries of how compression is applied, the Amptweaker PressuRizer is definitely one such pedal that offers a few noteworthy deviations from the norm.

The PressuRizer boasts a compression chip from THAT Corp, the company known for the kind of high grade VCA compression whose lineage can be traced back to the legendary dbx 160 compressor units. The key parameter controls are the Sustain & Volume knobs, similar to the basic approach of an old OTA style comp like the MXR Dyna Comp or Ross Compressor. Then there’s a Wet/Dry Blend knob that blends in your compressed signal with your dry signal for New York style parallel compression. The Tone knob has a greater range of usability than most with the unique ability to apply a subtle mid scoop to the compressed signal for a less cluttered, more transparent mid-range.

There are a few other surprises that offer even more performance flexibility. The Limit section lets you activate an optional Soft or Hard limiter-like effect that further tames dynamics. The Bloom section lets the wet signal increase from silence at a Fast or Slow speed; with a blended wet/dry signal, this helps retain a natural pick attack with increased sustain. For guitarists who like to leave their compressor “always on”, you’ll appreciate that you can hold the foot-switch to activate an “always on” mode that lets the foot-switch be used for an optional clean boost when needed. The pedal even has a smart relay bypass that recalls previous bypass status, a very convenient consideration for guitarists who use effects switchers. This pedal will surely be gold.

 

DigiTech FreqOut

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The DigiTech FreqOut sounded awesome at NAMM. If you’ve ever tried inducing singing harmonic feedback onstage, you’ll know of the few challenges involved. First, it helps to have deafening volumes, far louder than what may be allowed in a smaller club venue or that would be preferred for ideal cabinet miking. Heaps of gain helps. And if you can soundcheck early, you’d also want to make tape lines on stage of where to stand to induce the exact feedback notes you want to hear. Forget all of that. The FreqOut can induce controlled feedback at any volume or gain level in any of its 7 available harmonic pitch intervals.

Essentially, the FreqOut looks at your signal and hones in on those preferred harmonics to create its singing feedback pitches. It’s ideal to use in momentary mode where you step on the foot-switch at those precise moments to add a majestic beauty to sustaining notes. If you kill the dry signal you can induce ebow-like sounds as well. Gain & Onset knobs control how much feedback is blended in and how long it takes for the feedback to increase to full intensity, respectively.

The FreqOut isn’t the first feedback inducing pedal to hit the market, but DigiTech has certainly created what will likely be the best feedback pedal released to date.

 

Rainger FX Deep Space Pulsar

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The Rainger FX Deep Space Pulsar reminds me of years past, driving to band practice while listening to Daft Punk’s Discovery. That record and Homework were the precursors to my growing interest in electronic dance music over the years and sparked my interest in applying studio effects and sound design techniques to live guitar. Sidechain compression is one such effect that has long been a staple of dance records, and this pedal does one thing: pumping, throbbing volume attenuation similar to the effect of using side-chain compression.

The pedal includes a kick drum mic for integrating this pedal into a live setting with an acoustic drummer. Just plug the mic into the pedal and place it into the sound hole of the kick drum to let the drummer’s kick hits induce the pedal’s pumping effect. A Pad switch lets you increase the sensitivity to pick up softer kick hits.

If you don’t have a kick signal to feed into the Deep Space Pulsar, you can use the included Igor foot-pad to tap in a tempo. It’ll even allow corrective taps to keep the pulsing on the beat if you’re manually syncing along to a rhythm source.

What I’m most excited about is the possibility feeding the pedal a kick drum from a DAW (like Ableton Live) or a drum machine. Lately I’ve been using an Empress Effects Compressor in my signal chain to get that side-chain compression effect by feeding a kick drum from my laptop through the audio interface to the pedal. My one wish is for the Dip to have a dynamic sensitivity option so that you could feed it a quieter or louder kick drum for gentle or hard driving pumping.

The Deep Space Pulsar is the first pedal since Rainger FX’s own Minor Concussion sidechainer that focuses solely on this effect. You can also invert the ramping effect for a trem-like sound that some musicians may find use for. The Deep Space Pulsar is a compelling little pedal to consider if you’re a sidechain compression enthusiast.

 

DigiTech CabDryVR

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The DigiTech CabDryVR is a dual cabinet simulator that has some noteworthy features to make it worth considering for an end-of-signal-chain replacement to using a real speaker cab. It features a selection of 14 guitar and bass cab impulse responses, 7 for guitar & 7 for bass. Cab A & B are output via 2 separate outputs. This allows you to match cabinets on both outputs or use 2 different cabs for your stereo setup; pair with 2 different preamp or amp-in-a-box pedals for a sound similar to miking 2 separate amps for a stereo spread. I’d also imagine that a band with 2 guitarists could run into each signal path for 2 distinct sounds from the same pedal. Or maybe feed a bass and keyboard into the bass cabinets, also.

On Cab B the Small Combo 1×8” speaker is replaced with a Dry option for a direct through sound if running one side into an amp and the other to a different destination with cab emulation. Both Cabs also have individual Level & Size knobs for adjusting volume and perceived size of the cabs. It sounded pretty nice in DigiTech’s amp-less demo rig at NAMM. I’m expecting it to live up in actual use as well.

 

Dwarfcraft Super Wizard

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On the wild west coast where Winter NAMM 2017 took place, this mysteriously shrouded pedal beckoned me to plug in and make some bizarre sounds. Unfortunately, the harsh NAMM conditions (i.e. noise levels from nearby booths) can make it difficult to really hear the nuances of the gear you’re trying to listen to. But from what my ears struggled to hear on the chaotic NAMM show floor, the Dwarfcraft Super Wizard made enough of an impression to be included here.

The Super Wizard comes from a pedigree of the builder’s previous releases that should give you an idea of what to expect that’s probably better than what I can explain. Dwarfcraft previously took their insane Pitchgrinder and transformed it into the calamitous Wizard of Pitch, a pitch mangling sonic assault weapon. They stuffed the Wizard of Pitch into the Super Wizard and combined it with their Minivan Echo, a lo-fi digital delay with oscillation and mangled delay sounds. The result is a chaotic instrument that warps your guitar into ambient, soundscapey new textures. A couple momentary foot-switches give you real-time performance control over the insanity that ensues when you activate the pedal.

 

Electro Harmonix Blurst

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I’m a big fan of synth style filtering, particularly low-pass filters. The Electro Harmonix Blurst Modulated Filter brings you an analog low-pass filter with adjustable resonance. Instead of being envelope controlled (like an auto-wah or auto-filter), the Blurst is LFO controlled for automated rhythmic filtering. Tap tempo and 3 Tap Divide options provide flexibility for live syncing. The 3 Shape options let you choose from triangle, rising saw-tooth, or fall saw-tooth waveforms.

Perhaps the most exciting aspects of the pedal are the expression pedal modes. These give you the option of controlling either the Range, Rate, or Filter. Controlling the Filter via exp pedal disengages the Rate & Range knobs for a manual sweeping through the entire frequency range. This sounded killer at NAMM. While the Blurst definitely supports CV input for control over the selected exp pedal parameter, I’m hoping to get confirmation that CV control also allows control over the full filter sweep. If so, this pedal will be a force to be reckoned with if hybrid modular/CV rigs are your thing.

 

So those are the 17 best all-new guitar pedals shown at Winter NAMM 2017.

But there’s one more pedal I’d like to tell you about that wasn’t exactly new for NAMM but still worth mentioning…

 

Rabbit Hole FX A ‘Merkin Fuzz

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This rad little stars ‘n stripes themed fuzz pedal wasn’t new for Winter NAMM 2017. It actually came out this past October. But while looking for pedals that push boundaries in some way, the A ‘Merkin (or just ‘Merkin for short) caught my attention. Here’s why…

Rabbit Hole FX is a pedal builder from Durham, North Carolina. You may have heard in 2016 that NC passed something called HB2, the “bathroom bill” that sparked a statewide civil liberties uproar primarily because many viewed it as a “deeply discriminatory” attack against LGBTQ citizens. This led to boycotts of the state by businesses and performers which resulted in millions of dollars in lost revenue. Pro-equality voters made their voices heard in the gubernatorial election this past November, ousting seated governor Pat McCrory, a vocal supporter of the bill. Organizations like EqualityNC are still working diligently to repeal HB2 and promote equality in the state of North Carolina. Rabbit Hole FX is currently donating 100% of profits from sales of the A ‘Merkin Fuzz to EqualityNC. Not “a portion of” or some small percentage – ALL profits.

This is a big deal for several reasons. First, overturning and preventing discriminatory legislation seems like a pretty good idea. I’m sure patriotic Americans and anyone who respects civil liberties will agree. But the gesture represents something else worth talking about.

Rabbit Hole FX is a small boutique pedal builder. The A ‘Merkin Fuzz is only their second pedal offering. Newer businesses generally place a big focus on profits and expansion, but Rabbit Hole FX saw an opportunity to make a difference in their local community and took action. With only 2 products currently available*, one of their two income streams is being donated to this cause in its entirety.

Big companies sometimes donate small percentages of profits to charitable institutions. For companies with large capital reserves, such contributions may be quite sizable. While a greater monetary sum donated to a worthy cause can have a larger impact and significantly contribute to positive change, I’d argue that a smaller contributor who’s given a greater percentage of their available resources is more committed to making a difference and is likewise more deserving of any bestowed recognition. Imagine the impact it would have if more companies contributed a greater portion of their resources to making a tangible difference in the world.

Today there is no shortage of issues that need attention. One person can only do so much. A single small business can only do so much. Many people working towards common goals can do a lot more.

Big props to Rabbit Hole FX. I hope their dedication to the fight against injustice inspires other companies to take a stand for issues they believe in.

*The Chaosmic Fuzz is the builder’s first release. The A ‘Merkin Fuzz is the second. The upcoming Rabbit Hole FX Phaser was shown at Winter NAMM 2017 and will be the builder’s third release.

Best wishes to everyone in 2017. May your musical journey be one of progress.

Cheers,

Gabriel

 

Now check out the Top 15 Best “Pedals of the Year” 2016!

DigiTech Obscura Altered Delay Review – Best Stereo Delay Pedal Under $150?

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DigiTech: we all know the name. It sounds like the kind of company you expect to be a front for a Captain Planet villain’s fishy operations, but to guitarists it is the name of a benevolent industry crux. Boasting the iconic Whammy, post-2013 DOD revival, and looping solutions like the JamMan and TRIO, DigiTech is a guitar effect pedal monolith.

Lately, DigiTech seems to have been leveraging their long history of gear wizardry to push their catalog even further into the boutique direction tonewise, and it shows in their latest releases. Today we’ll be taking a look at the Obscura Altered Delay.

Features:

  • Four Unique Delay Types:
    Analog – Classic sound of a vintage bucket brigade analog delay circuit
    Tape – Emulates a classic tube tape echo
    Lo-Fi – A low-fidelity delay that has limited bandwidth and reduced bit-depth to approximate the effects of low sample rate and 8-bit signal processing used in vintage digital delays
    Reverse – A delay where the repeats are played backwards. No dry signal is present when REVERSE is selected.
  • Tap Tempo with Beat Divisions
  • Repeat/Hold
  • Compact Size with Soft Click, Vacuum-Style Footswitch
  • Easy Access Delay Tails On/Off Switch – Enables buffered bypass which allows Delay signal to continue being heard after the effect is bypassed
  • True Stereo I/O
  • True Bypass circuitry preserves your tone in bypass
  • High-Voltage operation for uncompromised signal quality
  • Stomplock™ knob guard locks your tone in place and prevent tampering or accidental knob adjustments onstage
  • Custom-cut Hook and Loop Pedalboard Pad to attach and lock your pedals to your pedalboard

Upon opening the unassuming brown box that houses the Obscura, we are greeted by a gleefully sinister orange and brown screen print on a reflective pale yellow housing. The artfully foreboding Obscura is also artfully designed; a tiny and densely constructed enclosure sporting six knobs, two of which are dual-concentric for more available parameters to tweak. I’ve often said I’d like to see more stacked knobs on the market for the sake of conserving space, and it would seem DigiTech satisfied this urge preemptively. The stereo I/O jacks are side-mounted, and the soft-touch switch doubles as both your on/off and a tap tempo. There is also a Tails switch, handy for guitarists who’d like a choice between either muting the decay of the repeats or allowing them to subside naturally when the pedal is bypassed. For the plug-and-play types out there, the Obscura also comes with a neat little rubber block that keeps the knobs from being kicked accidentally onstage. I know it’s been said before, but what the hell; it looks like an angry little cube man, and I couldn’t be more tickled about it.

Visit DigiTech for more info about the Obscura.

Sound & Performance:

That skeleton on the Obscura? That’s an accurate representation of who I was shortly after playing with it for an hour or two, stripped of my insulating, preconceived notions as to what was possible coming from a digital unit in an enclosure smaller than a standard Hammond box. Most importantly, I no longer doubt that a digital delay can be as oven-fresh warm as any analog module it attempts to simulate.

In Analog mode, I was treated to smooth, gooey delay trails. With the degrade knob maxed your signal becomes a dirty wash of aliased repeats, made even more blendy with the tone dialed back to a darker setting. Play over this ad nauseam and you’ll never tire of the ambient simplicity you reap. The true stereo nature of the Obscura adds a dimensionality that’s lacking in many digital delays attempting to pull off analog tone. This makes it a win for those of us looking to upgrade from the familiar “black boxes” in our stereo rigs.

I love Tape. The Degrade knob adds a wow and flutter modulation, just like a real tape delay, and can get into some pretty warped chorus territory. So sweet.

Lo-Fi is a gritty mess of overdriven ambience floating on a bed of 8-bit repeats. The Degrade controls the distortion of the repeats via a bit-rate reducer. Great for simulating the dirty delays of days gone by.

The Reverse kills your dry signal completely and spits out backwards repeats. If you’re going for the whole psychedelia thing, this is a no-brainer. The key knob here is the Time knob, which sets the length of the signal being sampled. Dial it back for a choppy, clipped sound, and dime it for long, weird whines. Also worth noting is the degrade knob’s tape saturation function, which adds vintage-style harmonic distortion to your repeats.

I knew that the Obscura could pitch-shift (and boy, did I pitch-shift loudly and often,) but initially I had no clue as to the ambient possibilities inherent in the Repeat Hold feature. Crank the repeat knob past 3 o’clock and the Obscura will oscillate as loudly and as brightly as you please. With the tap tempo active, the time knob becomes a division control that switches between eighth, dotted eighth, and quarter notes, which will change the LED color from green to yellow to red, respectively. The tap is cool in the sense that the feature is there, but uncool in the sense that you have to tap the power switch twice to access it. What I’d like to see is a relay that memorizes not just the on/off status of the pedal, but also if the pedal was in Tap-Tempo mode, making use in an effects loop more convenient. I wouldn’t mention this if it weren’t particularly inconvenient for those of us who would only use it in a loop with tap tempo active.

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Overall-Rating-4.0

The Digitech Obscura is a great addition to any pedalboard missing a lil’ time-based juice. For those of us looking for a workhorse delay that fits a better-than-average range of singular niches the Obscura makes perfect sense for its price range; it executes the voices it aims to simulate better than most of the competition and it does it with a range of high-end features and inside of a footprint smaller than your iPhone. I think the tap tempo feature could have been better executed with a separate footswitch, but the size of the pedal makes this understandably difficult, if not impossible. Also as a matter of taste, I’d love to see optional ping-pong repeats in a stereo delay pedal. All these aside, DigiTech did a kickass job with this little guy, and you’d be remiss to ignore it.

That concludes our review of the DigiTech Obscura. Thanks for reading!