Alexander Pedals Colour Theory Review

 

I am not cool enough to be exclusively employed as a writer for arguably the coolest guitar effects publication this side of the 21st century. By night, I will always be Jake Behr: obsessive, loquacious Pedal Dweeb. But by day, I am Jake Behr: obsessive, loquacious Printer. In the latter field, colour – exact colour – is everything, and there is an insane amount of factors that play into producing it, whether you’re mixing it by hand in a solo cup for a silk screening or tweaking CMYK curves for a digital print.

So when I heard that Alexander Pedals was releasing the Colour Theory Spectrum Sequencer, I had to see if it held up to such a lofty concept as the entirety of colorimetry. While I can’t say the choice of name is much more than aesthetic, one important aspect of colour theory (the concept, not the pedal,) kept returning to me when I was reviewing the Colour Theory: Metamerism.

Metamerism is a trick of the eye that occurs between two imperceptibly different colors that makes them appear identical due to factors such as reflectiveness, angle, or differences in color vision between observers. In an extrapolated (yes-I’m-reaching-to-appear-more-interesting) sort of way, the Colour Theory is an exercise in metamerism; where you may see a guitar pedal, I see a piece of synth-like rack gear with endless possibilities.

 

Features:

  • Eight-Step Sequencer
  • Sequence “Park” Pauses Sequencer
  • Multijack input/ouput for MIDI, footswitch, and expression control
  • USB Input for extended TouchOSC MIDI control and firmware updates
  • Tap-Tempo for Sequencer
  • Six effect types
  • Nine controllable parameters via multi-function knobs
  • TRS Stereo Output
  • Buffered Bypass

Sequencer controls:

  • Rate determines the speed of the sequencer
  • Steps controls how many steps in the sequence are played
  • Level controls overall output of the Colour Theory
  • Mix is the wet/dry blend
  • Lag controls how quickly the sequencer ramps to the next step

Step Controls:

  • External Control outputs a MIDI CC value to an external device
  • Value is the first variable parameter; Pitch shift, delay time, filter frequency, tremolo rate, oscillator pitch, or PWM octave
  • Amount controls the sequenced wet/dry blend
  • Tweak is the second variable parameter; Tone, delay feedback, filter resonance, tremolo wave, oscillator wave, or PWM modulation.

Head over to Alexander Pedals for more info on the Colour Theory!

 

 

True Colours

The Colour Theory hosts two effects for each type of cone in your retina, but any multieffects pedal can boast that wide a variety of tones. The magic that makes the Colour Theory so colourful lies in its eight-step sequencer, the rate of which is set by the left tap tempo footswitch. The top indicator LED will emit a different color light that corresponds to the color of the step as represented in the semi-circle surrounding the Steps knob. As the sequencer cycles through its steps, the values of every parameter in the Colour Theory will change per your specifications. You can set the order of the steps as well; you’re free to choose whether you’d like the sequence to reset at the last step, cycle backwards at the last step, or play the steps completely randomly.

The Colour Theory is the kind of pedal you want to work on in a well lit/potentially well ventilated area. There’s a lot of information printed on the front panel of the standard-sized enclosure the Colour Theory is housed in, as each knob works double (and in the case of the mix knob, triple) duty on parameters. With the sequencer running, the knobs control the sequencer parameters. Holding down the Tap Tempo footswitch will “Park” the sequence on whichever step the Colour Theory falls on at the end of a 2-second period, opening access to each knob’s secondary parameter bank. A little added bonus of the Park feature is that when the steps are parked, they serve as pseudo-presets that can be cycled through with the tap tempo footswitch. So if you like a particular tone in any given effect but don’t want to submit to the ever-changing churn of the sequencer you can easily recall and stay on that one static voice, modulating with external MIDI controls if you so wish. It’s like having six three knob pedals, each with eight presets.

The side-mounted MultiJack will enable access to the expression, footswitch, and MIDI capabilities latent in the Colour Theory. With the aid of a MIDI-to-TRS adapter such as Disaster Area’s own MIDIbox or MD-5P Multijack to 5-pin cable, the Colour Theory can also receive and output MIDI CC signals simultaneously. The output feature is particularly potent in this application, sharing the steps of the Colour Theory’s sequence with your other MIDI enabled pedals. The Rate knob determines the value of the output message when the pedal is in park; Chase Bliss, Strymon, and other Alexander Neo pedals will recognize the CC immediately, while some others may need a bit of coaxing.

For those guitarists who depend on external gear for automation and may not be super keen on relying solely on the admittedly limited Colour Theory for their tempo, note changes, etc., the MicroUSB port on the back panel will receive MIDI from an external source as well. The source of choice for Alexander is a neat little mobile MIDI control app called TouchOSC, which has been around for a while and has served as a tactile controller for everything from Synthesizers to Projection mapping projects. Alexander, in their infinite wisdom, has created a TouchOSC template for use with the entire Neo series, which in this case allows direct manipulation of the Color Theory’s parameters and presets from your tablet or smartphone, provided you have the appropriate USB adapter. A completely customizable interface allows you to send any MIDI message to the connected device, so you don’t even need to settle for the perfectly sufficient proprietary template if it doesn’t work for you. On the surface, this provides a simple and effective way to really dig in to the parameters and suss out exact tones without constantly bending down to tweak the pedal, but paired with the full MIDI implementation boasted by the Neo series and a little bit of elbow grease, this feature has the potential to serve as a whole method of instrument-like control. For example, say you’re running the Oscillator mode and you’ve set the first step of the sequence to the root of the song you’re playing, and each step above that in ascending major intervals. Instant arpeggio! Neat, but repetitive. With TouchOSC, you can quickly adjust the first step (or any step, really) to a different interval to change the colouration of the arpeggio without needing to park the Colour Theory. In “theory,” (you get it) entire songs could be played in this way with a few CC messages, so I’ll be duct taping a tablet to my guitar ASAP.

PIT

The top blue effect mode is a slippery, glistening pitchshifter that ranges from an octave down to an octave up. Surprisingly, this voicing recreates chords without the gross, unusable muddiness that many treadle-based pitchshifters are known for when coupled with more than one simultaneous note. It takes a lot of getting used to, but the sequencer literally takes the legwork out of nailing those classic pitchshifter tone in ways that your weak human legs would never be prepared for. The utility obviously differs depending on how rich your chords are; if you’re playing seventh chords with added sixes and ninths, maybe stick to octave shifts to keep from getting lost. It’s open season on two-finger power chords and single notes, though. Go nuts.

MOD

Your search for nauseous, vertigo-inducing pitch wobble ends today. The second blue LED indicates we’ve entered the domain of MOD, a digital delay-based modulation that takes the classic time warp sound inherent in modulating the rate of a delay and plants it center-stage. Blue was a good choice to represent this tone, as you’re likely to be reminded of the vast expanse of water that dominated your view that one time you barfed off the side of your grandfather’s fishing boat; MOD is the sound of seasickness. As we know, classic modulation is created by splitting a signal in two and delaying the second signal ever so slightly (or not so slightly) to fatten the new, combined signal and infuse dimensionality into your tone. MOD does what it does by generating that second voice, delaying it by 0 to 300 milliseconds, and letting the Colour Theory’s sequencer go full Jackson Pollock on it. The result is a weird, ever-changing modulation tone that invokes the very spirit of psychedelia.

You’ll want to sequence the feedback (Tweak) of the delay as well, especially at a slow tap tempo. Here you’ll notice glitchy CD skips that will push your next gainstage into overdrive. Slight variations on the time coupled with wild feedback oscillations will yield the most musical and unique tones the MOD voicing has to offer, creating a bizarre vibrato effect. In Park mode, the noise-haters will be pleased to find that MOD is chock full of classic delay and even reverb tones that may not make you question the ambient machines currently adding space to your board but will at least satisfy your need for a nice slapback. By turning the Value knob full clockwise, we unlock a melting delay tone that winds down of its own accord, descending in pitch almost immediately. Manually cycling between two voices via the tap-tempo footswitch squeezes even more pitch-bendy utility out of the delay and adds a level of control that works very well in a band context, where your ‘mates may not be super stoked about relying exclusively on one little box to decide the tempo of the song.

FLT

This effect mode ties with TRM as the most familiar voice the Colour Theory has to offer. It’s an ever-sweeping low-pass filter that packs an intense, resonant punch. You can park FLT to use it as a static filter, but if you’re hoping to pop an expression pedal in and nail a wah tone, you’ll be sorely disappointed, as the frequency of the filter isn’t controllable via traditional expression. Fret not, though, because it is possible; you’ll just need some sort of MIDI controller.

TRM

Sequenced tremolo is fun as hell! The obvious application here is rate modulation, which can yield glitchy jumps in tremolo time with each step in the sequence. However, the shape of the wave, which ranges from smooth sine to tight pulse, is also fair game to modulate via the Tweak knob. You can’t use the tap-tempo footswitch to control the tempo of the tremolo, but in my opinion, you’re not missing out on much. Dialing in a comfortable speed with the value knob isn’t difficult, and if you’re going to be sequencing it, you can ballpark it and not notice the difference while your signal is bouncing between tempos.

OSC

This effect is a sine wave oscillator that starts around B1 and ends on C5, a span of four octaves. It’s crazy and obnoxious in all of the best ways. Unless you’re going for a weird discordant or microtonal vibe, you’ll want to run this through a tuner when you make your presets, because the oscillator doesn’t lock to specific notes and there’s no real note indicator on the front of the Colour Theory. This can make it tough to tune the oscillator perfectly to any Western note. With the lag knob turned clockwise, the notes become less discernible and more like a meandering theremin. The tweak knob becomes a resonance filter for the oscillation, helping the signal to cut through more easily without demanding too much of the actual signal blend.

In my opinion, this effect is where the stereo capabilities of the Colour Theory become absolutely vital; the oscillator on its own sounds pretty cool, but it really blossoms when coupled with your other effects. Pair it with a spacious reverb and you’ve got a spooky sci-fi soundtrack on your hands. Run it through an octaver and widen that massive range, you greedy animal. You could even pop a weird sound conversion pedal into the line for a truly bizarre backing track. Oscillator fueled Miku Stomp, anyone? Just me?

PWM

The last mode is named PWM, which in the synth world stands for pulse-width modulation. In this application, we don’t get the full breadth of pulse-width modulation in the synthesizer sense, but the name is still a viable representation to hint at what the effect sounds like: PWM is an octave effect that converts your dry signal into a synthesized monophonic square wave and thrusts it into the deepest depths of hell. The Value knob determines how many octaves down you go, which starts at THICC AS HELL (one octave down) and ends sub-harmonically low (who-knows-how-many octaves down.) In fact, each octave past noon on the Value knob renders the signal so low that PWM serves, for all intents and purposes, as more a harmonically-reactive tremolo than an octaver. I should clarify for those unfamiliar with insanely low frequencies: at the lowest octaves PWM has to offer, your signal frequency becomes so low that you can hear the crests of the new sound wave as you feed it to the Colour Theory. As you play up the neck, the frequency of the crests increases, creating the illusion of a tremolo-like effect.

Critical to the tone and very name of the PWM effect is the modulation controlled by the Tweak knob. One of the things I noticed about PWM was a constant flange effect rolling over my signal at a fixed rate, completely independent from the modulation controlled by the tweak knob. The mono synth tone is also super reactive to the harmonic input of the dry signal, rounding out or sharpening in reaction to the position of your tone knob. PWM is definitely a melodic/lead voicing, as the nature of the conversion method makes it absolutely impossible to use it for chords in all but the rarest scenarios, but if you like squashed out mono-synth tones, this is the way to go. Maxing out the rate of the sequencer makes for a tweaked out, almost ring-mod tone, the intensity of which depends entirely on the values of each individual step. On the complete opposite end of that spectrum, there’s no shame in Parking on a tone in the sequence, running PWM as if it were a regular ol’ pedal, and calling it a day.

Colour Correction

In an arena so sparsely occupied as that of the sequenced multieffects pedal, what can be done to improve on this champion? For starters, a stereo input seems like an obvious choice. In most cases you have to make routing sacrifices when you have more than one stereo device on your pedalboard, and if any of those devices have a mono input, you lose out on the opportunity to route a stereo signal all the way down the line. If the output is TRS, why not the input? At this point, the change likely boils down to an expensive redesign of the circuitboard, so I won’t hold my breath on a solution to such a minor flaw that only the most nitpicky dweebs (see: me) would take issue with.

I’d also have loved to see more depth in the Colour Theory’s control and MIDI capabilities. A tap division option, expression control of individual effect parameters, sequenced lag; all of these would make for great, simple updates to the Colour Theory’s array of controls, even if they had to remain under the surface in the invisible realm of MIDI control. Another item on the MIDI wishlist is the ability to toggle or manipulate the Lag knob’s impact on individual parameters. Quite a few times, I found myself wishing that one parameter would move in lock-step with the sequencer while another lagged and wandered. OSC mode is pretty unmusical and in a practical sense close to unusable with the lag turned past 10 o’clock, but if I could turn the Lag off for just the pitch of the oscillator and let the notes lock in tightly to the tap-tempo while the Mix and resonance struggled to catch up, I would be truly satisfied. This would open up a whole new world of possibilities for every voice in the Colour Theory’s arsenal.

 

 

The Alexander Pedals Colour Theory stands head and shoulders above countless other pedals with similar raw tones on merit of its sequencer alone. In a guitar tone context, the Colour Theory isn’t just about adding its unique vibe to your ‘board. It’s secretly all about pushing gain and taking the inherent colour of your tone to the next level by way of oscillation, but it truly would not be a fifth of the pedal it is without its sequencing capabilities. With the ability to sequence not just its own, but other effects’ parameters, we’re looking at a watershed that continues Alexander’s NEO series’ trend of pushing the bounds of the classic guitar effects pedals into unchartered territory. It’s not just the kind of gear that inspires creative songwriting, it is a collaborator that necessitates songwriting in a way you might not be used to. It takes some work to grow accustomed to putting together sequences from scratch, even with the added ease of TouchOSC, but once you’ve laid the groundwork you’ll find yourself with a loyal partner in crime that may make you wonder what you ever did before it entered your life. When I said at the outset of this review that the Colour Theory resembles a piece of synth gear more than a guitar pedal, I meant it. Pulse-Width Modulation, Lag processing, Sequencing, Oscillators: all of these exist in a synthetic world that most red-blooded, riff-loving guitarists are only ostensibly familiar with. Don’t let that frighten you, though. The future is electronic… and colourful.

That concludes our Alexander Pedals Colour Theory review. Thanks for reading.

Review: Electro Harmonix Canyon Delay & Looper

 

The Canyon delay from Electro Harmonix is a brilliantly designed, beautiful sounding delay/looper that will far exceed your expectations. Inside the little box you’ll find 9 delays, a reverb, two octaves, a sample and hold, a looper, some modulation, tap tempo – the list goes on and on. In fact I struggle to think of a better delay when it comes to the list of features offered vs. size and price. This delay pedal feels like when you go to a restaurant for a huge expensive meal and they forget to charge you for the drinks! With all that value, you just feel like you’re getting away with something! A delay that inexpensive, you’d surely assume it’s not going to sound very good. Do NOT make that mistake here. The Canyon delay sounds as good as the best delays on the market. Considering all that it does, how incredible it sounds, and the impossibly low price point, it will surely find it’s way onto, like, a gazillion pedalboards.

When Electro Harmonix releases a new delay/looper pedal, guitar players stop and take a listen. And rightfully so. For decades, Electro Harmonix has produced some of the best delays as well as some of the best loopers on the market and have been responsible for much of the industry’s innovation and time-tested designs. I just need to say the words “Deluxe Memory Man”, and you’ll get what I’m saying. Along the way, Electro Harmonix has continued to add features to modern versions of the DMM keeping tweak-happy delay lovers content for years. So when I saw that they now had a very compact, multi-algorithm delay plus looper to offer, I was more than intrigued. The Canyon is somewhat of a “new ground” for Electro Harmonix in a couple different ways. The only other delay of theirs I can think of in this form factor would be the Memory Toy, a great sounding, paired-down grandchild of the DMM, but, alas, a one trick pony. The Canyon delay, however, has several tricks up its sleeve. We may have expected a multi-algorithm delay from Electro Harmonix to be in their much larger enclosures like a DMM size, or, at least, a Memory Boy size. But here it is… and it’s as tiny as a Toy. Here are the Canyon’s features before we go on.

 

Features:

Sound Design:

  • 11 modes (nine delay types, sample and hold, and a looper)
  • Delay times ranging from 3ms to 3 seconds
  • Tap tempo with tap devisions utilizing the internal switch or an external switch
  • Option for trails on or off via internal dip switch
  • Simple controls for Level, Delay, Feedback
  • Easy access to secondary knob functions for added tone shaping
  • Several modes offer a nice, musical “ramping time” feel as you turn the Delay knob
  • Tons of Self-oscillation and gritty long repeat goodness on tap
  • Multi-stage LED indicates several behaviors including note division and looper functionality
  • All of this in a super compact enclosure

Ins and outs:

  • One 1/4” main input (right side mounted)
  • One 1/4” main output (left side mouinted)
  • 9v DC, center negative power jack drawing 150mA (top-mounted)

Knobs:

  • MODE SELECT: An 11 position rotary knob for selecting the delay mode/looper
  • FX LVL: Controls the blend between your dry signal and your delayed signal
  • DELAY: Controls your delay time. All the way down is 3ms, all the way up is 3 seconds.
  • FEEDBACK: Controls the number of repeats of the delayed signal. One repeat to infinity

Let’s have a more in-depth look one of the main knobs of the pedal:

Mode Select: Here you can select nine delay types, as well as the sample/hold, and looper.
The nine delay types are:

1. ECHO: A simple digital delay where each repeat sounds exactly like the dry signal and repeats fade away cleanly.

2. MOD: A modulation delay. The same as the ECHO delay, but with added modulation for warm, complex repeats.

3. MULTI: Multi-tap delay. Each repeat of the delay is played back at exactly the same volume. Feedback sets the number of constant-volume repeats.

4. REVRS: Reverse delay. The repeats come back to you in reverse. However, this isn’t your dad’s reverse delay. This one features intelligent reverse echo. It actually studies your playing so it can produce reverse echoes that best suit your playing and delayed time. Tip: Use the secondary function to adjust the sensitivity of the intelligent pluck detection algorithm.

5. DMM: Duh. Deluxe Memory Man. For my money, this mode is where it’s at. It’s a perfect example of a well-tuned delay pedal. Everything just sounds perfect and beautiful when played in this mode. Organic echoes transform as they repeat and lush modulation is available in the secondary functions. Beautiful-sounding time ramping effects are at your toe-tips. Just tweak that DELAY knob and musical pitch-shifting repeats rise and fall before your very ears.

6. TAPE: Tape delay. This mode simulates the highly sought after tape delay units of the 1970’s. Echoes degrade and distort as they repeat with plenty of wow and flutter on tap.

7. VERB: Reverb plus delay. In this mode, each repeat has a plate reverb attached to it. Turn the feedback all the way down and this mode can be used as a reverb only with DELAY controlling the pre-delay of the reverb signal.

8. OCT: Octave delay. Man! This is the mode that took me by surprise. The octaves are incredible and track with absolute perfection! There’s a POG and Pitch Fork in this thing!! It sounds really cool and trippy to use it as a delay, but you can also turn the Feedback and Delay all the way down and you have a damn good octave generator. Get into the secondary functions to adjust the octave up and octave down.

9. SHIM: Shimmer delay. This mode has some magical things going on. A rich octave-shifted harmony of delight will roll out of your speakers. They achieve this by modeling a chain of four EH pedals. First the signal is fed into a Soul Preacher Compressor then split in two. Half of the signal goes into a POG2 Pitch Shifter and then into a Stereo Memory Man. Then the signal is merged and sent into a second Stereo Memory Man. It boggles the mind to think of what’s going on in there. But it sounds incredible. I can’t imagine a shimmer delay sounding better than this.

10. S/H: Sample and Hold: First of all, I gotta say, this is the first Sample and Hold I have ever used where I actually can hear a viable use for what is coming out of the amp. I set the Delay to about 9:00 and made clicking sounds on my strings to produce some really cool machine gun sounds, à la Jamie Hince of The Kills. Feedback controls the sensitivity of the pluck detection.

11. Loop: Looper mode. In loop mode, the Canyon becomes a full-feature looper pedal with 62 seconds of record time. A loop is stored permanently, even when the looper is powered off. Wanna record that cool loop and take it to the gig. Go for it! Wanna save that cool riff from rehearsal? You’re safe!

Secondary knob functions are as follows, per mode:

DELAY KNOB, FEEDBACK KNOB
ECHO: N/A, N/A
MOD: Modulation rate, Modulation depth
MULTI: Volume decay/swell, N/A
REVRS: Pluck sensitivity, N/A
DMM: Modulation rate, Modulation depth
TAPE: Tape distortion, Flutter mod depth
VERB: Reverb Time, Reverb tone
OCT: Octave up level, Octave down level
SHIM: Low pass filter, Modulation depth
S/H: Volume decay/Swell, N/A
LOOP: N/A, N/A

*If you feel like you’ve messed with the secondary knob functions so much that you’ve now taken your pedal so far out in space and you just wanna get back? No problem. The geniuses at Electro Harmonix left nothing to chance. You can return your pedal’s secondary settings to a factory default! This is also useful if you’ve purchased this pedal used and simply want to hear it on a “clean slate” so to speak.

While in Looper Mode, the knobs will function as follows:

FX LVL: Controls the output level of the loop playback
FEEDBACK: Controls the level of the existing loop that is preserved while overdubbing

The LED is also there to help you know what you’re doing. It will change color and/or blink to tell you valuable information such as:

In Looper Mode:

  • RED: Press the switch one time, the LED goes red and begins recording immediately
  • GREEN: Press the switch again, the LED goes green and begins playing back the recorded loop. Each time the loop cycles, the LED will briefly turn off
  • GREEN (dim): To stop playback, press the switch two times. Once stopped, the LED will show as green, but dim to indicate the presence of a recorded loop that is ready for playback
  • ORANGE: The LED will turn orange when you record an overdub on top of the original loop
  • RED (blinking): To fully erase a loop you press and hold for two seconds. The LED will go red and blink rapidly six times then go out. This indicates that the loop is fully erased

In Tap Division Mode:

  • RED: Quarter notes, no tap division
  • ORANGE: Dotted 8th notes (¾ of tapped delay time)
  • GREEN: 8th notes (half if tapped delay time)

Visit Electro Harmonix for more info about the Canyon.

 

 

Into the Canyon:

The Canyon delay is kind of a lesson in the idea that you don’t have to spend a ton of money to get great quality. I’ll admit that I’m a goon. When I first took a peek at this pedal, I kind of turned my nose up thinking it was just another cheap delay pedal designed to meet a specific price point. We have all seen some examples of not only delays, but other pedals that are put out, even by great companies, that just seem to be so they can have an entry level offering in every category of effect. But the truth has been made clear in this review already. This thing is nothing short of incredible. Personally, I would probably pay upwards of $350 for a delay of this caliber of sound quality. Of course, at that price-point, I’d probably expect it to be stereo with presets and MIDI/expression control.

When I sat down with the Canyon, I was nothing short of blown away. As I went through the algorithms, I remember texting my buddy with videos of each one that I loved and how rich they sounded. I simply could not understand why and how this thing was so magical. There are several modes on this thing that, even if that one single mode was all I got for my $139.00, I would be totally fine. The “DMM” is one. The “Octave” is another. “Tape” is not far behind. Then you have a sample/hold and a looper?? Dang. Then, on top of all that, you have the secondary functions. That absolutely shoots this delay pedal over the top! Make sure you have a look at the manual to see detailed information on how far this pedal actually goes.

If I had to get really picky, I’d say stereo would be cool, similar to the TC Electronic Flashback Delay, which is the same size. That pedal comes in at about $30 more than the Canyon, but I’d gladly pay up for a stereo version of this pedal although the multi-dimensional qualities of the delays make you forget you’re running in mono. MIDI and expression would have been great as well but would likely have required a larger enclosure.

Then there is the appearance of the pedal. It has kind of a cartoonish graphic and a random, swooshy “Canyon” writing over the graphic. To me, as well as some of the guys in the forums, this just kind of lends itself to a “silly” appearance, as if it’s begging to not be taken seriously. Then again, there was that Crayon pedal, too, so maybe it’s fitting the theme? The white on white plastic knobs give it a simple, yet washed out appearance further taking the design in a somewhat “cheapie” direction. I thought that the design could have just been better planned. An appearance with more of a sharp, higher-end design, maybe something black, could have been executed and would have been a more fitting visual representation of the intricate sounds that this pedal produces. I am not saying any of this to knock on Electro Harmonix but rather to relate to you as the consumer. If you’re looking at this thing and thinking “It doesn’t LOOK cool,” fear not. This pedal delivers the goods. Just get used to the look of it and have fun with it! If the looks don’t bother you then you’re already ahead of the game. I thought the tap tempo feature felt a little clunky, but I always assume that’s just me. There is a remote tap input which helps a ton by allowing you to place the delay pedal out of reach, near the end of your signal chain, but have a remote tap close to your foot at the bottom of the board. I found that using the remote tap worked much better for a more seamless tap tempo experience. Same with the looper. It’s not the most intuitive one-switch looper I’ve ever used, but that is because this looper has a LOT more features than a standard Ditto Looper, and added features can mean added learning curve. Once I read the manual and got myself acquainted with how it works, it became a breeze to use properly. Again, a look at the manual works wonders here.

 

 

The Electro Harmonix Canyon Delay & Looper offers an astounding value and top quality delays. I cannot believe what you get out of this pedal at any price, yet it retails at under $140. I’d put this thing up against nearly any multi-algorithm delay out there. Seriously. The only place it falls short of the big boys is in its mono operation and limited external control options. Thankfully, many of us are running mono rigs and that simply won’t be an issue. At least they have the external tap tempo option, which I am sure will get used. When you cook all of this down to one simple thing it’s “how does it sound?” I’d take the Pepsi challenge with this up against any of the more expensive popular delays out there. If you were just blindfolded in a room and listening to this delay perform against its more expensive competition, you would likely struggle to tell the difference. Then you’d be struggling trying to accept that this thing does what it does. I had to just face the music and set aside my self-imposed negative opinions of a inexpensive delay pedal. Then, once that happened, I was kinda like, “Duh. This is a delay pedal from Electro Harmonix.” Why wouldn’t it be incredible? The features offered in the Canyon are as deep as they are grand.

This concludes our review of the Electro Harmonix Canyon Delay & Looper. Thanks for reading!

Review: Boss MS-3 Multi Effects Switcher

I am terrified to imagine a world where an introduction to Boss is necessary, but here we go. Founded as the guitar effects branch of Japan’s Roland Corporation during the rockstar legend-making yesterworld of 1973, Boss has always had a busy hand in helping to shape the trajectory on which guitar tones have evolved. Everyone’s had that proverbial Boss pedal on their ‘board at some point in their career, and whether you’ve taken it off for something with more bells and whistles, or it’s remained an integral part of your tone, there’s a sense of safety in those iconic enclosures that makes it difficult to depart from them entirely. Despite the boutique-saturated pedal market we enjoy, Boss still reigns supreme as the veteran CEO of dependable and innovative effects pedals, and today we’re looking at the Boss MS-3 Multi-Effects Switcher, a spiritual descendant of the MS Multi-effects series and ES-5/ES-8 Effects Switching Systems condensed into a smaller, equally utilitarian multi-effects pedal and effects loop switcher.

I’ve often expressed my general distaste for multi-effects pedals (though, paradoxically, I haven’t officially reviewed one that lacked merit), but in the case of the MS-3, we’re looking at something that takes an absolutely essential utility, effects switching, and fuses it with a ridiculously packed effects suite backed by Boss’s extensive history of quality and reliability. Atop such an already tall bastion of usefulness, Boss has also stacked a mind-boggling cadre of control features that shames even the most feature-rich pieces of gear you’ll find on the market today. This was easily one of the most complex pieces of hardware I’ve ever had the pleasure of reviewing, and even having played with it for weeks, I’m still not convinced I know it completely.

Features:

112 built-in effects with up to Six Simultaneously active Effects Blocks

Slim, angled Form-factor

5 Programmable Footswitches

3 Programmable Knobs

Mono in, Stereo out with true Stereo or Left/Right Mono

3 Mono Effects Loops

2 TRS Control/Expression inputs, each capable of controlling two parameters

Control Output for external switching of amp/pedals

Backlit LCD and panel LEDs for on/off status of loops and effects

Global EQ, Noise Suppressor, Built-in tuner

Up to 4 MIDI patches on channels 1-16

Up to 8 MIDI Continuous Control (0-127)

Build & Functionality:

I was foolishly expecting the MS-3 to be massive, but to my delight it only measures out to about 11”x4”. For comparison’s sake, it’s about 4 modern pedals wide and two inches shorter than a standard enclosure. A wedged form-factor makes stomping effortless when placed nearest to the front of your pedalboard. The brushed aluminum of the chassis is historically known for being easily scratched, but I’ve been able to buff out tour scars inflicted on similar surfaces in the past. The first thing you’ll notice when activating the MS-3 is the brightness of the LCD screen; this thing is Sirius-bright. If the blinding white is too much for you to handle or if the brightness detracts from the text displayed onscreen in a practical, dark setting, a contrast control is found in the menu.

Though you should be fine cutting power to your whole pedalboard at once, I love that the MS-3 has a power switch. Too often for comfort, I’ve seen quite a few massive digital effects suites (and even some boutique amp sims) released into the market with no dedicated on/off switch, making every subsequent power-down a nerve-wracking experience, so the tactile comfort of flipping a power switch does wonders for my peace of (obsessive-compulsive) mind. Furthermore, the MS-3 sports an auto-shutoff feature which will power down the MS-3 after a certain amount of time if it fails to detect any incoming signal, movement on the knobs, or presses on the footswitches.

Boss boasts that the 24 bit, 44.1khz A/D D/A converters built into this unit keep your signal completely intact with practically no loss translating from analog to digitally-processed signal, and I can confirm: this thing is CLEAN. The only time I noticed any significant change in sound quality or hiss was when I used some of my own dirtier pedals, particularly DSP-driven effects.

If you hate deep-menu diving as much as I do, Boss has developed a companion editor software for the MS-3 for editing and saving patches, aptly named the Librarian. You won’t find much in the Librarian that you can’t dig up in the MS-3’s internal menu aside from the potentially infinite amount of presets saveable on your hard drive, but the option to use a graphic UI can improve your workflow in spades.

Like a few other deep effects switchers, there are two ways to play, and your use may vary depending on what kind of player you are. Memory Mode changes the LED indicators blue, and gives you relatively immediate access to 200 patches in banks of four. Each footswitch represents a patch in each bank. By default, pressing footswitches 1 & 2 simultaneously will bank down, while 3 & 4 will do the opposite. The footswitches and control ins are all programmable inside of any given patch, adding to the flexibility therein. For example, in Memory Mode you can set an overdriven tone in patch 1, then activate/bypass a delay in the same patch by hitting footswitch 1 inside of that patch. (More on this later.) Manual Mode in red is more of a classic switcher format with each footswitch representing a loop or function that’s programmed in. The four blocks controlled by the footswitches are represented on the LCD screen. There’s utility here even if your immediate response is to dismiss it as the inferior mode. If you’re more the type to prefer having all of your information displayed right in front of you, you can program each footswitch to control individual effects/loops, the control outs, tap-tempo, solo triggers, or the tuner. Scrolling through patches can still be accessed via knob 1, or via an external footswitch. If you’re of the mind to use one configuration and disregard the other entirely, you can even program the Memory/Manual switch for a total of five operable footswitches.

Full Assimilation

In a skin-deep kind of way, the beauty of the MS-3 lies in its ability to integrate your pre-existing effects via its effects loops. These three mono in/outs each comprise one effects block, and the block of three loops can be placed anywhere inside of the MS-3’s signal chain which helps when deciding what effects you’ll be running before, within, and after the MS-3’s loops. If you have MIDI-enabled pedals, you don’t even need to limit your loop choices to three pedals, as you can send program changes and continuous controller (CC) messages from the MS-3 to activate your effects as you need them.

Guitarists who run between gain stages via their amp’s effects loop can utilize a Loop on the MS-3 to achieve the good ol’ “four-cable” method, so they don’t necessarily have to force their preamp to take all of the incoming signal directly to the face. Simply route your guitar into the MS-3, out from one of the Loop sends to the front of your amp, out of the amp’s effects send back to the return of the MS-3 Loop, and back out to your amp’s return imput. There’s no level control on the loops, so you’ll be using 100% of whatever signal the pedals in the loops contribute, but in most cases you’ll have a mix knob of some sort on the pedal in question. It would have been great to be able to rearrange the individual loops, and the lack of parallel routing, especially in stereo, seems like a big missed opportunity. I can forgive these shortcomings under the auspice that the MS-3 simply lacks the hardware to make this possible, and given Boss’s trend of releasing a huge, no-chill mega unit after the success of a mellower, precursory unit, one could speculate that if we’re lucky, we may see switchable parallel routing and the addition to stereo loops in a hypothetical MS-5 or other larger sibling to the MS-3. You know what else would be nice to consider for our fantasy expansion? The ability to cannibalize one of the effects loops and reintegrate that external effect into the wet signal of the delay/reverb voicings. The MS-3 concept inspires a lot of ways that Boss may take it to new plateaus in the future.

Riding the WAV (And Friends!)

Since the MS-3 followers the previously released ES-8 & ES-5 switchers, you would be correct in guessing that the programming capabilities of the MS-3’s footswitches and controls aren’t as shallow as turning effects on or off. That degree of simplicity is an option via the CTRL menus, of course, but you don’t have to dig super deep to realize the possibilities are nearly limitless. The CTRL Assign menu will allow you to select the source that controls any effect parameter or MIDI channel in the MS-3. For example, you can route your expression signal to the MIDI out to control a MIDI-enabled pedal or use a separate footswitch to change your volume pedal to a wah within a patch.

One particular function in the MS-3’s control wheelhouse is as close to black magick as I can fathom; in fact, when I discovered that it was capable of this forthcoming tone-witchery, I drew a salt circle around it to protect myself. Inside of the Ctrl Assign menus, you can tell the MS-3 to modulate any parameter from any onboard effect or MIDI-enabled pedal along a triangle, sine, or sawtooth wave LFO. I know. Those of us familiar with ramping pedals know what’s possible here, and the MS-3 excels at it. You can set the depth of the modulation to and from any point on the digital dial, and sync the cycle to either an arbitrary frequency or the internal tempo of the MS-3 divided from whole notes to 16th notes and all the dots and triplets in-between. It’s not quite a sequencer, but it comes pretty close. Oh, and did I mention there’s EIGHT Ctrl Assigns, and you can program each input to control multiple parameters? You want to sweep the rate of a dark chorus up to a tight chirp while maxing out your reverb wet mix and activate the Sound Hold effect block simultaneously? Go nuts, you beautiful crazy person.

Despite the Owners’ Manual’s insistence that we use Boss external footswitches and expression pedals, and though the Dual Expression pedal and FS-5U’s ilk are perfect for getting the most out of the MS-3, the effective list of non-Boss compatible external units is miles long. One such third-party footswitch option that I would be remiss not to mention is our very own resident overachiever Paul Uhl’s “Paul Switch”, a simple little doodad with height-adjustable soft-touch footswitches that he designed specifically as a companion piece to the MS-3. The reason I mention Paul’s pedal in particular is because he is an avid MS-3 user (the dude uses two) with an extensive history in MIDI and CV solutions. He has a few videos on programming the MS-3 on YouTube (not just in conjunction with his switch) that helped me get started, and he’s even gone so far as to create and manage a 500+ member Facebook Boss MS-3 Users Group for fellow users of the device that members of Roland UK monitor and occasionally participate in.

Building Blocks

Even if you’re convinced that you have all of the sounds that you could ever need (who are you kidding?) in your elitist boutique-only ‘board, the MS-3’s effects suite is one-hundred-and-twelve effects strong. I’ll say that again, but louder: ONE HUNDRED AND TWELVE EFFECTS! Included in this densely populated effects nation are eerily accurate facsimiles of many of the standbys that Boss has built their empire on. The OD-1, OC-3, and CS-3 are just a few classics simulated here. Most of the guitar effects have a Bass equivalent, so the MS-3 is a great addition to bass and synth effects chains alike.

Editing effects directly from the unit is a bonafide breeze. From the home screen, hitting the edit button will bring you into a menu displaying a graphic representation of the effects chain. Not including the Noise Suppressor block, we have six onboard effects that can be active simultaneously. FX 1 & 2 contain your Compressor, Drives, EQ, Pitch Shifters, and other weird goodies; MOD 1 & 2 are obviously the extended Chorus and Tremolo family; DLY and REV are what they sound like. On the front panel, Knob 1 scrolls through the effects chain, Knob 2 rearranges the blocks, Knob 3 scrolls through the effects type, and each block is activated or bypassed with the aptly named “On/Off” button on the top panel. In the “Edit” menu, the physical knobs correspond with the parameters displayed on the LCD screen. The depth of control is what I’ve come to expect from the MS-3; most of the effects have multiple pages worth of parameters and toggles to play with, in most cases adding more features than their analog predecessors had. If you want to save a patch, just hit the Exit and Enter buttons simultaneously.

In addition to the Parametric and Graphic EQs in the FX blocks, the MS-3 also has a Global EQ that covers the entire signal chain. This is a great way to dial in a nice overall tone palette going in to your amp before you even touch the patch-specific Para/Graph EQs which not only saves time but also allows more room for effects if you’re not fussy about stray frequencies.

Overdrive/Distortion

As recently as half a decade ago, digital overdrives and distortions were openly lambasted as the ugly step-siblings in the overdrive family with tone elitists relegating them to being used in emergency scenarios only with seldom few exceptions. Use a digitally rendered overdrive in a multi-effects pedal for the sake of convenience, and you were sure to earn condescending sideways glances by the overwhelming majority of your fellow guitarists. Today, however, not only has this superstition been washed away by the deluge of seamless gain plugins and software, but the pedal market has boomed with DSP-based overdrive modelers whose uncanny resemblance to the real thing has stumped many a pro, and there’s been no indication that this trend will do anything but grow in our lifetimes. Now that we’ve established how important this section is, let’s talk about the MS-3’s digital reflections of the truly essential growl-inducers we all know and love.

The first thing about the OD/DS that stood out to me was the overwhelming variety of voices available. Twenty different flavors of sweet, sweet dirt are eager to get under your fingernails in the Guitar drive channel alone, ranging from Clean Boost to Metal Zone (yes, that Metal Zone.) There’s also a much lighter Bass overdrive that includes six voices with increasing degrees of filth. It’s obvious to me that Boss has definitely taken their time to get as close to the real thing as possible, but how does it fare in practice? Favoring the language of my people, I started with the RAT voicing to see how effectively Boss was able to invoke that familiar distorted post-rock fury, and I was not disappointed; it rips in all the same ways that old black box could without tying up the same real-estate. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the clean boost added crystal clear volume and tasteful gain with no digital distortion. There are also Bass, Mid, and Treble boost variations that do what they sound like. The Blues voicing emulates its predecessor, the BD-2 Blues Driver, and effectively fattened up my tone with even-order harmonic girth, each note sizzling with surprising liveliness. I won’t expound much further, but there’s a Muff, Octo-fuzz, Guv’nor and Tubescreamer crammed in there too, to name a few more options.

All of the overdrives have a bottom-end boost/cut knob for expanded tone-sculpting on top of the obligatory Tone knob. On the third page of the Overdrive blocks, there’s an option to boost your volume further through the use of the “Solo Switch,” which like any parameter can be conveniently assigned to any of the footswitches on the MS-3 or to your chosen external footswitch. Personally, I like pairing the Solo switch in trigger mode and the Feedbacker effect in momentary mode on an external footswitch to really maximize my solo/sustain tones.

Overall, I’d say there’s an understated merit in the drives modelled here. Noise and hiss weren’t really a problem for me, and for when we’re not working with the silky-smooth cream of a boutique valve overdrive, these’ll patch any holes in your gain arsenal on a bad day. There isn’t much of a tonal gap between their interaction with real amplifiers and amp sims. I’d say the latter is closest to my taste in most instances, if only for the fact that you can more readily nail the tones you seek and not have to forego a drive that SHOULD sound good but just doesn’t like your amplifier. For that reason and for the sake of quick tweaking at gigs, I’d still advise any Tube amp users to hold onto their favorite drive(s), but once you grow comfortable with the MS-3’s drive section, you can relax knowing that you have a backup pedal that can produce a solid approximation of any kind of grit your music calls for. Plus, if you’re really eager to unload some weight on your pedalboard but lean heavily on overdrive or distortion, you can always map up to three of the OD/DS parameters to the knobs on the top panel and know that most listeners won’t be able to tell the difference between your live, MS-3 modelled tones and your carefully crafted analog studio tones.

Filters/Pitch//Weird Stuff

There are a few odds effects in the FX blocks that probably aren’t essential, and maybe two or three whose musical usefulness is nebulous at best, but most of them are nice to have, especially the few single-use effects that eliminate their physical single-use counterparts. For example, the MS-3’s Slow Gear effect is an auto-volume swell, a voltage-controlled swell that features a “Detect” threshold knob that controls how much signal it has to detect before it starts to increase your signal from zero, and an attack knob to lengthen or shorten the climb to unity volume. It’s a simple and effective way to swell in your signal without needing to tie your foot to your volume pedal. If I’m being honest, a physical auto-swell has no place taking up power or space on any ‘board in 2018, so the inclusion of the Slow Gear in the MS-3 is welcome. Sound Hold is the “freeze” in the MS-3. It’s another one of those simple effects you may not often need but can be clutch in those musical situations that require a drone, though you can’t expect much more than droning from it. It’s more or less an on/off sort of deal. There’s also a “hold”-on-steroids voicing called Warp which sounds like a delay set to infinite with flanging feedback. This is most applicable when used momentarily or in conjunction with volume swells, so Warp and Slow Gear are best buddies. The flexibility of this particular effect is stunted by a shortage of parameters with only controls for the mix and the rise and fall of the wash. Then there’s the Overtone effect which, appropriately, generates wavering overtones over the input signal to produce an organ-like effect.

If no multi-effects unit is complete without a wah filter of some sort, it would follow that the MS-3 is complete three times over with Touch Wah, Auto Wah and regular ol’ Wah. The Touch and Auto Wah effects can be set to band-pass or low-pass filters, but the classic Wah effect includes seven voicings to satisfy a range of tastes. As far as the pitchshifting & harmony effects go, almost everything you could want that involves pitch is compartmentalized into six individual effects. I almost panicked when the “Whammy” pitch shifter wasn’t where I thought it would be (filed under “Pitch Shifter”), but thankfully Boss included it in the Pedal Bend effect. Sound quality-wise, there is the occasional pitch-shift artifact here and there, and it gets expectedly crowded and discordant when playing chords, but it’s not hard to tease out a quality tone when playing single notes during solos.

The last effect in the FX block is the Sub-Delay, a short, digital-styled delay with a high-cut parameter. Initially, I wondered why this particular delay wasn’t placed in the Delay block with all the other delay voicings, but quickly came to realize that including a delay in a separate block from the only block designated for delays opens up great ambient possibilities, allowing you to stack two independent repeats. Hell, you could even go to five if you’re using the Sub-Delay in both FX blocks (2 repeats,) the Dual delay voicing (2 repeats,) and the Delay reverb voicing (1 repeat,) for truly unnecessary levels of washy ambience, but the possibilities are here if you want to indulge in excess.

MOD

The lushness is real. Chorus, flange, ring mod, panning tremolo… this entire effect block truly shines in stereo. If vanilla chorus doesn’t do it for you on its own, 2×2 Chorus is there to make all your modulation dreams come true. Two frequency-band choruses work against one another in stereo to produce vigorous warbles in the lows and serene zen in the highs or vise-versa. The Crossover parameter controls where in the spectrum the low and high modulations are split, keyed into frequency presets ranging from 100 Hz to 4 kHz. As if you weren’t spoiled enough, pre-delay parameters for both frequency bands determine the poignancy of the double effect and permit even further contrast between the flavor of your highs and lows. The Tremolo here is pretty basic, offering controls for waveform, rate, depth, and mix. Where the tremolo lacks in creative mojo, the Slicer effect swims in it. The Slicer effect is a Boss SL-20 Jr, packed with 20 mono, volume-targeting tremolo patterns. Phaser and Flanger are here too, ready to blow your head off with crazy sweeping modulations and parameters that most analog versions struggle to support. The Flanger can be run in full stereo and has a separation parameter to pan the signals left and right. There’s also a resonance control that ranges from tastefully subtle to unbearably nauseous, “Manual” that sets the center frequency that the flange modulates, and a Low Cut Filter in addition to your standard Rate, Mix, and Depth knobs. Meanwhile the Phaser has four step options (4, 8, 12, and BiPhase) for different flavours of phase-shift. The Step Rate knob controls (you guessed it!) the rate that the shifts take place and when activated produces some pretty rad digital bleeps in a similar way that a sample and hold does. This works against the actual rate of the phaser itself, and by setting them both to different tempos, you can create rhythmic patterns around which entire song structures could theoretically be built. Like most effects in the MS-3, the rate of all of the MODs can be set to either a numeric value ranging from 0-100 or to the MS-3’s internal tap tempo at multiple subdivisions.

DLY

I was thoroughly impressed when I played with the Delay branch of the MS-3. I could not find a single genuine flaw in the tones. Analog is dark and gritty in its attempt to recreate those bucket brigade delays we all love. The Tape delay even decays with wow-and-flutter. Also included is Boss’s modern classic Tera Echo which is a wild modulated delay/reverb with frequency-shifty trails. Much like its inspiration, the MS-3’s Tera Echo features a hold function that can be triggered via footswitch, perfect for building soundscapes. Setting the CTRL Assigns to momentarily max the feedback or flip the tempo will grant you access to the sorts of oscillations and pitch bends many plain Jane digital delays only dream about. I particularly like setting my expression pedal to control the tempo; you can program the heel down to leave your repeats locked in to the tap-tempo and sweep the time down to 1ms from there to pitchshift at will.

I (somewhat selfishly) wish at least one of the delay blocks had a quick loop function a la DD-6 to emulate the simple-yet-effective glitch stutters that the Boss DD-6 was capable of. You can get kind of close with the CTRL assigns programmed to max the feedback and activate the bypass in toggle mode on the same switch simultaneously but it’s not quite the same. Come to think of it, a looper would have been nice to include with the gift horse that is the MS-3, but we won’t look in that particular mouth. We’ve got plenty here.

REV

I love reverb too much. My relationship with reverb is bordering on unhealthy co-dependency. Reverb makes my wife jealous.

So I’ve been vigorously wringing my hands in anticipation of getting to this effect block, looking like a supervillian watching all the pieces of his carefully constructed plans fall into place. And as I expected, I was treated to eight super clean digital reverb voices that excel at creating the reflective ambient wash I’m addicted to.

The gang’s all here, too; Ambience, Plate, Spring, Room, two different Halls, a modulated Reverb and a Delay/Verb. The first voice in the selection is called Ambience, and it isn’t really a traditional reverb per se. It simulates a room mic picking up the sound of your instrument from a distance, the length of which is determined by the pre-delay parameter. This is an awesome way to add a 3-dimensional feel to your tone if it’s coming out dry but you don’t want a super recognizable reverb tone. The two Halls differ in the sense that Hall 1 is tight and more clear than Hall 2, the latter producing much more mellow and diffused reverberations. Plate glistens with metallic sheen, making the best use of the high-cut parameter out of any of the ‘verb voices to cut back on it’s particularly poignant high-end. Mod throws a slow modulation over the tail of the reverb, and Delay is (surprise!) a delay into a reverb. All of the reverb voicings can go full wet, of course, allowing us atmospheric nerds the space we require to transcend this lame mortal coil.

I have to say, while all the Reverbs in this block are gorgeous, I feel they could have been fleshed out a little bit more. For example, the modulated reverb voicing could have definitely used rate and depth knobs for its filter. You get high-cut and low-cut parameters, which is great, but you’re sort of stuck using the one tempo and the relatively shallow modulation that Boss gives you to work with. It sounds awesome, but the impact of that awesome sound is rendered kind of inert by the inability to tweak it in more creative ways. In fact, I couldn’t help but notice that most of the reverbs had basically the same parameters available for tweakage save a few exceptions with the only significant contrast being the fundamental differences between the algorithms themselves. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and the fact that you can put the Reverb block anywhere in the chain will help you experiment with different tones, but a few extra control additions would have been welcome.

Room for Improvement?

As impressive as the MS-3 is, we’re going to play hardball here and try to snuff out any possible room for improvement. If I were to head the project of updating the MS-3 or releasing a higher-end version and I had no resource constraints, what would I do to improve on what’s already here without adding too much to the cost of admission? Aside from the spillover, parallel routing, and Loop improvements I mentioned before, a successor could do with another CTL OUT jack (or three) for starters. The fact that there is only one Control Output (for up to two control modulation destinations when using a TRS cable) is limiting, especially if you have more than two pedals in your signal chain that don’t have MIDI but do have foot-switch enabled options switching options or exp/CV inputs. I also have to mention that being unable to relay CV expression to the pedals in the loop through the CTL OUT is mildly disappointing as well. That said, if you’re open to unorthodox and/or relatively complicated solutions, you can find a MIDI-to-CV converter by spending a few minutes on Google. So if you have a bit of money to spare in your budget and you don’t mind experimenting, something like that might make an invaluable companion piece.

While we’re on the external control tangent, how about a MIDI in? My ideal ‘board necessitates uninterrupted MIDI communication from my DAW to my MIDI-enabled devices all the way down to my vocal effects, and anyone with a similarly automated chain will make the same complaint. You can still sync to a global CV click by relinquishing a control input or output CV tap tempo by giving up the sole control out, but that in itself is a major bummer. In a band where most readers likely spend their musical time, the notion of having to actually stomp the box isn’t exactly heartbreaking, so I can’t rationally judge the MS-3’s viable utility on this fact alone. It’s also not entirely outside the realm of possibility for Boss to add MIDI-in via the USB input in the future; the prospect of future software updates is always a force multiplier for value, and while I’m not holding my breath (as full USB to MIDI capabilities would probably require a complete overhaul of the MS-3’s firmware), that addition will remain stubbornly at the top of my wishlist. I haven’t had the chance to test the viability of a MIDI-to-CV converter relaying data to the MS-3 through the CTRL ins, but coupled with the aforementioned CTRL out limit, even if it’s possible, there’s a high probability that there would be a severe bottleneck in the automation flexibility therein when compared to direct MIDI-in. For now, the lack of MIDI input creates a nigh-insurmountable obstacle for the growing population of solo musicians and bands alike that rely on MIDI automation from their DAWs and MIDI gear. I should also note in passing that the ES-5 and ES-8 feature MIDI-thru, but for the sake of comparison, it’s not a factor that justifies overlooking the extensive effects suite in the MS-3 considering nearly everything else in the MS-3 in terms of control is a direct carryover from the ES-5. It’s just an observation that I think you should consider if you’re truly happy with your effects (read: in denial) and only seek something with a little more pliability by way of integration. And as I was writing this NAMM 2018 happened, so I think it’s important to also mention that Boss’s new flagship unit, the GT-1000, features MIDI-in as well, so check that out, too, if that feature is a must-have for you.

One important feature in most huge effects suites is the implementation of reverb/delay spillover, particularly in the case of switching between patches. In a musical context, dropping out of a reverb with no trails can be a most effective mood-killer and often implies to the audience that amateur hour has begun: cue the turned backs and trips to the smoking alley. Okay, you have to have some pretty bad luck to catch such an apathetic audience, but a trail snuffed out before its time is a pretty big turn-off for me as a listener. In the MS-3, we get spillover, but only when turning the delay/reverb on or off, not when changing patches completely, or when bypassing a pedal in the loop. If you keep that in mind when you’re programming your presets you shouldn’t run into any catastrophic problems. It’s a safe bet to leave a MIDI-enabled delay or reverb after the MS-3, to prevent the dreaded cutoff. You’ll want to do this with a stereo delay in particular (if you run in stereo,) since the MS-3’s loops don’t support stereo, but the output does.

The Boss MS-3 Multi Effects Switcher will, without a doubt, be remembered as a pedal that set a new standard for all-in-one multi-effects pedals, especially at its price point. It’s just as impressive when used on its own in a pinch as it is integrated into an established pedalboard with your other pedals. The tones leave very little to be desired. The options for external control are impressive. Not to mention there’s a growing community of knob-tweakers discovering and refining the knowledge of what’s possible with the MS-3, lending their experience to beginners for the greater good. At the end of the day, what else could you want? Guys, I tried really hard to justify knocking off another half star, but I just couldn’t find a good enough reason. My suggested solutions to any “problems” mentioned here would be going way beyond the threshold of necessary features in a loop switcher or a multi-effects unit. Truly, the only thing about the MS-3 that might stress you out is that their are so many possibilities. In fact, the general unbiased consensus in the BGE crew is that with its mind-boggling effects suite, its deep and expertly crafted control array, and its flexible routing configurations, the MS-3 is arguably among the very best pedals released in recent years.

US Street Pricing: $399.99
http://www.boss.info/us/

That concludes our Boss MS-3 Multi Effects Switcher review. Thanks for reading!

Review: Effectrode LA-1A Super High Resolution Leveling Amplifier

 

A few years ago I developed an infatuation with guitar compressors – yes, those subtle and mysterious pedals that often go overlooked in many rigs in favor of flashier and more exciting effects that have a more obvious impact on your overall sound. While the workings of compressors can be elusive to some guitarists, many of you know that a good compressor dialed in right can cohesively bond your guitar with your amp to create a more consistent and smooth response which in turn can enhance the sound and playability of your instrument and your entire rig for that matter. Guitarists who use a compressor often regard them as indispensable and rightfully so.

While there are many types of compressor pedals with subtle differences in how they compress your audio signal, I’d argue that the inherent sound quality or audio fidelity of a compressor should probably be the first consideration made when buying one. Compressors typically have the inherent drawback of raising the noise floor as they level out your volume and increase the clarity and sustain of your notes, so extra consideration should be made to choose a compressor that boasts high quality, low noise operation. In this review we’re going to be taking a look at arguably the quietest and most advanced compressor ever released in pedal form: the Effectrode LA-1A Super High Resolution Leveling Amplifier.

 

Audiophilia in Pedal Form

Effectrode is a UK based pedal builder that specializes in building what they call “audiophile pedals”. Living up to that moniker (primarily due to an unparalleled expertise in vacuum tube technology) has helped them build a rabid following of dedicated fans who fill up waiting lists for the limited batches of their latest releases. One such Effectrode offering that has garnered praise among tone aficionados is the PC-2A, a photo-optical tube guitar compressor inspired by the legendary Teletronix LA-2A Limiting Amplifier – yes, the same LA-2A that’s widely hailed as the greatest rack compressor of all time and which you’ve heard on the majority of relevant albums released in the past forty or so years. While the PC-2A is a very respectable heir to the LA-2A legacy and remains a formidable compressor that is still in production, the new Effectrode LA-1A Super High Resolution Leveling Amplifier aims to set yet a new standard in stompbox format guitar compressors.

 

From 2 to 1A

Effectrode started with the topological foundation of the PC-2A and sought new ways to offer even higher fidelity dynamic volume attenuation. To achieve the lowest noise floor possible, Effectrode employed a parallel tube plate design typically only found in high-end phono preamps for turntables. This type of circuit has never before been implemented in a guitar pedal or professional grade studio leveling amplifier/compressor. The results Effectrode achieved even led to their claim that the LA-1A is “technically the quietest pedal or studio leveling amplifier ever made”. While that might be one of the most casually confident and hype inducing statements I’ve ever seen in print, the implementation of the parallel tube preamp in the LA-1A lends credibility to that statement. For the technologically inclined, here’s an entry in the Tube Cad Journal that explains how a circuit using multiple tube stages in parallel lowers effective resistance and resistance noise. We’ll discuss that more in relation to the LA-1A in a moment.

 

 

There are other notable design variances between the PC-2A and the new LA-1A. The PC-2A is a reasonably compact compressor that has only 2 knobs (Peak Reduction & Gain), and on the back is a Limit/Compress switch. This completes a simple parameter set-up that mirrors the ease of use of the original LA-2A. The PC-2A also has internal Attack & Knee trimpots which are useful for calibrating the response of the pedal to perform optimally with your guitar or other instrument of choice. The trimpots’ default settings were perfectly functional for most general uses; however, some musicians and engineers wanted to have these controls more easily accessible. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd fame is known for using a modified PC-2A pedal with external Attack & Knee controls. I’ve also used one and can attest to the merits of having external Attack & Knee controls. The larger LA-1A, housed in an Effectrode Blackbird style enclosure, draws upon the PC-2A mod and provides dedicated surface knobs for Attack & Knee. It also adds a foot-switchable Boost and some other handy functions. We’ll discuss these differences and functions in detail as we go along.

 

 

Visit Effectrode for more info about the LA-1A.

 

Sound & Performance:

While we’re not exactly doing a PC-2A vs LA-1A shootout, this review will contain notable references to both pedals throughout, so it may be a useful resource if you’re deciding whether to get one pedal or the other. The PC-2A is noteworthy for its simplicity. Just set your Peak Reduction to dial in the compression amount and then set your makeup Gain to match unity gain or add a little boost if desired. The LA-2A retains that ease of use while providing more tweaking versatility and a lower noise floor. And wow, is it quiet!

No hype or exaggeration intended, but I’ve been absolutely astounded by how clean and quiet the LA-1A is. The PC-2A is already one of the quietest guitar compressors available, but the LA-1A somehow surpasses it along with every other guitar compressor I’ve heard in terms of low-noise operation. Anyone comparing the two units side-by-side will notice this simply by setting the pedals to a similar compression response and A/Bing the pedals. According to Effectrode the measured self-noise for the LA-1A is -6dB/oct lower across the entire audio spectrum (20Hz to 20KHz) relative to the PC-2A. That provides some measured proof from a scientific standpoint, but I was convinced just by hearing the difference for myself. Compressors often pose the unwanted tradeoff of adding signal noise in exchange for the volume attenuation and audio massaging qualities they provide, but the LA-1A doesn’t suffer from this drawback even when pushing the Peak Reduction into extreme compression territory and having to boost the Gain quite a bit to compensate. It’s bizarre yet refreshing to experience first-hand as you’d generally expect to fight with the noise-floor when adding more compression. The unparalleled low-noise operation of the LA-1A compared to other guitar compressors will easily justify the cost of admission for many musicians.

The LA-1A is relatively easy to dial in. I’d recommend starting by setting the Gain, Attack, and Knee at around noon and then raising up the Peak Reduction from its minimum position until you hear the compression kicking in while you play. As you get it set to where it’s applying a gentle squeeze to your signal that sounds and feels good, you can then tweak the Gain to match your unity signal level.

I want to discuss the Knee before the Attack as this parameter is especially important in altering the response of the compression. If you set the Knee all the way counter-clockwise, you’ll notice that the Peak Reduction knob seems to have less of an effect as you turn it. The Knee control changes the response curve of the compression (re: how quickly it reaches maximum gain reduction), so as low settings it’ll seem to have a less pronounced effect as the compressor releases while played notes are ringing out before ever reaching maximum compression, making for a very subtle effect. As you increase the Knee, the compression will reach maximum gain reduction faster, resulting in a harder compression and seems to take longer to return to baseline. At extreme settings it has a much more pronounced limiting effect as the compressor achieves full Peak Reduction instantaneously (after the Attack, of course).

The Attack knob sets how fast the compression kicks in (with the Knee determining how quickly the compression reaches maximum gain reduction as mentioned before). Generally, you’ll want to have the Attack set slowly enough so that your initial pick attack gets through before the compression starts happening. To set it up, just crank the knob to fully clockwise and start cutting it back while playing until you’re happy with the transient sound of your pick attack. You can generally get away with pushing the Attack as high as around 3 o’clock without killing your pick attack as long as you’re using lower to moderate Knee settings. I often find myself pulling the Attack down to around the 1-2 o’clock area and setting the Knee to around 11-ish o’clock; then I’ll set the Peak Reduction to taste. Different styles of playing may call for a different feel; for example, try a fast Attack with higher Peak Reduction for a sound that blooms in after your initial pick attack when the compressor starts releasing. As always, let your ears guide you to what sounds good.

 

Limit/Compress

Perhaps the most controversial change to the LA-1A from the PC-2A is the removal of the classic LA-2A style “Limit/Compress” switch. On the PC-2A this switch would let you take the compression from a smoother, gentler response to a super squished sound. It’s similar to the switch you find on the front panel of an LA-2A rack unit (or any LA-2A emulation in your DAW software). On the LA-1A, the dedicated “Limit/Compress” function is absent.

Before I did my homework (meaning before I simply asked Effectrode engineer, Phil Taylor), I assumed that the Limit/Compress switch functioned by adding elements to the compression circuit to induce the harder compression response the Limit setting is known for. In actuality the switch “adds resistance in series with the photo-optical attenuator to make the limiting effect more subtle (aka compression)”. In other words the circuit’s natural response is more prominent before elements are put in place to reduce the intensity of the compression. Now at this point you may be wondering what the absence of the Limit/Compress switch on the LA-1A means in actual use. Well…

The PC-2A already added elements to the classic LA-2A style of compression courtesy of the pedal’s Attack & Knee trimpots, and the Knee in particular is a parameter that takes the Peak Reduction response from a smoother compression to a harder limiting. In use it sounds and feels like the Knee control is providing a smooth taper between the classic LA-2A style “Limit” and “Compress” settings. With the LA-1A making the PC-2A’s trimpot functions external, thus giving you quicker access to lighter compression or harder limiting, the Limit/Compress switch could be considered a redundancy among the LA-1A’s surface parameter set. After all, the Knee control on the LA-1A is essentially allowing users to dial in a custom “Limit/Compress” response rather than being restricted to only 2 static settings at either extreme.

I’m over-simplifying what’s going here as the PC-2A and LA-1A are both achieving similar styles of compression response by slightly different means because of the removal of the Compress/Limit switch, but essentially what the PC-2A achieves via a switch and 2 trim-pots the LA-1A is achieving with only 2 external knobs. I find the LA-1A a bit more convenient to use in this regard with its Knee parameter being noticeably more effective when setting a compress or limit response compared to the PC-2A’s Knee trimpot and Limit/Compress switch.

 

Dynamic EQ – “NORM – JANGLE”

In place of the PC-2A’s Limit/Compress switch is another mysterious switch at the far right of the back panel next to the Input jack. (The test prototype unit in my photos is unlabeled, but production units say “NORM – JANGLE”.) This is the LA-1A’s Dynamic EQ switch. When in the active position, the LA-1A boosts the level of audio content in the upper frequency spectrum. Why is this necessary and important? Well, a noteworthy side-effect of many compressors is that when volume peaks are reduced, you’ll tend to notice a perceptual loss of high-end content. Basically, many compressors kill your top-end. Sometimes this effect is desirable, but the perceived alteration of tone can often seem to dull the sound of your source material. This is why you sometimes see additional Tone controls on some compressor pedals – to compensate for any loss of high-end. But Effectrode’s approach to this issue is surprisingly unique and a rather compelling solution. The Dynamic EQ function boosts upper frequencies relative to the setting of the Peak Reduction knob. Basically, the more you compress your signal, the more the Dynamic EQ will compensate by increasing your high-end. It’s incredibly subtle and musical. I consider the Dynamic EQ function to be the LA-1A’s “secret weapon”, and I pretty much leave it on 100% of the time regardless of which guitar I’m using or what style of music I’m playing. As an extra tip when using the Dynamic EQ function, remember to consider how setting the Knee knob affects whether you need more or less Peak Reduction to fine-tune your compression since the amount of Peak Reduction used will affect how much Dynamic EQ compensation you’ll hear. While these shades of subtlety may go unnoticed to some ears, those of you with a keen attention to sonic detail will likely appreciate the nuances you’ll hear.

 

LA-1A’s Tube Stages

The LA-1A, like the PC-2A, has two tube stages. The first stage is a grounded cathode tube stage. It’s exactly like the first preamp stage of a Fender Twin Reverb or Blackface Deluxe Reverb. The output stage is a cathode follower circuit which also acts as a buffer. The PC-2A uses a single sub-miniature tube for these stages, but the LA-1A has a lot more tube muscle coming into play here… and protruding from its surface.

For the LA-1A’s cathode tube stage, a pair of 12AU7s provide four triode tube stages in parallel and are primarily responsible for the pedal’s incredibly low-noise compression. These stages overlay 4 identical copies of your guitar signal, and without altering your signal tonality, any self-noise from the tubes “is averaged, smoothed, and reduced.” For the cathode follower stage, two triode stages of a 12AT7 are implemented in parallel to enrich the output signal.

While the stock JJ Electronic tubes sounded fine during my testing, Effectrode also suggests trying other N.O.S. tubes for personal customization; Effectrode recommends Philips JAN 6189W or JAN 5814A in the 12AU7 positions and a JAN 12AT7WC for the 12AT7 position if you seek even “sweeter and richer tones”.

 

Need a Boost?

With the LA-1A populating a larger Effectrode Blackbird style enclosure, the increase in size afforded the possibility of another foot-switch function. A dedicated Boost function seems like a fine pairing with a compressor as a compressor will generally be running into other drive pedals or into an amp if it’s all you’re using. The LA-1A provides up to a modest +6dB of boost. That may not really sound like a lot compared to what you’ll find of some pedals (+20dB? Seriously?), but experienced ears often understand that less can be more when it comes to precise volume level adjustments and listening for the intricacies of tone variation that small adjustments can make. So the LA-1A’s Boost knob gives you a huge sweep to carefully dial in just a bit of extra volume boost, and it will be more than enough for the needs of the musicians that this pedal will most likely appeal to.

On a note worth mentioning here, the Boost isn’t exactly a dedicated “tube boost” as all the pedal’s tube stages are already being used in the circuit; however, since the Boost can only be used when the pedal is engaged for compression, you’re already getting an audio signal that’s harmonically impacted by 6 tube stages before the Boost jolts your signal a little harder into the rest of your audio path. So you are technically boosting a tube flavored audio signal, just not applying any other tube gain stages that could potentially alter or color your sound. Sure, it would be neat if Effectrode could have crammed a subminiature tube under the hood somehow for even more tube-y goodness, but the approach implemented is more respectful to the painstakingly attuned audio signal produced by the compressor.

On a side note, I did originally have minor concerns about the Boost not being able to be used independently from the compression, but then I realized that I’ve really been leaving the LA-1A on all the time. With most “always on” compressors, I still find myself sometimes turning them off on occasion; for example, a particular compressor may always sound great for leads but sound a little off when playing some styles of rhythm. In the past few months I’ve been using the LA-1A, it has become a staple of my sound. So yes, while I’d still argue from a critical standpoint that would have been nice to have at least had a dip-switch toggle option to set the Boost to be used independently (maybe in a future PCB revision?), but it most likely won’t be an issue in actual use if you find yourself leaving the compressor always on.

 

EXT. SELECT

The EXT. SELECT jack lets you plug in a TRS cable to take remote control of the Bypass and Boost foot-switches. This gives you similar control to that of using a 2-button foot-switch with your Fender Twin Reverb or other similar amp. And the external switching functionality is an indispensable accommodation that users of professional effects switchers will appreciate. If your switcher has at least two “control out” or similarly named output jacks, you have use them to operate the LA-1A. But what if you have limited control outputs and/or want to leave the LA-1A always on and just operated the Boost remotely? Simply make a custom TRS cable and short the “Tip” end of the cable. This will make the pedal be activated by default. Then use the “Ring” side of the cable with your switcher’s control output to toggle the Boost on and off as needed.

 

 

Studio Use – Direct Out

For maximum versatility in the recording studio or other professional audio environment, the LA-1A has a few extra nifty features in its arsenal. The “600 OHM BAL. OUT” jack is a ¼” TRS output that lets you connect the pedal (using a TRS to XLR cable) to a mixing console or other destination that has an XLR input. This output is fully balanced and isolated with a Triad Magnetics audio transformer to eliminate ground noise and reduce hum to an absolute minimum. A gain pad switch with +6dB, +12dB, and +18dB options facilitates matching the output level with other line level or instrument level gear.

 

Stepped Gain vs Variable Gain

A fascinating point of note about using the “Direct Out” option is that it completely bypasses the Gain knob and Boost functionality of the pedal. The idea behind this is that in some audiophile and pro-audio circles, stepped volume attenuation is preferred to variable potentiometers for improved audio fidelity. With the LA-1A this approach shouldn’t be mistaken as a means to simply achieve more transparency (as the Triad Magnetics audio transformer adds its own subtle character and colorization), but instead what’s happening is that the Balanced Output is bypassing the Gain and (switch-able) Boost potentiometers, removing any possible elements that could potentially add signal distortion. The 3-position Pad switch is instead used to select your fixed output level while the input gain on your audio interface or the level sliders on your mixer can be used for precise gain adjustment. The pro-audio crowd will likely appreciate this stepped implementation for how it facilitates integration of the LA-1A in professional audio environments.

For fun I connected the LA-1A to my pedal chain via its Balanced Output using the Tip plug of a TRS cable to feed my other pedals. It’s hard to say if the Triad Magnetics transformer was actually further sweetening my tone or if the pedal was even quieter or more “hi-fi”. It already sounds excellent, and it’s the quietest compressor pedal I’ve ever played, so it’s likely not necessary for guitarists to attempt to “hack” their way into using the Balanced Out in a typical guitar setup. Still, if you must toss conventional wisdom to the wind, you could experiment with running it this way although bypassing the Gain pot may not be ideal considering you’ll still need to use another gain stage (like your amp’s Gain or another pedal with volume control) to precisely set your volume level. Also, giving up the Boost might not be acceptable. While reading the spec-sheet might inspire the imagination to try things like this, for pedalboard use you’ll be better off sticking to recommended use of the normal Output. Save the Balanced Output for recording guitar or bass directly into a DAW (like Logic or Ableton Live) for processing with amp plugins or re-amping your dry guitar.

 

Still No Gain Reduction Metering?

Aside from all the praise I could continuing heaping upon this pedal, there’s only one other thing I’d like to have seen: gain reduction metering. Sure, it would likely be impossible to fit a real LA-2A style VU meter on the LA-1A’s already packed surface area. And even a row of metering LEDs might have been difficult and costly to implement. But perhaps a single multi-colored LED that indicated Peak Reduction could have been squeezed in somewhere. As with the PC-2A, you’ll just have to use your ears, but hearing can be deceiving and all kinds of factors like listening fatigue and the Fletcher–Munson effect can play tricks on how we think we’re perceiving sound. The LA-1A often performs best by adding very subtle compression, and it would have been nice to get some visual feedback as well as providing a helpful training aid for guitarists who are less experienced dialing in compression or really hearing the difference it’s making to their signal. The lack of gain reduction metering isn’t a deal-breaker and doesn’t really hinder performance or enjoyment of playing the LA-1A, but it’s likely to be the most notable addition that could make this pedal a more perfect guitar compressor.

 

 

The Effectrode LA-1A Super High Resolution Limiting Amplifier is a top-shelf photo-optical tube compressor for musicians who place the importance of premium low-noise operation above all else. For all the variations of compressor pedals that exist and countless iterations from various builders, the LA-1A is most likely to objectively be the quietest, reaching a new plateau I don’t expect another builder to match anytime soon. It even somehow manages to top the venerable PC-2A thanks to its external Attack & Knee controls and tone sweetening Dynamic EQ functionality – not to mention the sweet Boost function. (The PC-2A is still an excellent unit, and if board real estate is a concern, that pedal is definitely worth considering.) While my overall impressions are primarily based on how exceptionally well the LA-1A performs as a pedalboard bound guitar compressor, the potential to use it in the studio as an alternative to an LA-2A rack unit may also warrant consideration. Effectrode have spared no attention to sonic detail in designing a compressor that stands tall in all areas of operation and applicability, and in the few months I’ve spent with it, it’s become my new favorite guitar compressor pedal.

That concludes our Effectrode LA-1A review. Thanks for reading.

Meris Ottobit Jr. Review

 

Meris surprised the gear world in January 2017 when they revealed the Ottobit Jr., a compact guitar pedal inspired by their 500 series Ottobit bit-crusher but with added stutter, filter, and sequence-able pitch effects. While Meris has been producing 500 series pro-audio gear since 2014, the Ottobit Jr. was their first pedal release, followed soon after by the Mercury7 Reverb and Polymoon. This quick succession of innovative new releases prompted Best Guitar Effects to laud Meris as the Best New Pedal Builder of 2017. But what made the Ottobit Jr. so special and why is this pedal such a landmark release?

 

Ottobit vs Ottobit Jr.

Rather than just release a feature similar replica of the Ottobit in a stompbox enclosure, Meris decided to reinvent the Ottobit concept for its pedal release. They started by removing the LFO Modulation, envelope Trigger, and Ring Modulation functions. While the original Ottobit’s Ring Mod with Pitch Tracking and dynamic Sample Rate movement may be missed, what the Ottobit Jr. offers in place of those features more than makes up for their absence. The new Filter knob controls a smooth low-pass filter that has a slightly peaked resonance for classic sounding synth-like filtering. The Stutter (with optional Hold function) provides 22 different Stutter variations in Full, Double, & Half Speed options. And probably the most significant of all the features is the Sequencer section which offers up to 6 steps of Pitch, Sample Rate, or Filter movement. You can also modulate all knob parameters simultaneously via an expression pedal, save and recall 16 presets via MIDI or with Meris’ upcoming 4 button switcher, and adjust all of the pedal’s parameter functions in realtime via MIDI CC messages. With this hugely expanded feature set, the Ottobit Jr. may arguably be the daddy in this case.

Here’s a full feature recap before we dig in.

 

Features:

  • Handcrafted Algorithms
  • Variable Sample Rate and Bit Crushing
  • Vintage Synth inspired Low-Pass Filter
  • Triggered Stutter Effects
  • Sequencer module for Pitch, Filter or Decimation pattern sequencing
  • Tap Tempo for Sequencer and Stutter
  • Stereo input and output
  • Switchable input/output headroom level for Guitar, Synthesizer or Line levels
  • Expression pedal control over all parameters simultaneously
  • Presets available via external 4-Preset switch or MIDI
  • MIDI in/out over TRS via the EXP jack
  • Remote Tap Tempo Switch capable via the EXP jack
  • Premium analog signal path and 24-bit AD/DA w/32 bit floating point DSP
  • Premium Analog Devices JFET input section
  • Color – glossy black with subtle flake
  • Designed and built in Los Angeles, California U.S.A.

Specs:

  • Premium quality 24 bit A/D and D/A
  • 32 Bit floating point DSP hardware
  • Premium low noise Analog signal path throughout
  • Analog Devices JFET input circuitry
  • Selectable True Bypass (Relay) or Analog Buffered Bypass
  • 150 mA total power consumption
  • Durable black powder coat with fine metal flake
  • Current draw –
  • Dimensions – 4.25″ wide, 4.5″ long, 2″ tall

Visit Meris for more info about the Ottobit Jr.

 

 

Sound & Performance:

A trend I’ve noticed in the Meris pedals released so far is that the top row of knobs usually controls the most easy to grasp functions while the second row begins to dig a little deeper into the slightly more complex stuff. With the bottom row of knobs at minimum and the top row maxed, you won’t notice much happening when you first activate the pedal, just your transparent audio signal being reproduced via A/D D/A at a full 24-bit/48kHz resolution. Turning the Bits & Sample Rate knobs counter-clockwise begins reducing the audio fidelity from 24-bit/48kHz all the down down to 1-bit and 48Hz, respectively.

As you turn the Bits knob down to around noon, you’ll start crunching up your guitar into a pretty gnarly fuzz sound. Bit-crushing can be used as a form of dirt, and the Ottobit Jr. excels in this area with usable grit all the way down to its minimum 1-bit setting. There isn’t a Level control, so you’ll want to be mindful of how the perceived output level increases on lower Bits settings, but there are some great opportunities here for using an expression pedal to sweep from a clean and clear tone to a “crushed” fuzz distortion.

As you reduce the Sample Rate knob, it’s as if the upper frequencies begin folding in, washing over your original audio signal in a wave of descending harmonics. It sounds kind of like tuning the dial on an old radio. If you’ve used a bit-crusher before, you’re likely familiar with this. If you haven’t, you’re in for a treat here as the Ottobit Jr. has one of the smoothest sample rate sweeps I’ve ever heard in a bit-crusher pedal. At the knob’s lowest settings, the pedal emits a dissonant lo-fi growl. You can also park the knob throughout the rest of its sweep a set harmonic sound, similar to dialing in a ring modulator.

Tweaking the Bits & Sample Rate together is the key to finding those classic 8-bit and arcade style video game tones. Usually, it just takes moderate amounts of those parameters to get the lo-fi sound you’re looking for. You’ll of course get a more NES-inspired sound if you actually feed a synthesizer or synthesized guitar tone into the pedal, but whatever sound you’re going for, the Ottobit Jr. applies some very impressive bit-crushing to whatever you feed into it.

 

To Mix or not to Mix?

I mentioned to someone how impressed I was with the Meris Ottobit Jr., and they immediately questioned the fact that the pedal doesn’t have a Mix control. To my surprise it was only then that I stopped to notice that the pedal doesn’t actually have a Mix knob. I understand how a Mix knob could be useful if you’re creating textures by really crushing your signal beyond recognition and want your original audio signal to be heard clearly through the noise. But there’s a wide range of sweet lo-fi textures that will still let your original signal shine through before it gets totally crushed to oblivion. So yes, even without a dedicated Mix control, the nuances of your original signal are still audible until things get really gnarly on extreme settings. The fact that I never really noticed the Mix knob missing is further testament to the quality of the bit-crushed tones and the smooth and pleasing sweep of the Sample Rate parameter in particular. And also, when bit-crushing I typically only crush the signal extra hard as a temporary effect with intention of completely destroying any trace of the original audio signal. No Mix needed.

 

Filter Goodness

The Ottobit Jr. has an excellent Filter that’s really fun for frequency sweeps. You can get some pretty epic filtering sounds by using an expression pedal to control the filter in real-time. The filter has a static resonance setting which has a slight bump right at the cut-off. This adds a pleasing emphasis to the filtering as you sweep through the frequency spectrum. It sounds awesome in most situations, but in a few cases this default resonance setting may not be ideal; when you’re dialing in aggressive bit-crushed fuzz tones, the little resonant boost right at the cut-off point can add a little extra unwanted harshness on some otherwise great sounding fuzz settings. It would’ve been neat to have an Alt option for selecting between either the default Resonance or a flatter Resonance response that rolls off the highs a bit more smoothly. I also love cutting low-pass filters to silence when sweeping through the filter range, so if I were being very picky, I’d also like to have seen an option to extend the minimum Filter value from its current lower limit of around 61Hz down to 0-20Hz. Still, it must be emphasized that the Filter sounds awesome, especially when being swept through its range. It may hard to please everyone with a single static resonance setting, but the way Meris dialed it in will sound killer in nearly all situations. And it’s important to note that when sequencing the Filter, the default peaked Resonance is integral in the musical nature of the effect. (More about the Sequencer in a moment.)

 

Stutter

The Ottobit Jr.’s Stutter adds a choppy repeating effect to the mix. It occurs a quarter note after your pick attack in sync with the Tap Tempo. There are 7 Length Options (ranging from one stutter to sixteen) for each of the 3 different Stutter Speed settings (Full Speed, Double Speed, & Half Speed). There’s also a Random setting. These options provide a lot of flexibility for adding in a sporadic glitchy-ness that actually syncs in time with your playing. Pushing and holding the Tap foot-switch will allow you to grab the current or next occurring stutter and repeat it for as long as the foot-switch is held. For a stutter mode that’s so simply implemented and controlled, it’s arguably one of the best such versions found in a pedal format. For best results using the Stutter effect (or the Sequencer which we’ll get to next), I’d suggest keeping the Ottobit Jr. placed early in your signal chain either first or right after your guitar compressor.

 

Sequencial Chaos

The Sequencer section is probably my personal favorite aspect of the Ottobit Jr. There are options for Pitch Sequencing, Filter Sequencing, & Sample Rate Sequencing selected via the small button near the Bypass foot-switch. To activate the Sequencer you simply turn the Sequencer knob from Off to 1X or above. The different values determine how many times the sequence repeats. The Sequencer Mult knob multiplies the playback speed of the sequence by the Tap Tempo amount. Basically, it’ll keep playing the sequence faster and faster the higher you turn the knob but always in sync with your Tap Tempo speed. When sequencing the Pitch, this lets you create warp speed note arpeggios that remain precisely in time.

Programming the Sequencer is where things get a little bit more involved. The 6 steps are accessed by pressing the Alt button while turning one of the 6 knobs that correspond to each step. You can skip steps, mute steps, and pick from a wide range of values in between. In Pitch Sequence Mode, you can select from every semitone interval ranging from -1 octave to +1 octave. By using unison steps (root notes) and mutes, you can even get some killer squared, choppy tremolo effects. Grasping the concept isn’t too hard once you get hands-on experience using it. Just be advised that when sequencing Pitch, the 27 different options on each knob will be easier to set if you temporarily tap in a slow tempo with a low Multiplier setting and carefully listen to the notes of the sequence as you dial in each one. Things get even crazier when you control the pitches from an external sequencer via MIDI, but more on that in a moment. On a couple occasions I noticed a slight drop in signal level when sequencing the pitch, and an Alt parameter for Output Level could have been helpful in making sure the volume is always consistent on a per preset basis, but I’ve been able to compensate by triggering a volume boost via a preset on another pedal in my signal chain. It’s minor, and I only noticed it on a few occasions after playing the pedal for couple months.

 

The Presets Paradox

The Ottobit Jr. (along with the Mercury7 Reverb & Polymoon) can save and recall up to 16 presets via MIDI. 16 factory presets are available to give you an idea of what the pedal is capable of, but you’ll need an external means to access them. Meris will be releasing a 4 button preset switcher in early 2018 which should be a convenient option for utilizing presets. If you already use a high-end effects switcher with MIDI output, you’ll want to get a compatible MIDI adapter to make the most of this pedal. The Chase Bliss Audio MIDI Box works well, and the official Meris MIDI I/O adapter will also be released in the near future. Without using MIDI or another external preset switching option, you’ll be missing out on saving and recalling more than 1 of your complex creations. To really make the most of this insane pedal, you’ll definitely want some way to conveniently access presets.

 

Expression Control

Using an expression pedal adds a lot of possibilities for real-time control. All knob parameters, the 6 Sequencer Steps, and Tempo can have different values assigned to the toe and heel positions that are saved along with each preset. The Filter is fun to sweep, and you can mangle your sound at will by assigning the Sample Rate and/or Bits to the exp pedal. You can also play with the sequencer in creative ways. Try creating an arpeggiated pattern with the root note, octaves, fifths, and thirds; then set the expression pedal to shift between the major thirds and minor thirds for a simple way to have the Pitch Sequencer harmonize in key as you play notes of a scale.

The one thing to be mindful of going in is that you can set the EXP/MIDI jack to only one of the following options: EXP (for exp pedal), TAP (for external tap tempo control), PRESET (to be used with the upcoming Meris preset switcher), or MIDI. With all the awesome sounds the Ottobit Jr. is capable of, I’m biased towards recommending one of the two options that allow use of presets before the other options. But the EXP mode is super fun. So what’s a good workaround here?

If you use MIDI, you can still access the exp control by using CC #04. You could also use a DAW to select presets and control the EXP CC. Here’s something I’d really like to see. Assuming the upcoming Meris Preset Switcher is basically a specialized MIDI controller for Meris pedals, it would be brilliant if Meris added an Exp-to-MIDI jack that allows users to simply plug in a standard expression pedal and control the EXP CC. I’ve seen a MIDI effects switcher that offers this functionality, so it can be done. Such an option would allow easy access to the 16 presets on Meris pedals while the exp pedal’s toe and heel positions could theoretically double the available preset settings to up to 32.

 

External Sequencing via MIDI

While it’s inspiring to have 6 available steps for onboard sequencing, considering that Meris went all-in with full MIDI implementation, I had to dig in to see how well the Ottobit Jr. would respond to external automation. The Ottobit Jr.’s onboard Pitch Sequencing already allows arpeggiated melodies to be triggered from a single note, but external sequencing can allow greater possibilities for evolving sequences and longer step sequenced patterns.

By connecting the Ottobit Jr. to Ableton Live 10 via MIDI, I was able to use Live’s MIDI Clips with MIDI CC automation to change the note sequences at precise moments during chord changes in a progression. With every note from -1 Oct to +1 Oct available for sequencing, you can create complex arpeggiated note patterns that defy what can conventionally be played by merely plucking or tapping every note.

Sequencing Tip: to achieve the best results from pitch sequencing, start your sequences with the root interval (which produces a smoother sound at faster tempo speeds) before the pitch descends or ascends in subsequent steps. It requires strict timing to make sure your sequences are triggered in time, but it’s very rewarding. Your dedicated practice with a metronome will pay off. Without being limited to only 6 steps, you can compose some truly awe inspiring note sequences that are only limited by your knowledge of modes, scales, and music theory… and the 2 octave range of course. And being able to program precise moments for the Stutter and Stutter Hold functions to be triggered is also amazing. If you get in deep with pitch sequencing, you’ll probably join me in wishing Meris included secret MIDI CCs for “Swing” and “Triplet” quantization.

 

 

Bit-Crushing… in Stereo?!

At first it may seem unnecessary to have a TRS stereo I/O option on a bit-crusher, but this is actually very handy in some scenarios. If you like the sound of bit-crushing later in your signal chain, the possibility of placing the Ottobit Jr. after your stereo delay and reverb pedals opens up new possibilities. You can add some gentle anti-aliased noise over your delay and/or reverb or completely decimate your entire audio signal, not to mention applying that sweet Filter to your sound. If you’re using the Ottobit Jr. in a professional studio environment and are using delay and reverb on dedicated sends, you could set the Ottobit Jr. to Line level and add it to your wet chain in series with other stereo effects or use the pedal by itself. This is a much better option than buying two mono only pedals and lets you use the Ottobit Jr.’s ironically hi-fi effects in just about any scenario.

Aside from a few minor tweaks I’d like to see here and there, I only have one other noteworthy feature I wish was included. The Sequencer (particularly Pitch) and Stutter functions are triggered with greater precision when the pedal is placed early in your signal chain before distortion, fuzz, and modulation; however, the Bit-Crusher and Filter effects arguably sound best when placed towards the end of your signal chain or after dirt pedals at the very least. This makes it a little tricky to decide where to place the pedal. I prefer to keep it up front for the pitch-sequencing effects, but if you’re not using those effects, you may want to put it later in your signal chain. It would be awesome to have seen a Pre/Post mode for mono operation that could let you put the Pitch Sequencer early in your chain and route the Bit-Crusher and Filter later in your signal chain. While I may still use the bit-crushing and filtering from the pedal’s default position early in my signal path, the characteristics of those effects are arguably more impactful and musical when placed after most other pedals. But this little concern is in no way a deal-breaker, and I think most users will easily find ways to make cool noise with this pedal. As it stands the Meris Ottobit Jr. is one of my personal favorite pedals released in recent years.

The Meris Ottobit Jr. is simply a monster in pedal form. Let’s see the final result.

 

 

The Meris Ottobit Jr. is one of the most ambitious and advanced bit-crushers ever released in pedal form with a host of inspiring sound design possibilities on board. While its bit-crushing is some of the best sounding I’ve heard mainly thanks to a very smooth Sample Rate taper that’s beautiful to behold, the Sequencer and Stutter effects really push this pedal over the top in terms of what it offers adventurous effects users. And there’s a truly gorgeous synth inspired Filter onboard. While the stereo option isn’t essential for mono rigs (and the Pitch Sequencing works best when the pedal is early in your signal chain), being able to use the Ottobit Jr.’s bit-crushing and filtering after a stereo delay and reverb offers some truly mesmerizing textures. While a pedal like the Ottobit Jr. probably won’t appeal to old-school guitarists who veer towards simplicity, this gauntlet throwing debut pedal from Meris is among the handful of must-try pedals I’d recommend most to guitarists looking for new sound design possibilities and sources of inspiration.

That concludes our Meris Ottobit Jr. review. Thanks for reading.

Keeley Electronics Caverns V2 Review

 

Even in my most minimal setups, there’s sure to be a dedicated delay and reverb pedal, and so I’m intrigued by the idea of these effects being designed to work together in one pedal. The Keeley Electronics Caverns V2 expresses this intent as a combination delay and reverb. It’s updated from the V1 with an improved layout of controls, wider foot-switch spacing, an optional buffer for delay/reverb spillover, and a Mod selection switch. It’s also presented in a more attractive and artful boutique appearance with a clean, modern, and airy graphic design. The colorful abstract triangle art on the case is a metaphor for the complex sound possibilities and interactions between the delay and reverb. The Caverns V2 encourages you to turn every knob, flip every switch, and get creative mingling the delay and reverb together, creating lush and complex sounds.

Features:

  • Keeley’s Magnetic Echo circuit which emulates an analogue tape delay
  • Classic Delay Blend, Time & Repeats knobs – Delay timing up to 680milliseconds
  • 3-way repeats Modulation switch with modes of Off, Deep, or Light for adding “Wow and Flutter”
  • Classic Reverb Blend & Decay knobs
  • Reverb Warmth knob that increases the analog tone or modulation intensity
  • Reverb Rate knob that increases the modulation speed of the reverb
  • A switch to choose between Shimmer, Spring, and Modulated reverbs
  • Discreet bypass foot-switches for the both the reverb and delay sides.
  • Trails or True Bypass – By default the Keeley Caverns in is trails mode, so when the bypass switch is on, the given reverb or delay will maintain the tone and continue in the buffer, ringing out again when bypass is switched off. The back-plate can be removed to change the setting to true bypass.
  • Plastic knobs with just the right amount of smooth resistance, and hexagon shaped for a sure grip
  • All metal casing

Visit Keeley Electronics for more info about the Caverns V2.

 

 

Sound & Performance:

For my testing, I used a 16-step sequenced semi-modular mono synth. I started with the delay side, then the reverb side alone, followed by mixing both effects together.

Delay side

The Magnetic Echo tape style delay is a monster. The trails are very warm and convincingly analog with a bit of lo-fi grit. I organized the delay testing by the Rate knob settings: shortest, medium, medium-long, and longest, followed by “playing” the rate name at higher blends and repeats.

Shortest Time (7 o’clock). At lower blends and repeats, the delay had a thickening effect to the sound, like a slap-back doubling. With the Blend and Repeats knob increased to around 3-plus o’clock, the delay sounded fast and metallic with an industrial bent. At the highest Repeats and Blend, it started to sound out of control from the feedback repeats, amping up the energy. This was the fastest and noisiest setting.

Medium to Medium-High Time (10 o’clock – 2 o’clock). At the medium rates, I could start to hear more musicality in the trails and modulation. Modulation in Deep mode adds a rich retro sound and wobble, and Light mode adds a delicate touch of the modulation. It’s great that the Caverns V2 offers both to suite diverse tastes. Deep mode created a greater sense of being off-balance, which can be a desired effect. At moderate Repeats and Blend, especially with the modulation switched on, there was a syncopated, wave-like quality of the music bounding in the air which added a dimensional feel. At the highest Blend and Repeats settings, the delay repeats started to tumble delightfully and deliriously into each other, the sound piling up and building further into a crescendo of a distorted and sleepy roar.

Longest Time (5 o’clock). At a low to moderate levels of Repeats and Blend, the repeats began weaving in and out of each other creating a loosely woven tapestry in the air. As the Blend and Repeats knobs were increased, Time seemed to be playing tricks as the repeats sounded slower, but catching up to other notes, bounding together in loping rolling hills. Modulation added to an off-balance drunken effect. At the highest Repeats and Blends, the distortion and feedback became an undulating belly of ambient noise.

Playing with Time. After testing with Time knob in fixed positions, I set about on a more chaotic adventure to play the Time knob. I kept Blend and Repeats in relatively high positions, toggling between just-in-control to out-of-control feedback. Starting with the shortest “metallic” sounding Time settings and quickly increasing Time, the sound rumbled into place. The effect of the repeats already in motion completing their cycle, rumbling and then settling, added a physicality to the sound. Speeding up Time had a watery trickling up effect, like a clock ticking faster into the future. There were different pitches to the delay as Time was sped up and slowed, alternating between the increasing pitch of a faster time and decreasing pitch of a slower time. Slowly moving the Time knob could be a way to introduce some intentional, almost plucked-string, musicality or evolving soundscape. Moving the Time knob faster can create gaping moments of chaos. The Time knob was fun and playable.

Reverb side

Shimmer – Shimmer mode is quite lovely and has a ‘particles ascending and spreading out’ pattern to it. The Warmth and Rate knobs act together to dial in the strength and tone of the shimmer. With Warmth and Rate at lower settings, the Shimmer is subdued and low in the background. With Warmth and Rate at higher settings, the Shimmer quality brightens into a celestial choir. When increasing the Decay, Shimmer becomes an incredibly thick and lush ambient atmosphere.

Spring – Spring mode is emulated well and is convincing. Dialing in the Warmth and Rate adds a more pronounced spring modulation. When Decay is all the way up, I could hear a more pronounced reflection in all the lush ambience, as if the sound was coming from inside a metal warehouse or stone cathedral. With a continuous tone, the spring mode adds a noticeable but small wobble of pitch modulation.

Modulation – Modulation mode adds a choral effect and can achieve reverb closer to room or hall by dialing Warmth and Rate up or down. At lower Decay and Warmth, it sounds closer to room. At the highest rate and decay the ambient sound whooshes and swirls around like a stormy cold front. It seemed almost like a subdued shimmer at the highest settings.

Delay and Reverb together – The delay and reverb are artfully well made for each other. The delay enhances and adds power to the reverb, while the reverb smooths out extreme time changes and the harsher feedback of the delay. The overall effect of them working together is lush, expansive, and stormy. It’s like painting emotion with thick expressive washes of sound.

A couple considerations

With a relatively hot input source, at a higher reverb blend and decay, and especially with the delay on, the sound would sometimes clip and distort in a bad way. I would prefer to have the sound source go directly into the pedal before the mixer, but I had better results controlling the clipping and moments of distortion by going into a mixer first where I could monitor the sound and ensure it didn’t go above the green into the yellow at all. This might not be as much of an issue for guitar but might be something to experiment with on synthesizers.

With the default trails mode out-of-box, it can be easy to forget some extreme sound is maintained in the buffer behind the scenes. One could be startled when switching the delay back on. It’s something to be mindful of, while it could also be intentionally used.

 

 

The Keeley Electronics Caverns V2 offers impressive and expressive sounds that can veer between peaceful ambience and potentially unruly soundscapes. Keeley’s Magnetic Echo is cherry. The reverbs are lush, convincing, and much desired emulations. Entire tracks could be composed with just the Caverns V2 and a sound source like guitar or synth. I could see it used in conceptual pieces that evoke concepts of time and stormy weather, as well as being a go-to favorite for making evolving ambient sounds in any context. Even at Caverns V2’s noisiest, it does a fabulous job preserving the inherent tone of the source material. It exalts both tone and your creativity. It’s also a very pretty & well-built pedal among a crowded scene of utilitarian plain designs and indie tattoo nightmares.

That concludes our Keeley Electronics Caverns V2 review. Thanks for reading.

Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal Review

 

The Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal is a new kind of audio processing engine that offers piano-like sustain effects for guitars and other instruments. The distinctive, sophisticated appearance and ergonomic design put the Plus Pedal in a class by itself; it’s sure to invite stares from all the gearheads.

Now, of course, there will be some comparisons to pedals like the EHX Superego and Freeze, but the Plus Pedal is decidedly different. Some things are obvious; the actual “switch” is very different. Instead of a stomp switch, you get a great piano-like sustain pedal. This pedal works similar to an expression pedal in that a “half-press” makes it behave differently than a “full-press.” Can’t do that with a stomp switch. You get real-time feedback of half-press vs. full-press by watching the LED brightness. There are some things that are also different under the hood. The actual technology within the pedal is much different than that of other pedals on the market. The Plus Pedal is based on a new method of digital sound processing called Real Time Audio Sampling and Looping (patent pending). Instead of creating tones using an oscillator and filter based synth engine, Real Time Audio Sampling and Looping works by creating a smooth, circular loop out of a source signal that is recorded as you go, sampling only the last segments of your incoming notes or chords. These tiny bits are sampled in real time and looped together to create a seamless, warm and responsive sustained tone.

 

Features:

Sound Design:

  • A new kind of audio processing that offers piano-like sustain/sostenuto for electric guitars and other melodic instruments
  • Hand-crafted brass damper/sustain-style switch
  • Four rotary knobs on the face of the pedal adjust the dynamic properties of the wet signal, including Blend, Sustain, Rise, and Tail
  • A two-position slide for controlling the play mode between Single and Group modes
  • A second two-position slide for Split and Mix modes to isolate the wet signal or mix it
  • Multiple signal routing options including a built-in effects loop
  • Gradual Control with the main switch with the options to press halfway, or all the way
  • Further control options include a quick, hard, full tap will act as a kill switch for the sustained sound
  • Multi-stage LED indicates on, half-press, full-press
  • “Wet Only” mode

Ins and Outs:

  • One 1/4” main input (top-mounted)
  • One 1/4” main output (top-mounted)
  • 9v DC, center negative power jack drawing 130mA (top-mounted)
  • One 1/4” effects send (side-mounted)
  • One 1/4” effects return (side-mounted)

Technical stuff:

  • Input: Unbalanced TS, 1MΩ, max input +6.8dBu
  • Outputs: Unbalanced TS, 100Ω, max output +6.8dBu
  • Sample Rate: 26kHz
  • A/D D/A conversion: 16 bit
  • Frequency Response, Analog/Digital: 20Hz to 22k/13kHz
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: -97dB (A weighted); ref=max level, 22kHz bandwidth

Let’s have a more in depth look at the main knobs of the pedal:

Blend (how much): Controls the volume of the wet signal produced by the Plus Pedal. The 12:00 position is an exact 50/50 blend of wet and dry signal. It has a very convenient indent in the potentiometer’s path as you turn it.

Sustain (how long/how many): Now, this is kind of a magical and busy knob. I will do my best to describe it in detail. First of all, the Sustain knob changes its functionality when you switch from Single Mode and Group Mode.
In Single Mode: The Sustain knob allows you to control the behavior of the hold function while the foot-pedal is pressed. When set to minimum, you will get the natural decaying properties of a ringing guitar string. Whereas, when set to the maximum, signified by an infinity (∞), the Sustain knob will keep the sustained note/chord completely static for as long as the foot-pedal is pressed without applying any frequency filters on the top end.
In Group Mode: The Sustain knob allows you to control the number of sustained layers allowed to be played simultaneously. You can choose between 1 and 5 layers. As you rotate the knob to choose the number of layers, watch for the LED to blink once for each number from 1 to 5.

Rise (fade in): Sets the fade in speed of new sustain layers generated by the Plus Pedal. A minimum setting will let you bring in new tones instantly, while the maximum setting will result in extended, gradual swells. Try somewhere between nine and noon for a starting point.

Tail (fade out): Adjusts the amount of spillover after you’ve released your foot from the pedal. The maximum setting here also features an infinity symbol (∞) and when it is set to this point, the layers will continue to stack up on top of one another (up to five layers) and create rich, harmonic soundscapes.

 

There are several useful ins and outs on the pedal. Input and dual output jacks and 9v power jack are conveniently mounted up top. On the right side, you have options for a separate effects loop as well as two switches that allow for additional control. One switch allows for Group or Single mode. In Group mode, the pedal will collect whole groups of audio layers. In Single mode, it will focus on the most recent note. A second switch allows for Mix or Split on the output. In Mix mode, the more common mode, your wet and dry signals are mixed together on the output. In Split mode, only the isolated wet signal is generated by the plus pedal. There is even an option for the Clean Out/FSW output to harness your unaffected dry signal at all times. I can see this being extremely useful in a recording studio setting. A note regarding the size of the Plus Pedal. It’s about 2/3 the size of a standard volume or wah pedal. In my efforts to keep my pedalboards really small these days, I was struggling to figure out where to put the Plus. I then learned that it’s best to put it first in your chain. Therefore, I don’t put it on a board. I just carry it with me and plug it in between my guitar and my board. It draws 130mA so it can’t use a battery, which would have been convenient, so I just keep a longer power lead available on the board and plug it in that way. I like it next to my board like that. It’s kind of handy to have it off to the side where you can angle it to work more ergonomically for you.

Visit Gamechanger Audio for more info about the Plus Pedal.

 

 

A great starting point setting for this pedal?

With all that’s going on and with a pedal that is arguably not just another familiar thing you’re plugging into, let me give you a great starting point group of settings. Ignore the effects loop for now, just plug your guitar into the top-mount input jack and your amp to the top-mount output jack and set your knobs and switches to the following points:

BLEND: 12:00
SUSTAIN: 12:00
RISE: 9:00
TAIL: 9:00
MODE SWITCH: Single
MIX SWITCH: Mix

*Higher settings will give you a more ambient/spacey sound, while lower settings will give you a more natural/subtle sound. Think of these settings kind of like how you use the settings on a reverb pedal.

A very important word on using the foot switch properly to get the most out of your Plus Pedal:

The quality of the wet signal will always be determined by the amount of time between the attack of the note and the time that the foot switch is pressed.

For a more synthetic, distorted sound, follow the note attack quickly with the foot switch.

For a more smooth, detailed sound, allow more time between note attack and foot switch.

I first saw the Plus Pedal late one night sitting up in bed searching around the far corners of the internet. There were these guys in white lab coats showing off this strange-looking pedal that looked like someone took at piano damper pedal and stuck it on an old wedge-style fuzz pedal enclosure. I thought it was a joke. As soon as I realized it was for real, I was like…. “Whoa……. Someone has actually done it!” Having been a piano player for years before I was ever a guitar player, this seemed like a welcome addition to my board. I’ve always loved the feel and natural simplicity of the piano sustain pedal. It just seems so incredible that someone actually thought to put this into a guitar pedal. Then I started seeing more and more pics of it in some of the FaceBook groups and on Instagram. I recall telling another member of the BGE Team that I thought this might be a contender for Pedal of the Year. After finally using the thing, I can very safely say that this pedal has impressed and shocked me to the core. It is one of the coolest things that has ever happened to my rig. I have used other pedals like loopers, samplers, and synth engines and have gotten similar kinds of effects. The Plus Pedal is just, by far, the most intuitive, simple approach to seamless guitar sampling.

I recently chose the Plus Pedal as one of my picks for the Best Guitar Effects Pedals of the Year 2017 article. This little guy was an easy choice to be one of the Pedals of the Year. The very first time I used the Plus Pedal, I realized something had just changed in my life. I struggle to even refer to it as a “pedal”. It’s more like an extension of my instrument than a mere piece of equipment. What makes it so great is a two-fold answer. First, the most obvious thing is the actual pedal/switch/damper. The big brass thing that you step on. It’s just brilliant. This would not be a Pedal of the Year pick for me without that. The operation and the feel of using it – there is no other way to say this, it’s simply PERFECT. The most intuitive thing ever. Everyone knows what a piano sustain pedal is and what it does. The way the pedal is constructed, and the shape of the enclosure makes it very easy to use. I was up and running exactly the way I wanted to be in less than a minute. The second point that makes this a Pedal of the Year is the sound. I have used other “similar” pedals, and the Plus Pedal just has more of an organic, warm sound. The way it naturally rises and falls just sounds exactly like what it does to a piano. As you’re playing, you get this nice washy sustained sound. The first time I plugged it in, I ran a Les Paul into the Plus Pedal into a crappy little amp with a 2.5” speaker. Point is, nothing good in the line to make it sound nice, however, it sounded incredible! I always like to have a reverb in my chain no matter what and using the Plus pedal kind of had that sound. It was like a reverb, and not like a reverb at the same time. It was as if I’d just bought a new kind of a reverb pedal. Something fresh and cool sounding. Using it this way was kind of fun and inspiring. One of my favorite ways of using it is to set the sustain and tail for infinite sustain. You get this beautiful drone sound and you can control the level of that drone with the Blend knob.

 

 

The best is yet to be…

So wait a minute, this thing can’t possibly get any cooler, right? That’s what I thought but….

There are those that feel the need to really explore every aspect of a piece of gear and try out every single thing a pedal can do. That isn’t necessarily me. I pick things up and when I get them to do something cool I’m pretty much good to go. No need to dive deeper for me. I knew that the Plus had an effects loop, but I didn’t feel like I needed to try it out. Boy, was I wrong. Seriously wrong. As it turns out, I feel like this is the coolest and most usable thing this pedal has to offer! I was so inspired by how cool this was, that I felt compelled to shoot a short video showing what’s going on.

 

 

So, what’s going on here? The Plus Pedal’s effects loop works like this…

You keep your guitar and other pedals and amp plugged into the top-mount input/output jacks as normal. The effects loop is on the right hand side of the pedal – two jacks: send and return. In this loop you place one or more effects. In the video, I placed a fuzz pedal, so let’s talk about that. I think dirt is also a great option for the loop. Here’s what happens as you play. Your guitar signal sounds clean (or however you have it set up); your dry signal is just as though you were plugged into your pedalboard/amp. In my example you’re just hearing a Les Paul clean with just a bit of reverb running into the amp. The fuzz pedal is on, dialed in, and ready to go. As you play, you step on the Plus Pedal and it takes little bits of your signal and sends them through the loop and into the fuzz pedal. It’s just the coolest thing to be playing clean and suddenly hear these nasty fuzz tones slowly fading in and out. The way it builds and decays reminds me of a delay pedal going into oscillation and then fading out. I didn’t have to change a thing about how I was playing, and activating the Plus Pedal was just effortless. Speaking of delay, I also tried a delay pedal into the Plus loop. I had it set up for crazy oscillation thinking I could just punch in some repeats from time to time. What actually happened, in that case, was every time I stepped on the Plus Pedal, I introduced the craziest (not in a good way) sounds. Dialing back the delay helped that out, but still seemed to lack the sounds I was hoping for. I easily got bored with that and ended up going back to fuzz. After all, it sounded killer.

 

 

Next was the Wet switch. This switch serves as a remote foot controller that bypasses the SPLIT/MIX toggle allowing you to switch in and out of full wet mode on the fly. I tried full wet with both clean and with the fuzz. Cleans felt like I had more control than with the fuzz. Using the pedal this way felt kind of like a Freeze pedal. Really cool to be able to blend layers of just the wet. Another cool trick is to use it as an A/B switch. Set up your signal as normal, and that’s your “A.” Whatever is in the loop is “B” and you can toggle between the two with the wet switch. Set up two completely different sounds and go back and forth between the two with ease. How many pedals out there can do that?

 

 

The Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal is a completely new concept that’s perfectly executed, easy to use, and produces beautiful sounding results. After all, in the end, isn’t that exactly what we’re looking for in a pedal? I don’t plan to ever part with my Plus Pedal. It’s going to be one of those things that will be in my studio making things sound their best and proudly on display when not being used. I can’t say that enough; the thing is just beautiful to both the ears and the eyes. It’s one of those things that you want people to see you using. The intuitive design and a near over-supply of sound and routing options make this the obvious choice for a serious musician looking to get something new to come out of their amp’s speakers. Add to that the newly designed science behind the actual sound sampling and you have something truly unique. I can’t wait to see what will be the next offering from Gamechanger Audio. The Plus Pedal is a game changer of epic proportions.

That concludes our review of the Plus Pedal from Gamechanger Audio. Thanks for reading!

EarthQuaker Devices Data Corrupter Review

 

The mad scientists in Akron have done it again. The Data Corrupter is one of the latest offerings from Earthquaker Devices and is likely to help you get started on that Summer home improvement by peeling the paint off all your walls. Earthquaker Devices have created their own spin on the familiar PLL-style pedal loosely based on the Electrax Sythax and the “Basic Frequency Synthesizer” by Ray Marston, only with better tracking and sustain. The Data Corrupter is an incredible fuzz / modulation / octave / oscillator machine that is sure to corrupt everything you feed into it, and it will destroy everything in its path.

 

Wait. What does this thing even do?

According to the manual, The Data Corrupter is an analog PLL harmonizer with modulation that takes your input signal and brutally amplifies it into a crushing square wave fuzz, multiplies it, divides it, then modulates it into a three-voice synthesizer. Need I go on? They pretty much had me at “brutally amplifies…”. At the heart of this signal destroyer is the Master Oscillator. The three-position switch on the oscillator control feeds your input into either Unison, -1 Octave, or -2 Octave. Use this to fine tune the tracking response for your preferred instrument. From here, the Data Corrupter will do the science and split off a synthesized frequency. Further controls allow you to select the octave/interval as well as the volume of this voice. The Frequency Modulator applies pitch-bend modulation to the Master Oscillator. A Glide Mode gives you a smooth portamento as each note slides into the next. In Vibrato Mode, the pitch modulates up and down in a retro sci-fi effect! The Subharmonic assimilates the input into one of eight lower octave programs between one and three octaves below the input. The Square Control blends in a great sounding square wave fuzz which I thought sounded great on its own!

Those not familiar with a PLL (Phase Locked Loop) will be surprised by how interesting and finicky these things can be! A PLL takes your input signal and compares its phase and frequency against an oscillator, generates an output proportional to their difference then feeds it back into the oscillator. This causes the oscillator to lock onto the input signal and generate a synthesized frequency. Serious science going on here. So what does that sound like? Well, it’s a super thick, nasty undertone with funky octaves and harmonics all over the place. Tracking inconsistencies will make things feels pretty loose and random as you noodle around the fretboard.

 

 

Features:

Control Surface:

Obviously, there is a LOT going on here. Thankfully, the control surface of the pedal is nicely arranged so you can just get down to business. It’s divided up into sections where you can kind of focus on one part at a time.

Master Oscillator. This part is the heart of the entire device.

• One small three-position switch gives you Root Control:

1.Unison
2. -1
3. -2

• An eight-position rotary allows for octave/interval control with options for:

1. U/U
2. +1/U
3. +1/5
4. +2/U
5. +2/M3
6. +2/5
7. +2/m7
8. +3/U

Frequency Modulator.

• One toggle gives you control between:

1. Glide
2. Vibrato

• A knob to set the rate

Subharmonic section. This section is very similar in control to the Master Oscillator.

• A small toggle for root source:

1. Unison
2. Master Oscillator

• An eight-position rotary allows for another batch of octave/interval options:

1. -1/U
2. -1/5
3. -2/U
4. -2/M3
5. -2/5
6. -2/m7
7. -3/U
8. -3/M2

A three-knob Voice Mixer section allows you to blend in:

1. Square
2. Subharmonic
3. Oscillator

And you can blend each voice in one at a time. A must-have option for any crazy pedal.

Lastly, there’s a Master Volume for the entire thing. If you’re looking for a seriously loud-ass pedal, this is the one. I found unity gain to the dry signal to WELL below noon. In fact, it’s below 9:00.

Ins and outs:

The Data Corrupter has top-mounted (!) mono 1M input and 1K output jacks and a 9v power jack drawing 25mA.

More:

Designed and built in the USA
Measures 5.65″ x 4.75″ x 2.25″ with knobs
True bypass and uses electronic relay based switching

Visit EarthQuaker Devices for more info about the Data Corrupter.

 

 

Data Corruption further explained:

Now, if everything up to this point has made about as much sense as a midnight Trump tweet, have no fear, I will break this down for you. In a nutshell, the Data Corrupter is here to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and it’s all out of bubble gum. Unless you’re some kind of math genius or an expert on PLL-based pedals, you might plug into this thing and feel like the world just ended. You might feel overwhelmed and maybe even question why you picked this thing up. My advice… start small and work your way up. I recommend starting out with trying each of the three Voice options one at a time. Try the fuzz first. Just tear into it. The fuzz all by itself is damn near worth the entire price of this pedal. Now try playing just the Oscillator Voice. Get familiar with it. The Oscillator lets you drop (in octaves) the input source pitch. Since some of the frequencies of the Oscillator are too high for our human ears, this comes in super handy. Personally, I like the -2 option here. From there your signal is fed into the PLL and multiplied to create one of 8 different intervals. Stay with me now. In the section above, I wrote all this out for your brain to freeze up on like you’d had too much frozen yogurt. For the 8-position knob, don’t look at all the stuff printed there. JUST LISTEN. Trust your ears to do the work. Just find the setting that you think sounds the best. One end is higher pitched, the other end is lower pitched. I tend to prefer lower, in general, but since this has two voicings (in addition to the fuzz) I set a high one AND a lower one. The high one I usually mix quieter than the lower one.

Now, let’s turn that Voice all the way down and mess with the Subharmonic. Same thing here, kinda. You have two options for where that signal is coming from. You have Unison or Master Oscillator. When you choose Master Oscillator, the subharmonic will be a division of the Master Oscillator. What? It just means it gets more complicated. I prefer pulling from Unison. When you do that, it will be a division of the fuzz tone and Frequency Modulation will be taken out of the equation. Wait, what’s the Frequency Modulation? That’s the little section in the middle of the pedal that you can add to the Master Oscillator. You have two options here. Glide and Vibrato. I prefer glide for more of a subtle effect. Vibrato is cool with rate set way high for a laser machine gun effect.

Now back to that Subharmonic. Here you have another 8-position rotary giving you more options of how the signal is divided. Again, don’t read the little letters and numbers printed on the pedal. Just use your ears again and turn it until it sounds best (or worst, depending on what you’re doing). Ok. Still with me? You have it all set up now. Now you can start blending all the voices together. You can decide if you want the sound to be clean or dirty. If you’re after clean, just keep the Fuzz voice all the way down. If you’re after the nasty, just turn that fuzz up! Now mix in that Oscillator and/or Subharmonic. I suggest, for most applications, keeping these relatively low in the mix. Generally, for most usable, real-life situations, you’re gonna want to just use these to flavor your fuzz/clean tone. If they are up too high, they will dominate your signal. Now, this may be exactly what you’re looking for. If so, go for it. But that’s a really difficult beast to tame! You may find that you’ll just surrender to it and let it decide what notes pass through. It really comes down to a question of control. Do you want to be in control, or do you want to give that up to the greatest corrupter of all data?

 

 

Guitars, keys, and drums, oh my!

Seems like the obvious instrument with guitar effects is, well, the guitar. I obviously ran a series of guitars into this thing. I felt like humbuckers tracked a little better than single coils, especially on the neck pickup. Also, since the pedal is monophonic, single notes sounded better than chords. Power chords sounded better than more complicated chords. Liking what I heard, I decided to continue on to the next instruments in the studio. I have this old KORG CX-3. It’s kind of a Hammond clone and has a wide range of beautiful organ tones. Well, the Data Corrupter absolutely destroyed it. It was really fun to hear an old familiar tone get taken to the cleaners. The coolest thing is the ability to blend, just mixing in a hint of the dirty, crazy, and interesting tones that the Data Corrupter produced. It was also fun to run some old drum machine patterns into it. Imagine the coolest Nine Inch Nails drum track if it were played through the console on the Mother Ship in the original Alien movie. That’s what the Data Corrupter did for me, and all I had to do was plug into this box. I kinda think I liked drums the best. It’s as if the pedal was secretly made just for that purpose. Pretty sure drums and a DC will meet again in my studio!

Probably asking too much here, but there are a few things that would have made it so you could get a lot more from this pedal. I would have liked to have seen MIDI, or some way to save some presets. With a pedal this complex, when you find a cool sound, you’d love a way to save and recall that! Even just a few on-board presets slots would have been cool. Expression would be super fun. It sounds pretty cool to cycle through the rotary switches by hand. It might be complicated to assign a rotary to expression, but it would be cool. Even just using expression to blend in the wet signals of each of the three voices would be rad. It also seems like it could benefit from a little bit better tracking accuracy. I know that this is a characteristic of PLL effects and they, generally, feel a bit “wonky.” But as I played there were moments where a tighter feel would have been really nice.

 

 

The EarthQuaker Devices Data Corrupter will give you some of the most bizarre and beautifully intense fuzz tones and chaotic guitar sounds you will ever hear. If you’re getting sick and tired of so many fuzz pedals out there that sound just like everything else, this pedal may be your answer. You really can get as tame or as insane as you like with the blend controls. This pedal truly is a new spin on an old idea and one of the most accessible takes on a PLL pedal, being thoughtfully designed and nicely laid out in a way that makes sense for the first time PLL user. And LOUD? You damn right. At times you will think you have found fuzz Nirvana, other times you will think you smell smoke emitting from your speaker cabinet. Still, you must go on and explore the new world of fuzz that is laid out before you. Great rewards will arise from your efforts. (Ear plugs sold separately.)

That concludes our EarthQuaker Devices Data Corrupter review. Thanks for reading.

Boss/JHS Pedals JB-2 Angry Driver Review

 

2 Builders, 1 Pedal, and Why It’s Okay to Be Angry

Boss needs no introduction as the Japanese brand has become synonymous with guitar effects pedals in the four decades since releasing their very first pedal: the Boss CE-1 Chorus Ensemble. JHS Pedals, however, is a much younger brand, growing from humble beginnings as a small boutique pedal repair and mod outfit to becoming one of the fastest growing US based pedal brands thanks to their dedicated and growing fanbase. In one of the most surprising pairings in the guitar pedal world, Boss teamed up with JHS Pedals to create the JB-2 Angry Driver. The result of this unlikely pairing of companies from across the globe is one of the more unique takes on a traditional overdrive pedal that breaks the mold to offer a much wider range of overdriven dirt tones than any of Boss’ previous compact drive pedals.

Angry Blues

The Angry Driver takes a familiar Boss pedal, the BD-2 Blues Driver, and pairs it with a variation of the JHS Pedals Angry Charlie. The BD-2 is one of the more famous Boss pedals, debuting in 1995 and still remaining in production to this day. The BD-2 is a characterized by its open and amp-like response compared to more clipped and compressed overdrive pedals and excels at a range of lower to mid-gain drive tones. The JHS Angry Charlie has been released in many iterations although it has always retained a sound that recalls a cranked British amp, a sound favored by guitarists who like meatier guitar tones. Between the two styles of dirt, the JB-2 Angry Driver looks set to offer a formidable range of drive tones.

 

 

Here’s a quick rundown of the pedal’s features before we dig in.

Features:

  • All-new overdrive pedal with massive tonal range, jointly developed by BOSS and JHS Pedals
  • Combines the voices of the BD-2 Blues Driver from BOSS and Angry Charlie from JHS Pedals
  • Three dual-concentric knobs provide independent drive, tone, and level control for each overdrive type
  • Mode selector for choosing individual overdrive types, two series connections for stacking, or parallel connection for unique new sounds
  • Also includes a mode for toggling between BOSS and JHS overdrives with the built-in pedal switch
  • Remote switch jack for controlling pedal modes and bypass from an optional footswitch or effects switching system
  • Multi-color LED indicator shows BOSS mode (blue), JHS mode (red), and both together (purple)
  • BOSS five-year warranty
  • Powered by Boss PSA series power adapter (current draw: 50mA) or 9-volt battery

Visit Boss for more info about the JB-2 Angry Driver.

 

 

Sound & Performance:

The JB-2 is a box that contains a lot of tone. Let’s break it down and talk about the sounds in detail.

Boss BD-2 Blues Driver

With the Mode knob pointing straight up to noon, you’ll be in Boss Mode which gives you a sound that’s pure Blues Driver. I hadn’t played a BD-2 in quite some time, so it was nice to get reacquainted with this classic circuit. As indicated by the labels below the knobs, the lower outside partitions of the dual-concentric knobs control the 3 familiar Blues Driver parameters for Drive (Gain), Tone, & Level. With the Drive set low in the ballpark of around 9 o’clock, the Boss circuit provides a cleaner response that’s a bit livelier than your bypassed clean tone. It just seems to have a bit more attack and cutting power. You can play chords and melodic clean passages that retain definition and clarity, yet the sound pops out a bit more in the mid-range. As you dig in with a harder pick attack, you’ll get a little more bite without the pedal really breaking up much. Pushing the Drive up a bit towards 10 or 11 o’clock brings in some more dirt for slightly hotter leads. Once you take the Drive up to noon or higher, you’ll find some grittier tones suited to classic rock rhythm playing. It’s a very well-rounded circuit in itself that has a range of useful applications outside of blues guitar playing. The response of the pedal varies depending on the output level of your pickups, but you’ll have no trouble finding solid tones whether you’re using single-coils or humbuckers.

JHS Pedals Angry Charlie

With the Mode knob fully clockwise to the JHS circuit, you’ll get a taste of Boss’ interpretation of the Angry Driver. This mode really excels at dirtier drive tones, and this is the setting you’ll go to when crunchier sounds are called for. The JHS side has a noticeably darker tone that will find favor with guitarists who prefer warmer and woolier flavors of dirt. I personally like how the JHS circuit has a very present lower mid-range, yet the pedal retains plenty of articulation in that area and doesn’t get muddy when chugging out palm-muted riffs. While various JHS releases of the Angry Charlie circuit benefit from additional eq or presence controls, the iteration presented in the Angry Driver still does a solid job at reproducing the essence of what makes the Angry Charlie loved by its fans. The Tone knob will let you color the sound as needed for the typically dark or a relatively brighter sound.

Dynamic Duo

The real benefits of the Angry Driver are found when using both of the circuits together. The JHS/Boss Mode lets you use the pedal’s bypass foot-switch to toggle from JHS to Boss Mode and vice versa. The pedal is always active in this mode, so you’ll have to plug an external foot-switch in the Remote jack to bypass the pedal. (Another way to utilize both circuits in this mode would be to put the JB-2 in a loop of the Boss MS-3 Multi Effects Switcher, activating the pedal when its loop is active and using the MS-3’s CTL OUT with the JB-2’s Remote jack to alternate between JHS and Boss circuits.)

There’s also a pair of modes that allow you to use the two circuits in series in either order: JHS → Boss or Boss → JHS. Running the Boss JB-2 circuit into the JHS Angry Drive is akin to slamming a British amp with an overdrive pedal, a common technique that’s well represented in this convenient mode. Reversing the order is a bit novel and unorthodox, but you can still get some interesting sounds if experimental dirt tones are what you’re after. If you want the ability to break away from traditional dirt sounds, the JB-2 encourages you to do so.

The last Mode option is the Parallel Mode which lets you blend both circuits together side-by-side for layered overdrive tones. I really like the textures you can get from this mode. Try setting the Angry Charlie circuit to the kind of darker, dirtier grit it’s known for and add in a cleaner, brighter Blues Driver tone to the mix. You’ll have a chimier top-end with a bottom that’s like warm velvet. Then try brightening up the Angry Charlie circuit with higher gain and let the BD-2 circuit emphasize the lower frequencies. More great tones abound.

An external foot-switch will come in handy in the modes using both circuits simulataneously in case you want to bypass one of the circuits to use the other one by itself. The manual details which circuit can be bypassed in the 2 series modes and Parallel Mode, and several useful options are available.

It’s hard to find any serious faults with the Angry Driver. The closeness of the dual-concentric knobs might be a bit tight for larger fingers, particularly when adjusting the parameters of the Boss circuit. Also, the Angry Charlie circuit is sometimes a little dark for my usual tastes, but for a pedal this size, the sheer amount of quality tones onboard greatly exceeds the norm. Since there are so many useable settings, some users may wish you could access more than one or two sounds at a time, particularly during a live performance. But having too many great tones is hardly a thing to complain about. And even if the JB-2 doesn’t find a home on your pedalboard, you’re still likely find plenty of use for the Angry Driver as a studio tool or bedroom jam machine. But if you need a drive pedal to achieve one great sound (or two if you use an external foot-switch), the JB-2 will happily fill the spot of another compact drive pedal that has limited tonal options.

 

 

The Boss/JHS JB-2 Angry Driver has a wider range of tonal options than most single stomp compact overdrive pedals, and guitarists looking to replace another pedal that isn’t pulling its weight on their pedalboard will find a lot to love in the JB-2. The classic BD-2 Blues Driver is still as good as it has always been, and the JHS Angry Charlie inspired circuit is a suitable companion that greatly expands the drive tones offered in this unique pedal. While you may wish you could easily access more than one or two sounds during a performance, the sounds of the JB-2 are worth exploring on stage, in the studio, or at home. Boss’ first collaborative pedal is a winner, and I hope we see the esteemed builder doing more such partnerships in the future.

That concludes our Boss/JHS Pedals JB-2 Angry Driver review. Thanks for reading.

Top 22 Best Guitar Effects Pedals of Winter NAMM 2018

The NAMM Show 2018 will likely be remembered as one of the best in recent years for new pedals as the sheer quality and quantity of standout releases made this year’s show really something special. Several well-known and up-and-coming builders are pushing the limits of what musicians previously thought was possible from boxes of components, knobs, switches, and… buttons.

While all of us at BGE have respect for all the great builders in this industry and the great work they do, the aim of this article is to shine a light on the few pedals that stand out above the rest with special attention paid to pedals offering new sounds and innovations to guitarists and other effects loving musicians.

If we covered all the updates of older pedals and the swathes of tweaked overdrives and other solid but not quite as innovative releases from all the builders we know and love, this article would at least double in size. You can find more comprehensive lists of full NAMM coverage elsewhere. However, if you’re looking for the very best of what’s new, this is the place you should start. And with that…

These are the Top 22 Best Guitar Effects Pedals of Winter NAMM 2018…

 

Empress Effects Zoia

One knob, 44 buttons, a display screen, and the truth…

Zoia Horn was a librarian and intellectual freedom fighter who believed that the right to privacy and freedom of thought should take precedence over big government motions to spy on citizens and strip away freedoms. She was once jailed for refusing to testify in court as a matter of conscience. Zoia encouraged non-compliance with the heinously named Patriot Act and even opposed library fees, citing them as “barriers to information access”. Zoia Horn was a revolutionary, an Empress whose life’s work was to herald the advent of a world where human potential could flourish without the sin of restriction.

The Empress Effects Zoia pedal is a bastion of creative freedom that (when released) will contain a treasure trove of well over 50 effects modules that can be linked together in simple or complex combinations. It’s like the equivalent of a massive modular pedalboard or DIY multi-effect in a single pedal. It brings the myriad sound design possibilities of software like Pure Data or Max/MSP to guitarists in a pedal format, unrestrained by keyboard, mouse, and desktop computer. Those unfamiliar with such platforms may find it difficult to fully grasp what the Zoia is without experiencing it firsthand, but the idea is to give musicians the power to create any effect(s) they can dream up.

The Zoia is at once a sandbox and universe of creative potential. Imagine stringing together a whole chain of different effects and recalling an entire signal chain at will. Now imagine tempo-synced LFOs, ADSR envelopes, and/or envelope followers routed to modulate various parameters throughout your signal chain. Imagine sending LFOs as MIDI CCs to control other pedals. Imagine re-wiring the inputs and outputs for stereo I/O or pre/post signal routing. Imagine custom granular synthesis, FM synths, all kinds of other obscure effects, Empress Echosystem/Reverb style delay/reverb combinations, and more effect combo possibilities than you could possibly imagine until you start digging in. The Zoia undoubtedly represents one of the boldest leaps forward in guitar pedals in recent years.

The Zoia is for musicians who want to venture into uncharted territories by becoming the sound designers of their own effects. Start with a drive type. Then add a Tone or EQ section. Maybe go back and link a compressor on the front end. What about an octaver effect? Maybe have an envelope follower modulate the drive amount in real-time as you play. I had a crazy idea for a reverb with both high-pass and low-pass filters on the wet signal. In a couple minutes I was hearing these sounds at NAMM. Then for fun, assigning an envelope follower to have the input signal modulate the filters created a sound with some strange sitar-like resonance. Lots of calculated sound creation and happy accidents will be found in the Zoia.

Users will be able to share and trade their complex preset creations, and Empress will be continuously expanding the Zoia with more modules and features. The version of Zoia at NAMM offered only a hint of what kinds of possibilities will be in store. When the Zoia is released, musicians will be liberated from the closed-ended guitar effects pedals that came before. If you just want to plug-in and play, the Zoia may not be for you. But if you want to create all-new sounds or the obscure effects you’ve been dreaming of for years, the Zoia may be the last pedal you ever need.

 

WMD Geiger Counter Pro

In development since 2011, the WMD Geiger Counter Pro was unveiled way back at Winter NAMM 2015, then shown again at Winter NAMM 2016… and Winter NAMM 2017. This is the 4th year Best Guitar Effects has featured this pedal in our Best Pedals of NAMM roundup. But guess what? They’re being built now, and it’s finally coming out in February 2018.

The GC Pro is a digital wavetable bit-crushing distortion pedal that packs in 512 wavetables for an incredibly wide range of distortion textures. It contains all of the 256 wavetables from the original Geiger Counter with an additional 256 all new wavetables. A new “Morph” mode allows you to smoothly blend wavetables for further texture sculpting, perhaps my favorite tonal feature of the new pedal.

The GC Pro also has 16 onboard presets which can be selected from the pedal or via MIDI. There are 2 CV inputs which can be assigned to various parameters. All parameters are MIDI controllable. WMD is also releasing the Geiger Counter Pro VST which you can load in your DAW of choice as a plugin to take full control of the pedal from the pedal. I’m already imagining the possibilities of what could be done pairing this pedal with Ableton Live 10. The Geiger Counter Pro will be one of the most original and unique distortion pedals to be released in years.

One more thing… There will also be 50 limited edition black units sold directly through the WMD website, so you might want to get in on that if you vibe with the alternate paint-job.

 

Chase Bliss Audio Thermae Analog Delay / Pitch Shifter

Guitar effects have come a long way since reel-to-reel tape decks were first used in creative ways to produce slapback echoes, double-tracking, and flanging among other effects, and the introduction of bucket brigade device (BBD) delay chips ushered in a new wave of effects, replicating the delay, chorus, and flanging effects previously achievable only through far more cumbersome and costly means. While everything from mechanical springs to light-bulbs has been employed to create new analog effects and sounds, there really haven’t been many breakthroughs in recent years that have yielded new types of analog effects using existing or new technologies. Well, the Thermae was one of the surprise pedals at NAMM with new tricks up its sleeve.

Chase Bliss Audio has become one of the leading innovators in analog effects, using digital means to precisely control all parameters affecting 100% all-analog signal paths. This approach has brought guitarists presets, MIDI, and among other features, parameter “Ramping”, that add to the uniqueness of the builder’s interpretation of classic analog effects. Now the Chase Bliss Audio Thermae Analog Delay / Pitch Shifter is bringing something new to the world of analog guitar effects pedals: pitch-shifting delay.

Pitch-shifting to specific intervals was first pioneered over 4 decades ago in the Eventide H910 Harmonizer and lives on today in their H9 Harmonizer. Other companies brought the concept to pedals first as seen in the early Boss PS-2 & PS-3. But these effects are all digital. While BBD based analog delay pedals can do pitch-shifty sounds by adjusting tempo and/or tap intervals, the Thermae has been engineered to shift pitch to precise intervals from -2 octaves to +2 octaves with various 4ths & 5ths in between.

It’s fascinating to note which pitches that engineer, Joel Korte, chose to make available. My initial assumption was that octaves and perfect 4ths & 5ths might have simply been a matter of mathematical convenience when implementing digital control over the analog components. But really it was a matter of practical selection of the most musical note intervals that would sound pleasing in more free-form jam scenarios. After all, had the Thermae included major and minor 3rds, using these intervals would require a bit more thought rather than just letting the pedal create harmonies to your playing in more serendipitously musical ways.

One last point of note is that the Thermae shouldn’t be considered a 1:1 replacement to the Tonal Recall RKM despite its super long delay times and normal delay mode. The modulation is a bit different, and the Thermae’s LPF provides a more resonant filtering compared to the Tonal Recall’s smoother high-end roll-off. The Thermae is more of a novel and exploratory effect for guitarists looking for something a little different, but it certainly offers an experience unlike anything else that’s come before.

 

Red Panda Tensor

The Red Panda Tensor was first revealed at Winter NAMM 2017, and then I said that it looks like “the most exciting Red Panda pedal since the Particle”. Red Panda is known for making wild sound-mangling pedals, and the Tensor is arguably their most insane release yet. The Tensor can stretch your playing up to 4:1, pitch-shift from -2 to +2 octaves, do tape stop effects, and all kinds of weird forwards, backwards, and alternating looping craziness with time compression from 1:4 to 4:1. A secret I heard a year ago was that the Tensor might even add MIDI for taking full control of the pedal’s functions, and the Tensor does offer MIDI over USB. Parameters can also be assigned to the expression/CV port for further control. The Tensor is again one of the best pedals of NAMM and looks like it’ll be yet another excellent release from Red Panda.

 

Electro Harmonix 95000 Performance Loop Laboratory

Electro Harmonix pretty much invented the concept of the looping pedal back in 1982 with their 16-Second Digital Delay, and they’ve maintained a looping presence over the years with with a reissue of the classic unit along with the more recent 360, 720, and 22500 pedals and their flagship 45000 Multi-Track Looping Recorder. Even the smash-hit Canyon Delay & Looper draws on EHX’s legacy in looping with a dedicated Looper mode. But the Electro Harmonix 95000 Performance Loop Laboratory is arguably the most ambitious looping pedal ever conceived.

Optimized for table-top and floor usage, the 95000 boasts a massive 6 pannable mono tracks and a stereo mixdown track, a number which you can double by connecting another unit with a standard MIDI cable for the ultimate loop laboratory. The connectivity possibilities are vast with stereo I/O, Mic Inputs with phantom power, MIDI I/O, USB jack, memory card slot, and more. The tempo can be adjusted in ½ step intervals or smoothly for pitch-warping and tape-stop effects.

The 95000 also boasts full MIDI implementation over its functions meaning you could customize an external MIDI controller to take over full operation of the unit. You can also synchronize the 95000 to MIDI Clock, and its looping functions can quantize to the beat for precision looping which is a pretty dig deal if you plan to synchronize the 95000 to external hardware.

This barely scratches the surface of what the EHX 95000 offers, but looping artists will be doing some incredible things with this unit in the years to come.

 

Free The Tone Programmable Analog 10-Band EQ PA-1QG (& PA-1QB)

I never thought I would be excited about a graphic EQ pedal, but I got to spend some time with both of Free The Tone’s new Programmable Analog 10-Band EQ pedals, the PA-1QG (for guitar) and the PA-1QB (for bass) before The NAMM Show, and my expectations were greatly exceeded. I expected that they would sound excellent given Free The Tone’s reputation for crafting pro gear for discerning musicians, and sure enough they do.

With a flat response, they’re incredibly transparent when active or bypassed thanks to Free The Tone’s refined HTS (Holistic Tonal Solution) circuitry. The EQ frequency bands chosen on the guitar version (PA-1QG) have been excellent so far for sculpting tones. I haven’t had a chance to plug in my bass yet (because NAMM and NAMMthrax), but the PA-1QB also may be well-suited to extended range guitars if my initial impressions are any indication. The pedals are incredibly easy to use, and I was tweaking, saving, and recalling presets before I even read the manual.

The biggest draw of these pedals may be the MIDI implementation for recalling presets; when using the pedal(s) with an effects switcher, you can recall a preset that perfectly contours your tone for any combination of other effects you’re using. Pending our in-depth review, these are likely the best dedicated pedal based EQ pedals guitarists and bassists are likely to find.

 

Alexander Pedals Colour Theory Spectrum Sequencer

The Alexander Pedals Colour Theory Spectrum Sequencer is another forward thinking pedal that offers musicians new sounds and ways to approach using guitar pedals. It’s essentially an 8-step sequencer that has 6 modes: Pitch, Mod, Filter, Tremolo, Oscillator, & PWM (synthesized octave). You can tap in a tempo for the sequencer or alternate between manual scrolling through taps. The 4 parameters for each mode can be sequenced, and you can also use an external app like TouchOSC for easier programming and creation of up to 16 onboard presets. The Colour Theory also has full MIDI implementation for external control from an effects switcher or other MIDI source (again, like the TouchOSC app). You can also use the Colour Theory as a sequencer to control parameters on other pedals via their EXP/CV ports. Very cool. Lots of inspiration abounds in this little box.

But… the sounds, the sounds! When I heard about the Colour Theory before NAMM, Alexander Pedals was originally going to have only 4 modes, and they were considering scrapping one for another mode. But instead they decided to go all-in, keeping the 5 modes and adding a 6th mode: the PWM setting which does some pretty killer monophonic squared synth sounds. While all the sweet sequencing fun is what the Colour Theory is centered around, the option to manually step through a sequence makes things even more interesting. You could have one preset containing 8 different sounds, easily accessible by scrolling with the Tap foot-switch or by selecting sounds directly from a MIDI effects switcher. This is going to be one incredibly versatile pedal and a sign that Alexander Pedals is really pushing the Neo Series into uncharted territories.

 

Chase Bliss Audio Condor Analog EQ / Pre / Filter

Chase Bliss Audio delivered a one-two punch at NAMM with the showing of two epic new pedals. The Condor is the builder’s take on an all-in-one EQ/Preamp/Filter pedal that offers many unique possibilities outside of what those individual types of effects may have achieved separately. There’s a low-end sculpting Bass control with a dedicated switch that adjusts its shelving range. Then there’s a Mids section that can boost or cut mids across a wide frequency spectrum (150Hz – 5kHz) dialed in with a dedicated Frequency control; the Q can also be adjusted for more precise or broad mids contouring. Then there’s a LPF control that can roll off the highs or be used for filter sweeps with 3 settings for the cutoff resonance. There are also clean and overdrive modes in case you’d like to use the Condor as a dedicated overdrive pedal.

The Condor initially seems like more of a creative tonal sculpting tool than a master of EQ or dedicated filtering pedal. While I would love to have seen the Condor released as two birds: an “EQ version” with Bass & Treble shelving/boosting/cutting and a “Filter version” with LPF and HPF (with both versions retaining similar Mids filtering & boost/cut functionality), the single pedal released looks like it will yield some solid general low/mid EQ-ing with high end roll-off and some cool creative filtering and tonal coloring effects along with some really funky filter modulation thanks to Chase Bliss Audio’s signature ramping effects. (High shelving can still be achieve through subtractive EQing by lowering the Bass & Mids and raising the output volume.) I will say that as far as going in a different direction from other dedicated EQ and Filter pedals, the current configuration of the Condor does still seem like a pretty standout candidate for shaping the sound of other pedals (particularly dirt) from a position later in your signal chain. Typically, a bit high-end rolloff and bass boost or cut is all that’s needed. The super flexible Mids section is another huge bonus. The Condor can also do tremolo sounds, phasing-like modulation, and auto-filtering. Having MIDI, presets, expression control, and all the usual CBA bells and whistles makes this bird even more enticing.

 

Gamechanger Audio Plasma Pedal

The Gamechanger Audio Plasma Pedal already commanded our attention before NAMM with its flux capacitor meets Tesla coil inspired light show courtesy of a xenon-filled tube, but it turns out that the prototype pedals at NAMM sounded pretty good, too. Pushing up the Blend control mixes in a unique style of distortion that is rich in harmonic coloration and fuzzy texture. The Voltage controls the intensity of the distortion. At lower settings it’ll starve out the signal, making it very responsive to staccato playing, and at higher settings the electrified distortion is more prominent. The xenon-filled tube always provides a visual indication of the distortion for a synesthetic effect. There are also familiar tone controls and a Drive parameter, but the pedal may undergo a few more tweaks and design revisions before its release later this year. In any case the Plasma Pedal is another strong showing from Gamechanger Audio and is certainly a pedal to keep your eyes on.

 

Rainger FX Reverb-X

The new Rainger FX Reverb-X is a digital reverb in a similar format to their previously released Echo-X delay (which was also back at NAMM with a new graphic look). The Reverb-X is a digital reverb with up to 6 seconds of decay time. Optional distortion lets you make it dirty for shoegaze style reverb excursions. There’s also an awesome Gate function that lets the huge reverb be heard while you’re playing; the Igor foot-controller comes in handy for activating the effect at will. The pedal is ultra-compact with all the jacks top-mounted on its tiny enclosure, so it’ll be an easy fit on any pedalboard. And seriously, it can’t be stated enough how cool this pedal sounds. Mr. David Rainger managed to put a lot of mojo in this thing. Killer all-around vibe presented at NAMM, so creative guitarists will want to check it out.

 

Neunaber XD-1 Experimental Drive Prototype

First off, the Neunaber XD-1 Experimental Drive Prototype is not a pedal that will be released in its current form. As stated by Neunaber, it is a “proof of concept submitted for your evaluation”. It’s essentially an example of the direction Neunaber may head in with the release of their inevitable drive pedal. The goal was to create a drive pedal that could respond well on any setting in a musical, amp-like manner while not sounding overly compressed.

I spent some time with it at NAMM and was wowed by the Red channel. It had a nice big heavy sound and was incredibly responsive, arguably some of the best heavy tones I’ve heard from a pedal. The Tone control on the unit was a tilt EQ that lowers the bass as the treble is boosted and vice versa. It’s not my personal favorite style of EQ, but it worked well enough for the prototype unit, and the Mid knob did a solid job of cutting and boosting the midrange. But most impressive was the amp-like sound of the distortion, a quality which may also be due to the unit being paired with the Iconoclast, a speaker emulator that already has a nice speaker cabinet style “sag” which contributes to the amp-like feel. But the distortion was simply awesome throughout the range of the Red Gain knob. The Blue channel was a decent low to mid gain affair, but I’d like to see it spruced up for the actual release. The upper range of the Blue Gain could use a little refinement as the channel transitions from clean to breakup. It was confirmed by Mr. Brian Neunaber that more development time had been put into the Red channel before NAMM. It’s likely that a release version of this concept will be up to full Neunaber spec and be even more impressive than the iteration show at NAMM. But I’d happily enjoy the Red channel as-is, a testament to how good it was in the prototype unit.

 

Death By Audio Waveformer Destroyer MK2

This pedal is one update that deserves mentioning because it solves the main issue of its previous iteration. The original Waveformer Destroyer is a badass monster of a fuzz & distortion unit with 4 foot-swiches to select various sounds and a Master volume control. 8 internal dip-switches let you customize the various distortion sounds available. This is a solid approach for creating a set of preset sounds to use when performing, but it isn’t as conducive to spontaneous creativity since you can’t easily access all the available sounds.

The Death By Audio Waveformer Destroyer MK2 takes the 8 internal dip-switch functions and assigns them to external flip-switches. This makes the pedal extra huge, which may not be cool if you’re using a small board, but this makes the pedal super fun for easily trying out new sounds. As a studio tool, the Waveformer Destroyer MK2 could provide a ton of flexibility for layering different textures quickly. Or if you’re using a modular setup, you could run beats and synths into the pedal and more easily find rad distortion sounds to mangle your audio signals.

This pedal will also be a limited run as they’re pretty complicated to assemble, so you might want to keep an eye on the Death By Audio website to pre-order.

 

Epigaze Audio Ascension Reverb

The Epigaze Audio Ascension Reverb was on display at Summer NAMM 2017 and was one of the best pedals of the show. It was back again at Winter NAMM 2018 in anticipation of a Spring release and is still one of the most hotly anticipated pedals we’re looking forward to. The Ascension Reverb has 3 modes: Hall, Modulated Hall (with tremolo), and Shimmer. There’s also a droning self-generated pad that can be tuned to any of the 12 keys of western music. A side-mounted knob allows the Pad to be faded in and out. There’s also a Send and Return loop for adding other pedals into the wash of reverb. This heavenly reverb pedal will likely be very popular among fans of ambient guitar textures and pretty much a hit with anyone who appreciates beautiful reverb tones.

 

Keeley Electronics Aria Compressor / Drive

Keeley Electronics is a legend when it comes to guitar compressor pedals, and their consistently stellar overdrive releases and drive mods over the years show proven expertise in that area as well. Now hot on the heels of the success of their D&M Drive pedal comes the Keeley Electronics Aria Compressor / Drive. In a similar combo enclosure to the D&M Drive and Caverns V2, the Aria gives guitarists a Keeley Compressor Plus and an all-new Keeley take on the Tube Screamer style circuit with Low and High gain modes. While TS mods are a dime a dozen, Keeley has found more ways to reinvent this circuit than any other esteemed builder, so the Aria will definitely we worth looking into if you’re a fan of TS flavors of drive. Also, the Compressor Plus side retains a full parameter set from the original pedal including an internal Single Coil / Humbucker switch. The TRS signal routing from the D&M Drive is also present for pro guitarists who want to route the 2 circuits to different loops on an effects switcher. The Aria will definitely be worth a look when it drops and will likely be yet another sleeper hit from Keeley Electronics.

 

Beetronics Royal Jelly Fuzz/Overdrive

The Beetronics Royal Jelly is a blendable fuzz/overdrive pedal made in collaboration with veteran pedal designer, Howard Davis. The Royal Jelly lets select between 2 preset settings of fuzz and overdrive. You can set either preset (labeled Queen & King) to be only fuzz or overdrive or any ratio of each. The Buzz foot-switch lets you add a stinging bite to the fuzz for a more aggressive sound akin to some vintage fuzz pedals. There are Hi and Lo tone controls as well as a Blend which lets you mix in your dry signal, particularly useful for refining bass tones or when stacking the pedal with other distortion pedals or a hot amp. Beetronics had a neat demo station at NAMM which let you adjust knob settings while a pre-recorded guitar track was fed into the pedal, but considering all the mojo in this thing, the Royal Jelly is a pedal best experienced and played firsthand.

(Forgot to snap of a pic of this one. Thanks to Filipe for sending over a photo for our article.)

 

JHS Pedals Bonsai

In the vein of their hit Muffuletta that offered a plethora of cloned Big Muff circuits, the JHS Pedals Bonsai replicates 9 different variations of Tube Screamer style overdrive sounds. JHS went to great lengths to recreate the sounds of several classic pedals as well as offering a few other variants. The modes include sounds of the Boss OD-1 Over Drive, an Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer from 1979, an Ibanez TS9 from 1982, an Ibanez Metal Screamer from 1985, an Ibanez TS-10 from 1986, an Exar OD1 Overdrive from 1989, the Hot mode of an Ibanez TS7 from 1999, the Keeley Mod Plus TS-808 mod from 2002, and JHS’s TS9 Strong Mod. The Bonsai looks like a Swiss Army Knife of great Tube Screamer tones that will satisfy any guitarist who can’t get enough of those classic sounds.

 

Malekko Downer

The Malekko Downer is another rad looking pedal released on the same DSP platform as the Charlie Foxtrot and Scrutator. It’s a wave-folding, saturating, octave filtering noise machine. It can do pretty basic distortion stuff if you want it to, but blending in the other effects is where things get really interesting. It can do cool warped pitch effects and general octave stuff as well as high/low pass filtering, trem-like effects, and almost ring-mod like sounds. This is another cool and edgy pedal from Malekko that will appeal to guitarists looking for less traditional sounds and more inspiring textures.

 

Pigtronix Ringmaster Analog Multiplier

The original Pigtronix Mothership Analog Guitar Synthesizer was noteworthy for its crazy 100% analog synth sounds and also for having a ring mod section that tracked the pitch of the input signal. When Pigtronix dropped the long-awaited Mothership 2 Analog Synthesizer, they focused on shrinking all the synth functions, but the ring mod effects were notably absent. Well, they’re back and expanded upon in the new Pigtronix Ringmaster Analog Multiplier.

The Ringmaster is essentially a ring modulator that is also capable of producing tremolo effects. The big draw of the pedal and what separates it from other analog ring mod pedals is its ability to track your input signal to maintain consistency of the ring mod effect while you play. If you’re going for tremolo effects, you can also change the speed of the trem in relation to the frequency of the notes you play; higher pitches yield faster speeds while lower pitches produce slower speeds. You can also do random Sample + Hold effects. For modular gear fans, the Ringmaster also has a Modulation CV output as well as External Carrier Input and Internal Carrier Output options. The Ringmaster looks like it would make an excellent companion to the Mothership 2, and I know fans of that pedal are already giving the Ringmaster a good hard look. Time to get F.A.T.’er.

 

Death By Audio Deep Animation

There were a few awesome envelope filter pedals at NAMM, but the Death By Audio Deep Animation was the one that stood out the most for me. The Deep Animation is one of the thicker and heavier envelope filters I’ve heard. It’ll do all that quacky, funky, auto-wah guitar stuff you’re used to, but it has a lot more potential than that. The 6-position Frequency Selector, Sensitivity, and Intensity knobs control the tonality and response of the pedal with an output Vol knob to match or boost your signal. A dedicated Up/Down foot-switch lets you change the direction of the filter sweep. And it can sound seriously massive with bass heavy audio content.

But the coolest part of the Deep Animation is the Trig (Trigger) input jack. Similar to how you’d use sidechain compression or gating, the Trig input lets you use an external sound source to trigger the effect. You could use a kick from a drum machine, maybe another band member’s instrument, or even your own signal from earlier in your signal chain. Envelope filters typically respond best to your clean guitar signal, but you can get some cool sounds by filtering later in your audio path, particularly after distortion. If you were to split to your guitar signal to feed the Trig input while simultaneously running it into a gnarly distortion pedal before it hits the Deep Animation’s main Input, you could achieve the absolute tightest auto-filtering of a distorted/effected guitar signal. Some seriously cool possibilities await to be discovered with this pedal.

 

Crazy Tube Circuits Echotopia

Crazy Tube Circuits had a lot of cool new pedals on display, but the Echotopia was the biggest standout showing for me. It’s a tape echo style delay with 4 heads, each with their own individual panning knob for discreet placement across the stereo field. The Crazy Tube Circuits booth had the Echotopia feeding two amps spread apart, and the stereo image created by this pedal was inspiring to behold. Thankfully, the Echotopia also has tap tempo and 3 selectable tap divisions for easily setting a precise tempo for the 4 synchronized delay heads. Modulation is present with dedicated Rate & Depth controls. A Mood knob further augments the delay sound, and the Tap foot-switch can be pressed to induce oscillating repeats. An expression pedal can control either the delay mix or Feedback. The Echotopia can be run in mono, but it looks like more of an enticing consideration for guitarists who run a stereo rig.

 

Totally Wycked Audio MM-01 Mini Morph

Totally Wycked Audio had several prototypes of promising new pedals at NAMM, but the Mini Morph was surprisingly my favorite. It’s actually a shrunken down version of the TWA Dynamorph, so you can look up that pedal to get a better feel for what the Mini Morph is all about. Essentially, it’s a fuzz that responds to your playing dynamics to alter the tonality and harmonic content of the distortion while you play. It’s particularly noticeable when chords are ringing out and during your initial pick attach as an audible sweep of frequency articulation can be heard. The Mini Morph is simply fun to play and warrants a closer look if you’re looking for some fuzz tones that have a unique flavor.

 

Ohmless Pedals Multitool

While not really an effect (unless you count the preamp boosts), the Ohmless Pedals Multitool is a junction box utility pedal that provides several vital functions for performing guitarists. The Multitool has 2 inputs, each with a switchable preamp boost providing up to 25dB of clean headroom. This comes in handy for matching signals when switching between guitars with differing output levels or for running hotter signals. On the right side is a passive Send & Return with optional buffer. This is useful for things like compressors (buffered) or fuzz pedals (unbuffered) that you want to be shared between both guitars. Then there’s an OpAmp buffer with a separate Tuner Out followed by another Send with Stereo Returns. This is where you’d put the rest of your effects. There’s also an optional Phase inversion switch on the Right output and a Ground Lift on the isolated Left output. The Outputs each have their own dedicated Mute switches and can be summed from Stereo to Dual Mono. The Multitool is one of the most versatile compact junction boxes, and there’s also a version for switching between acoustic and electric guitars if that’s what you need.

 

In Closing…

This list doesn’t encompass all of the great pedals shown at NAMM, and this has been the most difficult list to curate since I started covering the pedals of NAMM several years ago. Still, I feel confident in the assessment of these being the standout pedals of the show. Many other builders are doing great things, so do your best to consider all factors when buying new gear and not just the hype and excitement surrounding a few pedals.

If you’re in a band, hopefully some of these pedals can help invigorate your music with new sounds. If you’re a hobbyist, that’s great, too, but maybe consider recording some of those awesome sounds you’re making in your bedroom and showcasing them on YouTube, Instagram, or elsewhere. The main goal of this article is to inspire you. If something you found here does that, find a way to share that inspiration with others.

Until Summer NAMM 2018…

Cheers,

Gabe