Top 28 Best Guitar Effects Pedals of Summer NAMM 2017

SNAMM 2017 or Feedback: 3 Days of Delay

Once more, Summer NAMM has come and gone, inspiring us at Best Guitar Effects to start pulling things off our boards in preparation for the vast influx of new units on their way to the marketplace. The energy was sentient across the span of the show floor, drawing us attendees this way and that in a 100dB haze of riffs and excited conversation. Pitches were thrown, legends were born, and I found my people. This was my first NAMM ever, and I could not have been more pleased to be a part of the action. I learned a few things about guitar pedals while I was walking proud on the show floor, first and foremost that the earnest builders behind them are kind and amazing in a way you can’t know from this side of your computer monitor or smart phone screen. The readiness with which they answered my questions and befriended me was something that, as a confessed industry amateur, I’d never experienced. I also learned that Nashville is f*cking crowded and hot!

But seriously, the Summer NAMM 2017 show floor was packed with not just human mass, but a glut of unique and incredible devices, all ready to be played and picked apart by critics and enthusiastic pedal fans. There was a hilarious amount of new delay pedals at the show this year, some of which were truly mind-blowing, others just so-so. Even though I love delay, I’m not including all of them. Not because I don’t want to do right by the builders who put their hearts and souls into building quality effects, but because this is a subjective summary of the best pedals shown at SNAMM 2017. What you’re seeing were easily the most intriguing and most innovative devices I came into contact with, and for some, after the tone requirement had been surpassed, that threshold was met by a clever feature implemented in way to make musicians’ lives easier. For other pedals included, it’s all about tone.

Without further ado, here are… The Top 28 Best Guitar Effects Pedals of Summer NAMM 2017!

 

Pigtronix Mothership 2 Analog Guitar Synthesizer

 

There’s two obvious reasons that this bad mothership is at the top of the pile. Number one on the list: the pure range of synth tones in this pedal is insane. A triangle wave, square wave VCO, and sub-octave sine can be blended at any level with your clean tone to produce a palette from which a cadre of textures can be drawn. Second is the sheer thought and engineering prowess that had to have gone into the Mothership2: TRS expression, TS CV control, sub-octave output and ten parameters (made possible by five dual-concentric knobs) on an MXR-sized enclosure! Yes, that’s ⅓ the size of the original Pigtronix Mothership.

A glide knob controls the portamento between notes, while a dynamics knob determines how responsive the Mothership2 is to the transients in your playing. The choice to include a sub-octave out was smart; too much harmonic content in your low-end often produces mud when we run through guitar amplifiers that aren’t made to amplify bass frequencies. Knocking out those frequencies right off the bat and sending them to a bass amp helps to clean up the outgoing signal when it hits your amp. Plus it would probably sound massive. I have to emphasize to the uninitiated out there that despite the size, this is NOT a filter or a synth “effect.” It is a direct sequel to the original Mothership: a true analog synthesizer controlled by your instrument. In my short time listening to it, the Mothership2 produced sci-fi soundtracks, fat basslines, organic swells, and death-rays, and I have a feeling that that’s just scratching the surface.

 

Old Blood Noise Endeavors Whitecap Tremolo

When I entered the noisy SNAMM 2017 showroom, I made a beeline for the OBNE booth to acclimate to the environment with some folks that seemed like my kind of people from afar. I was not disappointed by Brady, Dan, or Seth, who readily smiled and shook my hand with offers to run me through their latest. Mounted to their demo board with their already full line-up was the yet-unreleased Whitecap tap-tremolo. The OBNE Whitecap is a tap-tempo enabled tremolo pedal with 5 different waveform variations, low and high tonestacks, volume and rate control, and an internal trimpot that controls the gain for fine-tuning the way the modulations in volume push the circuits. I didn’t work up the courage to ask to open a Whitecap up to play with the gain, but I love that it has tone pots. If you dial more high than low or vise-versa so that you can hear the effect bloom and disappear completely as you play up and down the neck. By maxing the Low EQ and cutting the high completely on the square wave voicing, I got the Whitecap to add a percussive chop to my root notes while my higher notes rang out over them. Super sweet.

 

Epigaze Audio Ascension Reverb (Prototype)

First of all, this is hands down the prettiest prototype I’ve ever laid eyes on, but looks aren’t everything; even if it instantly caught my eye, I couldn’t have expected what came out of it. Man, was I glad I’m so shallow. First off, we have three modes: a Hall, a Modulated Hall, and a Shimmer. The Height knob controls the decay time, the Mix controls the tone. Alright cool, but that’s not all: The Ascension drones a wavery, self-generated Pad, the key of which is determined by a center footswitch that cycles through the 12 chromatic notes. The level of this drone is controlled by a 2-inch side-mounted pot. There’s an effects loop and, by extension, for adding any effect you want to the wet signal of the Ascension. This is easily one of the coolest pedals at the 2017 Summer NAMM show. If I were to be so bold as to suggest any improvement to the Ascension, it would be to include some sort of means to quickly cycle through the drone’s base note in a more musical way, but this is a prototype, and even if nothing like that materializes for the Ascension, I’m still pumped for its release.

 

Neunaber Inspire Chorus

I love Neunaber. Every time I think I can’t possibly like Brian’s work any more than what’s come before, he surprises me. While I normally wouldn’t call a chorus “surprising,” nor should anyone be surprised that Nenauber added a new standalone product in the vein of the long-heralded Immerse Reverb, Neunaber’s Inspire is looking to match the Immerse’s success and set a new standard in chorus modulation. With 8 Stereo Chorus Voices based on Neunaber’s proprietary Tritone chorus found on the Expanse platform, Rate, Depth, & Mix (with full wet!) controls, and the overall quality we’ve come to expect from Neunaber, the Inspire will no doubt be one to look out for.

 

Gamechanger Audio Plus Pedal

Gamechanger Audio is a brand new Latvian company with a refreshing piece of ambient hardware: The Plus Pedal, a “sustain” pedal built to look and feel like a piano’s sustain pedal. In terms of software, it’s similar to a sampler in that it samples up to 1.5 seconds of your raw signal and plays back a slice, and it’s similar to a freeze in that it can be set to hold momentarily or infinitely. The closest comparison I can make is to the EHX Superego, but that doesn’t quite match the feel and intuitive play of the PlusPedal. There is a dual-function dry out 1/4” jack that also serves as an input for a proprietary “Wet” peripheral, which allows for 100% wet soundscape building. The Wet toggle wisely includes a dry out, so you don’t lose the capability to split your wet/dry signal if you opt for the toggle. The Plus Pedal also features a group/single toggle; put plainly, you can set it to sustain only the last notes played, or stack your slices to make a chordal drone. The left side panel sports an effects loop as well. I’m so stoked that I got the chance to meet these guys and test out their product which is very close to being ready for distribution. At the time of my writing this, there’s a Plus Pedal sitting at East Side Music Supply, slowly imbuing the Nashville community and soon the world with its fresh energy.

 

Dwarfcraft The Curse Modulated Delay

The Curse maintains Dwarcraft’s legacy of weird, powerful tone machines. It’s a modulated delay with all your basic delay parameters (feedback, time, mix, tap tempo and division toggle) and extensive controls for the modulation (modulation rate, skew/duty, depth and your choice of three shapes.) That’s enough, right? Our ol’ pal Aen said: “Nope!” It wouldn’t be a Dwarfcraft Device without some more Dwarfcraft-ish features, and we’re blessed with a single-port TRS effects loop, ⅛” CV I/O for tap tempo and modulation, and an expression input for the modulation. Unsurprisingly, this thing is outrageous fun synced up to the rest of Dwarfcraft’s stuff. There’s a kind of buggy, gritty aspect to almost everything Ben Hinz’s team does, and the clicks and crazy weird sounds this thing will make (particularly with aggressive use of the modulations) while still remaining in the realm of “musical” confirms Dwarfcraft’s self-aware design pathos.

 

Alexander Pedals Syntax Error

I spent a good amount of time hanging out with the tremendous Matt of the tremendous Alexander effects, and boy do they have a goodie coming up. Fans of glitchy, weird pedals will truly appreciate – nay, worship – the Syntax Error, the first in Alexander’s Neo series of digital effects. I’m not even sure what to call it! The closest approximation that comes to mind is half a joke: Error Generator. Okay but really, the Syntax Error is everything the Super Radical Delay and Oblivion are and more in terms of awesome weirdness, tilting that inspiration further toward the realm of filtery, bitcrushy bliss. Alexander developed a new proprietary DSP to allow for deeper customization and control to an insane degree while also managing to cram it all into a far cheaper, tiny enclosure to not just save space on your board but help you keep space filled in your wallet. On the NAMM floor, the Syntax Error offered me 3 voicings: Cube, a digital fuzz w/ rezo lo-pass filter; Ring, a ring-mod with a sample rate reducer and sample and hold capabilities; and the universal favorite, Stretch mode, which runs the raw signal of your guitar through an adjustable-length buffer and allows you to “stretch” the signal, accelerating to breakneck speed, slowing it down to a crawl or reversing it entirely. There was also a “Sample” knob which crushes the sample rate of the signal to produce squashed-out, 8-bit splats. Physically the Syntax Error features 8 total presets (4 stored directly in the enclosure, 4 recalled via an iOS editor) 8 controllable parameters in any given preset, and a dual-purpose input that yields both CV expression/footswitch control of any combination of those presets and in-depth MIDI control. I mean, you can even control the brightness on the damn LED. As if those wacky/badass voices and insane customizability weren’t enough, Matthew Farrow of Alexander opted to add a fourth voice to the Syntax Error, a “Bode-style frequency shifter with feedback and a time delay for all sorts of weird throbby flangery goodness.” Only time will tell what that means for the final product, but we’ll keep you abreast. I can already tell that Alexander will do everything in their power to max out the capabilities of that 32-bit micro-controller. I can predict with a clairvoyant degree of confidence that the Neo Series is gonna be amazing.

 

Alexander Pedals Radiacmeter

Of course, before I can catch my breath from the marathon that is the Syntax Error and its Neo ilk, we have to talk a little bit about the Radiacmeter Dist-O-Drive, Matt’s crack at a certain rare, late-70’s Japanese Distortion. The Radiacmeter actually has a lot of history entwined in the origins of Alexander. I won’t reiterate word-for-word the tale told on Alexander’s own website, but to make a long story short, the inspiration was the first pedal Matt ever pieced together and sold, circa 1995. The circuit in question was a distortion mounted inside of a piece of Cold War era military hardware, not coincidentally a device used to detect radiation called a Radiac Meter. The resulting invention was a monster piece of gear that would only fly on the most masochistic guitarists’ boards by modern standards. It is… insultingly massive.

After a few years of estrangement after the device’s sale, it was returned to the loving arms of Mr. Farrow and the Alexander crew to be disassembled and repurposed for the greater good. Out of context, why should you care? Well, while the seed of Radiacmeter shares a lot with Papa Radiacmeter, Alexander updated the circuit with nicer components and new elements, reinterpreting the pivotal distortion circuit to create a much more flexible unit. Our Radiacmeter benefits from two passive High and Low frequency tone pots that interact with each other in a dynamic way to curve the gain pattern to your liking. You have to hear it. The “Sensitivity” knob adjusts the gain on a gradient from smooth drive to atomic hellfire. Level has no surprises for us. Hearing the Radiacmeter gave me some perspective on the versatility of the new circuit. Chalk up another win for Alexander.

 

Wampler The Doctor Lo-Fi Delay

Wampler’s The Doctor is a modulated Lo-Fi Delay full of all sorts of wibbly wobbly timey wimey tones. Your dry signal stays 100% analog while the parallel blended wet delay signal is loaded into a TARDIS and propelled through time and space, courtesy of some DSP wizardry from the Time Lords at Wampler.  As a contrasting answer to the Ethereal Delay/Reverb, The Doctor is a perfect companion, squashed and angry where the Ethereal is spacey and angelic. Still, oscillation comes pretty naturally to it, giving it a kind of reverby vibe at times, and the Modulation is super lush and organic sounding, adding a warble to the repeats that balances out the grit of the repeats. A tap tempo footswitch and ¼” tap tempo I/O means syncing this with the rest of your timed effects is a piece of cake.

 

Source Audio Ventris Reverb

As we are all aware, Source Audio has followed up on the raucous success of the Nemesis delay with the Award-winning Ventris Reverb. To recap, the Ventris is the result of well over a year of exhaustive research into the world of reverb; an expression and MIDI-enabled stereo reverb with 24 factory voices and banks for 8 onboard user-defined presets (128 with MIDI,) editable with Source Audio’s proprietary Neuro Android and iOS software. Source Audio is ever closer to perfecting the Ventris’s algorithms, and the unit they brought to Nashville was evidence of their steady progress toward a fast-approaching release. As far as I could hear, all of the classic voicings were super clean simulacrum, approximating their inspirations faithfully. What makes the Ventris a truly strong follow-up to the Nemesis (and a logical contender when compared to a few obvious high-end reverbs recently released) are its dual-processors, allowing for insanely detailed and nuanced reverb voices. Not only that, but the Ventris is so powerful, running two reverbs simultaneously is a piece of cake, allowing for unique and life-alteringly beautiful textures. The team had set up a neat little preset they affectionately called the “Laser Reverb,” which is kinda sorta like running the wet tail of a long reverb into a sample and hold filter. Listening to the frequency peaks jump around sporadically was magic, and I definitely spent way longer listening to this effect than I should have.

 

Walrus Audio ARP-87 Multi-Function Delay

Designed to be a travel-friendly cousin to the Bellwether, the ARP-87 delay dominated the Walrus booth. The closeness with which the ARP-87’s analog tones related to the Bellwether’s was an impressive exhibit of the work Walrus put into the little guy, and I spent a little bit of time A/B’ing the two on the Walrus board to get a really good feel for where the two were most strongly correlated. The ARP-87 is a mono pedal, which is a continuation of the obvious consideration made for those with a travel-sized setup. The ARP-87 also doesn’t have a time knob on it. Rather, the tempo of the repeats is decided by the Tap Tempo footswitch (or CV tap tempo input jack) and division toggle, a fact which really made me consider whether any delay needs a time knob. Jury’s still out on that one. At any rate, you still also hold the Tap footswitch to max the feedback of the delay. Hold bypass to max the X knob’s modulation on the Digital, Analog and Slap Back voices, and the filter range on the Lo Fi. My only qualm with the ARP-87 is that the voices don’t retain your set tap-tempo when cycling between the four voices, so you have to retap after you switch. Small gripe I know, but it’s worth mentioning; in the face of the external tap jack, it becomes irrelevant if you’re running a board-wide clock. It seems that Walrus has a really good grasp on the target demographic for the ARP-87, and went all-in to accommodate their simpler needs without relinquishing compatibility.

 

Chase-Bliss Audio Tonal Recall Red Knob Mod

In a move thematically linked to the spirit of Summer NAMM 2017, Chase Bliss has opted to improve upon the Tonal Recall’s already near-perfect system by doubling the amount of reissued MN3005 BBD chips packed into it to increase the max delay time to 1100ms. They’ve also rounded out the oscillation for a more musical breakup and have tweaked the pedal for brighter delay tones. Chase Bliss also added a few nice companders (compressor/expander) and improved some other pieces of hardware to increase the headroom, which means more delay trails before your repeats start to cannibalize, and there’s a longer countdown-to-squeal when the hold function is active. CBA didn’t have a Blue-Knob there so I didn’t get the chance to do any A/B comparison but based on my experience with the Tonal Recall, what I did hear on the noisy SNAMM 2017 show floor and then later at the Coffee and Riffs Circle of Two filming was glorious. As advertised, the oscillations were kind to the ear and the repeats downright reflective in tone. All add to the nuanced appeal of the Tonal Recall, so if you have one, go to CBA’s web store and upgrade immediately! If you don’t, you may want to correct that.

 

Yellowcake Lida Machine

Yellowcake’s Lida Machine, named for a government mind control device known only in conspiracy circles, is a crazy cool resonant filter with 2 LFOs in series. The main LFO, when active alone, is a simple VC filter, affected by rate and depth knobs as well as a fast/slow toggle, while the second LFO can add a further arrhythmic effect with the same parameters as well as a toggle for triangle, square, or sawtooth waveforms. A clean blend is also included to allow your signal to play over the top of all the wubs and dubs you’ll be making. If you want to use a CV enabled pedal or a synth module, the Lida Machine also has a CV input. The expression is linked to the resonant frequency, allowing musical sweeps across the frequency spectrum. I get the sense that I didn’t get to push the Lida Machine to its fullest potential, but what I heard was most definitely dope. Or maybe I’ve been brainwashed?

 

Positive Grid BIAS Twin Pedals

 

Never in my life have I heard the phrase, “future of the industry” uttered more than standing at the Positive Grid booth, and I certainly never believed it with such veracity. But armed with one of the most impressive track records in the industry and an extensive repertoire of lauded VSTs and amp/effects modelers, Positive Grid may, at the very least, imply the future. This year they were showing their BIAS Twin pedal series, which are feature rich, compact versions of the BIAS effect line. Six knobs, two switches. They are all MIDI-enabled and compatible with Positive Grid’s bluetooth-augmented BIAS iOS software, which basically makes them physical, pro VSTs. As if the depth of the software weren’t enough, Positive Grid’s ToneCloud is an invaluable community tool, much like the Empress Effects user voting forum or Source Audio preset sharing community, and the commons-style format will most definitely inspire some truly creative takes. Also, with Positive Grid’s current buzz and reputation as a premier gear company, you can expect a ton of professionals flooding the scene with voices, so teasing apart how they pull it off should be a super fun exercise.

BIAS Twin Delay is a digital delay modeler with dedicated modulation and reverb engines. Voicings include digital, tape, analog, reverse, stereo and ducking, which all can play back up to 3000ms (!!!!) of delay time. In an electric blue is the BIAS Twin Modulation, a master of all mods; chorus, vibrato, phaser, flanger, rotary, tremolo, panning, chopping, ring mod… nearly everything is possible with this. Throw in a waveform toggle (sine, square, sawtooth) and a tap tempo just for kicks. The BIAS Twin Distortion, meanwhile, takes advantage of BIAS’s hyper-detailed Tone Match tech. Tube, germanium, silicon, JFET and MOSFET clipping diodes all reside inside of its wheelhouse and can be paired in any combination. A built-in compressor and noise gate make it an easy choice.

 

Way Huge DoubleLand Special

Designed for Joe Bonamassa, The DoubleLand Special is basically two Way Huge Overrated Special circuits in one enclosure. The tone parameters are high-cuts while separate 500Hz knobs allow for mid-range cut/boost at pretty relatively subtle Q. The LED sliders are the same controls as those available in the pots, an aesthetic choice made by Joe himself for at least visual purposes. One could argue that there may be a slight difference in the tweakability but thanks to the atmospheric decibels on the SNAMM floor there’s no way that I could speak to that with any real authority, and so help me if I tried. Tonewise, the DoubleLand special struck me like a mid-focused 808 made for blues. Setting the center toggle to series will let you run one circuit into another for gain-staging/mid-high gain purposes, but I think I preferred the functionality of toggling between variation of the two circuits by leaving the series option inactive. Dialing in two polarized, relatively mellow drives and keeping them mutually exclusive is an excellent way to add balance to your drive tone, especially if you’ve already got a few gain pedals on your ‘board. These are going to be limited to 1000-1500 units so make sure you snap one up ASAP if you’re interested.

 

DigiTech SDRUM Strummable Drum Pedal

It seems that DigiTech is on a roll, releasing conceptually groundbreaking and affordable products at a semi-annual pace. At SNAMM 2017, the team was showing the SDRUM, an “intelligent drum machine” with learning technology similar to their Trio Band generator. While other drum machines have a pre-established performance set you have to program in offboard software, the SDRUM’s groove is programmed by tapping the kick and snare pads on the pedal itself, or, most interestingly, strumming the muted strings on your guitar. The kick is programmed by strumming the low strings and the snare by the high strings. Once the pattern has been learned, one of 12 cymbal patterns will be added via a Hats/Rides knob on the right, the division of which can be chosen from a quarter, eighth, or sixteenth note pace via a soft-touch button. You can save up to 36 custom songs, each with 3 parts (Verse, Chorus, and Bridge) of increasing intensity. As you progress through the song, tapping the footswitch will move on to the next section, and holding the switch will stop it completely. You can also connect it to a separate Digitech footswitch or JamSync-enabled pedal for expanded control. It only does 3/4 and 4/4 time, so prog metal players won’t be using it that often, but it’s definitely going to make an incredible songwriting and practice tool, if not a cornerstone of a performance board.

 

Keeley Electronics Caverns II Delay/Reverb

The team at Robert Keeley Electronics have been in full swing the last few years, supplementing their already massive repertoire of workstations and staple units with new and innovative pedals, and this year is no different. The original Caverns was discontinued in 2015 due to some design flaws that Robert and his team deemed too glaring to let stand, but a young upstart is ready to take up the subterranean mantle. Circuit-wise, the new Caverns is made up of the Magnetic echo (which sports 650mS of delay), two mod types affecting the delay repeats (light and deep, as well as an option to bypass the modulation completely), and three reverb options (shimmer, spring, and modulated.) There are knobs to control the mix, the feedback, time & rate of modulation, decay, blend, and warmth on the reverb, as well as a rate knob for the modulation on the mod ‘verb that becomes a tremolo on the spring and a shimmer blend on the shimmer. The Caverns II doesn’t have momentary footswitch oscillation or expression control or even a tap tempo, things that some of us have come to expect from modern delays, but it would seem this is meant to be less of a super-clean delay and more of an ambient pedal. Fine by me. The only thing that pains my heart about this latest addition is that it’s not stereo, but it’s feasible that the enclosure is just so jam-packed with circuitry and potentiometers that two more jacks and more innards would have been impossible to accommodate.

 

Keeley Electronics Neutrino Deluxe Envelope Filter

Keeley has also improved upon the original Neutrino circuit by adding a blend knob and a filter direction footswitch on the left-hand side of the pedal. Being able to switch between the directions on the fly adds a whole new performance element that is so very often absent from envelope filters. According to The master cook himself, the blend knob was added as a gift to bassists who popped on the Neutrino going for that Bootsy vibe and lost all of their low-end in the sweep of the filter. Everyone has a bassist back home, so grab two when they come out!

 

MXR Carbon Copy Deluxe Analog Delay

An iconic mainstay on ‘boards everywhere, the MXR Carbon Copy finally gets a long awaited and well deserved update in the Carbon Copy Deluxe, which thoughtfully combines the circuits of the original Carbon Copy and the Carbon Copy Bright with eight BBD chips and throws in the expected chorus-y mod (now with rate and depth knobs to tweak it) into the mix. It features a tap tempo and a neat little LED display that indicates the time division of the repeats in a bright green you’d be pressed to miss from space, much less the top of your neck. Two saveable presets complete the package to this an essential upgrade if you’ve been running a Carbon Copy.

 

Adventure Audio Power Couple Boost

Christian Terjesen’s latest Adventure is a 2-stage boost with only 2 parameters: Gain and More (Gain.) You get about 25db of clean headroom in the first gainstage, controlled by the massive knob toward the top. When I say clean I do mean clean, acting as simply the means to push whatever you’re running next, be it the next drive on your board or the front of your amp. Then, by holding the sole soft-touch footswitch down for 200mS, you run the first gainstage into the “More” circuit, which does what it sounds like. It will girth up your tone to the point of complete saturation as you dial back on the teensy More knob, likely a function of the decreased headroom in the outgoing signal path. The inclusion of only one footswitch to engage both stages is a clever and space-saving way to change circuits without making the action of going from fat to fatter less of a choice. This way, you have to deliberately choose to pop on the second gainstage, hold the switch, and live with those tasty consequences.

 

Adventure Audio Whateverb V2

In case you need a refresher, the Whateverb is a Shimmer/Hall/Chorus-Flange Reverb pedal with 2 variable knobs, a blend and a “Warp” knob, which actually controls the ADAC of the wet signal, or the rate at which your signal is sampled and converted from analog to digital and back to analog again. That glissando effect is actually a smooth glide down in sample rate. When I reviewed the Whateverb a few months back, I said that it needed an expression input for the Warp knob. Well, in the new upgrade, Adventure improved the Warp’s range and added an expression input as well more solid I/O jacks! With the V2 update we can control one of the best parts of the Whateverb’s reverb engine in real-time to create full-spectrum musical pitch shifts and never have to worry about the ports breaking.

 

Fuzzrocious lunaReclipse Utility Clipping Platform Pedal

Fuzzrocious’s lunaReclipse is, in my opinion, a dark horse. A dead simple 2-knob pedal, the lunaReclipse secretly sports a veritable smorgasbord of clipping diode pairs (12 total!) in its hard rotary knob in the center in addition to being a regular old volume attenuator. The rotary knob locks when you crank it clockwise at 12 and counter-clockwise at 1. Why is this particularly important to me? At 12 o’clock, there’s a transparent boost, and for performance purposes, deftly cranking all the way in one direction between songs (extra performance points if you can nail it between measures) is easier than fumbling around the dial trying to to find the right diode pair. If one wanted to use it like a drive pedal, you could totally call it a day there and no one would judge you. From what I gleaned spending time with it and Ryan & Shannon Ratajski of Fuzzrocious, however, its real niche is to add flavor, like a water infuser full of all sorts of dirt. I wouldn’t go so far as to quite call it strictly a utility pedal, but I’m excited to hear the way it makes other effects shine. Have a sweet reverb with an effects loop like the Epigaze Ascension? Pop the lunaReclipse in there. Want a new and exciting texture over your Adventure Audio Power Couple? Run it through this motherlover. Furthermore, for those of us eager to jump into DIY pedal building, the lunaReclipse could potentially make a good reference tool for finding clipping patterns to explore.

HA! luna-Re-Clipse. Clips. I just got that.

 

Daredevil Cocked & Fearless Fixed Wah / Distortion

The brave gentlemen in Daredevil paired the circuits of their Atomic Cock fixed wah pedal and their Fearless Distortion to make a true bypass 2 channel op-amp distortion with a fixed band-pass wah. The resulting amalgamation is an aggressively gainy distortion with a set wah, The Distortion circuit is great for girthy, aggressive rhythm. Stomp on the Cock (sorry) and rip into a solo. An added clean blend helps to restore the harmonic content you lose with the wah active and helps the Cocked & Fearless feel more like your distortion than a one-trick-pony.

 

Hungry Robot Monastery, Stargazer V2, & Moby Dick V2

Last but certainly not least is the Hungry Robot Monastery, a polyphonic octave pedal named for the holy buildings in which organs/organ noises reside and bearing Hungry Robot’s quirky branding. Each horizontal row of knobs is a preset voicing; the left knobs on the Monastery are blend knobs and the right knobs control the ratio of up/down octaves. The two footswitches are the obvious bypass switch and a preset cycle switch. Playing the Monastery rewarded my earholes with well-lubricated tracking no matter where on the neck I was, already making it superior to quite a few shifters in my circle of awareness. Stupid easy, gorgeous as hell, made to be stomped. What else could you want?

I should also mention, Hungry Robot was showing off updated versions of some older pedals, namely the Moby Dick and the Stargazer, which have been fit into much smaller enclosures and slightly improved. The Moby Dick Tap Delay now features a smaller saturation control and deeper modulation than the larger Whale, while the Stargazer Reverb drops the voicing toggles that used to sit in the center and now opts for a cycling footswitch. The Red channel is the base voicing for the Stargazer, while the Blue channel is “Sparkle, the treble-boosted iteration of it, and the two can be run simultaneously in summed mono.

 

Conclusion:

There were a couple companies willing to part with info on what they were working on that wasn’t at NAMM. For example, Mojo Hand FX, acquired by Cusack in 2016, is working on a Bass pedal (or bass-oriented pedal) with 8 knobs, 2 stomps and active EQs. To quote the folks at the Cusack/Mojo Hand table, “It is huge, but it’s definitely not a fuzz.” Well, with that ruled out there’s only infinity-1 things it could be! Also really rad news: Tom Kogut of Tom Kat is working on a granular synth pedal. Based on what I heard from his board at the Big Ear N.Y.C. booth, it’s probably gonna be the last thing I see before I starve to death in the first room I plug it into. Dwarfcraft also had literature for a forthcoming sampler that they’re calling the Grazer, but it wasn’t ready for SNAMM. Take your time, boys & girls.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I will say that I’m not able to include everything I wanted to get to at this year’s SNAMM. There was an enormous amount of really cool things peppered throughout the conference, some of which I deeply regret missing, like NUX Audio’s Loop Core Looper and Cerberus Multi-Effects Engine/Loop or The Gulf, a Swindler Effects Chorus Prototype that was kicking around. There’s a good chance there’s more, too. The point of Best Guitar Effects is pedal discovery, so if you can think of anything I didn’t cover that you feel deserves attention, feel free to comment below for the benefit of those reading!

And that was Summer NAMM 2017 for me. May you someday have a first NAMM as well if you haven’t already.

Love,

Jake

Empress Reverb Review – Best Reverb Pedal Ever?

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

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

Features:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KNOBS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi: Same as “Low” but it’s “Hi.”

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

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

And the switches are:

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

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

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

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

INS and OUTS…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sound & Performance:

Pristine Classic Sounds

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

Ambient And Unique, Crazy Sounds

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

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

Easy To Use And Quick To Dial In

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

Yes, There’s More…

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

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

Reverb’s Audio Fidelity

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

Pristine VCA Mixing

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

The Emperors of Empress Speak

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

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

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

Deep Control + Ease Of Use

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

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

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

Expression Control

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

Empress Reverb vs Strymon BigSky

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall-Rating-5.0

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

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

Moog Moogerfooger MF-107 FreqBox Review

The Moog Moogerfooger MF-107 FreqBox is one of my all-time favorite effects stompboxes. It hasn’t been covered at Best Guitar Effects, so I chose it for my first review contribution. Among my collection of effects pedals, it’s been like a versatile wild haired member of the band.

The Moogerfooger line of stompboxes was introduced in 1998 with the MF-101 Lowpass filter. The MF-107 FreqBox was added to the Moogerfooger line in early 2007. It was the first new stompbox to be produced by Moog after Bob Moog’s death. Other notable Moogerfooger releases include the MF-104M Analog Delay and MF-108M Cluster Flux.

The FreqBox sounds similar to a synthesizer because in its interior is actually an analogue VCO that is modified by the input signal in various ways. But while the FreqBox isn’t exactly a guitar synth pedal, Moog’s deep experience in analog synthesis and sound design are showcased strongly in this unique instrument, making it an original sound design tool with many possible uses that extend well beyond what musicians may expect from a typical guitar pedal.

Features:

The FreqBox contains an analog VCO with a continuously variable waveform which can be modulated by the audio input signal. Modulation of the VCO includes: hard sync, frequency modulation (FM), and modulation of the VCO frequency by an envelope follower. The amplitude of the VCO is controlled by the amplitude of the input signal.

Sound Design

  • Analog VCO
  • Front panel knobs for VCO frequency, Waveform, Drive, Output Level, Envelope Amount, FM Amount, and Mix
  • Sync switch On/Off

Hardware

  • Black brushed metal casing
  • Polished wood side panels
  • Metal bypass switch
  • Led bypass indicator

Ins & Outs

  • Audio in & out
  • CV/Expression Inputs for Frequency, Wave, Envelope Amount, FM Amount, and Mix
  • CV outputs for Envelope, Oscillator

Audio quality

  • All analogue circuitry
  • Classic Mooq designed oscillator and synthesis components
  • The input sound is not a processed version of the input signal, but the sound of the input signal modulating the oscillator.

Build Quality

The brushed black metal casing, knobs, and polished wood paneling of the FreqBox look good and relay serious quality. It takes up more space on a pedalboard, so that could be a consideration. I use the FreqBox in many different setups, so I usually hook it up real time on the floor, rather than keeping it dedicated to a pedal board. Although it’s a larger effects box, I think its size also makes it easier to see and tweak, especially in low light.

Visit Moog for more info about the MF-107 FreqBox.

Moog-Moogerfooger-MF-107-FreqBox-Review-03

Sound & Performance:

Sound Sculpting

To get things started, I set the FreqBox’s Input knob so that the sound is the same level when the pedal is bypassed or activated. The FreqBox has a competent Drive with a nice analog warmth, but the real fun is exploring the harmonic distortion and fuzz overtones shaped by the continuous waveforms, FM amount, VCO Frequency, and Mix knob with the Sync mode switched on. These are not classic distortion sounds, but they provide a jagged glow of rich harmonics to explore and experiment with. Players can find a beautiful unique edge that serves a given vibe and cuts through a mix, especially when used with guitar or bass.

Demo With Guitar

Playability

One of my favorite ways to use the FreqBox is to fatten up a drum machine with a bit of drive and use a CV waveform or sequencer into the Frequency input to create bass lines. In this mode, I would have the Sync switch off and the Mix knob about halfway which allows both the drum machine and FreqBox to sound like separate yet entwined instruments. While the drum machine is going, the FreqBox becomes playable as hands are free to tweak the knobs. Without other effects in the chain, the sounds will cut through and the changes can be harsh and drastic. Adding a filter, delay, and reverb to the chain and slowly tweaking the FreqBox’s knobs can create a vast range of evolving textures and melodic sequences to explore in a single session.

Demo With Drum Machine

Overall-Rating-5.0

The Moog MF-107 FreqBox has a significant range of harmonic sound sculpting flexibility from its oscillator & synthesis features and can be used on just about any electronic instrument sound source. Its CV ins and outs work with expression pedals or other modular gear for deep connectivity in any pedal and/or modular setup. The FreqBox’s creative potential makes it one of the most unique, fun, and versatile effects boxes to own. While it’s not a typical guitar synth pedal, the synth-inspired textures produced from this pedal make the MF-107 quite enticing for guitarists, synthesizer enthusiasts, or any musicians seeking interesting new sounds and textures from their effects pedals. Although the FreqBox is currently out of production, I would definitely recommend prowling for a used one if you’re in the market for an inspiring pedal that will take your music in exciting new directions.

That concludes our Moog Moogerfooger MF-107 FreqBox review. Thanks for reading.

AYAHUASCA

This article is not a review of the elusive and mysterious Ayahuasca pedal from Abracadabra Audio. It’s more of a backstory of how this pedal came to be.

 

What Is Ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca is a fuzz pedal. And it’s a tremolo pedal. You can use the fuzz independently or together with the tremolo. If you cut down the pedal’s Input knob a bit, you can sort of clean up the sound to use the tremolo semi-independently as well, but it’s still quite lo-fi sounding and dirty. The pedal can also produce ring-mod-like oscillation at high Rate speeds and vibe-like sounds when the tremolo is set to Harmonic mode.

Ayahuasca is an acquired taste which may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Here’s a small dose of Ayahuasca to whet your palate courtesy of Knobs:

 

 

And here’s a longer clip that shows a few of the unique sounds this pedal can produce:

 

 

Ayahuasca’s tremolo isn’t super clean like the Chase Bliss Audio Gravitas. Speaking of Gravitas, maybe that’s where we should begin Ayahuasca’s origin story…

Mr. Joel Korte at Chase Bliss Audio once made me a special Gravitas pedal that had a choppier square wave and very fast Rate speeds. The talented Mr. Jack Nelson over at Dropping Acid Pedal Etching contributed a beautiful acid-etched enclosure to make the pedal extra special.

 

The original “Ayahuasca” modded Gravitas

 

This one-off Gravitas variant (similar to other choppy modded versions specially made for some Chase Bliss Audio customers but with faster Rate speeds) was essentially a blueprint for the tremolo sound heard in the Ayahuasca pedal made for Abracadabra Audio.

 

Ayahuasca’s Tremolo

The key difference of the tremolo in Ayahuasca vs Gravitas is that the Ayahuasca’s circuit uses 2 NOS vactrols in tandem for an ultra choppy analog tremolo sound when the waveform is set to Square. The idea was to make the trem as choppy as possible while retaining a 100% analog signal path, a hallmark of Chase Bliss Audio pedal designs.

The vactrol based Ayahuasca can produce a very aggressive square wave tremolo that excels at chopping up a distorted guitar signal. That inspiration led to a fuzz circuit being added to the pedal. After all, while the Gravitas is known for its pristine clean sound and subtle vintage warmth, Ayahuasca is inspired by the jungle, an often dangerous and harsh environment that warrants an equally precarious sound.

 

Ayahuasca’s Fuzz

Here’s a brief backstory on Ayahuasca’s fuzz circuit that was leaked on Reddit:

“The short version of the long story of its fuzz circuit origins goes something like this: We’re all familiar with the late 60’s fuzzes, particularly the Fuzz Face. A guy named Cláudio César Dias Baptista made a Fuzz Face inspired pedal for his brother Sergio of the Brazilian band Os Mutantes. It was called the Regulus VIII aka the “Mutantes Fuzz” and became a signature part of the band’s sound. Another builder re-interpreted that circuit and added a Big Muff Pi style tone stack that was heavily modified. Then a certain modern builder re-interpreted that circuit, further modifying it and pushing it to its usable limits and beyond to create what can be found in Ayahuasca. A main focus was to create a very wide range of usability from a 3-knob fuzz. The more I play it, the more I feel we succeeded in doing so.”

So who was the builder that re-interpreted the Regulus VIII fuzz?

It was the late Mr. Chris Bradford of El Músico Loco. The Wee Beaver Fuzz was his interpretation, and it’s one of my all-time favorite fuzz pedals. While that pedal made it onto my pedalboard on a few occasions, I often felt it was a bit limiting in that the fuzz was always full-on with the only option to cut the input gain being to reduce your guitar’s onboard volume control. This works pretty well if you like controlling your fuzz from your guitar, but I generally like being able to establish my gain level from the pedal first and adjust further from the guitar as desired. Also, when stacking a fuzz pedal with other overdrive and distortion pedals, it helps to have full control over the amount of saturation coming from the fuzz in the chain. Sadly, I was never able to discuss possible improvements with Chris as he passed away unexpectedly.

Mr. Joel Korte is the modern builder who re-interpreted the circuit from a pedal that Chris personally gave to me. Ayahuasca’s fuzz isn’t really a clone as Joel ended up putting his own unique spin on the whole thing. The input gain could also now be adjusted from its own knob for a wider range of fuzz saturation. Joel & I listened to a few circuit variations and decided on an iteration we were both happy with.

The former pedal’s unique tone control was also further modified. The tone-stack in Ayahuasca is quite possibly the most special thing about the pedal’s fuzz circuit, and we opted to label the tone knob “Color” in reference to the wide palette of textures available from this single knob.

 

The Art of Ayahuasca

So we had an insane Gravitas inspired tremolo that could get crazy fast and extremely choppy, and we had one of the best fuzz pedal sounds I’ve ever heard. We just needed the all-important art component to bring Ayahuasca to life. One person was up to the task: Hannah M. Haugberg.

Hannah is one of the most widely known pedal-painting artists. She’s painted somewhere in the neighborhood of 3000 pedals during her time working with ZVex Effects. That’s not to mention commissions for other builders.

Hannah painted the first 3 batches of Ayahuasca pedals. She and other artists may paint more to come.

 

Ayahuasca Batch History

Here’s a brief batch history of the Ayahuasca pedals released so far.

 

Ayahuasca “Jungle” (serials #1-10)
Painted by: Hannah M. Haugberg

This was the first hand painted limited batch with art inspired by the Amazon jungle.

 

Ayahuasca “Shipibo” (serials #11-20)
Painted by: Hannah M. Haugberg

This was the second hand painted limited batch with a design inspired by the visionary art of Shipibo women.

 

Ayahuasca “Cielo” (serials #21-30)
Painted by: Hannah M. Haugberg

This was the third hand painted limited batch with art inspired by the jungle and the cielo ayahuasca vine also known as “sky ayahuasca”.

 

Ayahuasca Prototypes & Other Pedals

Some other Ayahuasca pedals exist. Here are a few of the noteworthy pedals.

 

Ayahuasca “Jungle” Prototype

This pedal (also seen at the top of this page) was the 1st Ayahuasca enclosure painted by Hannah M. Haugberg. It has different labeling as final parameter names had yet to be decided upon. Interestingly, this pedal was brought by SWIM to a medicine woman to form a conduit with the spirit of Ayahuasca and receive blessings for the project… whatever that means. SWIM says it went well.

 

Ayahuasca “Jungle” #00000

This pedal was painted by Hannah M. Haugberg. It features the final parameter labeling and was made specially for Knobs. It was also photographed for product imagery seen on Abracadabra Audio.

 

Ayahuasca “Jungle”, “Shipibo”, & “Cielo” (Unnumbered)

One extra unnumbered pedal was commissioned with each of the first 3 batches. They were painted by Hannah M. Haugberg and were originally made for archival purposes. It was later decided to give these pedals away so that they might be played instead of sitting in boxes. A giveaway for these pedals was held at BestGuitarEffects.com in celebration of the site’s 4-year anniversary.

(This section may be updated with relevant information regarding future Ayahuasca batches.)

 

So that pretty much sums up the Ayahuasca story so far minus the weird synchronicity stuff that no one really wants to know. Speaking of weird stuff, what the heck is Abracadabra Audio? And what’s happening next over there?

 

The Future of Abracadabra Audio

Here’s some news and candid info. There might be some more limited batches of Ayahuasca appearing soon. The best way to stay informed is to get on Abracadabra Audio’s mailing list. There’s usually an email sign up box at the bottom of the site.

As for other new AA pedals, some things have been said between industry people and some ideas have been shared. I may continue being involved, but it’s not entirely up to me how AA progresses if it does continue to exist. If there’s something interesting you’d like to see from AA, reach out via the site’s contact page and share your idea(s).

 

Going Forth

Participating in the Ayahuasca project has been super amazing. I feel very lucky and fortunate to have had a part in helping manifest this unique pedal.

Thanks to Joel Korte & Chase Bliss Audio, Hannah M. Haugberg, Knobs, Andy Dolan, Jack Nelson, Chris Bradford, Abracadabra Audio, anyone who likes this pedal as much as I do, the readers of Best Guitar Effects, and everyone who’s doing the Great Work and making awesome things happen.

Cheers,

Gabriel

Chase Bliss Audio Brothers Review – Best Gain Stage Pedal?

Brrrrggggrrrrgrrgrrgggggggrgrggrrgrmmmmmmmggmm

You know the sound this onomatopoeia represents. You’ve not just heard it, you’ve felt it. You’ve been in this room before, paced behind the writhing mass of human titillation generated before this claustrophobic rush of air a thousand times before now, but to say that each time was the same would be a disservice not just to tone, but to yourself and yes, music everywhere. And it is everywhere. Sometimes it’s an amplifier’s searing breakup, sometimes it’s a studio engineer’s worst nightmare. Every time, it is an aggressive whetstone made for sharpening your instrument’s killing edge.

Gain.

Tube or Pedal, TS9 or Rat, Klon or Big Muff, it’s impossible to escape the sound of those juicy, overloaded diodes. There are endless iterations of overdrive and fuzz by endless boutique and amateur builders, and in 2017, those looking to create something new in the gain family must be sure to dig deep and create a piece that is truly innovative, lest their work be cast aside as one more buzz box in someone’s dad’s basement.

Oddly enough, in January, we first got word from Chase Bliss Audio that they were working on just such a thing: an original Analog Gainstage Pedal, replete with all the functionality and ear candy we’ve come to expect from the tonally generous and dedicated Joel Korte. The way this latest release would differ from Chase Bliss’s usual outings, however, is that this piece was a collaboration with Peter Bregman and his company Resonant Electronic Design, another (slightly-more-obscure-but-still-doing-awesome-stuff) builder steadfastly dedicated/addicted to the infinite craft of pedal design. Their combined take on overdrive/fuzz/boost is a total gain changer, and I’m humbled to get the chance to put it through its paces.

FEATURES:

  • Two channels (JFET and IC) with a total of six distinct voicings
  • Six Parameters:
    Gain A: Controls the Gain of Channel A
    Tone A: Tone control with an emphasis on transparency
    Gain B: Controls the Gain on Channel B
    Tone B: Tone control with a mid-range boost
    Mix/Stack: Controls the level of signal coming from each voice in parallel, and acts as volume attenuator for the first voice in series.
    Master: Master volume attenuator
  • 3 Routing modes: A > B, B>A, and Parallel
  • 33 total routing configurations
  • Full MIDI functionality
  • True/Buffered Bypass switch
  • All-Analog Signal Path
  • Expression/CV in
  • 16 back-mounted dip switches control Expressed parameters and bypass method
  • Small footprint

Nuts and Bolts

If you’ve never seen a fresh Chase Bliss Audio pedal in the flesh, you’ll be stoked to know that the Brothers (and all CBA pedals) comes in a wood-burned, beautifully crafted and thematically stained goddamn wooden box, which, if nothing else, speaks to Chase Bliss’ sincere attention to detail and commitment to best serving the finished product.

The Brothers itself, while beefy in terms of stability, is also deceptively small compared to the expectation I built in my head stalking its release on the internet; it is the same size as its CBA cousins (Spectre, Tonal Recall, Gravitas, etc.), or, for a contemporary comparison, an EarthQuaker Device.

The power input takes a standard 9V center-negative power supply, and only draws 60mA thanks to its all-analog signal path, which is unprecedented for a pedal with this much tweakability outside of the CBA family.

In addition to the ¼” I/O mono jacks, there are two ¼” TRS jacks on either side of the Brothers. The left jack is a MIDI input that can be used as a bypass for Channel A with a separate normally-open momentary switch, to recall up to 6 presets with the new Chase-Bliss Faves switch (more on this in a second,) or in conjunction with a Chase-Bliss MIDI Box and your own MIDI controller for the standard 128 MIDI presets. The LED in the center indicates which preset bank is active by illuminating green, red, or not-at-all. On the right there is an Expression/CV in for your standard expression pedal or for a control voltage module. CBA recommends Mission Engineering expression pedals, but I’m testing Brothers with a Moog EP-3 which works as well. Even if you hate MIDI and all things peripheral: dudes and dudettes, use an expression pedal with this thing. The lowest-hanging fruit is setting the expression to control the master to fade in gritty violin swells, but that’s child’s play compared to what’s possible.

The knobs on the Brothers are, parametrically, exactly what you might expect to see on an average overdrive or fuzz pedal, multiplied by 2. You have a Tone and Gain knob for each voicing and a master knob to attenuate the volume. There is also a dual-function Mix/Stack knob that controls the blend of the two voices in Parallel mode, and the strength of the signal going into the second voice in A > B and B > A modes, respectively. Each knob takes digital/optical control of a given parameter, allowing not just complete MIDI controllability across the board, but also providing a carefully calibrated range of tonal possibilities dialed in to naturally occurring sweet spots. In speculative theory, this should imply that in a vacuum there is nothing you can do with this pedal that sounds inherently bad, and I trust Joel and Peter tested the validity of these sweet spots to the moon and back.

Another mainstay of the Chase Bliss Audio brand are the familiar red dip switch panels on the top side of the pedal. There are 16 individual switches affecting nearly everything about the Brothers. The six dip switches furthest to the left will control whether the Master, Mix/Stack, Gain and Tone knobs are controllable via CV and Expression with a corresponding six dip switches on the center-right that determine which direction the expression will turn those parameters. Dip switches MoToByp A and MoToByp B will turn the corresponding bypass footswitch into a momentary bypass or engage switch, depending on what state the circuit was in. This is actually a super intuitive, potentially musical feature if you plan on using presets as the main means of engaging the Brothers, one that increases transition speed to create jagged dynamics in your songs. Speaking of intuitive features, on the end of the switch board we have the Sweep dip switch, which sets where on each knob the Expression/CV-enabled parameters’ range of manipulation sits. For example, with the Sweep set to up, the expression will only sweep up from where the knob is currently set, and it’ll sweep from the knob position to minimum when the switch is set to down. Just as great for in songs that go smoothly from quiet to sort of loud as it is for songs that go from loud to really loud. Finally, the Bypass dip switch sets the Brothers to either true-bypass of buffered bypass. Icing on a very rich cake.

Your New All-Time Fave(s)

Coming back to the Faves switch (sold separately): here we have a hilariously simple multivitamin of a peripheral device that consists of a soft-touch Engage footswitch and two Preset and Bank toggles. The footswitch can be set to toggle between the black-LED “Live” and red/green preset on either the Even (green) or Odd (red) setting, or between three presets on the Both setting, which cycles in order through black, red and green presets. Each bank can be accessed on the fly by holding the footswitch for a second, and will index indefinitely through each bank by holding the footswitch. To set a preset on the Brothers (and any other Chase Bliss pedal), simply hold down a footswitch for 3 seconds, then, without removing your foot/finger, hold the other footswitch for an additional 3 seconds. This will save either preset 1 (red) or preset two (green) depending on whether the first footswitch depressed was the right or the left respectively. With the Faves switch attached, you can do this twice for each of the three banks, giving you 6 stored presets plus the black “Live” mode which is just whatever happens to be on the face of the Brothers at the time, meaning there are 7 open slots to utilize. Keep in mind, though, that if you opt to use the Faves, you’ll need an additional 9V power supply lead, which might still be worth it for the sake of flexibility.

Visit Chase Bliss Audio for more info about Brothers & Faves.

Sound & Performance:

Channel A is based on JFET circuits developed in conjunction with Resonant Electronic Design, while Channel B consists of integrated circuits that are all Chase Bliss. On both sides of the Brothers, we have a Boost, Drive, and Fuzz voicing. The ability to stack these contrasting drive voices in either direction or in parallel make the Brothers capable of accomplishing textures never before heard coming out of one box.

Channel A

Resonant Electronic Design is responsible for developing Channel A’s JFET style input; this is the Brother that wears sweater vests and calls everyone “bud” unironically, but also works at a sawmill and practices Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He’s a warm, throaty boy that hugs your tone with thick arms of mid-rangey, never-creepy affection. The tonestack for this channel “emphasizes transparency,” allowing more of your pickups’ inherent tone to shine through the gain of the signal as the tone is cranked. A transparency boost is super important on such a warm, low-end heavy voice as it’s very easy to lose your notes in the thick of all the phat tone you’ll be thumping out.

If you haven’t watched the Mini-Doc/promo on the Brothers, first of all, do. Secondly, in said Mini-Doc, Resonant Electronic Design’s founder Peter Bregman mentions that the amp which was the basis for RED’s Graviton/Manifold/Acceleron Drive line was actually pieced together by an old projector power amp which clipped asymmetrically when pushed hard by an incoming signal. This would generate incredible harmonic overtones that contributed to the musicality of the drive. Those circuits later inspired the collaborative effort that grew into the JFET voicings in the Brothers overdrive.

Engaging the Boost at its lowest possible gain setting, I learned very quickly that this voicing was going to make me work to keep it clean. On the surface, that might sound like a chore, but the grit I experienced actually appears to be a function of the responsiveness to the volume of my guitar (especially on the hot DiMarzio Super Distortions I have in my bridge,) so we know off the bat we’re dealing with an intuitive piece of hardware. Dialing back my guitar’s volume knob and swapping over to the softer neck humbuckers, I was able to get a sultry, just-barely-pushing it clean boost. Tastefully pumping the gas on the Gain and Master pushed the front-end of my amp into a sweet zone between tube-saturation and JFET clip, so I wasted a good amount of time screwing with the dynamics I could get out of my guitar’s volume knob, then saved the preset for my own personal use later. The Drive voice is immediately huge and super musical, opening up the floodgates for juicy, explosive noodle fuel. The midrangey girth of the JFET circuit paired with warm humbuckers would be well served in the thrall of any bluesy player with a propensity for a chunkier, blues driver-esque tone and deep low end. The cleanup is nice too, freeing up the headroom for a subtler, creamier vibe, showing off the full power of its asymmetrical clipping pattern only when provoked with fuller chords. As is the case with most fuzzes, Channel A’s Fuzz voicing displayed a marked decrease in volume when engaged as a result of the signal being compressed; boosting the output compensates nicely.

Channel B

Chase Bliss’s Channel B is the bitier, sassier twin, owing its aggressive pluck to a series of all original integrated circuits, 2 of them inspired by some classics. A tendency to lean toward the high-range frequencies gives off the feel of a treble-boosted overdrive, which is great for lead and soloing. The mid-centric tonestack also thickens up what the IC naturally lacks in mid-range meat, meaning that like its Brother, B is not just a one or even three-trick pony, but a scrappy multi-tool that knows its own weakness and defends it with ergonomical sonic padding. All-in-all, CBA’s side occupies a much more high-and-tight, uncompressed zone.

Cutting the Gain while pumping the Tone past 2 o’clock on Channel B’s Boost is a great way to get a clean volume boost with a neat little hump in the mid-range to beef it up, a sound reminiscent of the EHX Soul Food and its other Klone brethren. The Drive on Channel B lends itself to a much more modern-sounding “Tube Screamer evolved” overdrive tone, giving us the gift of melodious, mid-high grit that cleans up really well. It absolutely ripped when paired with the high-output of my bridge pickup, making it sit high and clear above a full band mix. When you switch to Channel B’s Fuzz circuit, be prepared for a brutal, stoner metal late 70’s Big Muff inspired Fuzz with a surprising amount of gain. With the tone knob rolled back, you get an evil sounding growl guaranteed to shake the foundation of your house, and dialed up you get an aggressive rip. I was pleased to hear that neither of the fuzz voices were afflicted by the sharp, twangy, pick-attack *p-chew* that some highly-compressed fuzzes suffer from in a misguided attempt to emulate a vintage fuzz tone. To some that sound is desirable, but for me it’s just a bit too much.

From Gain Stage to Main Stage

While all of the voices are perfectly valid and incredible on their own, the thing that’s kept me up at night since I first heard about the Brothers was its Routing switch, the very feature that makes the Brothers an “Analog Gainstage” pedal and not just an “Overdrive.” The center toggle can point the signal path from A to B, B to A, or run the twin tones in parallel. A > B and B > A benefit from a signal attenuator on the first circuit in the form of the Stack knob, allowing you to dictate how strongly the second circuit is hit. Obviously the higher you go on the Stack knob, the more compressed and gain-y the output becomes. Switching into parallel not only serves to fill any holes missing in the frequency spectrum from the individual voices, but also creates distinct, almost dual-amp-like textures. The amount of each voice that shines through is up to you, controllable with the Mix knob, formerly the stack knob.

Possibly the most important thing to emphasize about the Brothers’ tone is that it is ABSOLUTELY NOT secretly six variations on a fancy tube screamer, something that, if not objectively an advantage, is at least one more factor in a sea of factors that make it unique from a majority of the drives on the market today. There were times when, with only Channel B’s Drive engaged and the tonestack dialed back to just below 12 o’clock, I was getting some relatively Screamer-esque tones, but still never lost the IC’s obvious texture. This satisfies that common Tube Screamer need for a lot of guitarists, but when you get down to brass tacks, will also set your sound apart from the mobs of screaming mimis and their little green pedals out there. To me, that’s much more valuable.

I won’t say I had to fight to get mud, because any pedal will excrete some sour tones if not used judiciously, but working with the Brothers I really got the sense that Peter and Joel, with the help of some great engineers and testers, carefully and lovingly curated the range of expression contained within each knob to a neurotic fault. Both Channels complement not just each other, but themselves, proffering simple tools to help the guitarist to shore up any potential weakness inherent within. While I am a rabid features nut and was thoroughly satisfied on that front, I’m also impressed with how effectively the Brothers proves, perhaps paradoxically, the universally sensed truth that you don’t really need all that much to dial in a great drive tone. When it came to discussing the parameters I expected to go in a little disappointed, weakly bemoaning the lack of parametric EQ options and the missed tone-sculpting opportunities therein, but I’m happy to report that even with just the Transparency/Mid-Boost tone knobs, the Brothers’s flexibility in terms of frequency range is colossal. I don’t know why I ever doubted this collab.

Considering the incredibly wide amount of possible drive sounds and routing combinations the Brothers affords, the Faves foot-switch is an invaluable companion for helping you make the most of this pedal. It’s super handy to be able to recall a custom preset by tapping Faves and then individually activating the individual A & B channels from Brothers’ onboard footswitches. When recalling a preset, the Active/Bypass status of the 2 channels will also be recalled, and you can then choose among the different sounds available in a given preset. For example, say you recall a sound with just a Drive on channel B active. You might be running it series into channel A with a little extra Boost available if you tap the Brothers’ A footswitch. Then you could also tap the B footswitch to bypass the Drive and just use the Boost. Now imagine using Faves to access 6 preset templates.

The only real potential performance related issue for some guitarists might be the closeness of the Brothers’ 2 onboard foot-switches. On other Chase Bliss Audio pedals like Warped Vinyl MKII, Wombtone MKII, Gravitas, Spectre, & Tonal Recall, this was less of an issue because if you accidentally stomped on the Tap footswitch once while activating the pedal, you wouldn’t mistakenly change tap tempo rate since more than one tap is needed to assign a new tempo. With a drive pedal like Brothers, however, accidentally hitting a full gain fuzz when you just wanted that subtle boost could be a real issue in a live situation. If you step carefully you can avoid any potential ear carnage, and this could also be a consideration for using a MIDI enabled effects switcher to handle all preset changing and activating/bypassing duties.

In terms of what could be added to improve the Brothers, I can’t say I know of anything it lacks aside from my usual complaint, one I feel is particularly pointed in the case of the Brothers: the lack of stereo outs for the benefit of parallel routing. Perhaps, if pressed, I would suggest an effects loop to put another effect pedal or (call me crazy,) another overdrive for an extra stage of gain between the two voices, but that feels extreme and probably impractical for both the user on stage and an already jam-packed enclosure like the Brothers.

Overall-Rating-5.0

The Chase Bliss Audio Brothers stands up to the hype it generated upon its announcement and meets the CBA standard by delivering some of the best overdrive tones I’ve ever heard in an easier delivery system than I thought would ever exist in an analog based gain pedal. At $349 the Brothers is not necessarily what I’d call an “affordable” pedal, but with 6 amazing analog drive voices, presets, full MIDI/CV integration, and 33 independent routing options, it’s also not what I’d call a “pass.” On the contrary, if you need a drive (or two) and have the money, the Brothers has the potential to be the last drive investment you ever make. You won’t want for much if balanced variation is what you’re after, and you don’t need to look much further to know that the Brothers may be, presently, the best thing for it. There have been many dual overdrives in recent years, and a few parallel drives, but as far as I can tell, there’s only one other pedal that does both. All this, coupled with it’s unparalleled (ha!) tone push the Brothers into a category all its own, and you can expect the industry to follow the example it sets.

That concludes our Chase Bliss Audio Brothers review. Thanks for reading.

Malekko Scrutator Review – Best Bitcrusher/Filter Pedal?

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

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

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

Features:

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

Visit Malekko for more info about the Scrutator.

Sound & Performance:

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

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

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

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

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

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Overall-Rating-5.0

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

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

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

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

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

Features:

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

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

Check out Adventure Audio for more details about the Whateverb!

SOUND & PERFORMANCE:

Let’s dive into these voices.

This

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

That

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

Otherb

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

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

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Overall-Rating-4.5

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

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

EarthQuaker Devices Transmisser Review – Best Modulated Reverb Pedal?

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

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

Features:

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

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

Visit EarthQuaker Devices for more info about the Transmisser.

Sound & Performance:

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

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

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

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

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Overall-Rating-5.0

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

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

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

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

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

Features:

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

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

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

Sound & Performance:

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

Pitch Mode

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

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

Delay Mode

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

Crush Mode

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

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

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

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Overall-Rating-4.0

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

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

Eventide Space Review – Best Multi-Algorithm Reverb Pedal?

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

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

Features:

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

Visit Eventide for more info about Space.

Sound & Performance:

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

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

Hall

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

Plate

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

Spring

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

Reverse

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

BlackHole

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

Shimmer

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

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

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

Performing with Space

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

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

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

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Space as an Outboard Processor

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

Space Vs H9

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

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

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Overall-Rating-5.0

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

That concludes our Eventide Space review. Thanks for reading.