Strymon Riverside Multistage Drive Review

Strymon has become synonymous with high-end digital effects pedals with the builder’s flagship TimeLine, BigSky, and Mobius pedals being pinnacles of delay, reverb, and modulation effects, respectively. But while Strymon have covered most bases with their wide range of stompboxes, many guitarists have been clamoring for the builder to tackle a dirt pedal in some form. The Riverside Multistage Drive is their first such offering, and it’s a take on an amp style overdrive & distortion that’s at once familiar yet quite unlike anything that has come before it.

Damage Control

While releasing an overdrive/distortion unit may appear to be a new frontier for Strymon, it’s important for guitarists to remember that the core team behind Strymon’s numerous pedals previously developed several tube-based overdrive and distortion pedals under the Damage Control moniker before later rolling out the Strymon brand. But this new foray into distortion shouldn’t be considered a return their roots for the crew that’s been around since the Damage Control days. Instead, the Riverside is a pedal that encompasses the history of the team’s work together, harnessing their years of accrued experience and sound design expertise while treading entirely new ground; the result has ushered in a surprisingly bold and unexpected new kind of drive pedal.

Features:

Sound Design:

  • Custom cascading multistage distortion topology provides a wide range of tube-inspired drive tones
  • Digitally controlled analog class A JFET input gain stage maximizes headroom while adding up to 20dB of pure analog gain
  • Precision crafted DSP gain stages provide detailed complexity and responsiveness
  • Low gain channel for smooth classic overdrive
  • High gain channel for modern saturated distortion
  • 3-band EQ with independent Bass, Middle and Treble controls
  • Selectable post-analog gain mid-band EQ push
  • Presence switch to tailor the sound for use with all amplifiers from dark to bright
  • Optional variable-threshold noise reduction helps tame noisy guitar pickups

Ins, Outs, Switches:

  • High impedance mono input
  • Mono output
  • Favorite footswitch to save a favorite setting
  • Expression pedal input allows the connection an expression pedal for simultaneous morphing control over multiple parameters (Expression mode), or logarithmic taper for smooth volume control (Volume mode)
  • Boost pedal input allows connection of an external footswitch for up to +6dB of analog boost, or to toggle the Favorite preset on other Strymon pedals (Favorite Out mode)

Audio Quality:

  • Ultra low noise, high performance 24-bit 96kHz A/D and
  • D/A converters provide uncompromising audio quality
  • Premium analog front end and output section
  • Super high performance SHARC DSP in a compact form factor
  • 32-bit floating point processing

More:

  • True Bypass (electromechanical relay switching) or selectable transparent Analog Buffered Bypass
  • Strong and lightweight anodized gold aluminum chassis
  • 9V DC power supply included
  • Power requirements: maximum 9 volts DC center-negative, with a minimum of 250mA of current
  • Dimensions:
    – 4.5″ deep x 4″ wide x 1.75″ tall
    – 11.4 cm deep x 10.2 cm wide x 4.4 cm tall
  • Designed and built in the USA

Visit Strymon for more info about the Riverside.

Sound & Performance:

To simply call the Riverside an overdrive, distortion, or even an “amp-in-a-box” pedal doesn’t do justice to the range of dirt sounds contained within this unassuming little pedal. The pedal’s 3-knob tone section and inclusion of a Presence switch indicate an amp-like style of tonal control which gives the Riverside massive flexibility for sculpting a wide range of overdrive and distortion tones to suit your guitar and amp set-up.

The Riverside excels when used as a more traditional overdrive effect, kicking it on to hit your amp a little harder right in the sweet spot to induce some break-up from the amp while adding some extra grit from the pedal as well. You can also keep your amp completely clean and rev up the Riverside’s Drive so that the pedal does all the heavy lifting. This approach can add all kinds of drive to your tone, from classic rock and blues overdriven sounds to high-gain full stack roar.

What makes the Riverside so enjoyable to play is how well it responds no matter where you have the Drive knob set. This is arguably the pedal’s secret sauce, and Strymon most likely isn’t going to share a white paper detailing how they’ve managed to get such a responsive range of playable sounds out of a drive pedal. Just know that for all the talk from builders in the past about how a particular dirt pedal has a wide range of usable tones, the Strymon Riverside surpasses almost any pedal I’ve come across in this area. Basically, the complex algorithm shifts the response of the pedal through the range of the parameter knobs to offer a varying degree of response depending on where the knobs are set. Every point of adjustable range has been fine-tuned to provide usable sounds. Every setting is a sweet spot. It just depends on what kind of sound you need in a given moment. But the Riverside is musical and inspiring no matter where you have the knobs set.

It’s also commendable how well the pedal responds to your input signal level. You can set the Drive to your preferred max level and cut your guitar’s volume level to reduce the drive from the pedal while maintaining a tonally balanced sound. This is a hallmark of many great pedals and amps, yet the Riverside seems to reinvent the game here in the subtlest of ways. An irony in playing the Riverside is that while I find myself using most pedals in a binary, off/on, “digital” manner, bypassing and engaging them as needed, the Riverside warrants a more analog playability in how it encourages expression from the guitar’s volume knob and the pedal’s Drive parameter. Pull out and expression pedal and “play” the Drive; you’ll see and hear what I mean.

From Low To High

There are 2 primary gain modes in the Riverside: Low & High. Simply put, think of the Low mode as your cleaner, milder drive channel. It’s better suited for general overdrive duties akin to how you’d use a standard lower gain overdrive pedal. It can get pretty gritty when you crank the Drive, yielding mild distortion when cranked. As the Drive knob morphs pedal’s response throughout its entire range, you’ll discover a wide range of usable tones and different applications.

Flipping over to the High setting adds an immediate girth to the sound, making the Riverside sound bigger and fuller. This is where the pedal really seems to take off from a typical overdrive or distortion pedal and ascend to a level of amp-like feel and responsiveness. It’s often difficult not to crank the Drive a bit and riff out with the thick distortion this mode offers. You can tame it and still use it like an overdrive, albeit a drive that’s more present and that sounds “bigger” than many drive pedals. Stack it with an overdriven amp channel for a ripping lead tone or simply use it on its own for adding an extra drive channel to a clean amp. It’s worth noting that the High setting is plenty capable of covering classic rock grit to modern high-gain distortion. With cranked gain you can even scoop the mids for the thrashier metal distortion that retains more note definition and clarity than hairier, muddier noiseboxes.

The Riverside has a built-in noise reduction feature (consult the manual on how to set it to your needs). This is invaluable when using higher gain settings as it’ll help keep your sound tight while maintaining a low noise level when you’re not playing. Kudos to Strymon for squeezing this feature in and for how smoothly it operates once you set it to taste.

Push It!

The Push switch adds a mid EQ “push”. Sounds simple enough, but it’s worth flipping back and forth on various settings to hear how it affects your tone depending on how you have the other parameters set. An easy use for it is to simply apply some extra mid-boost for your overdrive sounds. I also find it rather appealing to activate the Push when using the High gain mode; whether for classic distortion or mid-scooped metal tones, the extra mid presence lets your guitar sound cut through a bit more and adds a bit of extra touch sensitivity. It just adds a little extra bite without any top-end harshness.

There are some other interesting features that round out this exceptional pedal. You can set the Riverside to either true bypass or buffered bypass to accommodate either preference. There’s a Volume Mode which allows the use of an external expression pedal to control the Riverside’s output volume. You can also use an external foot-switch to control a boost up to +6dB. (The Boost and Volume Mode can also be used if the pedal is bypassed when set to buffered bypass.) There’s an onboard Favorite switch for saving a favorite preset to be recalled at will. There’s also a Favorite Output mode which allows you to activate the Favorite setting of another compatible Strymon pedal when pressing the Riverside’s Favorite switch. And of course you can use a Strymon Favorite MiniSwitch to activate/bypass the Favorite setting on the Riverside.

I was pleased that Strymon chose to have the Riverside “remember” its bypass state when last powered on. This is useful for effects switcher based rigs where you’d typically want all of your pedals to automatically enter their activated state when powering up your rig. But this does bring attention to my one major gripe about the pedal. I wish Strymon had implemented the possibility for the EXP jack to accept TRS switch control of the Bypass and Favorite foot-switches, similar to amp-style remote channel switching. Some other noteworthy boutique pedals do this, and it’s extremely convenient when using an effects switcher that has TRS control outs so that you don’t have to waste an effects loop to accommodate the a pedal. The Riverside sounds amazing enough to integrate into such a rig despite this inconvenience, but it’s a persisting annoyance considering a software update could potentially add this useful feature. And of course, it would be nice if Strymon would finally head the call to add MIDI control to their compact pedals, but I’m not gonna give ’em too much heat for that here. The TRS switching is the most essential order of business this pedal needs in a firmware update. With that being said, the Riverside is still deserving of my highest commendation.

The Strymon Riverside Multistage Drive is arguably one of the most versatile and musical “dirt” pedals ever released. If you noticed that I didn’t really talk about the fact that this pedal is a primarily a “digital” distortion pedal (with an analog front end), that’s because frankly, it doesn’t matter. The Riverside sounds incredible and blows away nearly any other pedal you can compare it to for amp-style overdrive and distortion. It may be hard for some guitarists to get that excited for what may seem at first like just another drive pedal, but the Riverside is a modern masterpiece of drive tones.

That concludes our Strymon Riverside review. Thanks for reading.

Hologram Electronics Infinite Jets Resynthesizer Review

 

Infinite Jets. There is only one Infinite Jets. This is infinite Jets.

 

Infinite Jets is a work of art. Now, usually when you hear someone say that, it’s just hyperbole. But this is not hyperbole, and I may not mean this in the way that you’re thinking. A work of art is something that is created to express an emotion or a statement. A work of art, once finished, is finite in its existence, meaning it is now just there, presented to the world, open and ready for interpretation. Although a work of art is complete, it lives on with fluidity as it is interpreted differently by each and every individual that comes in contact with it. This is the concept that brings me to Infinite Jets. This effect box is just that. It is this work of art, presented to the world. Because of the unique nature of this effect box, it will be viewed, understood, interpreted, and ultimately used differently by each user. Therefore, there really is no way to write “the definitive Infinite Jets review” and be under 10,000 words. Much like differing opinions on a painting, your personal experiences with this pedal will likely differ from mine, and from anyone else. How exciting is that? I will do my best to bring you the facts and share some of my personal discoveries. Mostly, you want to know what this thing does. You want to know if it’s usable. You want to know if the effects are repeatable. Well, I’ve got great news.

As an overview, the Infinite Jets features two individual sampling channels to turn your incoming signal into something… different, yet, the same. In other words, a reinterpretation of what you are feeding into it. This allows for incredible results for those of us who feel stuck in a box, creatively. The sampling channels can be set up as “poly,” “mono,” or “manual.” In manual, you can activate the channels in real time with the foot switches and those can be configured in momentary, latching, or toggle.

The main encoder knob controls the “voice” or “mode” you are in. Ten in all, plus two additional user modes. You have options for “blur,” “synth,” “glitch,” and “swell.”
Three other knobs control envelope shape, envelope time (includes infinity), and dimension. Dimension performs a different task for each preset. Secondary controls for each of these include LFO shape, LFO frequency, and LFO depth. Two additional knobs allow for control of an analog drive circuit (with a secondary tone control) and a knob for wet/dry blend (With a secondary function of master volume). Personally, I feel like the most important knob on a freaky pedal is a wet/dry knob, and this pedal is certainly freaky.

The three switches are there to control bypass/engage, channel A, and channel B. The bypass/engage LED is pretty cool. Red when bypassed and blue when engaged. Press and hold the channel A switch to activate the LFO adjustments. Press and hold A & B together to calibrate the unit for the incoming signal.

Ins and outs are fairly sparse. Mono input, mono output, 9v power, and a TRS expression jack.

Infinite Jets gives you the ability to record and save knob movements, much like “automation control,” if you’re familiar with that concept in recording consoles. Further controls allow you to do things like change the brightness of the LED’s, save presets, and disable the automatic gain compensation. I told you thing goes on for infinity!

Let’s take a closer look at the features of this pedal.

 

Features:

Four Distinct Voice Presets. Four different voices divided into ten different preset variations. These presets are super unique in that they use several different ways of transforming the sound of your playing into something completely new, yet undeniably akin to the original sound. Yes. It’s magic.

  • BLUR: The “Blur” preset is perfectly named since it
    removes the normal attack and decay characteristics of your instrument giving is a sound with undefined edges. This is useful for creating a “hazy” and “atmospheric” kind of sound. For this preset, “Dimension” controls a combination of delay time, filtering, and feedback which drastically changes the perceived “space” of the affected sound. Automating the Dimension knob in Blur mode can create flanging, chorus, vibrato, and even pitch-bending. Blur is divided into four sub- categories. 0, +1, -1, and +/-1. This is how you can control the scale of the undertones generated in Blur mode.
  • SYNTH: In “Synth” mode, your instrument’s signal is converted into one of two synth sounds. Synth A is a hard-edged, digital sound, while Synth B is a softer, airy kind of sound with a gentle chorus. When using Synth, the Dimension controls the low pass filter’s cutoff frequency. In combination with the Drive control, Dimension, and use of the LPF, lead sounds and pad sounds can be achieved.
  • GLITCH: The “Glitch” mode is very unique. Divided into A and B, Glitch chops your incoming signal into looping fragments and reassembles them in two distinct ways. Glitch A creates short loops and allows the user to choose one of four sample lengths. Glitch B is much less predictable. The incoming signal is stored in one of six memory blocks selected at random and played back. You choose between having the intervals randomized or controlled. You get to manipulate the signal in real time and re-organize the sound into different stuttering patterns on the fly. I found the Glitch mode to be one of my favorites. But, then, I’m kind of a glitch guy, myself. Glitch B is not only very special, but is rather unique on this unit. The Dry control functions a bit differently here. When Dry is set to “0%” the output mix will full switch between the effected signal and the original instrument signal when the sampler is turned on or off. This allows the looping fragments to occasionally “interrupt” the dry signal. This preset is meant for, as the manual puts it, “chaos, unpredictability, and excitement.” The manual then goes on to my favorite part… “The loops that the preset creates are ephemeral and cannot be saved; as you create them you are hearing it for both the first and last time.” Oh, my! There’s something truly special about that. I guess if you’re really worried about losing something, and you really do want to cheat the universe, you could always dump your real- time playing into a looper pedal or your DAW.
  • SWELL: The “Swell” preset really is fairly self- explanatory. With this preset, divided into A and B, you can add dramatic volume swell effects to your playing. You can even use the repeat waveform to create tremolo effects. The effected signal is fed into a delay (controlled by Dimension) which can be modulated by the LFO, envelope, or recorded knob movements. Automating this control, you can get sounds that range from tape warble, to chorus, even pitch-shifting vibrato sounds. Swell A uses the dynamics of your playing to trigger a volume envelope. Swell B adds waveshaping to the signal, allowing for that coveted violin-like sustained fuzz and distorted tones that are on the verge of destroying everything. Things are a little different in this mode as far as controls go. Since Swell doesn’t capture and sample your playing, the trigger modes work slightly different. In Poly mode, the Infinite Jets will play through the entire envelope each time a note is triggered. In Mono mode, it will apply only the attack portion of the envelope. This allows you to play faster without getting all muddied up. Think of this in the same way you might shorten delay trails for faster playing. Interesting results can be achieved when using the momentary switches to trigger A and B, injecting your playing into the delay causing your signal to jump out from the mix and occupy a very different space. You can then release the switch and the note will decay naturally. This is one of the more interesting effects you can get from the Infinite Jets. I preferred it with a nice cloud kind of reverb after it using my Empress Effects Reverb pedal.

Two Independent channels of sampling: The Infinite Jets features two separate channels where your signal is sampled and then manipulated offering infinite sustain of two different notes, sounds, or chords at one time. They can overlap, or meet up end to end. These samples can be triggered automatically, by note attack, or manually with the foot switches.

Two User Save Slots: Once you have found the perfect sound (and the Infinite Jets has more than ONE perfect sound) (ok, a LOT more than one) you can save two of them into the user presets slots. If you want to save more than that, I’d make an effort to come up with some method of saving and organizing. Maybe, at the time you save, take a quick cell pic and/or make some notes. This way you can repeat these same sounds later if you need to save over one of your slots. I filled both slots the first day I sat with the Infinite Jets. To save a preset, simply press and hold A and B switches for two seconds and then release. Turn the voice encoder knob to “Preset A” or “Preset B.” Then press and release the A and B switches again for two seconds. Easy.

Internal LFO: At your service is an internal LFO. There if you want it, waiting in hiding if you don’t. The LFO provides a continuously sweeping control signal that can be used to modulate the Dimension control. Six wave forms are available to choose from. Shifting the Dimension control in a predictable does a great job of adding complexity to the sound. All LFO settings are saved per preset.

*Bonus! You can change what Infinite Jets uses to modulate the Dimension control. You can use the Envelope Generator instead of the LFO! Press and hold the “A Switch.” While holding you can flip the “Trigger Toggle” left for LFO, and right for Envelope Generator. Envelope Generator can be pretty cool. Instead of a continuous sweep, like the LFO, the Envelope Generator only plays once each time a new note is triggered.

 

 

Three Foot Switch Modes: Infinite Jets allows you to alter the behavior of the foot switches. Choose between Momentary, Toggle, and Latching. This allows you to have specific control options for triggering the sampling engines.

Input Calibration: Possibly the most important feature of the Infinite Jets is the input calibration. This allows the pedal to “learn” your instrument’s output level and, equally important, your playing dynamics. It’s very simple to complete and should be done each time you plug in a new instrument or change your dynamics, i.e. playing a soft/delicate song vs. rocking out. Why is this so important? Well, for your notes to trigger properly and for the Infinite Jets to process the envelope, you will need it to “know” what you’re playing and how you’re playing it. I personally tested this out by tricking it. I set the calibration with really hard playing dynamics and then played soft. I had a hard time triggering the sampler. Also, the other way around, calibrated for soft playing and then rocked out. The sampler was sloppy and it didn’t “feel” right. Like we were kind of fighting. Proper calibration is very easy to achieve and make the pedal perform seamlessly. Just do it.

Knob Automation Recording: One very cool feature of the Infinite Jets is what they refer to as “Recording and Looping Knob Movements.” It’s simple to do, all you need to do is press and hold the center (Bypass) switch. Then turn the Dimension knob the way that you want it to go. Be creative! The pedal remembers your moves and then begins to play back and loop this movement. Keep your eye on the “Mod” LED to get a visual feedback of what’s going on. The brighter the LED, the more clockwise the Dimension control is. The unit will record your movements for 10 seconds, or until the Bypass switch has been released. The Mod LED will change from red to blue as you are getting close to the end of the 10 seconds. To stop and override the recorded automation loop, simply move the Dimension knob.

Controls For Everything: Ultimate sound-sculpting is at your fingertips with the control surface of the Infinite Jets. You have total control over the the envelope shape and time as well as control over the LFO shape, frequency (rate), and depth. Control over the analog drive circuit, wet/dry balance, tone, and master volume. You also can control the sampling engines with the foot switches. Furthermore, you can record knob automation or go with knob-twisting on the fly with an expression pedal assigned to anything you desire.

This brings me to the control surface of the Infinite Jets. Let’s have a look at the knobs in detail.

 

 

Knobs:

Envelope Shape: Change the attack and decay characteristics of the sampled notes. These conrols are very familiar to anyone that has used a synth-style keyboard. All the familiar wave forms, six in all, including a sine wave, a square wave, and three different sawtooth shapes, symmetrical, fast attack, and slow attack. A sixth option is for a randomized wave form. Envelope Shape control works in tandem with the Envelope Time control, which determines the duration of the selected wave form.

Secondary function for Envelope Shape is LFO Shape.

Envelope Time: Adjust the length of your envelope from very short to very long. Two additional options are “Infinite,” which will sustain your note, infinitely, until you play another, and “Repeat,” which loops the current envelope shape. Think of those last two like this… 1=Attack 2=Decay
Infinite: 1———————————2
Repeat: 1212121212121212121212

Secondary function for Envelope Time is LFO Frequency.

Dimension: This is kind of a magical knob. It has a different job depending on which preset mode you are in. The value of this knob is displayed with the MOD LED. Here is a table of the functions of the Dimension knob, per preset voice:
Blur: Space/Feedback
Synth: Lowpass Filter Cutoff
Glitch A: Sample Playback Length
Glitch B: Sample Selector
Swell: Space/Feedback

When using Blur or Swell, Dimension controls combination of delay, filtering, and feedback which changes the perceived size and space of the sound. Automating the Dimension control can create flanging, chorus, and even pitch-bending vibrato.

When using Synth A and Synth B, Dimension controls the low past filter cutoff frequency. The filter can be automated or controlled by the internal LFO or envelope.

In Glitch A, Dimension selects one of four sample lengths to play back. Automating the control can yield interesting rhythmic effects as you move between short and long samples.

In Glitch B, Dimension can be used to scroll back through the six notes stored in the pedal’s memory. You can get super interesting combinations of small looped segments of rearranged audio. Continuing to play over it will overwrite old blocks allowing the pattern to evolve over time.

Secondary function for Dimension is LFO Depth.

Voice: The Voice encoder knob allows for control over four different voices, sub-divided into ten different modes. Two additional slots are there for saving your two user presets.

The Voice knob does not have secondary function.

Drive: The Drive knob adds an analog drive stage at the output. All the way CCW, and the drive is off. Even thought the drive is 100% analog, the setting is controlled digitally, meaning the knob position is saved as part of your user presets. One very cool feature of the Drive control is that as you increase the drive, the output volume is is reduced, proportionally. Even though the drive is capable of providing more than 10x gain, it will remain smooth and consistent as you increase or decrease drive. Of course, if you don’t care for that, a different gain mode can be selected at startup. Genius.

Secondary function for Drive is Tone Control.

Dry: The Dry knob controls your wet/dry balance. This one is also digitally controlled and your settings are saved in your presets. At noon, your wet and dry signals are at 50/50, and the control goes from full wet to full dry.

Secondary function of the Dry knob is Master Volume.

Toggles, Switches, LED’s, Ins/Outs:
There is also a three-way toggle switch that allows you to select the Trigger Mode. Selections are Polly, Mono, and Manual. In Polly Mode, the two sample channels are overlapping as they play back and forth. In Mono Mode, each channel plays only after the other channel has ended. Instead of blending together, they play one after the other. In Manual Mode, you select the channel sampling manually using the foot switches A and B.

There are three soft-touch foot switches. From left to right they are:

  • “A” This switch is for manually activating sampling channel A. It can be set up in momentary, latching, or toggle. Press and hold “A” to access secondary functions for the knobs, as described above.
    You can also press and hold “A” to adjust what the pedal will use to modulate the Dimension. While holding, flip the Trigger Toggle, left for LFO, and right for Envelope Generator.
  • “B/E” The center switch is for Bypass/Engage. When the pedal is bypassed, the LED is red. When engaged, the LED turns blue.
  • “B” This switch is for manually activating sampling channel B. Like “A,” it can be set up in momentary, latching, and toggle. You can alter the switch behavior with “B.” Press and hold “B” and flip the Trigger Toggle. Switch left for “Toggle” operation (yellow LED). Switch to the center for “Latching” (red LED). Switch right for “Momentary” operation (blue LED).

A secondary function of the switches is for calibration of the unit. Hold down the “B/E” and “B” switches to enter calibration mode.

Besides the B/E LED, there are four additional LED’s located on the right side of the pedal. These LED’s are worth mentioning as they are super helpful in using the pedal properly. The main function of these LED’s is for real-time feedback of input signal, sampling channel playback, and modulation LFO.

Four LED’s arranged in a “T” shape, three across the top, and one on the bottom.

The outer two on top are for sampling channel feedback. Left side is Channel A, and right side is Channel B. You’ll see them see-saw back and forth as you play… When the LED is lit, the sampling channel is playing back. If you stop playing, you’ll see the LED’s lit as the sample plays, then turn off as the sample comes to and end (depending on how the envelope time is set). When neither of these LED are lit, there will be nothing coming out of the sampling channels.

The LED in between those two is for your incoming signal. When the Infinite Jets receives a signal strong enough to trigger the samplers, this LED will light up. This LED will also display automation data applied to the Drive control.

The LED on the bottom of this “T” is the MOD. This displays either the value of the Dimension control or the value of any modulation sources controlling Dimension. If you have ever had a pedal with a “Rate” LED, like the bottom left LED on a Chase Bliss pedal, it works just like that. If you have an LFO going you’ll see this LED “blinking” in real time with that LFO.

 

 

The pedal has surprisingly sparse ins and outs. A single mono audio input and a single mono audio output. For something this cool, I would love to see stereo on the output. Having the modulations ping-pong between channels would be incredible. Furthermore, additional creative options such as assigning Sampling Channel A to the left output and Sampling Channel B to the right output would open up some fantastic options in a stereo rig. I have seen a few comments online where some Infinite Jets users have wished there was a separate out for the synth itself. I think what they’re really referring to is an effects loop like the EHX Superego has where you can run the wet synth signal through its own batch of effects. Handy for using your own flavor of drive pedal or reverb. I’m not totally sure why they can’t just run the Infinite Jets into the drive pedal plugged in after it. But maybe a loop where you could insert between the synth and the drive would have been useful. I also hear a few wants for independent outputs for synth and dry. Hard to say. I, personally, like things fairly simple. I never would have thought of this if I hadn’t seen these comments online. But this goes back to where I wrote that everyone is going to use this thing differently. They’ll also have different ideas of what it “needs.”

The input and output are side-mounted On an enclosure this large, I would like to have seen top-mounted jacks. Up top you will find a standard TRS jack for expression. It would be very lonely up there were it not for the only other jack, the 9v input. 200mA minimum current required.

Then the obvious… No MIDI(?!). This is by far the largest complaint in all that I have read by those using it and those interested in it. I certainly get that. I have a MIDI brain and kind of just expect MIDI on something like this. Other “do a lot” pedals like the WMD Geiger Counter, the Earthquaker Palisades, and the Strymon Sunset have made the mistake of giving you countless options and no way to keep a bunch of them ready at your beck and call. Now, unlike those others I just mentioned, the Infinite Jets at least allows you to save two onboard presets. If any of you are familiar with the early versions of Chase Bliss Audio pedals (the MkI versions), then you understand this ability to save and recall two presets. Chase Bliss Audio quickly abandoned this as the only option for saving & recalling presets on their complex pedals and ran with full-on MIDI capabilities. I am not sure why the Infinite Jets does not have MIDI. After all, the groundbreaking debut pedal from Hologram Electronics, the Dream Sequence, is fully MIDI-enabled. To be totally honest, the Infinite Jets’ lack of MIDI functionality was a big complaint of mine when I first started researching the pedal. Now that I have been using it for quite some time, I am certainly far less concerned with a lack of MIDI. Two user slots are nice, and I use them with rotating ideas, but this pedal is kind of an ever-evolving, creative fluidity kind of thing. Locking in presets doesn’t seem completely useful unless you come up with something very specific in the studio and you need to emulate it perfectly on a live performance using the Infinite Jets. I don’t plan to use this pedal on stage, personally. My current boards are very small and just wouldn’t support such a large pedal, larger horizontally considering its side-mounted jacks. If you needed to use it on stage and needed to emulate some exact sounds, you’ll have three presets at your disposal. The two user presets and your “live mode.” But, again, I don’t see this as being a “live pedalboard” kind of thing. It’s a creativity tool used mostly on the front end of song writing and recording. I look forward to many of you proving me wrong, though! Let me see those massive live rigs with one or two Infinite Jets laying it down for our enjoyment!

If you’d like to see a multitude of instruments ran through the Infinite Jets, have a look at this video from Knobs.

Visit Hologram Electronics for more info about the Infinite Jets.

 

Sound & Performance:

Get Ready To Go To Space.

Not only does the Infinite Jets LOOK like something off of a spaceship from the Alien series, it produces sounds that’ll take you there. Feed this box the most simple signals and you get more than your fair share in return. It’s like putting in a dollar and getting back $49.95. I gave it kind of a workout. I fed it a Les Paul, a Strat, a Yamaha digital piano, and a bass guitar. Everything sounded cool and correct. It helps a lot that the volume automatically levels off properly with increased gain. Also, the ability to globally compensate for tone and volume control helped when changing instruments. The thing that helped the most, and maybe where this guy really shines, is the input calibration. When opening the package, the first thing you’ll see is this little green card reminding you to calibrate for your instrument/playing dynamics. It’s the first thing you see because it’s SUPER important. It’s a very simple process, but if overlooked, will greatly alter the ability of your Infinite Jets to process your signal properly.

The Infinite Jets is a combination of digital DSP processing and digitally-controlled-analog circuits. The main processing gets done in a DSP processor at 48kHz sampling rate, then goes to an analog drive and tone section at the output. The drive and tone section, although all-analog, is digitally-controlled, meaning all of your settings can be saved as well as controlled with expression. The dry signal path on the infinite jets is 100% analog. In early prototypes of the Hologram Dream Sequence, the designers were never really satisfied with the sound of the pedal until they ran it through an analog dirt pedal to “rough it up a bit.” Eventually, they decided to just build it into the pedal itself. Although it seemed a little on the bright side for guitar, I really loved the sound of the drive when using a bass guitar.

 

Inspiration, Philosophy, And Interpretation

 

At the start of this review, I got into the idea that this pedal is going to be open to different interpretations and different ways of being used by everyone that plugs into it. In a recent conversation with designer Ryan Schaefer, we talked about some of the inspiration for the pedal and some of the philosophy behind its many uses.

The inspiration for Infinite Jets makes a lot of sense once you understand what it’s doing. Ryan has clocked a ton of hours in the studio producing his band, Royal Bangs, as well as records for other people. Often times in the studio, he would feel “stuck” on a song. It needed that little something extra, but sometimes it’s hard to know what that is until after you find it. Many of us can relate to this concept. He said that they’d just reach for whatever oddball pedal or plug-in they could find and let the (often limited) parameters determine the characteristics of the sound coming out the other end. I know I have done this, for sure. Many times I will just randomly rearrange the order of effects as well as partner effects that normally don’t go together. The Infinite Jets is your “stuck in a box, randomized sound-sculpting creativity tool” effect pedal. At the very least, keep this thing around for those times when you just cant find a cool bass guitar sound. For when you wish your piano just had something COOL going on. For when you want your guitar to sound like it’s doing so much more than what your fingers are putting in. When you’re stuck in that creative rut, the Infinite Jets will pull you out.

“The Infinite Jets definitely has a lot going on.” Ryan Schaefer told me. “I think it probably asks a lot more of the user than some other pedals, but hopefully the end result is that it can be that something that helps generate ideas you wouldn’t ordinarily arrive at without it.” This statement not only hints at what I was just covering in the above paragraph, but it also gets back to what I was saying earlier about the philosophy and interpretation of this effect pedal. I could see some people being less than patient with it and giving up too soon. It took me quite a while before I really understood what it was doing. It wasn’t until that moment that I understood what I could use it for and how to interact with it. Consider this… It is similar to the idea of how you interact with a delay pedal. The best example I can come up with is a dotted 8th delay. When you set a delay pedal for dotted 8th notes, the feedback of the delay signal making an impact on your ears literally determines how you will play. You suddenly kind of merge with it and work together. It’s totally automatic, and maybe many of you have never even really thought about this before. I definitely arrived at a point where I finally understood what it was doing and I began to interact with the Infinite Jets in a way that totally made sense and it began to change the way I was playing. Now, I’m not saying you need to go to the “Infinite Jets training course” or anything. I’m not saying this pedal is daunting or intimidating. Quite the opposite, really. I am saying that it will seem that way when you first start using it. Stick with it. Try all kinds of things and don’t be afraid to push buttons and twist knobs! You will begin to see what is happening and then react accordingly with your playing and/or pedal settings. With a little patience, your efforts will come back in beautiful waves of Infinite Jets.

 

 

The Hologram Electronics Infinite Jets is a unique work of art in pedal form that will be highly sought after for its truly one-of-a-kind sounds and highly coveted for its ability to inspire, change, and ignite creativity on a whole new level. It’s fairly impressive when a pedal can change your ideas and even the way you approach your playing style. The Infinite Jets kind of shook me up and asked me to think about things in a new way. In a world where it seems like every effect has already been thought of and nothing is new, the Infinite Jets politely begs you to reconsider. This pedal is now my personal new “go-to” when I want to create something completely different. When I am in the studio and I am wanting that piano to be just a little different, or that bass line to just have a little something extra, or those guitar riffs to just go completely off the charts… I’m going to reach for the Infinite Jets.

That concludes our Hologram Electronics Infinite Jets review. Thanks for reading.

Dwarfcraft Devices Twin Stags Double Tremolo Review

We present to you the Dwarfcraft Twin Stags Double Tremolo pedal. This blood red stag is a rare beast, an ambitious pedal that offers two discreet tremolo effects, dual cv inputs & LFO outputs for integration with modular systems, and two expression inputs. The features alone are enough to whet the appetite, but how does it sound and function in use? Spoiler alert: top-notch, and the Twin Stags feels like an instrument among pedals.

Dwarfcraft seems to have a brilliant penchant and strength for building imaginative fuzz pedals, crazy pitch shifters, and modular inspired pedals. Others in that latter group include the Happiness multi-mode filter pedal and ARF (Attack, Release, Filter). I adore filter pedals, especially ones that offer modular integration, and those are two I’m also eager to try soon.

From Dwarfcraft I sense roots and appreciation for both classic to heavy electric guitar tones along with wild and fun sound exploration. There’s an integrity and strong vision at Dwarfcraft. Their pedals have a cool indy DIY esthetic and relay integrity in quality materials and craft. They offer a limited lifetime warranty, free repairs due to manufacturing defects, and a reasonable bench rate for mess ups that are your own “damn fault”.

I approached the Twin Stags with enthusiasm on its promising sound exploration and modular integration and also in part due to the reputation of this esteemed builder. But what happens when you plug in and play a pedal is most important. Here’s a feature overview before we get to my full review.

Features

The Twin Stags features two discreet tremolos. Each has its own:

  • Rate, Shape (saw to ramp), and Depth knobs (-/+, mid position = off)
  • 1/8” CV inputs to control the Twin Stags tremolo effects, bypassing the knobs
  • 1/8” LFO outputs before the Depth knob (attenuator) is applied>
  • 1/4” Expression inputs to control the LFO rates
  • LED rate indicator

Twin Stags singular features:

  • 2MOD1 switch that when activated (up) Tremolo 2 modulates Tremolo 1. When the switch is down, Tremolo 1 and 2 are both discreet tremolos again.
  • 1/4” mono input and output audio
  • Bypass footswitch with an LED light to indicate when the pedal is active
  • 9v power which upconverts to 18v

Impressions on Build

The dark red metal casing and mirrored stag line art are lovely and cool. The knobs have a good turn feel to them; they’re not too loose, so you can control more evolving changes, but also not too stiff, so you can make fast changes as desired. This pedal is fairly tall compared to other pedals, an extra convenience for having a raised platform on your back row of pedals, but it would make pedals behind it harder to step on, a non-issue with clever board placement on on a surface modular setup. The narrower knobs make it seem taller yet. It will just fit into my Pedaltrain board, and the bag zips snugly closed. Although it can fit into a Pedaltrain board and bag, I probably wouldn’t keep it in one. I would want to give it enough floor or table area to take advantage of all the wired modular integration that’s possible with it.

Visit Dwarfcraft Devices for more info about the Twin Stags.

Sound & Performance:

I integrated the Twin Stags with a modular Eurorack system, feeding it a simple VCO sine wave across a range of frequencies with a long gated decay and no other effects except for the Twin Stag.

Tremolo 1 and 2, each taken alone, in low to medium rates can serve classic tremolo expectations. Guitar players could set it and forget it basic tremolo sounds, but that’s not really the point of this pedal. It’s meant to be experimented with and tweaked, and things get extra fun when using Tremolo 1 and 2 in tandem.

Tremolo 1 is the faster of the two. All the way to the left, there are about 4 seconds between each cycle. In medium rate ranges and while moving the rate knob live, I achieved an effect that was sweet and expressive, something akin to the vibrato of a violin player at moments. At higher rates where it starts to self-oscillate, it’s a machine that takes off, asserting itself into the mix with its own tone and harmonics. This is delightful wow territory to discover as the higher rates are like adding another dirty synth, creating an industrial vibe as grime and pseudo-ring modulation are added to the mix.

Tremolo 2 can go slow in ominous 30 seconds cycles, which is great for evolving soundscapes. In medium to fast rates and working with Tremolo 1, it’s sort of a kick drum here, which brings me to one of the Twin Stags’ unique strengths of creating interesting rhythmic effects. At faster rates, when the Shape and Depth knobs of Tremolo 2 are the same direction, far left or right, the sound is like a metallic clang or bouncing ball. When the Shape and Depth knobs are in opposite direction of each other, there’s a reverse quality like fluttering wings. On a long decay at slow and moderate rates, the Twin Stags can sound like a delay.

The Shape knobs control the triangle core LFOs which move from ramp to saws and points between. The Shape knobs at the extreme left or right add more of a synth bite to the mix. At slow and medium rates the differences can seem to less noticeably affect the vibe. At higher rates, you can almost see the sound go frenetic like an electric cactus. I like that this pedal can be subtle and then veer into high energy and harshness.

The Depth knobs at 12 o’clock shut off a given Tremolo effect; Turning Depth o the left increases the negative depth and to the right increases the positive depth. I set both Depth knobs to 12 o’clock to start, and then slowly brought in one Depth knob at a time which helped me hear how the tremolos interact with the sound separately and how they interact with each other. It’s a good idea to explore the pedal like this to learn how the Depth knobs affect the sound.

The Bypass switch is solid. Even when the Twin Stags is creating wild high energy sounds, the Bypass switch is smooth, adding no loud pops or clicks to the signal path.

2MOD1 switch: In the down position, the Tremolos are discreet and don’t interact. In the up position, Tremolo 2 modulates Tremolo 1. With lower and medium rates, this effect smooths out the Twin Stags’ rhythmic effect. With Tremolo 1 going faster in the self-oscillation range, Tremolo 2’s rising & falling wave shapes are pronounced, creating stretching and constricting siren passages.

CV inputs 1 & 2 completely control the given Tremolo, bypassing the knob controls. This is a great feature for those seeking to integrate and control the Twin Stags with a modular system. Occasionally, a given LFO shape and rate would create more “clicking” than desired. I don’t see this as an issue with the Twin Stags, but rather the nature of the LFO shapes. Most of the time, it worked really well, so it’s just a matter of getting familiar ahead of time with what’s going to work well. Having the CV inputs feature definitely adds interest and value to this pedal for modular enthusiasts.

I feel like there are never enough LFOs to modulate all the possibilities, so it’s great to have the Twin Stag 2 LFO outputs to augment a modular system. The Rate, Shape, and Depth all work the same, except that with the Depth knob, the sound won’t cut out at 12 o’clock. Feeding LFO 2 at the slowest setting into the pitch of an oscillator really gives a sense of the range and how slow this LFO can go. LFO 1 at higher rate settings into a pitch created some enticing animalistic purrs to fuzzy motors. Using the Twin Stag’s LFOs to control other modular systems and features adds to the layers of what makes the Twins Stags versatile and playable.

Expression Inputs 1 & 2 modulate the Rate of each respective Tremolo. In testing with an Expression LFO wave generator, the wave shape cycles would come in and out, creating steady pulses with expressive blooms based on wherever the rate knob was set. The Expression inputs work with current knob settings, as opposed to the CV inputs bypassing the knobs. Using the Expression inputs and the Rate knobs together, I was able to create some intricate phrasing and calligraphy-like flourishes.

The Twin Stags contributes a gorgeous analog richness and dark bent. If I was making soundtracks for paranormal or artful horror movies or games, this would be one of my go-to effects. In a short period of time, I would place the Twin Stags among my favorite effects pedals, particularly due to its unique tremolo effects and innovative modular capabilities. It makes sense that I would fall for this pedal as it has both sound and integration possibilities that exalt experimental artistry.

The Dwarfcraft Devices Twin Stags can serve classic tremolo needs for guitarists while adding remarkable and versatile possibilities for sound explorers and musicians who want to have a pedal that can integrate with modular gear. I experienced a lot of delightfully creative zones while playing the Twin Stags, and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. There’s a vast emotive and animated territory to explore with it. It sparked my imagination many times in how cinematic it is. I can imagine using it for improvised experimental sets, as well as more intentional sound sculpting, and using it to generate a plethora of unique samples to further process or sequence. I would use it on any synth or guitar and possibly consider it for drum machines as well.

That concludes our Dwarfcraft Devices Twin Stags review. Thanks for reading.

EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run Review – Best Stereo Delay/Reverb Pedal?

For the better part of the last year and a half, my existence as an effects aficionado has trembled in the shadow of a great rectangular force, its chthonic tendrils gently coaxing me into fantasies laden thick with ambient wash. I am, of course, referring to EarthQuaker’s much sought after atmospheric cornerstone, the Avalanche Run. If you need any introduction to the Avalanche Run, you should consider your knowledge of modern guitar effects woefully lacking, but I’ll humor those out of the loop.

The Avalanche Run is a Stereo Delay/Reverb with 3 impressive voices, multiple expression controls, and tap-tempo, which is a first for EarthQuaker Devices. It has been lauded as one of the best delay pedals on the market today by merit of its simple playability and wide tonal wheelhouse. I’ve been chomping at the bit to see if it deserves such praise, and while I’m confident that EQD, who have been cranking out pedal after pedal to the tune of “modern standard” for thirteen years, wouldn’t falter on such an ambitious product, I plan to pull no punches as I tease out what makes the Avalanche Run one of the best.

Features:

  • 3 Voices controlled by center toggle:
    Normal: Digital Delay into Plate Reverb
    Reverse: Reverse Delay into Plate Reverb
    Swell: Auto Volume Swell into Delay into Plate Reverb
  • 6 Parameter Knobs:
    Time: Sets the time of the Delay repeats inside a range of 0ms to just below of 2000ms
    Repeats: Sets the repeats from 1 to infinity
    Tone: Standard tone control for the delay
    Delay Mix: Volume control for the Delay repeats
    Decay: Controls the tail length of the Reverb
    Reverb Mix: Volume control for the Reverb circuit
  • Side-mounted Expression in with 6 controllable Expression parameters: Delay Mix, Reverb Mix, Repeats, Decay, Time, Toggle (Crossfades from Normal to Reverse)
  • 6 bypass configurations: True Bypass, Short Tails, Medium Tails, Long Tails, User defined (set by Repeat knob), Sound on Sound
  • Tap Tempo
  • 6 repeat subdivisions
  • Controllable Self-Oscillation (hold tap tempo)
  • Stereo I/O
  • 24bit 96kHz ADAC for analog/digital conversion

Visit EarthQuaker Devices for more info about the Avalanche Run.

Build & Sound Quality:

The Avalanche Run is EarthQuaker’s loving pseudo-expansion upon their gifted ambient baby, the Dispatch Master. The reason I say “psuedo-expansion” is because while EarthQuaker worked hard to emulate the Dispatch Master in some important ways, the Avalanche Run is built around an entirely original DSP, which Jamie Stillman and the ‘Quakers worked on for “at least 2 hours.” If I’m being as crude as possible, we’re looking at an analog-voiced digital delay running in series through a reverb. However, if all you’re looking for is a plain ole delay/reverb combo, a common package to an ever-increasingly frustrating degree in the effects world, you needn’t invest in the Avalanche Run to accomplish what the Dispatch Master and its contemporaries easily have locked down. That’s not why we’re here. We who recall the Dispatch Master fondly remember the vast open spaces it dropped us into, and the thought that EQD is giving us more of that excites me to no end. Indeed, those atmospheric feels and much, MUCH more are all contained inside the Avalanche Run. The real draw to the Avalanche Run though is its incredible flexibility, which serves not just as the boldest entry in its list of actionable talents but the very nature of the thing itself and places it head and shoulders above a huge portion of the market. I know that sounds vague, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. The payoff is huge.

So, what have we got on the face panel? On the top row from left to right there are controls for the Time of the delay (which goes from 0ms to just shy of 2000ms,) Repeats (1 to Infinity,) what sounds like a standard Tone knob that can roll off either the highs or lows, and a Mix for the delay signal, which will not just blend your dry tone with the affected signal but also attenuate the dry down to naught when dialed past 3 o’clock. On the bottom we have a hard rotary that determines what the expression input does, a Decay to control the length of the reverb, a Mix which functions identically to the delay’s, and another hard rotary knob that splits up the tap-tempo into one of 6 time divisions. I’m an expression guy, so what stands out to me here are the expression-controllable parameters that the Avalanche Run offers. EarthQuaker has given us six here to play with, and each adds a new way to play. The Decay and R Mix settings control the length and mix of the reverb respectively, and are great for organically deciding how much of the mix you want to take up in real time. Toggle crossfades the signal from the standard delay repeats to the reversed repeats, effectively enabling you to effortlessly wield two modes in one. My favorite expression control has to be the Time, which will open up a world of pitch-altering time warps. Not to be forgotten are the D. Mix and Repeat controls, which are most useful for dipping the delay in and out of the way of your raw playing.

As for tone, the 24-bit 96khz analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters in the Avalanche Run deliver a smooth digital delay, and the analog dry through ensures that your dry signal remains completely intact when it comes out the other end. Used in stereo, the lush vibes produced fresh out of the box were immediately gorgeous and had me lusting for more. The repeats aren’t quick to break up completely when set to infinity outside of the self-oscillation feature which is activated by holding the tap-tempo. That said, even when I did reach that point of complete saturation, the breakup was luscious enough to bolster my already solid confidence in the analog emulation possibilities inherent in modern digital delay. At any rate, any high-frequency fizz was easily dispelled by rolling back the Tone pot. I couldn’t be 100% sure if I was hearing quantization “zipper” noise (thanks to Paul Uhl for hooking me up with that term via his review of the Empress Reverb,) when tweaking the Time mid-oscillation, and the fact that I was unsure was enough to convince me of the power present in the AR’s enclosure. The Avalanche Run is comfortably used like a traditional wash, with appropriate levels of both delay and reverb blooming under your playing, but either the delay or reverb can be isolated and played independently from the other and sound fantastic.

EQD also wisely included the capability to change what happens when the Avalanche Run is bypassed by unplugging it, setting the ratio knob to your preferred bypass style, and plugging it back in while holding the bypass. While four of the six settings are simply tail length variations and the fifth is a “true bypass” setting, the Sound on Sound mode will allow your repeats to continue indefinitely in one output and be affected actively by the knobs/oscillations/expression/voice changes. Meanwhile, your dry guitar signal runs from the other output, allowing you to play clean over the drone or loops on the fly. You can do this multiple times and create some very lush soundscapes as well as change the subdivision and voicing at any point to garner glitchy chops in the signal. It’s like playing two instruments at once.

Keep in mind that bypassing the Avalanche Run while in Sound on Sound mode will always recycle your repeats unless you switch it into one of the other modes. This is mitigated temporarily by quickly tapping the tap-tempo twice, but I found that if I left it bypassed, it would still ramp up repeats after a bit of time had passed. If you don’t plan on having the ‘Run on constantly, you may find yourself unintentionally fighting old repeats as they build from nothing.

Avalanche Run Delay Modes

Normal

Normal mode is the basic delay run into the reverb and is as close to vanilla as any of the modes get. Don’t let that blasé turn of phrase fool you; an avalanche of vanilla will crush a man as quickly as chunky monkey. If you’re seeking that Space Echo tone, seek no further, as the Normal mode makes a meal of it. The Time expression is particularly well-served here. While the Time knob will jump straight to where it is set, the expression ramps slowly to its final destination, making for beautiful cascading time warps that remind me of EQD’s Rainbow Machine. Of course, if you’re feeling masochistically conservative, you can set the time knob back for a terse little slapback, which has always made sense paired with plate reverb, and no one would judge you. The rest of us will just be over here catapulting to the pleiades.

Reverse

Reverse is kind of exactly what it sounds like: a reverse delay run into the reverb. You can’t achieve the pitchbends that you can in the Normal and Swell modes, but if you do a little investigating, you’ll find that the Reverse mode unleashes a secret ring-mod/bitcrusher setting that is exclusive to this voice when you dial the Time all the way back. The modulation will respond very strongly to where the repeat and tone knobs are set, becoming more reactive as you roll beyond the lowest most repeat setting. Armed with this knowledge, you can make some pretty cool, squashed out chirps playing with the Time via your expression. The only conceivable drawback to this is that the resonant frequency almost never chimes at a consistent tone whenever you leave the ring-mod zone by extending the time (toe down on the expression,) and returning to heel, but I didn’t mind the weirdness. To me, it was songwriting fuel; I’ll admit that that’s subjective, but if you’re not looking at the Avalanche Run for organic inspiration, you’re doing it wrong. This minor quirk might have been a function of some minimum voltage threshold that the Avalanche Run’s expression in has to meet before it jumps into the ringing tone, but it seems more likely to be a function of the sensitivity on the expression pedal I was using; EarthQuaker does recommend the MOOG EP-3 expression pedal I have for use with their units, but it’s possible that the TRS signal just wasn’t consistently sent at the same voltage every time. Before we stray too far from the topic of the Time parameter as it pertains to the reverse mode, dialing it just before it starts getting ring-y wrung out a very sweet, almost-chorus-almost-harmonic-trem wobble which when set to a darker tone blended so well with the reverb that I had a hard time moving on. I drew a diagram in my notes for personal use. Also, very useful in the Reverse mode is the D. Mix expression which when pushed to the toe plays back only your reversed repeats; you can probably imagine the real application of this feature.

Swell

Swell mode sums the wet and dry signals to mono and runs the whole thing through a voltage-controlled auto-swell, which cuts the attack off of the front end of the signal path. The Mix knob on the bottom row now serves to control the attack on the swell, allowing you to dial in the length of the attack to great effect when coupled with the R. Mix setting on the expression rotary knob. The Toggle expression is also particularly potent here, if only because it essentially allows you the benefit of all three voicings in a musical capacity. While the manual claims that this voicing reacts to pick attack, that is an oversimplification: the initial pick transients will trigger the swell but attack on any notes played over a held chord will still be audible. That said, Swell mode was the perfect choice to round out the ambience generated by the Avalanche Run, adding that last washy option so eagerly sought by shoegazing guitarists everywhere while eliminating the need for any volume knob play.

How could EarthQuaker Devices have improved upon this almighty cascade of atmospheric snow? I have a few nascent thoughts. Foremost in my mind is the lack of savable presets on this goliath. While the footprint is only about one-and-a-half the size of a standard EQDevice (a net win if you plan on replacing your delay and/or reverb,) the enlarged space needed to accommodate the 8 knobs and tap-tempo is still quite a chunk of real-estate for just one active voicing, even with those top-mounted jacks that EQD got right so long ago. The Avalanche Run has so much to offer in its enclosure, and while you can play it like a separate instrument no matter which voicing you’re using, it seems like a missed opportunity to lack a quick way to change over to another setting even with the expression set to Toggle. Also, tap-tempo I/O for syncing up with the rest of our boards would have been a huge boon. Much to my dismay, EQD is still putting “dumb” relay switches in their devices, meaning that when you power down your board, the Avalanche Run won’t remember if it was on or off. So if you’re running an effects loop, you’ll have to make sure you turn it back on before you start your set.

While I’d never detract from the sensible choice to keep the reverb dead simple, it could have done with another parameter; if not the obvious tone-stack, then maybe a pre-delay or a blend for a hypothetical modulation? I get why there’s no bypass on the reverb; the focus is rightfully placed on the beautifully rendered digital delay and the ‘verb is meant as simply a smoothing tool to unleash that sweet, sweet ambience, so I’m not suggesting EQD should have taken a more standalone perspective on it. What I am suggesting, however, is that the reverb could have enjoyed a little more limelight. If I’m indulging in my wildest fantasies, I would have also loved to have seen a parallel/series switch for textural experimentation purposes. Of course, without another parameter on the ‘verb that doesn’t seem all that important to me.

I’ll be the first to admit that barring my preset and relay complaints, my suggestions for possible feature additions are eclipsed entirely by what is in the Avalanche Run. In other words, they only really make sense as suggested features in an overdone, imaginary Avalanche Run Sr., so please don’t mistake my musings for disappointment. Far from it. I could speculate (baselessly) that considering the digital nature of the ‘Run, a bigger, more integrable version is pinned amongst other insane concepts for future products on Jamie Stillman’s “next project” dartboard, but rather than torture all parties involved I will simply squash that thought before my head explodes. The Avalanche Run is still so new, and there’s already so many different directions EarthQuaker could go if they wanted to expand on a previous product; I mean, have you seen the EarthQuaker pedalboards they set up in music shops? Talk about perspective. The hidden mantra of EarthQuaker has always struck me as “amazing tone first, functionality a near-tie second, bells and whistles non-placing,” so I’m not really holding my breath for anything completely un-EarthQuaker, like MIDI functionality or savable presets. However, if the Avalanche Run and post-Run digital pedals like the Space Spiral or Transmisser are any indication, EarthQuaker is dead set on flexing their DSP muscles and to me, that implies that anything is possible. At any rate, while EQD is pumping out brilliant, affordable pedals, one can dream!

The EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run is an auditory daydream, designed to be explored but never truly understood yet straightforward enough that it still plugs-n-plays as quickly as you can tear your old delay and reverb pedals off your pedalboard. Bolstered by EarthQuaker’s sterling reputation and uncompromising quality, three fine voices, sensible parameter choices, stereo I/O, clean headroom, extensive expression options, and hidden tonal rewards, it stands proud among not just the most flexible pedals out there but some of the best all-around guitar effects pedals at this price point. I’m absolutely loathe to say this, but the shrewd guitarist could build a stereo tour board around one of the ‘Run voices, an expression pedal, a compressor and a nice overdrive or two and be done buying guitar effects forever. Forget I said that! It’s just really really good! If its reputation alone is any indication, I’d wager that it’s good enough to stand the test of time in both studio and performance applications. Mark my words: to not at least give it a try is to do yourself a lifelong disservice.

That concludes our EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run review. Thanks for reading!

Free The Tone AS-1R Ambi Space Review – Best Digital Reverb Pedal?

Forget about all that “multi-reverb A” vs. “multi-reverb B” stuff. The Free The Tone Ambi Space Reverb is in a class by itself.

There are so many ambient/octave/soundscaping reverb pedals on the market already. No one wants just another iteration of those reverbs. They’re already out there, and they’re great. It’s not that you can’t use this pedal for ambient music. Any fan of ambient guitar that plugged in and fired up the Cave or Serene modes would be in ambient guitar heaven. But to just call this an “ambient reverb” would be selling this pedal short. The AS-1R stands on its own as a unique sounding reverb. I can’t think of a single reverb that does what the Ambi Space does, especially if you consider how you’ll get your ideal tones at an absolute minimum of tweaking.

Ambi: “Ambient” Vs. “Ambience”

When I first heard the name “Ambi Space Reverb,” I thought of the familiar reverb catch-phrase “ambient,” as in “ambient/octave/soundscapey” kinds of tones. I guess my first assumption of this pedal was that it was just going to be this “ambient playground” kind of thing.
Yet when I played through it, I soon realized it wasn’t just another “ambient reverb.” And, believe me, that’s a good thing.

I then considered that maybe “Ambi” doesn’t stand for “Ambient,” but rather “Ambience.” Conclusion: The AS-1R is definitely an ambience reverb. What’s the difference? Consider the following definitions:

*am·bi·ent
ˈambēənt/
adjective
adjective: ambient

  1. relating to the immediate surroundings of something.
    “the liquid is stored at below ambient temperature”
         • relating to ambient music.

*am·bi·ence
ˈambēəns/
noun
noun: ambience; plural noun: ambiences; noun: ambiance; plural noun: ambiances

  1. the character and atmosphere of a place.
    “the relaxed ambience of the cocktail lounge is popular with guests”

Ambience Synonyms: atmosphere, air, aura, climate, mood, feel, feeling, character, quality, impression, complexion, flavor, look, tone, tenor, setting, milieu, background, backdrop, element, environment, conditions, situation.

First Look

When the pedal first arrived at my door, I took it into my home studio and sat down in front of my stereo amp rig. Upon opening the box, I was impressed by the aesthetics of it all. The box, the packaging, and most of all, the pedal. It’s simply a work of art. Never before had I seen a multi-anything pedal so nicely and intuitively laid out. Not a soul on earth would have a single problem if this pedal was handed to them one minute before a gig and they were told, “Go for it!” Every single thing is just right there in front of you. With the AS-1R, there’s no “what does this knob do?” In an age where every pedal maker seems preoccupied with making the most knobs and toggles to tweak, I am finding (in my later years) that I tend to favor simplicity in design. This is especially true if I am going to use a pedal in a live situation. Beyond that, just the look of the Ambi Space begs you to appreciate the thought put into it. The colors, the LED’s, and the “technical equipment” style lettering all appeal to me. The AS-1R has this look that is a cross between old military gear, and that wood-trimmed stereo gear from the 70’s. I’m a huge fan of both of those aesthetics. Another thing that was a shocker was the size of this little guy. Coming in at 4”x4.75” it’s nearly an inch narrower in width than the already small Empress Reverb.

My first instinct was to just put it on my board. But, because it was completely new to me, I REALLY wanted to isolate it from anything else. I pushed my board back a bit and set the AS-1R right in front of it. I plugged my guitar straight into the input and the left and right outputs out to the stereo amps. Knowing that I’d be writing a review, I thought it would be great to just record my first impressions, good or bad, of this pedal. You can find that video posted here:

Right away I was impressed with how this reverb pedal was giving me unique sounds. Not just copies of copies of other reverbs. It’s very warm and rich-sounding. The Plate mode, alone, may honestly be worth the price of admission. I was less than impressed by the Spring mode (there I go, again, being that spring snob). It still just didn’t have that “drip” tone. Room and hall are both great and are exactly what you’d want them to be. Cave and Serene are unlike anything I’ve ever heard from another pedal. Kind of like the Cloud mode on the BigSky, but darker with tons of tasty reflections. At first, I wondered if what I was hearing was some kind of digital artifact, but it was actually the reflections of the reverb. Straight from the FTT website, “In Free The Tone’s unique reverb modes “CAVE” and “SERENE”, sounds with a rich harmonic structure are created by complex reverberation patterns being added to the reverb sound in multiple stages to realize unprecedented, transparent and spatial reverb sounds.” That’s actually a really great description of what I’m hearing. There is also a trace of some kind of modulation in the wet signal, although I can’t find it officially documented anyplace.

The pedal is DSP-based, stereo in/out, analog dry through, and utilizes Free The Tone’s exclusive Holistic Tonal Solution which manages signals comprehensively from input to output to retain the integrity of your tone whether the pedal is on or off. The pedal does not feature reverb trail spillover. It does not have trails in the preset to preset spillover, and does not have trails when bypass is pressed. Personally, this isn’t a huge deal for me; however, this will be a deciding factor for some people. Hopefully, with a firmware update, this can be added.

Features:

Let’s have a look at the features of this pedal.

The first four of these are the classics we are all familiar with, the remaining two are exclusive to the AS-1R. They are:

* Spring
* Plate
* Room
* Hall
* Cave
* Serene

Rack Quality Sound In A Small Box. The AD/DA converter is 24 bit, 48 kHz and utilizes a dual-core chip with a 32 bit main CPU and 32 bit co-processor. This allows the Ambi Space to perform high-speed calculations using the 32 bit high precision DSP to generate sounds comparable to those found only in much larger rack units. And I have to say, as an example, the Plate mode on this thing is just gorgeous.

Four Presets. Now, I know what you’re thinking… “Only four??” Yeah. It only has four. They can be saved and recalled with the pedal without using any other MIDI controller. Think about this in relation to simplicity. I am going to put the simplicity and intuitive design of this pedal as one of its greatest strengths. To achieve this, you have to make certain sacrifices along the way. There could be more switches, and more knobs, and more LED’s, but then you lose the simplicity of the design. And, y’know, there are other reverb pedals out there like that. You can choose to use those. For just “grab a reverb and make four great presets to play a gig” I’ll take the Ambi Space. I would have liked to have seen the option for additional presets to be recalled with a MIDI controller. I don’t need 122, but I think 20 or so would have been great. But, again, this just isn’t that pedal. Allow yourself to be set free by the simplicity.

Two Modes of Operation. With the Mode switch, you can toggle between your “live” mode and your “presets” mode. Live mode reflects the current knob settings. Preset mode allows you to cycle through your four presets. The mode you are in will also determine how the edit switch behaves. More on that later.

Input Level And Kill Dry Adjustments. Two dip switches located inside the pedal, although very conveniently accessible through tiny openings in the enclosure, allow for input level and kill dry adjustments.

Input level: -10 (instrument), +4 (line)
Kill Dry: On, off

Use “line level” when running the effect through an effects loop of an amplifier. Use kill dry when you want the signal 100% wet, as in a “wet/dry/wet” kind of rig.

Analog Dry Path. Your instrument’s dry signal is left untouched the entire time. Blended with the wet signal utilizing Free The Tone’s exclusive Holistic Tonal Solution which manages signals comprehensively from input to output to retain the integrity of your tone whether the pedal is on or off.

Ins And Outs. The AS-1R has stereo ins and outs, as well as a 5-pin MIDI input. There’s also a 9V, center negative power input. The pedal requires 280mA of current. All jacks are top-mount.

Small Size. Lastly, the Ambi Space Reverb is a very small pedal. Coming in at only 4.72” x 4.03” x 2.91” 120mm x 102.3mm x 74mm.

The Knobs.

The simple control and intuitive layout is one of the ways this pedal REALLY shines. Let’s have a look at the AS-1R’s control surface.

Mode Encoder: This control is used to switch
reverb modes when the unit is in Manual or Edit mode. Turning this encoder changes reverb modes. Note that turning this control in Preset mode does not change
reverb modes.

Mix: Mixes the reverb sound with the original (dry) sound. When the knob is turned fully counterclockwise, the original (dry) sound is 100% and the reverb sound is
0%. When turned fully clockwise, the mix ratio becomes about 50% to 50%. This is another place I kind of wish it was just a little different. I’d prefer a more standard control here. I am used to 50/50 being between about 1:00 and 3:00, with full wet at full clockwise. I can’t say that I have ever used a FULL wet reverb, but I often go to near full wet. Like a 80/20 kind of mix.

Tone: Adjusts the tone of the reverb sound. Turning it clockwise cuts the low frequencies and turning it
counterclockwise cuts the high frequencies. Note that this control adjusts the tone of the WET signal, only. The dry signal is not affected.

Decay: Adjusts the decay time of the reverb sound. Note
that the DECAY knob’s adjustable time length differs
according to the selected reverb mode.

Pre Delay: Adjusts the delay time before the wet signal. This is a very useful tool in making your reverb sound more realistic. The adjustable range is 0–250 ms. There’s something special going on here with the Pre Delay. It has this very natural feel to it. Can’t put my finger on it, but it has a nice effect on the different reverb modes. I found myself playing with the Pre Delay a lot on this pedal, as opposed to just setting it and forgetting it like I do on others.

The Switches.

Mode Switch: Adjusts between Preset Mode and Manual Mode.

Edit Switch: Used to put the pedal in “Edit Mode.” This has different functions depending on whether you’re in Preset Mode or Manual Mode. Essentially, when you enter Edit Mode from Preset Mode, you are overwriting that preset. When you enter Edit Mode from Manual Mode, you are creating a preset from the current knob settings.

On/Off: This is the bypass/engage switch, located on the bottom left side of the pedal.

Preset: This switch, located on the bottom right of the pedal, scrolls between the four presets saved on the pedal. Pressing it from the forth preset cycles back to preset one. In Edit Mode, you can press the Preset switch to select the desired destination you would like the current settings to be saved to. The preset destination will be designated by a flashing LED.
In Manual Mode, you can press the Preset switch to select which preset will be loaded when the unit is put into Preset Mode. It seems to me that this was one more opportunity for a “5th preset.” If there was a way to recall the “live mode” using a MIDI controller, that could have been one more “available sound.”

Visit Free The Tone for further information on the AS-1R Ambi Space Digital Reverb.

Sound & Performance:

Pristine Classic Sounds

I have already mentioned the intuitive interface combined with the solid, compact design as one of the two strong points of this reverb. The other reason this pedal sits high on a cloud in a sky is that it’s filled with some incredible reverb sounds. It’s nearly in a class by itself. As I said, the Plate, alone, is enough to crown this pedal a king. The best Plate-style reverb on the market in a pedal form? I’ve seen many players make that claim, and I struggle to argue against it. Plate is one of my favorite reverbs, both on my board, and in the studio. There is just something about it that makes it such a great “all-around” reverb. It has a more focused sound than a Hall and just seems to work well anyplace you put it. Though I have never used a real plate, those who have say that this is the real deal. All of the modes on this pedal are warm, rich, and loaded with reflections. The hall is this deep, warm, full-bodied experience that just makes you wanna play some great soaring solos. They’re all very dynamic and reactive to your playing. I’m not sure that I have ever experienced that with another reverb pedal, but it’s plain as day here, and I love it.

A Pair Of Unique Modes

The AS-1R boasts two modes that are unique to this pedal. Cave Mode and Serene Mode. Cave Mode is about what you’d expect, only…. MORE. This mode is all about the reflections. My description was that the reflections sounded like a million racquet balls being poured out onto a far-away gym floor. Although I can’t find any documentation to support this, I swear I can hear modulation. I also can hear something like a reverse delay thing just barely in there. Cave Mode sounds incredible when you set the decay very long, the mix low and the tone kinda dark. It makes this huge wall of sound sitting just under your guitar. Serene Mode is something special. According to designer, Yuki Hayashi, this lovely sound was discovered by accident. And what a beautiful accident it is. Is it a shimmer? Kinda, but not really. The description from the website states: “Frequency bands of reverberation sounds will also change according to the complex reverberation pattern design. You can get pleasing reverberation sounds as if they were resonating from another space.” I’m not exactly sure what this means. “Frequency bands” makes sense instead of “octaves” in that it’s kinda similar to shimmer without being a shimmer. Playing with the Serene Mode in stereo was nothing short of incredible.

The Quest For The Greatest Reverb Tones

In the development process for crafting the perfect reverb tones for the Ambi Space Reverb, designer Yuki Hayashi described the steps taken to design and test the sounds for this pedal. Within the Free The Tone recording studio, “On-pa,” (Japanese for “sound wave”) a special recording booth was built that has absolutely no reflections. It’s a completely dead space where the only reverberations were those coming from the pedal. Even though it was possible to test the sounds with headphones, he said that it was much better to use an actual room and hear the reverb in the air. Special emphasis was placed on focusing on the harmonic overtone components. He felt this was extremely important for a guitar reverb. He wanted to be sure that when the wet signal is mixed with the dry signal, that the original warmth, character, and harmonic qualities were not masked. Thus, creating a reverb that stands tall as an organic and cohesive overall sound. Yuki says “…a reverb pedal is kind of a magical effector.” He enjoyed citing Eddie Van Halen as an example of how a great reverb tone can completely transform the feel of the guitar. “A good example is Van Halen’s first album where the reverb sound is essential for Eddie’s guitar sound,” he says, “The album wouldn’t be the same without it.”

The Ambi Space AS-1R Digital Reverb is arguably the greatest way to get excellent reverb sounds in the smallest package with a minimum of tweaking. The quality of the reverb sounds coupled with the incredibly simple and intuitive layout, all in a beautiful package, puts this reverb forever within my reach as a strong contender for “tonight’s grab and go reverb pedal” on any given night. Yes, there are reverbs out there that are more complicated and reverbs that have more modes. The Ambi Space reverb is in the “everything you need and nothing you don’t” category. I have no doubt that I could play a full set with this pedal even with no preparation. Set up a few presets within a minute and I’d be totally good to go. There is something very favorable about that kind of simplicity in today’s market of “My pedal does EVERYTHING!” If you need 10,000 sounds, maybe this pedal isn’t for you. If you only feel comfortable when gazing at 20 knobs, maybe this pedal isn’t for you. I mentioned the couple of things I would have liked to have seen on this pedal. More presets with MIDI, 100% wet on the mix knob, spillover, and expression control (even if over MIDI only) would have given this pedal a higher rating. At the same time, as I mentioned above, allow yourself to be set free by the simplicity of this pedal. Think about that for a second. It’s a completely different way of approaching the entirety of pedalboarding. I’m not just grading this pedal on a list of its merits. I’m also grading it on a philosophy. An approach to playing and using effects in a way that favors better outcomes. I have started to go “the other way” with a lot of my set ups. I have lately been gravitating towards the simple in favor of just playing the guitar and a lot less thinking about pedals. The Ambi Space allows you to do that. And best of all, it sounds so damn good that you won’t even realize you’re “missing” something. Trust me. You aren’t missing anything at all.

That concludes our Free The Tone AS-1R Ambi Space Reverb review. Thanks for reading.

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?

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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.