Ever since the first amps and outboard amp-top units containing large mechanical spring reverb tanks hit the market in the early 1960’s, guitarists have been infatuated with the luscious dripping sounds and glorious echo of analog spring reverb. And while gear seems to have progressively downsized over the years, the love for real analog spring reverb has only grown in the hearts of those who cherish those distinctive sounds made by forcing audio through vibrating springs.
In the modern times we live in, many DSP engineers have made commendable attempts at mimicking the qualities of spring reverb via software emulation, but even with the advancements in that area, many musicians still crave the real thing. Some of those guitarists swear by their amp’s built-in spring reverb. A smaller group still lugs around bulky outboard spring reverb units. And now the pedal-savvy crowd have a compelling solution that combines real analog spring reverb with some enticing modern conveniences. I’m talking about the Element Analog Spring Reverb by Anasounds.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The Element is a standalone pedal that’s used in conjunction with an external spring reverb tank. You route the Element in your pedal signal chain as normal and connect the pedal to a separate spring reverb tank unit with a 1/8” inch (3.5mm) to stereo RCA cable. The biggest challenge of integrating real spring reverb into a rig has always been “size”, and Anasounds have cleverly addressed this with several design considerations.
The Element pedal itself is small and compact with top-mounted jacks for superior convenience when it comes to pedalboard integration. It only needs about 2.5 inches of width to slide into a small space on your board. This is an important consideration in general when it comes to conserving pedalboard real estate, and with Element, since you’ll be routing it to one of the three external tanks, smart design conveniences like top-mounted jacks are especially important.
Anasounds currently offers 3 tank options – Le Bon, La Brute, & Le Truand – names translating to “the good, the bad, and the ugly” – although these 3 tanks could also be considered simply “small”, “medium”, and “large”, respectively. (We’ll discuss the tank differences in greater detail later.)
Since the Element has all of the parameter controls on its surface, it’s less important to have the spring tank mounted on the surface of your pedalboard. Le Bon could still possibly squeeze in on the surface, and it’ll easily fit underneath most pedalboards. The mid-sized La Brute is also ideal to fit under many pedalboards. The Le Truand with its massive 17” length may need to be placed on or in an amp or speaker cabinet, or it could be rack-mounted. (Check the precise measurements on Anasounds’ website carefully before choosing your tank.) All of the tanks come with screws for mounting them, which will come in handy if you need to drill holes on a surface for mounting. The tanks (and the Element) all have attractive laser engraved wood panels, so if you have an appreciation for aesthetics, it’ll also be very tempting to mount the tanks where the surface and the visible springs can be seen. It was a nice touch by Anasounds to cater to those of us who like pretty things, no?
Springs: the Real Thing
While you should hopefully now have some general understanding about the Element, let’s talk about spring reverb real quick…
Spring reverb is one of the oldest prototypical guitar effects, and many guitarists have developed strong personal opinions about what makes for a good spring reverb. Is it the “drip”? The number of springs? The size and sound of the tank? That distinctive “pan crash”? Whatever it is that makes spring reverb good to you, it’s worth keeping in mind that spring reverb is also a crude effect with several inherent flaws due to the nature of its mechanical design. Many classic spring reverbs have a dark sound with tonal filters being used to roll-off the harsh upper frequencies and minimize noise imparted by the springs and transducer/pickup. And spring reverbs often have only one control for simply blending in the reverb, limiting the flexibility of the effect. Anasounds have sought new ways to bring out the best qualities of spring reverb and have made several considerations to accommodate varying preferences.
Now it’s time to plug in and get to what’s most important about the Element… playing it!
Sound & Performance:
The Element pedal has a Mix and Out knob for blending in the wet reverb signal and setting its overall output volume level. With the Mix knob fully counter-clockwise, you’ll just hear your dry signal when the pedal is engaged. Pushing up the Mix blends in the reverb signal as expected; adjusting the Out knob helps you create an overall volume level to match unity gain when the pedal is bypassed. Or with some settings you could achieve a little boost if desired. This already greatly exceeds the utility of a single generic “Reverb” knob, but of course, there’s more…
The Low and High knobs are dedicated active tone controls that can boost or cut the low and high frequencies, respectively. I find the Low knob essential for helping keep the overall mix cleaner when using copious amounts of reverb. Dialing in a booming low-end can sound wonderful on sparse arrangements where the reverb density can flourish and bloom, but in a mix with other musical elements (no pun intended), reducing the low-end can help the reverb sit in the mix better while not taking up too much space in the frequency spectrum. The High knob can play the classic filtering role in spring reverb of reducing the noise in the upper frequencies as well as generally contouring the treble response. I don’t feel that the Element is excessively noisy, but a real mechanical spring reverb will always have more noise than the clean digital spring emulations many modern guitarists are familiar with. This is important to be aware of if you’re new to real analog spring reverb, but it’s something that musicians have long put aside to take advantage of the distinct sounds that analog spring reverb provides. Thankfully, the High knob does a solid job of minimizing the noise while smoothing the sound of the reverb in a pleasing way. And if you like a brighter reverb sound, you can boost the highs if desired. Just be mindful of the tradeoff as you will magnify the aspects of spring reverb that most musicians generally try to dampen.
There’s also an internal trimmer that lets you adjust the pedal to respond to varying guitar pickup impedance. It may not need adjustment in many cases, but if your pickups are really hot, you may want to cut it back a bit. I like it when it’s pushed up to just under the point where it breaks up and distorts. Play with it if you want to really fine-tune the pedal to your setup. (Another trimmer lets you adjust the brightness of the LED, a novel and fun touch.)
The switch in the middle activates a saturation circuit that lets your signal hit the springs harder for some grit and distortion in your wet reverb signal. Its implementation started out as a mistake during development, but that happy accident led to one of the most unique aspects of the Element. I can’t overstate how much I like this feature, and in most cases I find myself dialing in my reverb around this aspect. It adds a whole new dimension to the sounds the Element can achieve.
While you get a set amount of spring saturation, the overall sound is still highly responsive to the other controls as well as your playing dynamics. The High knob will cut the high-end to smooth out any harshness and keep the added noise in check. (I usually keep the High knob around 10-11 o’clock or lower regardless of which tank I’m using.) Digging in or strumming harder when playing will add more sizzle and drive to the reverb. It’s very dynamic and articulate. The Mix and Out are also essential here for determining how much of your clean dry signal cuts through the mix and how much springy grittiness comes through.
Which Element Spring Tank is Best?
All musicians will have a decision to make, and this will be easier for some and more difficult for others. While some guitarists will splurge and buy all three tanks, the budget and/or space minded among you will have to make a choice. I want to share my perspective about each tank in hopes that my feedback will help you pick the unit that’s right for you.
Le Bon is the smallest unit and easily the best choice for anyone with very little space available if that’s your primary consideration. As for the sound, Le Bon impresses with a tight and defined response. It has the shortest decay of the three tanks which is to be expected considering its size. This is also an ideal consideration if you like subtle spring sounds and a smoother and more focused sound. It also stacks really well with other reverbs. I’ve discovered in the past that I personally like using a subtle to moderate mono spring sound before a full stereo reverb that creates a bigger room ambience. Le Bon is excellent for setups like this that utilize the benefits of stacking many pedals to achieve a cohesive whole. Le Bon can stand on its own or add some extra spring magic to an ambient signal chain.
The mid-sized unit, La Brute, is the unit I imagine a lot of guitarists will opt for simply because it’s the larger of the two smaller units that can comfortably fit beneath most pedalboards. La Brute edges closer towards a full-sized spring reverb sound while still being able to exist comfortably in your pedalboard setup. There’s also another strong aspect of this one; the La Brute unit that I tested had a noticeably more prominent spring “drip” than the other two units when compared on the same Element settings, particularly when using the Spring Saturation. Some people really love that specific aspect of real spring reverb, and while a few digital emulations pull it off reasonably well, I think La Brute will be deemed a winner by many when compared to the faux drip of even the most advanced modern digital reverb pedals. La Brute also has a moderately long reverb dwell. It simply sounds great if you’re chasing authentic amp-style spring reverb tones but are still restricted by pedalboard space.
Le Truand is the big one, and it packs a big sound. It’s cavernous and has more depth than the other two units. I’d say it’s my overall favorite based on the sounds it produces, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s “better” than the other two units. While Le Truand isn’t as heavy as I expected it might be, it is enormous, so you’re likely not going to fit this monstrosity under most standard production pedalboards. If you can set this up near an amp, maybe putting the Element (with Le Truand connected to it) in your amp’s effects loop, that may be an ideal way for many guitarists to enjoy this tank. For the users that buy all three units, I’d imagine this one getting plenty of use in the studio with La Brute maybe being substituted for gigging since it’ll fit under a pedalboard more easily. But the cloud-like ambience that Le Truand produces may lead some musicians to figure out a way to integrate this massive unit into their live setup. If you fall in love with the sounds of Le Truand, you’ll find a way to accommodate it.
Whichever tank you choose, you’ll discover an assortment of great spring reverb sounds thanks to the flexibility offered by the Element’s various sound shaping options. All three tanks sound great in their own ways. And all of them can produce a cool “pan crash” sound when you jar them a little or slap them against a surface. The rubber feet on the tanks should help prevent stage rumble from jarring the springs, but bear in mind that other factors in how you mount the tanks may also affect this. And one last consideration is to make sure the audio cable from the Element to the tank doesn’t run too close to a power cable as this could induce signal interference.
The Element is arguably the new best solution currently in production for achieving real analog spring reverb sounds on a pedalboard. My only minor gripe with the whole package is that I wish the default bypass state on the Element could be manually set to eliminate pre-show adjustments when using Element with an effects switcher. But that won’t be an issue for guitar players who don’t use effects switchers. Perhaps the most important thing here is that the Element and all three tanks sound great. Considering the finicky nature of springs and the archaic technology that creates spring reverb, Anasounds have created a formidable solution that negates many of spring reverb’s drawbacks and offers some inspiring options for achieving excellent, authentic analog spring reverb from pedals.
The Anasounds Element and its companion reverb tanks set a new standard for real analog spring reverb from a pedal. Thanks to the Element’s array of control options and the choice of three different reverb tanks, this solution can likely meet the needs of any musician who wants real spring reverb. The tone and blending options ensure you’ll be able to dial in just the right sound, and the three tanks can accommodate various space allocations and response preferences. The Element’s Spring Saturation is also an incredible bonus feature that offers a new realm of possibilities for achieving saturated spring reverb sounds; if you enjoy it like I do, you may never turn it off. Anyone who craves real spring reverb needs to try the Element as it offers a realness and character unlike anything outside of a Fender Twin Reverb or bulky reverb unit. And with that accomplishment I’d say Anasounds succeeded in what they set out to achieve.
That concludes our Anasounds Element review. Thanks for reading.
November 12, 2019 at 9:33 am
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