By Paul Uhl –
Review of: Free The Tone AS-1R Ambi Space
Reviewed by: Paul UhlRating:4On October 25, 2017Last modified:October 25, 2017
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:
- relating to the immediate surroundings of something.
“the liquid is stored at below ambient temperature”
• relating to ambient music.
noun: ambience; plural noun: ambiences; noun: ambiance; plural noun: ambiances
- 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.
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.
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:
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 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
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.
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.”
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.