AF’s Weblog

November 4, 2011

TC Electronic TonePrint Series Review

TC Electronic just started production of a series of seven “simple” stompboxes! It’s a sacrilege if you know a bit about this company, which specializes in rack and programmable stompboxes, but it’s also good news considering the success of the Nova series. This new range provides all the elements of a standard pedalboard: distortion, overdrive, chorus, flanger, reverb, delay, and even vibrato.

Four of them feature a strange function: the TC TonePrint, which allows you to expand the possibilities of each stompbox via the Internet. This feature will certainly make TC a fav among young wolfs with a pair of jeans looking for adventure instead of pureness. Today we will review five of these seven new TC stompboxes.

The Analogs: Dark Matter Distortion and Mojo Mojo Overdrive

TC Electronic TonePrint Series

The Mojo Mojo Overdrive and Dark Matter Distortion stompboxes are the only analog devices in the series. Unlike all others, they don’t provide too many connectivity options: mono in + out. Although TC is mainly known for space and modulation effects, both stompboxes are distortion pedals. Considering the huge offer available within this market segment, it’s not very likely that these stompboxes will leave their mark in the history of distortion… However, you can appreciate the effort put in the conception of the housing: it’s really easy to access the battery compartment using only one screw (you can turn with your pick) that holds the protection plate. The slightly recessed connectors allow you to save space on your pedalboard and seems to be conceived to avoid “tap dancers” having a strong and imprecise kick from damaging their gear…

 

Dark Matter Distortion

TC Electronic TonePrint Series

In spite of its gloomy name, black finish and Star Wars-like logo, the Dark Matter is a pretty versatile distortion for rock/hard blues players rather than for metal heads. The controls are Volume, Drive, Bass, Treble, and a mini-switch to toggle between two low-frequency responses. To be honest, I couldn’t notice any (obvious) difference… The Dark Matter can produce a rather high amount of gain and its crunch setting is also satisfying. You get a rich, well-defined, sharp, all-round sound reminding the Boss DS-1, but a little bit more hollow and with more precision thanks to both the Bass and Treble settings instead of a single tone control. I tried out the unit at home on a clean channel, and also live as a drive booster on a crunch channel. In both cases I liked the Dark Matter very much!

Now let’s take a closer look at all the other pedals…

Don’t Know Which One?

To conclude… Because of the similarities between the Corona and the Shaker, the latter can be considered a bit useless. Both distortion pedals sound good but won’t replace any of my favorite distortion pedals. Maybe they ought to have a bit more personality… It’s clear that TC is no distortion specialist, and targeting a wide range of musicians with two “neutral” stompboxes was the best decision, instead of trying to compete with ZVEX launching a 9-pot fuzz effect pedal. But it’s up to you… and I bet you won’t have a problem. On the other hand, the Corona and the Flaskback are must haves: great working tools and well thought out. The Toneprint function is almost like a toy. If you’re looking for a chorus and a versatile delay, go for them! $169 for the Flashback, $129 for all others.

 

Technical notes:

The examples were recorded using a JCM900 combo and a Two Notes VB-101 cabinet simulator. I used a Marshall 4×12″ cabinet simulation for the right channel and a very present “self-made” speaker simulation for the left channel. I also used a Celmo Sardine Can compressor for some clean sounds. The distortion in the Corona, Shaker and Flashback examples are from TC’s distortion pedals.

Advantages:

  • Toneprints
  • Battery compartment access
  • The Corona and the Flashback

Drawbacks:

  • TC should develop a small software program to allow the user to create his own Toneprints
  • The switch on both distortion stompboxes has a questionable effect
  • The battery life is extremely short for all digital stompboxes

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see: TonePrint Series Review

November 10, 2008

Test: Fender Classics Re-issue Pedals review

Classics Live Again
Fender Classics Re-issue Pedals: The Test
Though not as well known for their pedals as they are for their guitars and basses, Fender has been making classic pedals for more than 50 years. Following the recent re-issue of the Fender Blender Custom pedal, Fender decided to launch a range of new classic-inspired stompboxes with some vintage tones and looks. Let’s take a closer look….
 
Vue générale

The Fender Classics – Reissue Pedals include the Fender Blender (octave/fuzz), a Volume, a Volume/Tone, a Phaser, and the Fuzz-Wah pedal. In this test we’ll be taking a look at all of the above with the exception of the Fender Blender.

At first glance these pedals look vintage: robust, big, and heavy! And they are heavy! Though made in Korea, there’s nothing cheap about these pedals. If you buy all five you’ll probably have to end up getting them their own separate pedal board. Just incorporating one or two into your existing pedal board will require some measurement and planning. But in look and feel, they certainly live up to their vintage counterparts.

As for packaging, there’s the strict minimum, but in style. They each come in a chic black velour stocking-like cover, complete with an embroidered Fender logo (It would look great next to the fireplace for Christmas if you don’t use it for anything else). The only other thing in the box (besides the Styrofoam) is a catalog of the other pedals in the collection. There’s no manual, and you don’t need one. It’s basically intuitive plug-and-play.

There’s a minimum of knobs on all of the pedals with an emphasis on foot controlled parameters. The Fuzz/Wah and Volume/Tone feature clever dual action treadle plates that not only rock forwards and backwards like a traditional wah-wah, but also move from left to right. And the Phaser has a big back-lit rate control knob, that alternately illuminates blue and red at the same rate as the phase shifting, that can easily be manipulated with your foot.

Let’s take a closer look at their ergonomy and see (and hear) how they sound.

Conclusion
Made in Korea with Californian know-how, these vintage re-issue pedals give the best of both worlds: quality products at a relatively inexpensive price. They might not have many fancy settings or adjustments but they definitely deliver the goods. They do however have a somewhat fancy look to them with all that shiny chrome; all except the Phaser, but the Phaser has that cool synchronized back-lit dial. Though they’re heavy and bulky, they do look, feel, and above all, sound vintage. There are a couple of details or features that could have been done differently and one or two downsides, but on the whole they’re a great addition to anyone’s pedal collection. And considering that they’re fairly inexpensive for such quality Fender products, there’s not much of a reason not to run out and test and eventually buy one, if not all.
 

 Price
 Solidity
 Sound – especially the Fuzz and the Phaser
 Nice look – Chrome or Back-lit dial
 Expressiveness with two-way control (Fuzz/Wah & Volume/Tone)
 Volume pedal transparency
 Smooth pedal action

 Weight and bulk
 Phaser noise 
 Tricky switch-stomping and difficult volume-level switch access on the Fuzz/Wah
 Tone variation on the Volume/Tone a little too narrow

 

Read the full review of the Fender Classics re-issues pedals on Audiofanzine.

 

October 25, 2008

SKB Stage5 review

t’s no secret that many guitarists like effects and that some are even addicted to their pedals. But of course there comes a time when it becomes necessary to make all these small boxes easier to transport and connect. That is partly why pedalboards were invented and marketed by brands such as SKB with their Stagefive, which we’ll be taking a closer look at …

Vue générale

In Audiofanzine’s forums or elsewhere it’s clear that when it comes to guitar effects, 2 schools of thought battle it out on this almost philosophical question. If you don’t count the “direct into the guitar amp” believers (poor guys), there’s on one side the multi-effect enthusiasts with it’s cumbersome digital programming and sub-sub-sub menus. And on the other, the stompbox fans (2-knobs and let’s play).

So you ask, how has the ultra-archaic effects pedal resisted the digital invader? There are objective reasons on the one hand: ease of use due to there being only a few knobs, the “one pedal, one effect” concept , the case where guitarists only need one or two effects (yes they exist!), and their robustness compared to the average multi effect. On the other hand, we find more subjective reasons: people talk about the warmth of analog compared to digital, not to mention trying to get the exact effects used by many of our idols, who recorded legendary music way before the advent of digital technology. What would “Voodoo Chile” be without a Wha Wha? “Message in a bottle” without a Boss Chorus, or any U2 song without 2 truck loads of all kinds of pedals?

 

After several weeks of use, Stagefive has proven to be a well thought out guitar pedal tool. The possibilities for routing and electrical power, plus the extra cable tester meets 90% of the needs of digital-phobic effect lovers.. If its weight and dimensions are somewhat imposing (start weightlifting immediately), it is unfortunately the price to pay for a single, comprehensive, and safe solution! And still it’s nothing compared to the weight of some custom wooden pedal boards. Among its slight shortcomings are the too concise manual, and the lack of a switch button between the 2 effects loops. At about 400 €, it’s not for everybody, but its strength and quality, in my view, make it worth the price.

Ruggedness
Quality of power outputs
The integrated cable tester!

Manual too light
Doesn’t handle some less common adapters – check before!
Lacks an A/B switch to go from one effects loop to the other

Read the full review of SKB Stage5 on Audiofanzine.

 

October 14, 2008

TC Helicon VoiceTone Harmony-G review

TC Helicon VoiceTone Harmony-G - AudioFanzineTC Helicon’s Harmony-G: The Test
After having delighted singers with their Voicetone pedals, TC Helicon is trying to seduce guitarist/singers with a pedal capable of simulating vocal harmonies that follow your voice and guitar playing. Extraordinary as this may sound in theory, does the Harmony G keep its promises in practice? That’s what we’ll see in this test …

You won’t feel so alone anymore

Setting up live vocal harmonies has always been relatively complicated. A bad balance between the main speakers and the monitoring speakers will often cause out of tune vocals which will quickly get on the nerves of any audience. But there are worse situations! How do you get harmony vocals when you‘re alone on stage? Even if you have all the talent and determination in the world, your voice is still monophonic. Fortunately, TC-Helicon was thinking of singer/guitarists and singer/ pianists who play solo when they created two pedals allowing them to be, as if by magic, accompanied by two virtual singers who even know the set-list by heart! But how is this possible? It’s simple: the pedal, thanks to the guitar or keyboard that is plugged into the device, follows the chord progression, analyzes it and figures out the vocal harmonies that go along with your voice. That’s, roughly, the idea behind the Harmony G (guitar) and Harmony M (for MIDI, the keyboard is connected via MIDI). Sounds tempting doesn’t it? Being a six-string enthusiast myself, I naturally chose the Harmony G model for this test.

So I eagerly opened the nice looking box with the TC Helicon logo …

C Helicon strikes another strong blow by allowing singer/guitarists to have 2 virtual singers at their command. With its effects and its integrated tuner, the little box is like an audio Swiss-army knife. It will undoubtedly attract many musicians thanks to its ease of use, sound quality, solid construction and very realistic vocal harmonies. The Harmony G also offers small features which have been intelligently thought out (changing the reference tuning or Manual mode) and its few defects are quickly overlooked in light of how enjoyable it is to use. Watch out Crosby, Stills & Nash!

Convincing vocal harmonies
Very good mic preamp
Quality effects
Solid construction
48 V phantom power
Guitar through
Automatic mix of voice and guitar
Tone mode
Integrated tuner
Manual

The balance of guitar, harmony levels and effects not stored in presets
Needs AC adapter
Pressing both switches at the same time is not so easy
Sometimes hangs when changing chords

Read the complete review of TC Helicon Voicetone Harmony-G.

September 17, 2008

Rupert Neve Designs Portico 5014 Stereo Field Editor

Rupert Neve Designs Portico Series
Portico Series: The Test
Neve. If there’s one name that causes the studio professional’s pulse to quicken, this is it! Even if the company has gone their own separate way with AMS since 1985, Rupert Neve, creator of the brand, has not hung up his soldering iron and is still creating new modules for his Portico range.
5032 avant
5032 arrière

After designing products for the likes of Focuriste or Amek this famous engineer is now working for his own Rupert Neve Designs. Through their Portico products, Rupert Neve Designs makes several pledges. First and foremost a no-compromise sound, worthy of their name, but also technical choices favoring more accessible prices.

Well, I can already hear your credit cards coming out of your wallets, so let’s be clear. At an average 1200€ per module, we are not in the same league as the slew of chinese products that litter the walls of many stores. But even if Portico isn’t looking to break into the entry level market, if they keep their sound quality pledge Rupert Neve Designs will have the additional appeal of their prices.

The Portico series isn’t new, the first model came out in 2005. But since they’ve had a ‘face lift’, we decided to take a new look at these products.

There are currently 8 modules in the Portico line:

  • The 5012 – Duo Mic Preamp. Rupert Neve Designs’ first product.
  • The 5014 – Stereo Field Editor. A tool for stereo image and phase manipulation
  • The 5015 – Mic Pre / Compressor. A preamp / compressor combo
  • The 5016 – Duo Mic Pre / DI, here again a preamp / DI combo with phase adjustment
  • The 5032 – Mic Pre / EQ, preamp and 3 band EQ
  • The 5033 – Five Band EQ, as its name indicates, a 5 band EQ with shelving filters
  • The 5042 – Tape Simulator, true tape simulator
  • The 5043 – Compressor / Limiter Duo, double compressor limiter
Conclusion

 

Rack

It was about time that we lent an ear to these great achievements from a legend of the audio world. With their new look, which is much nicer than the old cheap-looking facade, they now look the part. These modules have, in all cases, impeccable sound quality and a genuine character.

With their 2 distinct modes, the preamp and compression modules are very versatile and very useful tools for handling all kinds of sources.

Because of their interesting price, at least for the stereo modules, they should be on your test list.

The Sound!
My Favorite: the Compressor
The price of double channels
Compactness

The price of single channels
Power Switch on the Back

You can read the full review of  Rupert Neve Designs Portico 5014 Stereo Field Editor on Audiofanzine.

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