AF’s Weblog

June 28, 2012

Distortion… Clean and Simple

To read the full detailed article see:  Distortion…Clean and Simple

Most outboard effects behave in predictable ways as you move from manufacturer to manufacturer. For example, you can pick up any brand of digital delay, set at the delay time to 125 ms, the feedback to one repeat and the level to 50%, and get essentially the same, expected sound. Quality issues aside, you can also get predictable results from an EQ. This is a good thing, as it helps you set up the sound you hear in your head on different rigs. But guitar distortion pedals are the “black boxes” of the effects world; they are all unique, inscrutable, and adhere to no known standards for parameter definition. You don’t know how the Tone control is voiced, which harmonics are emphasized as the Distortion knob is cranked, or even what effect the Level control has (such as whether it works dynamically with the other controls or just boosts the existing signal to a louder level). Often the manuals are no help either, preferring not to reveal the mystery of what goes on inside their magic boxes.

So the bad news is, it’s virtually impossible to tell what the distortion pedal sounds like without auditioning it personally. There are no shortcuts, like reading reviews or scanning spec sheets. You just gotta drag yourself down to the local emporium and plug in. The good news is, it gives you an excuse to go shopping! And you can evaluate these disparate mystical contraptions—and even compare and contrast them— by using some basic common sense.

What’s in a Name

Fig. 1. Behringer’s Blues Overdrive BO100 and the Boss Super Over Drive SD-1. Both feature similarly named controls. The key to the pedals’ tonal character lies in their names.

If you’re seeking a warm bluesy overdrive, you can pretty much a eliminate anything with the word “metal” in the title. Conversely, if you’re trying to make Slipknot’s James Root look like a tone wimp, don’t limit yourself to mere “overdrive” pedals or effects with the word blue or tube in them. Often the best clue to pedals’ sounds are in their names, even if they feature controls that are similarly named, as shown in Fig. 1. You’ll find it’s tough to get any hard information from ads, because companies try to outdo each other with descriptive superlatives.

Also compounding the confusion is that some companies name their controls in a completely nonscientific way. Witness one company that released a pedal with controls called “Butt” and “Face.” The Ibanez Tube King’s Void control is perhaps not as flip, but it’s equally mystifying. Remember though, as odd as these names might strike you, it doesn’t mean the sound is necessarily worse (or better) than a pedal with more conventional named controls. Again, you can’t determine the quality of a pedal sound by looking at it, but you can get clues to its category.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Bench Test

Fig. 3. Though the DigiTech Death Metal has conventionally named controls—Level, Low, Mid, High—the name (not to mention the color scheme!) tells you its tone will be anything but conventional.

Once you have the prospective pedal set up and under your feet, the first thing you should do is establish the pedal’s unity gain setting. That’s the point that produces the same volume level when the pedal is active as when it’s bypassed. This will let you hear the pedal’s effect without the influence of psychoacoustics—that is, the ear responding differently to the same frequencies at varying loudness levels. Typically, your starting levels will look like those in Fig. 4. Kick the panel on and off a couple of times to hear what the pedal does to your tone in its most neutral state. Then slowly crank the distortion control from leftmost to rightmost position, noting not only the differences but how the unit is calibrated—how drastically the unit changes from low to high. Make sure to play real-world examples: lead lines, rhythm figures, arpeggios, percussive, and sustained passages. Then try touching up the sound with the pedal’s tone control. That’s part of the pedal’s character too—how its E.Q interacts with the distortion.

Using EQ with distortion is an important element in tailoring your sound. Generally, the higher the distortion setting, the more treble you’ll need to add. The reason is that the more distorted your signal, the more compressed it becomes, and compression rolls off high frequencies. But should you use the pedal’s EQ or your amp’s? Or an outboard EQ? And if you use an outboard EQ, should it come before or after the distortion? Only your ear can decide. Just remember this paraphrase from Woody Allen: If it’s not done dirty, it’s not done right. He was talking about guitar tone, right?

To read the full detailed article see:  Distortion…Clean and Simple

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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

May 12, 2010

SolidGoldFX Stompbox Review

If you are interested in guitar stompboxes, you must choose between two different worlds: you’ve got the mass-produced effect pedals that use more or less average-quality components for cost savings reasons, and you have boutique stompboxes produced in small quantities, using selected components, and hand-crafted by guitar FX enthusiasts. SolidGoldFX stompboxes – assembled by a tech guru from Quebec named Greg Djerrahian – fall in the second category.

SolidGoldFX

Before creating his own effect pedals, Greg made a name for himself customizing serial models from other brands to improve their sound quality. For example, he turned the awful Metal Zone into a highly musical high-gain pedal, which certainly cannot be considered a minor achievement.

Being a vintage stompbox collector, he decided to create the SolidGoldFX product range based on his own old-school collection and with the goal of offering modern-vintage sounds. His products have a vintage soul but feature a modern approach regarding dynamic response, sound clarity and respect of the instrument’s personality.

We’ll try to give you a good overview of the SolidGoldFX product range in this review. On today’s agenda, you’ll find two overdrive/distortion pedals (High Octane and Super Drive), two fuzz effects (Formula 69 and Formula 76) and a couple of boosters (Nitro and Rock Machine).

But before plugging in the guitar, let’s take the products out of their golden boxes and compare them.

Finish and Assembly

SolidGoldFXSolidGoldFX stompboxes come in rugged metal housings that recall MXR products in size and look, be it the compact (most of the pedals) or king-size models (Formula 76). Unfortunately, like MXR products, you’ll need a screwdriver to replace the batteries or use them with an external power supply, when this feature is provided, of course.

Each pedal has a silkscreen with a different color on the front panel and the typeface evokes the pedal’s spirit. For example, the Formula 69, which is a typical 60’s fuzz, uses psychedelic letters, while the Formula 76, which is more into the 70’s, recalls the disco years. The silkscreen is very clear, which we really appreciate, considering that most boutique manufacturers hand paint the name of the controls on the housing. In this case, the silkscreen looks professional and it is easily readable, except for the Super Drive whose jam-packed design makes reading the control functions a bit difficult.

Every pedal comes with adhesive plastic pads and it is up to the user to decide if he wants to use them or not. That’s a nice detail if you have a pedalboard and want to fix Velcro strips on the bottom.

Each pedal is provided with a spec sheet that includes an explanation of the concept behind it, a description of all its controls and the pedal’s assembly in detail.

That’s how we discovered that all SolidGoldFX have true bypass and use high-quality components: Neutrik I/O connectors, specially selected potentiometers (you’ll feel it as soon as you turn them) and gold-plated PCBs (does it have anything to do with the brand’s name?). The on/off status is indicated by one or several large, white and very (very) bright LEDs.

Enough chatter, it’s time to see if the stompboxes’ features are on the same level as their look.

Now let’s take a closer look at each stompbox…

Conclusion

All six stompboxes we tested have unquestionable positive features. I strongly recommend you to test them if you are looking for vintage-sounding products with higher versatility than the original models. The icing on the cake is that all stompboxes can be combined together to create more complex sound colors. For example, the Super Drive is transfigured by the Rock Machine, and I even achieved a Kyuss-like sound mixing these two pedals with the Formula 69!

Regardless of whether you are a blues, rock or stoner fan, give these made-in-Montreal stompboxes a chance. Bloody good tone guaranteed!

Advantages:

  • High-class assembly
  • Respect of the guitar’s own sound
  • Superb sound quality
  • Can be combined with each other

Drawbacks:

  • Controls’ layout on the Super Drive and Formula 76
  • Silk-screen on the Super Drive a bit unclear
  • Rock Machine requires special power-on precautions

To read the full detailed review see:  SolidGoldFX Stompbox Review

April 2, 2009

Boss Booth at Musikmesse

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Who wants that big DD-7  🙂 ?

For more Musikmesse photos and news visit Audiofanzine Musikmesse

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January 21, 2009

NAMM 2009: Video Demo TC Helicon VoiceLive 2

Filed under: namm 2009, Vocal Processor — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 5:31 pm

Presentation of the new VoiceLive 2 stompbox voice processor from TC Helicon.

To watch all NAMM 2009 video demos visit us on Audiofanzine NAMM 2009.

September 7, 2008

Line6 M13 stompbox modeler review

Line 6 has been so strongly associated with their Pod that one almost overlooks the fact that their other line of products, stomp box modelers, have long been part of many guitarist’s (some of them famous) arsenals. First there were effects pedal modules dedicated to a certain type of effect, then the concept evolved into the likes of the M13: a multi-effects pedal board integrating all these modules and effect types, but also integrating new features and capabilities.

M13

Exit the original big pedal format: the M13 comes in the form of an almost square metal multi-effects pedal that’s about 40 centimeters wide. Taking up most of the device are the four identical “units” (they look like big channel strips) each having a display, knobs, a protection bar, and three footswitches, one on top of the other. To the right, another unit with three footswitches lets you activate different functions of the device with your foot.

As for inputs/outputs, on the back panel there are 2 ins (for stereo ins), a pair of outputs (stereo/mono), an effects loop, midi in/out, and a pair of inputs for expression pedals. As far as design is concerned, the device seems robust and heavy, seeing as all components are made of metal, with the exception of the knobs, which seem to be even smaller than your average knob on a standard pedal.

 

Once turned on via the dedicated switch, the whole thing lights up everywhere: displays, LEDs next to the switches, blinking ‘tap tempo’, all in multicolor! Let’s take a closer look.

n the end, what’s to be remembered from all this? First, that the M13 is not your average effects pedal: it’s a hybrid between a traditional multi-effect pedalboard and a set of modeled pedals, with a looper as icing on the cake. In use, one appreciates its extreme flexibility which will satisfy both aficionados of the traditional system of pedals or multi-effects lovers. Of course, you can’t choose the effects on board, but the impressive collection and the effects loop for which you can add your favorite pedals can cope with the vast majority of needs… In fact, apart from the sound and the quality of the effects, which will perhaps not be to everyone’s taste, it’s hard to see what to criticize about the M13, except maybe the impossibility of switching amp channels at a distance. But ultimately, this is nothing compared to the enormous possibilities of the device. In fact, the real question is: who will use the M13 to its full potential? The answer is unimportant, because for less than the price of two of their ‘stompbox modeller’ pedals, you get the complete collection and more, and new capabilities. Line6 has launched a new approach to ‘multi-effects’ which will probably be emulated in the future!

 

Vast Collection of Effects
Flexible Usage
Integrated Looper & Tuner
Great Modulations and Delays
A New Approach to Multi-effects

Quality of Distortions Compared to the Rest
MIDI Documentation Insufficient
Not Possible to Remotely Switch Amp Channels
Effects Editing: Knobs not sensitive enough
LCDs should have been tilted towards the front a little more for better visibility

You can read a more complete review of Line6 M13 on Audiofanzine.

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