18 rated delay and modulation effects

This roundup of new delay and modulation pedals may lack a unifying theme, but then so does the marketplace. So much the better — as never before, we can choose among the best of new and old technologies. Crafty digital designers continue to cram more features into smaller boxes at lower prices, while vintage tone custodians safeguard arcane signal processing lore from the’60s and ’70s. As we consider everything from bargain do-it-all boxes to pricey specialty items, it’s not so much a case of apples and oranges as apples and octopi.

The biggest decision facing today’s pedal consumer may be “How good is good enough?” Do you need a Carl Martin chorus pedal, or can you make do with the not-bad chorusing on the DigiTech XP-200, which costs $145 less while offering many other effects plus realtime control? Do you need to cough up $295 for the freak-out features of the Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man, or will the lovely but relatively limited Ibanez Echomachine satiate you at $140? Don’t ask us — we’re still trying to figure it out for ourselves, though we have attempted to evaluate each device in light of its own price-point aspirations.

Unless otherwise noted, all pedals are U.S.-made. Those that require AC power come with adapters or built-in power supplies. All that can run on batteries have an AC option, but none come with adapters.

The ART Xtreme Plus is more multi-effector than stompbox The AC-powered unit combines four flavors of distortion and 100 digital effects presets in a sleek black box that costs about the same as many of the single-function boxes surveyed here. There are 100 memory slots for storing overdrive/effects combinations. You can’t edit the effects, but they’re grouped as ten variations on ten effects combinations delay, long delay, reverb, chorus/flange + delay, delay + reverb, chorus/ flange + reverb, tremolo/panner + reverb, chorus/flange, chorus/flange + delay + reverb and pitch shift/panner/tremolo). So while you can’t, say, dial in a specific delay time in milliseconds, you may find a workable approximation.

The digital effects quality is about typical for a rack or pedal multi-effector in this price range. More surprising are the buff distortion sounds and macho tone control section, whose 3-band EQ with sweepable mid adds greatly to the unit’s range. The distortions aren’t subtle or especially dynamic. They don’t clean up as much as you might like when you back off the guitar’s volume pot, and since it’s a big leap from the squeaky-clean crystal” setting to the mildest of the distortion settings, the Xtreme is not a good choice for anyone seeking modest overdrive. But those hungering for hearty, meat-and-potatoes rock tones won’t be disappointed by the big-bottomed nimble. You can’t store EQ settings, drive amount or effects wet/ dry mixes with the effects, though there is a dedicated knob for each function. But even with such limited programmability, the Xtreme Plus delivers a huge range of decent sounds at a remarkable price — and its tough metal housing puts to shame comparably priced plastic pedalboards. It includes stereo and headphone outs.

The edit knob gradations are quite fine — it takes some finesse to zero in on your target program. (Rob Reed of ART says that it will be easier to change effects on subsequent production models.) Two rubber footpads advance you through the program while a large LED displays their numbers. There’s no bank structure — you must step through the effects one at a time, which means you’ll need to map out in advance which programs you require and store them to adjacent memory slots.

Since much of the unit’s character resides in the drive and EQ sections, the Xtreme Plus will more readily cough up contrasting tones at home (where you can tweak between takes) than onstage. Live, it’s best for switching between a few basic flavors. The wall-wart power supply is included. Comments: “A nice, tight package.” A bit hard to edit.” A great starter effects pedal.” ” Honest distortions for players who want to rock out.”

Carl Martin pedals are made in Denmark and distributed by those other great Danes, TC Electronic. They’re not clones of the TC pedals, but their hi-fi sound and quality construction have a definite TC vibe. The Chorus xII is actually two identical chorus effects in one box with separate rate and depth controls for each. It’s great for switching silently and instantly between, say, a slow, subtle sweep and a hyperactive swoosh. There are stereo outputs, a classy built-in power supply (no battery option) and twin LEDs that blink in sync with the modulation. The mono chorused sound is thick and even, without the vowel-like EQ quirks we associate with some of our favorite chorus pedals. It’s more audiophile than eccentric. But any flatness disappears in stereo, where the xII really comes to life with one of the most lush and detailed stereo images we’ve heard. Comments: “A hi-fi, Eric Johnson-type tone.” “Plan on using it in stereo.” Reminds me of what I used to like about stereo chorus.”

The latest pedal from the new company operating under the old Danelectro name boasts the same classy construction, bargain price and funky — cool styling (think’57 Chevy) as the overdrive pedals they introduced earlier this year. The Chinese-made Cool Cat Chorus is a classy, straightforward stereo chorus with simple rate and depth controls. It requires two 9-volt batteries or an 18-volt power supply and delivers a thick, full tone with a nice, ringy high end. Its chorusing is not as compact and focused as, say, an old Boss CE- 1 — it has a more diffuse, fullfrequency pulsation with a distinctive shimmer. While the Cool Cat never gets weird, it always sounds nice, especially in stereo, where its tactile qualities stand out even more. It also boasts one of the better battery compartments of this roundup. Comments: “Voiced just right for guitar. “A real bargain.” “Sounds sweet and analog.” “Halfway between the’70s sound of a CE- 1 and the’80s sound of a TC.”

The DigiTech XP-200 may be the most genuinely innovative effects pedal since, well, DigiTech’s WhammyPedal, its obvious inspiration. The built-in rocker pedal affords realtime control over six variations each of six flavors of modulation effect (rotary speaker simulation, chorus, flanging, phasing, vibrato, tremolo/pan). There’s also a volume pedal function and a built-in tuner. Wow. Each program assigns a single parameter to the control pedal. The six flanging programs, for example, include shallow, medium and deep modulations with the pedal regulating the amount of effect, two manual flange settings where the pedal controls the sweep frequency, and a triggered flange with the pedal setting trigger sensitivity.

The XP-200 is every bit as clever and useful as it sounds, but the effects quality, while impressive for the price, is not state-of-the-art. If you’re using pricey, top-shelf modulation effects, you’ll have to weigh the Xp-200’s compactness and affordability against its sonic compromises. The rotary speaker sounds are definitely the star effects, even if they’re not nearly as stellar as those on DigiTech’s $579 RPM- I Leslie impersonator. Switching between the fast, slow and brake speeds feels more like massaging a Leslie than tweaking a MIDI controller — well done! The chorus and flange are pleasant but not as creamy as one might hope-there’s a slight metallic edge-and the vibrato and trem feel a bit mechanical. But by any reckoning, the 200 delivers an insane amount of processing power at a stunning price. And the XP-200 lets you play with many sounds (pedal-driven trem speed, for example) that few if any boutique jobs provide.

There are stereo outputs (the effects sounds sweeping and dramatic through dual amps), a wall-wart power supply and an input level trim pot If you’re used to playing through fixed-input stompboxes, be aware that it can be tricky finding an input level high enough to preserve your sound, but with enough headroom not to fry when you kick in the best distortion pedal for metal. Footpads let you slip into bypass and advance through the programs one by one. Darting through the program is tricky (back-scrolling is particularly awkward), but a clever user-memory function lets you store six faves in adjacent memory locations for easy transitions. There’s a momentary signal dropout when you change programs.

Including a timer was a brilliant idea, but this particular tuner is a total bummer. LED dashes spin clockwise and counter-clockwise to denote sharp and flat. Most of us intuitively associate up/down and left/right with sharp/flat, but the spinning dashes have no such connotations. Furthermore, the center “in tune” slot is very fine, so it’s easy to feel like you’re lost in a seasick spiral. Even after using the pedal for two gigs, I was confused — and much more out-of-tune than usual. It would be much easier if the two input-level LEDS indicated sharp and flat. Switching to tuner mode doesn’t mute your output signal, but you can do so by accessing the tuner from within the volume pedalprogram.

Still, the XP-200 wins top marks for creativity, multi-functionality and value. Comments: “Nicely laid out-intelligent, compact and attractive.” “Good rotary sounds.” The most absurd tuner design I’ve ever seen.” “Some of the effects have a painted-on, metallic quality.” “With just this box and a distortion pedal, you could get a huge number of tones.”

The DOD FX96 Echo FX delivers an impressive imitation of tape delay at a fair price. Besides the usual delaytime, feedback and mix controls, there’s an ingenious “tape quality” pot that rolls off highs on the echoes, making them sound, well, crappier — and the desire for the right kind of crappiness is, after all, why certain players favor persnickety antique delays over today’s reliable digital models. This cool feature makes the FX96 a great choice for those seeking rockabilly-style slapback. The catch is that the pedal is only capable of ultra-short delays — the maximum delay time is about the shortest you’d find anywhere. While maximum feedback on short delays with the highs rolled off yields a uniquely eerie ambiance, the Echo FX is definitely not a trippy echo machine. But it sounds great for what it does and would work splendidly paired with a second delay pedal set to a longer, dreamier setting. Comments: “Total Scotty Moore.” “Sounds great-how do I get it to do longer echoes? Oh.” “A pocket-sized Echoplex — provided you only need slap.”

The only dedicated Ranger in this roundup with stereo outputs, DOD’s FX747 Supersonic Stereo Flange unleashes spacious sweeps through two amps. The tones have an assertive, toothy quality that veers more toward metallic than warm. It serves up striking effects at higher regeneration settings, but doesn’t quite match the arcing, around-the-moon sweeps of, say, an ADA Flanger. Besides the requisite rate, depth and regeneration controls, there’s a level pot to regulate the intensity of the flanged signal. But there’s no manual control, so you can’t get those tuned-resonance metal-percussion/steel-drum effects. Comments: “Nice graininess.” “A little underwhelming-where are the jet plane swooshes?” “Sounds deeper and richer in stereo.”

One thing you can say about Electro-Harmonix effects: Step on one and you damn well know it’s there. Their recently reissued Deluxe Memory Man is no exception — it’s a big, boisterous delay that probably comes closer to capturing the anarchic joys of tape delay than any other non-tape unit. Its unique delay tone is bright, even a bit metallic, inclining more toward crispy impact than the softer, cushier tone of certain other analog delay pedals. The real action is in the delay controls. They’re the usual time/feedback/mix pots, but with exceptional range. Higher regeneration settings unleash blistering, speaker-torturing oscillation; twiddling the delay pot in the midst of said oscillation will bring noise complaints from the neighbors in seconds. Yum.

The chorus/vibrato section provides additional trippy colors, but note that the effect is a primitive one-a broad, woozy detuning, not the sweeping, cushy sound we now associate with the term “chorusing.” A switch toggles between chorus and vibrato modes (the same effect at different rates) while a knob regulates effect intensity. There are separate outs for the dry and effect signals and an input level control, making this gadget a definite contender for all-around studio applications. But as with any effects pedal with an adjustable input level, it can be tricky finding a level high enough to sound hot, but with enough headroom not to fry when you pour on the fuzz (though the large overload LED helps). Actually, sonic perverts may find they enjoy the sound of overdriving the Memory Man’s input. The Deluxe comes in a metal housing that seems at least as durable as the originals. It’s AC-only-there’s built-in power supply with a genuinely stageworthy power cable. Kudos.

Those seeking extravagant, brain-lacerating delay effects should proceed directly to the Deluxe Memory Man. Comments: “That’s an effect!” “The early Pink Floyd pedal.” “A straight-up bomb!” “Definitely gets the psychedelic award.”

A bit reminiscent of the influential ADA Hanger, the Japanese-made Ibanez FL99 Classic Flange Dual Analog Flanger excels at both bread-and-butter flanged tones and whackedout effects. Besides the usual rate, depth and regeneration pots, there’s a manual control for accessing those nifty tuned-resonance metal-percussion effects. There’s also a designated “intensity” switch that torques up the flanging effect (it switches between subtle high-end modulation and a full-frequency whoosh) plus a filter toggle that gives the midrange a vowel-like, notchedwah contour. In fact, the FL99 is an intensely midrange-oriented device. While its vocal qualities are remarkable, it doesn’t match the gutter-to-heavens sweep of an ADA. Still, there are a lot of colors here, all of them detailed and usable. But while many of its sounds are out of this world, we wish the FL99 conformed to the terrestrial norm of situating the input jack to the right and the output to the left, not the perverse reverse. The mono-only device requires AC power (wall-wart included). Comments: “Huge variety of textures.” “Gets well into the sound-effects realm.” “Warm and rich.”

Funky, funky, funky! The Ibanez PH99 Classic Phase Analog Dual Wave Phaser absolutely nails the fluid-squirting flavor of classic’70s funk. It’s stunningly organic — it can sound like someone talking, chewing or worse. Like its cosmetic twin, the FL99, the Classic Phase has four knobs (speed, depth, feedback and effect level) plus an intensity switch and an extra sound-shaping toggle, which in this case selects between sine-and square-wave modulation. Much of the fun resides in the feedback pot, which offers funny, fleshy colors throughout its range. There’s no thinness anywhere — if anything, the handsomely voiced modulation enhances the low end. The PH99 is more than a funk machine–extreme settings elicit tweeter-frying glides and whistles that will delight anyone trying to insinuate guitar tracks into techno music. Like the FL99, this Japanese-made pedal requires AC power and has irritating, reverse-mounted input and output jacks. Comments:”A very capable phaser.” “Some very unique sounds.” “Tons of range.”

The modest Ibanez EM5 Echomachine was one of the sweet little surprises of our roundup. Gorgeous analogdelay tones lurk within the EM5’s humble plastic “potato bug” housing. Nothing fancy-just the usual echo time, echo repeat and wet/dry mix pots. But the Taiwan-made Echomachine strikes a lovely balance between fuzzy warmth and articulate clarity, one that recalls the pre-digital delay pedals of Boss and Ibanez. The EM5’s echoes degenerate with a convincingly tape-like loss of highs. With a whopping (for an inexpensive analog pedal) 600ms of delay time and regeneration settings that venture well into the psycho zone, the EM5 excels at everything from primitive slaps to acid-washed chaos. There’s only one output, so you can’t separate the wet and dry mix. The plastic enclosure doesn’t inspire supreme confidence, but at a fraction of the cost of a vintage or boutique analog delay pedal, the EM5 definitely merits consideration. Everybody who heard this pedal liked it. Comments: “Great balance of sparkle and warmth.” A big winner.” “Dibs!”

The Crystal Chorus is one of a recent series of Morley pedals packaged in simple boxes with sporty metal-flake finishes. The only controls are rate and depth. The chorus sound has a distinctive thickness, almost as if there were a short slapback delay added to the effect, albeit with no perceptible attack There are stereo outputs, and the effect sounds very pleasant through dual amps. But everyone agreed that the battery compartment is a major bummer. Attaching the metal cover plate with a piece of fishing-line-type filament is a nice idea, but it’s difficult stuffing the battery, wires and plastic line into the compartment. The sharp metal edges of the plate made us nervous, and players who rely on their fingernails should beware the fussy latch. It’s a bad arrangement for stressfull, mid-set battery changes. Also, it’s rather difficult to insert cables into the pedal’s input and output jacks. True, the plugs sit nice and tight once they’re in, but inserting them feels as if you’re trying to force them into a block of hard cheese. (You’ll find the same battery compartment and jacks on the other Morley devices covered here.) Comments: “Decent chorus.” “Cool-looking box.” “My fingers are killing me, man!”

Morley’s Sapphire Flanger comes in the same cool box There are three knobs: speed, travel, regeneration. The Sapphire works fine for simple, understated flanging, but the device doesn’t attain the freaky extremes some players demand. Its basic tone has the toothy, textured striations you want from a flanger, but even with the regeneration floored you don’t get the big, arcing whistle you might expect. There’s no manual control, so there are no static-resonance steel-drum-type effects. But the essential color is a musical, vocal-sounding sweep that’s rich without being muddy. Comments: “Sounds attractive.” “Nice, but a little underwhelming.”

The tone of Morley’s Emerald Echo is thoroughly analog-funky It can sound remarkably like a tape echo with worn tape and dirty heads, which is precisely the tone many delay freaks seek. The mix control lets you output 100% delayed signal, which may be relevant for special effects or adding a lo-fi effects send to your mixer. But since the regeneration maxes out at a half-dozen delays, you can’t get extravagant feedback or runaway saturation. Comments: “Really sounds like old tape.” “Grungy but unexciting.”

Morley’s battery-powered Echo Plus deploys a rocker-style pedal in its analog delay circuit. In echo mode the treadle controls the wet/dry mix, a pair of knobs sets the echo time (up to 300ms, about par for  best analog delay pedal) and regeneration amount. A footswitch shifts you to chorus/vibrato mode, where the treadle sets the modulation speed while a knob regulates modulation depth. Chorus and delay are not available simultaneously.

It’s a clever arrangement. Regulating the delay mix by foot is a powerful expression tool — you can, for example, downplay the delay for clarity on busy passages but floor it at the ends of phrases for a spacious effect. And continually adjusting the chorus speed cuts a fair approximation of a rotating speaker. The Plus’s delay is attractively dark and lo-fi, suitable for rockabilly slaps and gentle undulations. But as on the Emerald Echo, maximum regeneration only yields a half-dozen echoes, not the runaway feedback you’d expect on a tape-flavored delay — not good for those seeking freaky effects. “Chorus /vibrato” refers here to a single effect — thick chorusing with pronounced detuning. There are dual outputs, and the chorusing sounds nice in stereo. The chromeplated steel housing, similar to that of Morley’s popular wah pedals, is sturdy and substantial. The Echo Plus doesn’t match the range and depth of some of its competitors, but it affords useful control over several handsome sounds. “Nice, basic sounds.” “Pleasant.” (Bill Wenzloff of Morley says, “We wanted these four pedals to stay within the usable, average settings that most musicians want. We purposely did not include the extreme sounds.”)

The two newest pedals from RFX come in identical utilitarian housings. The top-mounted battery compartment with its detachable lid is ideal for quick changes. Both pedals have clever dual footswitches that may demand extra finesse from clumsy people with big feet. The boardmounted plastic input jacks feel a bit cheap. The RFX PanelO is a crafty little tremolo/pan pedal with stereo outputs and inputs, which is great if you want to situate it at the end of your signal chain after another stereo effect. Another cool detail is a knob that fades between sine and square modulation (there are some very pretty pulsations in between). There are the usual rate and depth pots as well. The dual-pad footswitch lets you select between mono and stereo operation, which struck most of us as a rather specialized option. (If you’re using a single amp, stereo is irrelevant, and if you’re using two, you’ll probably want the stereo spread most of the time.) The tremolo sound is pleasant, if not as creamy and multi-dimensional as on pricier boutique trems.

The PhaseOVibe is a dual phase-shifter/vibrato with speed, depth and regeneration controls. The latter affords access to a surprisingly broad palette of mono sounds, from ’60s-style phasing with a dramatic flange-like sweep to lush, watery animations. A footswitch shifts to vibrato mode, a hip and highly musical variation on tremolo. Both broad detuning effects and subtle pulsations have a sexy, watery quality. Comments: “Really has that fluid sound.” “Lots of nice, unique tones.”

While it’s quite adept at the Fender- and Vox-flavored tones that make vintage vultures circle overhead, Rocktron’s The Surf Tremolo is much more than just another boutique trem. The Surf includes HUSH noise reduction and a high-end enhancement circuit; placed near the end of your signal chain, the pedal can correct the high-end signal loss and noise problems you get from running through a lot of boxes. There are separate on/off switches for trem and compression; you can also negate the HUSH effect by setting a minimum threshold via a dedicated knob. Additional knobs set the enhance amount, compression threshold and, of course, tremolo rate and depth. There are no additional parameters for the HUSH, enhance and compress functions, but they’re optimized for guitar signals and seem to work just fine as they are. There are separate outputs for triangle- and square-wave tremolo modulations; between them, you can get everything from naturalistic tube-type pulsation to Apocalypse Now helicopter chops as rate LEDs pulse in time. The Surf comes in Rocktron’s usual munitions-grade housing, one of the studliest available.

If this pedal only provided trem, it would be significant; with noise reduction, compression and enhance, it’s real stop-the-presses stuff. The only thing we might wish for is a switch or toggle for shifting between the two modulation waveforms without replugging. Also, the battery compartment fastens with two tiny screws-that’s three pieces to lose.

The Surf excels at both classic trem effects and an over-the-top flickering that’s perfect for technofied, trancey textures. Comments. “Killer!” “Whoa!” “Game over, man!”

The Voodoo Lab Analog Chorus is a faithful sonic clone of the old Boss CE-1, the 1976 pedal that first popularized chorusing. To many the CE- I remains the definitive chorus, more focused and less syrupy than its ’80s and ’90s descendants. its color is strikingly vocal, with an attractive asymmetrical sweep that helps keep the effect from sounding overly mechanical. Like the original, the Voodoo Lab version is a mono-only effect with a distinctive organic tone. It comes in the company’s usual compact, stageworthy housing. Comments: “Warm, pulsing and sexy.” “Lots of shimmer.”

Conclusions. Despite a few drawbacks, Digitech’s XP-200 Modulator is the very model of innovative design and bargain pricing. Rocktron’s The Surf is a blow-you-out-of-the-water winner with great tones and exceptional features. ART’s Xtreme Plus, the Ibanez Echomachine and Danelectro’s Cool Cat offer classy sounds at remarkable prices. The Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man wins top honors in the Psychoactive Subversion division, and pedalphiles craving new pulsations are directed toward the watery RFX PhaseOVibe and funky Ibanez PH99 phaser.