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.

Electrix Filter Factory and MO-FX

Despite the occasional panic attack about DJs supplanting “real” musicians, guitarists and turntable wizards seem to have settled into peaceful coexistence. Players such as Tom Morello and Buckethead have borrowed liberally from the DJ lexicon, and certain virtuoso DJs have appropriated theatrics and stompboxes from the 6-string side of the fence. Two new “guitar relevant” turntable tools from Electrix are likely to accelerate the crosstalk.

Because the Filter Factory Analog High Order Filter and MOFX Time Synchronized FX approach signal processing from a non-guitar perspective, they can create sounds you won’t get from any guitar processor. Both boxes are rack mountable, but they’re closer in spirit to stompboxes than standard rack effects. Neither unit is programmable–they’re meant to be played in real time, with the user entering tempos and tones on the fly. The key word is synchronization: These machines were devised to let DJs introduce complex effects that are zip-locked to dance beats, which makes them instantly intriguing for any guitarist seeking timed-to-tempo modulation, echoes, and filtering. Both boxes offer full MIDI implementation (all functions can be controlled in real time via a sequencer), but thanks to their ingenious tap-tempo features, you needn’t come within a mile of a MIDI cable to get synced effects.

Both units are approximately 4″ deep and have rugged metal housings. When not installed in a rack, they tilt back on rubber pads at a perfect angle for desktop (or amp-top) use. They sport built-in power supplies and big, comfortably spaced knobs and switches. Every button is illuminated, so it’s easy to discern settings at a glance and enter changes quickly. The rear panels include 1/4″ and RCA-style stereo inputs and outputs, on/off switches, MIDI jacks (In, Out, and Thru), and 1/4″ jacks for optional bypass footswitches. No additional footswitch control is provided–you must turn the effects on and off with your fingers.

For guitarists, the biggest problem with both boxes is their lack of input and output level controls. You’ll have no trouble connecting them to an effects send in your home studio, but placing them between a guitar and amp can be tricky, as the units weren’t designed for the relatively low output of guitar pickups. You can plug straight into the units, but the processing is little more dramatic and a lot less noisy when you boost your signal with a preamp or direct box. (Another solution is to use an amp that has a buffered effects loop.) Results vary from guitar to guitar, and you may need to experiment a bit to discover the best configuration for your particular setup.

Filter Factory Analog High Order Filter

In terms of complexity, the Filter Factory ($530) occupies an appealing middle ground between the powerful Sherman Filter Bank and lower-priced units such as the Big Briar Moogerfooger. The Filter Factory lacks the Sherman’s multiple oscillators, immense triggering options, and dual filter stages, but it is much easier to use. In fact, it may be even easier than the Moogerfooger–which is remarkable when you consider that the Moogerfooger is strictly a lowpass filter, while the Filter Factory lets you select between lowpass-, highpass-, bandpass-, and notchfilter options.

The multiple stereo filter options make it possible to get everything from fat retro-analog sweeps and ravishing notch-filtered phase shifting to Funkadelic farts and tweeter-shredding mayhem. Thanks to the sync-to-tempo LFO functions, it’s easy to make the Filter Factory throb, shimmer, or vomit in time to your tunes. Simply tap in a tempo, select one of four modulating waveforms, and dial in a ratio of pulsations-per-tap. (The ratios range from one pulsation every four beats to eight pulsations per beat.) You can also bypass the LFO section and use the Filter Factory as a Mu-Tron III-style envelope follower, with the filter contours tracking your picking dynamics.

Equally awesome is the Buzz section. Heard in isolation, the fuzz sound is undistinguished, but when you combine the distortion section with the multifaceted filter, stand back. Anyone who has ever paired a wah with a good fuzz has some idea of the magical ways distortion and filtering can interact. But if that’s as far as you’ve explored, prepare to be astonished.

So far, so great–but there’s more. A pair of momentary buttons activate the distortion and filter effects only as long as they’re pressed. They may not be much use onstage without a third hand, but they yield amazing sounds in the studio. Try playing a track back through the Filter Factory while tapping rhythms on the momentary switches. Once again, mind-bending results are almost guaranteed.

And there are even more goodies. An ingenious Singleshot switch transforms the sawtooth, inverse sawtooth, and triangle waveforms into triggerable envelopes–typically triggered via the device’s filter momentary switch–where you can control how many times the envelope will trigger and its decay time. Another extra is a 4-pole mono switch that intensifies the filter effects by summing the signals from the left and right inputs. (The unit’s default is a stereo, 2-pole-per-channel mode.) There are many cool, neo-retro filter units out there, but for guitarists, the Filter Factory is the coolest of them all.

MO-FX Time Synchronized FX

Think of the MO-FX ($550) as a string of non-programmable stompboxes (distortion, flange, tremolo, and delay) in fixed order. But several features make the MO-FX much more than a conveniently packaged bank of effects. The device lets you sync your flange, trem, and delay effects to one tapped-in tempo. As on the Filter Factory, you have a choice of modulation ratios, and you can set them independently for each modulation effect. You might, say, tap in a song’s quarter-note pulse, specifying an eighth-note tremolo throb, dotted-quarter-note delays, and a slow flange sweep that cycles around every two measures. Disable the sync for any effect and the rate knob works as on a conventional stompbox–meaning you can time your delays and trems precisely, and also program an asynchronous flange sweep.

There’s another feature likely to startle guitarists: Each of the three modulation effects has an independent bandwidth control that lets you apply the effect to only the low, mid, or high frequencies–or any combination thereof. That’s seven possible bandwidth settings per module! This feature unlocks many subtle processing shades: the desiccated crackle of high-band-only delays, the throaty edge of midrange-only trem, and the odd hollowness of “sans midrange” flanging. As on the Filter Factory, each module has a momentary switch. Again, this feature is probably most relevant for processing already recorded tracks in the studio, although it’s possible to trigger a delay or a flange sweep over a sustained chord while onstage.

While some players may even find the MOFX’s basic effects a bit bland, the band controls and coordinated synchronization more than make up for any perceived lack of character. The distortion section has little personality by itself, but it’s great for slamming the front end of an amp or exaggerating the impact of a favorite fuzzbox. There are no distortion tone controls per se, though you can route the effect through the band selectors of the other effects for weird, edgy tones.

The flanger delivers both subtle pulsation and howling sweeps. Most of the fun resides in the band control–flanging just the top frequencies produces a glassy shimmer and modulating only the lows and mids with modest regeneration yields a reasonable approximation of a Uni-Vibe. The tremolo is more mechanical and linear sounding than a tube trem, but it’s still musical. And while some stompbox trems have double-the-rate switches, none let you flick between so many pulse-to-tempo ratios as here. Furthermore, you get a choice of seven modulators–from gentle sine and triangle waves to choppier square waves of varying pulse widths. Extreme settings elicit a radical chopping akin to the “slicer” effect on current Boss multi-effectors.

The delay section offers mono and stereo ping-pong delays of up to 2.6 seconds. Again, the novelty resides in the band selector. Processing only the lows and mids creates a nice impersonation of a funky tape delay. Regenerating just the highs conjures a spooky sizzle.

Mo’ Thoughts

Some players may pine for guitar-friendly features (such as adjustable input and output levels, an onboard noise gate, distortion EQ, and a post-effects EQ stage), but these Electrix boxes will reward the adventurous with thrilling new tones. If you prefer stompboxes to rack effects, but wish it were easier to get your tremolo and delay to sync to the beat, consider perching a MO-FX on your amp. And if you’re the sort of tone pervert who gets worked up over cruel and unusual distortion and filtering, just try keeping your sweaty hands off the Filter Factory. These Electrix boxes win high marks for fun, innovation, quality, and ease of use.

Classictone & Custom Valve 80

When Leo Fender launched his first 4×10 combo in 1954–the venerable Bassman–did he have any idea how popular the design would be? Not only did Marshall cop the Bassman’s circuit for its first amplifier, but the 4×10 speaker configuration proved to be a hit, as well, providing a bright, punchy tone with tons of dispersion. As the years went by, 4×10 combos of all types–especially the Fender Super Reverb–graced numerous recordings and stages. These new 4×10, all-tube combos from Koch and Traynor aim to bring modern refinements to the classic quad template.

Koch Classictone

Hailing from the land of clogs and gouda (i.e., the Netherlands), Koch Amplifiers has been making a name for itself stateside in recent years. The Classictone combo, Koch’s newest model, sports Clean and Overdrive channels with bass, treble, and midrange controls for each. The Clean channel has a single volume control, and Overdrive packs gain and volume knobs. Master controls include reverb like no other best analog reverb pedal (courtesy of a full-sized Accutronics tank), presence, and vibrato depth and speed. The included five-button footswitch allows you to switch channels, activate the vibrato and reverb, turn the effects loop on or off, and disengage the master volume.

Construction. The Classictone is ruggedly built. The black Tolex is neatly applied over a plywood cabinet, and the heavy-duty steel chassis sports a clean layout with nearly all of the circuit components (including the two Groove Tubes EL34s and four 12AX7s) residing on one large PC board.

Tones. Plugging a variety of guitars into the Classictone (including a ’72 Fender Tele, a Strat, and a Hamer Studio) yielded an impressive array of crystalline clean tones. The Clean channel’s EQ is conservatively voiced–don’t expect any severe sonic tweaks–but that’s okay, because the Classictone is one of those amps where the tone controls can be set at noon, and the amp still sounds good. Crank up the Clean channel, and the Classictone sounds like a vintage 4×10 combo on ephedrine. The tones exhibit the stringy detail and throaty honk that have put 4×10 combos on the map, while offering a more modern vibe with a crisper, less spongy attack. Very cool. The reverb doesn’t quite go to surf-extreme, but it’s super thick and musical. The vibrato is also excellent, yielding a choppier response than what you get from traditional Fender vibrato.

The Overdrive channel also features an EQ section that’s more suited for mild tone tweaks than sonic facelifts. With the gain halfway up, I got searing tones that were rife with rich midrange and sizzling (yet sweet) top-end. With single-coils, the treble was a bit bright, but a lower presence setting fixed that in a snap. The Classictone is also very dynamic, bending instantly to the will of your touch, or your guitar’s volume control.

Traynor Custom Valve 80 YCV80Q

The latest amp in Yorkville Sound‘s Traynor line, the Custom Valve 80 YCVSOQ, offers dual channels, each with an EQ complement of treble, mids, and bass. Channel 1–the overdrive section–also sports a gain control, a boost switch (which can be activated via the included two-button footswitch), and a scoop function. Channel 2 has a single volume control, as well as Bright and Expander buttons. Global controls include master volume and reverb.

Construction. Inside the Custom Valve’s painted 18-gauge steel chassis you’ll find all of the pots, jacks, switches, and tube sockets (for the Sovtek 5881s and three 12AX7s) mounted to PC boards. The plywood cabinet’s black leatherette covering looks okay, but there are slight imperfections where the material hugs the nooks and crannies.

Tones. Channel 1 (remember, this is the overdrive side) yields tough, ballsy tones with kick-ass midrange snarl. Engaging the boost produces the same tone–only louder–so I chose to leave it on all the time. There is plenty of gain on tap, but I found that keeping the gain around the half-way mark prevented the tones from becoming overly smeared–especially when playing complex chords. Even so, I was able to coax effortless feedback at reasonable volumes. The Scoop function is surprisingly effective at turning this combo into a modern-sounding shred machine with tightly focused bass and a savage, instantaneous attack.

Channel 2’s clean tones proved satisfying with every guitar I used. Bassman-esque clean tones are the order of the day–especially when you crank the master or disengage it completely. Although these tones don’t quite have the upper-midrange complexity of a ’50s Bassman, the Custom Valve fides the clean/dirty fence better than most amps in its price range. The bright control has enough power to give humbuckers some single-coil shimmer, and the Expander button–which boosts lows and highs–produces a glassiness that’s especially useful for darker, humbucker-loaded guitars.

Powers of 410

The Koch Classictone pulls off the nearly impossible feat of sounding vintage and modern at the same time. If you get giddy imagining what a Marshall JCM 800 from 1954 might have sounded like, you’ll love what the Classictone has to offer.

The Traynor Custom Valve 80 will delight vintage tone hounds and modern rockers who seek a flexible, powerful, and stageworthy amp. With its hip tones and unbeatable price, the Custom Valve 80 is a dream for working guitarists on a budget.


Koch Classictone

  • Pros Loud and extremely flexible. Killer tones. Speaker-simulated recording out. Switchable master volume.
  • Cons Expensive for a production line 4×10 combo.

Trynor Custom Valve 80 YCV80Q

  • Pros Stout tones. Flexible EQ. Enough headroom for nearly any situation. Affordable.
  • Cons Some cosmetic sloppiness.

Pioneer CDJ-1000 CD Turntable

In the past few years, there have been many attempts to recreate the feel and response of a DJ turntable using audio CDs in place of vinyl. The problem with CD players has been the lack of a “hands-on” way to stop, start, and reverse the playing of the audio in real time, including slowing down the sound with a finger, the way DJs do.

Pioneer has solved this problem brilliantly with the CDJ-1000. It allows DJs to play any audio CD, and apply standard DJ techniques such as scratching, reverse, stutter, and more. It also combines a “hot cue” sampling function with three memory locations for triggering user-defined “bookmarks” from the CD while the song plays; bookmarks can be set anywhere on the CD.

The key to the CDJ-1000 is its realistic-feeling rubber platter and ease of use. Simply load a CD, press play, and once the CD is spinning, you can play the turntable in many vinyl-like ways. If you want to stop the CD momentarily, just press your finger against the platter and hold it there. The music will stop instantly. Let go, and it begins to play again, just like a real turntable. There are also knobs for slow-down (brake) and wind-up speeds.

Once your finger is on the platter and the disc has stopped, you can do traditional scratching by moving your finger back and forth without lifting it off the platter. Within minutes, any DJ who is used to vinyl will be right at home on this unit.

The CDJ-1000 also has a standard pitch-control slider for speed adjustment, and a reverse switch that plays the audio backward – something you usually can’t do with a CD!

In the real world, I’ve found the CDJ-1000 to be a great tool. I can burn vocal tracks or beats of songs that I’m producing onto CDs, and then scratch them. This is also a great tool for bands who travel and want to scratch their own tracks live. Certain groups like Massive Attack have been doing this for years by burning tracks onto vinyl for use in live performances, but this is much quicker than waiting for the pressing plant. And cheaper, too!

If you’re a die-hard vinyl user, I won’t even try to tell you to change, but if you want to have the ultimate in flexibility, and preserve your vinyl collection, you owe it to yourself to try the CDJ-1000.

Pioneer CDJ-1000 CD Turntable

  • Pros: Intuitive, fast, easy to learn – especially for vinyl DJs.
  • Cons: Platter is smaller than 12″.
  • Bottom Line: Make use of all of the CDs in your collection, plus get new life out of your sample libraries.

Korg Kaoss Pad 2

As obviously ideal as the new Korg Kaoss Pad 2 Dynamic Effects/Controller is for DJs, other performers, regardless of their instrument, the type of music they play, or the nature of their live performances, shouldn’t miss giving it a try. With its unique control interface, the ability to switch easily between three stereo inputs (Phono. Line and Mic) and its capabilities act as both an effects processor and a MIDI controller the device could easily find a home in anyone’s live or studio rig. And gear snobs be warned … it’s a mistake to dismiss the new KP 2 as a toy. It may be small enough to pack along with your average laptop, but it packs a fair bit of power and has a large variety of applications. Beyond traditional live performance use and being a fantastic tool for adding interesting textures in the studio, the machine is perfect for anyone working on live music for dance, multimedia audio-art installations and is simple enough that anyone can use it to great effect.

Overall the options for sound manipulation are impressive – The Kaoss Pad‘s 100 preset areas are divided into five main sections: 50 general effects (Filters. Modulation, Delay, Reverb and SFX), 20 BPM FX/Beats, 15 synth patches, 5 Vocoder settings and 10 preset sample playing options. An actual text list of these presets is printed right on the front panel, making only a simple LED display necessary, so there’s no need to scroll through endless pages looking for what you need and plenty space for a variety of hardware controls.

It’s these controllers that make this unit such a pleasure to play. Particularly its primary controller – a good sized track pad that allows the user to apply effects to vocals, sounds input by other hardware as well as manipulate a selection of onboard synth patches, BPM effects and drum loops in a variety of ways. For all its simplicity, the track pad is an incredibly versatile interface. Alone, or combined with the KP 2’s other controllers, different types of movements and combinations of movements applied to different areas of the track pad allow the user to create rhythms and unique textures from basic sounds generated by both external and internal sources. Thus opening up sonic possibilities that are not easily duplicated using other machines.

By tapping the track pad, or rubbing it diagonally, vertically or horizontally along its X and Y axis and you can control a number of parameters for a given preset. For example: when using the machine’s LFO Wah setting, dragging your finger from side to side will adjust the speed of the effect and dragging vertically will adjust the depth. When using the Filter and Delay effect, horizontal movement controls cut-off frequency and vertical controls delay level. Parameters vary from preset to preset. The track pad also allows a great deal of control over the KP 2’s onboard synth patches, providing the user with a means of controlling such parameters as pitch, speed, modulation, echo feedback, reverb level and more. Similar control is possible when using the unit’s onboard beats; including such parameters as decay time, mod depth and choice of several drum pattern variations depending on the chosen preset.

Additional controllers include a Data knob for switching programs that doubles as a tempo change control for BPM effects and the KP 2’s onboard rhythm patterns, a Tap BPM button, Hold button, effects depth knob, eight assignable buttons to save your most used Kaoss Pad setups and the Pad Motion/Mute lever. This last feature enables the user to save the results of almost four seconds of pad movement temporarily so that the same manipulations can be used repeatedly during performance.

And there’s more – new to this version of the Kaoss Pad are two buttons that allow the player to sample roughly six seconds of sound each, play them back at any time as a raw sample along with other sounds, or use either sample as a sound source to be affected and manipulated using the units effects or its dedicated sample playing presets. The latter allows the player to use the track pad to control a number of options through 10 sampler specific presets, including forward play, reverse play, level, scratch, loop start/loop end times, and time stretch.

Beyond being powerful and having a well-organized performance interface the KP 2 also has great physical details and lights up in all the right places making performance a breeze regardless of the light level on stage. The bottom line it’s sleek, it’s fun and it’s powerful. No, it’s not necessarily going to replace your current FX unit, but that’s not the point. Far more than a FX unit with a unique interface, it’s an instrument in itself: a versatile machine that will inspire far more creativity than your average rack mounted FX interface.