journalist, musician, guitar geek

MI Audio Crunch Box Review

Among the latest crazes in the zany world of effects pedals are amp imitation overdrives and distortions. Since digital amp modelling became all the rage with products from Line 6 and the like, boutique manufacturers saw an opportunity to exploit this desire to make a Fender sound like a Mesa (to take an extreme example) and many have focused their efforts on so-called ‘amp-in-a-box’ pedals. Companies such as Catalinbread and Wampler have crafted many of these all-analog devices and the end products have become flagship products for the companies involved. One of the earliest ‘amp-in-a-box’ pedals to hit the mainstream was MI Audio’s Crunch Box, which the company claims ‘captures the huge sound of a Marshall on steroids’. As one of the fastest selling boutique distortion pedals in the world, can the sound of the Crunch Box live up to its considerable sales record?

On The Surface

With its hot-rod red power-coated finish and white knobs, the Crunch Box will certainly stand out on a crowded pedalboard despite its diminutive size; the overall dimensions of the pedal are slightly smaller than a standard MXR enclosure, which is good news for anyone lacking real estate on their board. A sturdy 3DPT switch provides true bypass for complete tonal integrity when off while the jacks and knobs feel reassuringly rugged. Controls are refreshingly simple, with volume, tone and gain providing all the necessary adjustments on the outside. Inside the pedal is a trimpot that controls the presence of the pedal; MI Audio recommends using this to adjust the unit to your amp in terms of both presence and bass response. The pedal runs from either a 9V battery or a standard Boss-style power supply, with the option of running up to 25V for increased headroom and volume. Finally, a standard red LED informs the user that the stompbox is on but, judging from the sounds produced, you and your audience will both know when this raucous red box is in use.

Sounds

With tone and gain set to noon and volume to taste, the Crunch Box will bring a smile to anyone looking for a loud, unabashed, all-out rock tone from a stompbox. One of the first sounds that springs to mind is Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello. As a loyal JCM800 user, the Crunch Box is perfect for emulating his riff-led swagger with a neck singlecoil and a healthy dose of distortion. Further up the gain range leads a sound that’s tight yet thick, perfect for ‘80s metal or Satriani-esque instrumental passages with a touch of delay and a bridge humbucker.

With a particular focus in the midrange, the Crunch Box is also ideally suited to more old-school, less aggressive tones. Although it doesn’t function particularly well in the lowest gain range, losing both volume and treble frequencies, the 9 o’clock region is perfect for emulating Jimmy Page’s riffs and solos; the Crunch Box’s amp-like response to picking intensity proves particularly effective in this lower gain area. Further, use of the guitar’s volume knob reduces the pedal to a, while not totally clean, at least less distorted state, ideal for some dynamic contrast within a chord progression or riff.

In terms of versatility, the Crunch Box’s tone control is effective in shaping the pedal’s frequency response but, since the internal trimpot proves so useful, the two together could prove to make the pedal that bit more versatile. Indeed, I initially found myself taking the pedal apart and putting it back together again more than I care to mention, eager to make tiny tweaks depending on the volume at which I was playing. I eventually settled on a sound I was happy with but the whole process was somewhat time-consuming. Still, full treble on the tone control provides a sharp, abrasive sound perfect for some drop-D grunge riffing while minimum tone still proves usable for darker sounds within a mix.

One aspect of being in a band that guitarists often forget is the importance of the mid frequencies. Metal players in particular are prone to scooping the mids and boosting the bass, not only rendering the guitar muffled and indistinct in a live situation but also clashing with the bass guitar. While many distortion pedals are prone to falling apart at loud volumes, the Crunch Box excels at live performance, ensuring that those ripping solos are sure to melt at least some faces. While some of the pedal’s tones in isolation may not be to everyone’s taste, it’s often surprising just how powerful they can be when accompanied by bass and drums. The ability to cut through a mix like a hot knife through butter is one of the reasons why Marshall amps, and pedals like the Crunch Box, continue to be so popular today.

Overall

The Crunch Box remains an impressive stompbox thanks to its amp-like feel, ability to retain definition with complex chords and copious amounts of gain. Although some boutique distortion pedals (Suhr Riot, Mad Professor Mighty Red Distortion) may have superseded it in recent years, it is worth noting that the majority of the innards of these high-gain distortion devices are based upon Marshall’s popular series of distortion pedals from the ‘80s and ‘90s, in this case the Guv’nor. While the lack of the former’s 3-band EQ may put some users off, the Crunch Box still provides a number of ways of tweaking the base tone of the unit, including the internal presence trimpot and the option of increasing headroom via a voltage boost. Still, there is no escaping the Marshall-esque tones exuded from this Australian rock machine and, in that respect at least, it is a one trick pony. It’s lucky, then, that it does that one trick so damn well.

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3 responses

  1. Lynx

    Amazing review my friend. Best distortion pedal i ever used. One of the things i loved about Crunch Box is the Tone Knob. It offers a useful working range, without falling in piercing highs. Truly, an affordable tool for the budget musician looking for a nice distortion.

    September 17, 2012 at 11:11 pm

  2. Kevin

    Hey Michael, With me also being a Guitar player and Pedal Geek like yourself, I found your website to be very helpful. I’m hoping you can help me. I recently was given a Crunch Box, opened it up and found a trim pot. I’m not sure what the default / stock setting is. Would you know?

    April 2, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    • Hi Kevin, thanks for your kind words. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell exactly where the trim pot’s stock setting resides, but the best advice I can offer is to use it to tailor the pedal’s presence to match your amp – that’s what it’s there for, after all! A bit of tinkering and I’m sure you’ll soon get it sounding right for your rig. Good luck!

      April 10, 2014 at 12:26 pm

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