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Pedal Reviews

Marshall Echohead Review

That there are so many different delay pedals on the market demonstrates not only the effect’s popularity, but also its supreme influence on modern music. With such a wealth of options available to guitarists it’s easy to overlook any number of underrated gems, something that is certainly the case with the Echohead, one of the standout products in Marshall Amplication’s most recent foray into the stompbox arena. First released in 2002, the Echohead has never achieved the same kind of fanfare that has greeted similar offerings from Boss and Digitech, although it has been developing a steady following thanks to its low price, particularly on the used market. Faced with an unending deluge of new delay units, can the Echohead still hold its head above an ocean of competitors?

On The Surface

Whatever you think of Marshall’s pedal design, there’s no denying its sleekness. In fact, most everything about the Echohead screams quality; whether it’s the unit’s comforting weight, the sturdy metal jacks or the recessed metal knobs, the pedal’s build quality belies its Chinese origin. And while the on-off switch feels suspiciously light to the touch, it still gives a satisfying click upon operation. In fact, if there are any complaints to be had, they lie with the robust, yet much-maligned, control knobs, as their thin black setting markers fail to show up under harsh lighting. Indeed, Marshall would be advised to cut back on the shine factor as users may end up feeling their way if their live set requires a lot of delay tweaks.

Feature-wise, there’s a lot on offer: external tap tempo, up to 2 seconds of delay time and six usable, and not so usable, delay modes (hifi, analogue, tape echo, multi tap, reverse and mod filter). In fact, this advanced feature set may account for the pedal’s fairly high current draw (80mA), so try to avoid using batteries: they’re unlikely to last more than an hour or two.

The Echohead still has plenty more tricks hidden beneath that space-age exterior. For one, it not only works in stereo but also provides two options for mono outputs: a passive bypass or a high-quality buffered bypass with trails. The former doesn’t offer the much sought-after “true bypass” but is a useful option if your ‘board is already overrun with buffers or if you simply don’t want your delay to continue when you turn the pedal off, as is the case with the buffered trails option. The pedal also features a true analogue signal path, ensuring that both your delayed and non-delayed tone will remain the same, without the audio path crumbling under the weight of those evil digital converters. Sure, there may be no looper function or stereo inputs but for a digital delay of this build quality at this price point and with external tap tempo, their exclusion is understandable.

Sounds

As an obvious starting point, the Echohead’s default digital setting, or “hifi” as it’s labelled on the pedal, is faithful to the original input signal but without the harshness associated with, say, Boss’ recent efforts. In this respect, it melds well with the guitar’s tone, ensuring that the effect is present but without ever dominating what the guitar is actually playing. Indeed, anyone looking for a delay to mask their mistakes might want to look elsewhere, although the Echohead makes a good job of texture-thickening on spacious riffs.

In terms of retro appeal, the analogue setting (note the uncompromisingly British spelling) further supports the Echohead’s claim as a background effect. While it may not be quite as faithful as other compact digital offerings, it works well to add a subtle ambience without muddying a distorted tone. Similarly, the tape echo mode adds a pleasing “flutter” and degradation to its repeats and is capable of anything from slapback to psychedelica. Looking back, it’s a shame Marshall never expanded upon this pedal range because, with a few extra controls, the Echohead’s tape mode could have been a real force to be reckoned with in the modern tape echo simulation stakes.

The pedal’s last three settings are where things start to get a little weird. The reverse mode, in particular, is probably the least usable of all, but the same can be said about its inclusion in the majority of other delays. In a time of need reversing a melody can serve as an impetus for songwriting but don’t expect to use it too often. Similarly, mod filter may be a bit too wacky for some tastes as it adds a uni-vibe-esque swirl to the repeats, something which can be a tad overbearing in more subtle moments; more usable would have been a chorus or vibrato effect setting, along the lines of the Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man.

More usable is the multi tap setting, which allows for some interesting rhythmic interplay ala The Edge or for more subtle cascading delays, as seen in Joe Satriani’s staggered delay use in live settings. Again, this isn’t likely to form your bread-and-butter, all-purpose setting but it’s always fun to have additional options, particularly when recording. Another interesting quirk is that the Echohead will repeat forever when the feedback is set to full and, if the trails output is used, the pedal will repeat indefinitely when off. While this can be useful for songwriting, it also means that the pedal won’t self-oscillate so if you’re an aspiring spaceship pilot, this may not be the delay for you.

Overall

Even in today’s oversaturated delay market, the Marshall Echohead can still fight its corner. The sheer quality of the sounds on offer, as well as the construction of the unit itself, means that, at least as a basic external-tap-tempo-equipped delay (one of very few at this price point), the Echohead is an option to be considered. However, some of the mode choices are a tad overambitious and more controllable parameters are required to make them truly useful in an everyday setting; a few tweaks here and there and Marshall would have an unquestionable winner on their hands, particularly if they include a looping function to compete with some of delay’s big boys. Still, any quibbles about functionality are easily dispelled by the Echohead’s ease of use and pristine sound quality, making this an ideal entry-level or secondary delay on your pedalboard.

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Danelectro Cool Cat Chorus Review

Danelectro’s Cool Cat range has been a pleasant surprise for anyone who has tried any of their funky-looking but great-sounding boxes. Although a number of pedals (Transparent Overdrive, Drive and Fuzz) now have second incarnations, partly due to rumours of boutique-“inspired” circuits, much of the original lineup is still going strong and with good reason. Indeed, the Cool Cat Chorus is Danelectro’s fourth mass-produced chorus pedal and, some would argue, their best, thanks to the many advantages the company’s latest format brings with it as standard.

On The Surface

If any stompbox stylistics will split opinions, it’s Danelectro’s and the Cool Cat series is not one to buck the brand’s unique, but ultimately bizarre, trend. Where other companies are happy to settle with a non-descript rectangular box, Dano have gone one “better” and created some kind of half-car, half-animal-paw hybrid with a kerazy logo. On the plus side, this will liven up any pedalboard lacking in character but whether such a flamboyant personality is wanted is another matter entirely.

Still, to concentrate on appearance is to ignore all the fantastic features Danelectro have, ahem, crammed into this crazy cat. True bypass, metal enclosures and jacks, as well as a blinding blue LED come as standard in the Cool Cat series and the Cool Cat Chorus is no exception. Four controls for mix, EQ, speed and depth make this the most versatile cheap chorus on the market, particularly when compared to its closest true-bypassed competitor, Electro-Harmonix’s Small Clone. Unfortunately, the sheer number of knobs also brings with it a number of extra problems; top-side controls may prevent inadvertent setting changes mid-stomp but they also make turning the damn things much harder than on a regular stompbox, particularly with regard to the stacked mix/EQ controls. Fortunately, power preferences are the simple Boss 9V kind, ensuring that the Cool Cat Chorus isn’t quite the most finicky feline on your board.

Sounds

It’s only upon hearing a Cool Cat that you realise exactly why they’ve been such a success; close your eyes and you’d believe that you were listening to a far more expensive pedal. Indeed, not only does the Cool Cat excel in its basic chorus tones, but the range of sounds available make it worth much, much more than its unassuming asking price.

All controls set to 12 o’clock provide a rich, deep sound and, with a couple of tweaks, dependent on your guitar and amp setup, it’s perfect for adding a touch of shimmer to an exotic chord progression. The EQ and depth knobs are particularly effective for avoiding the sometimes seasick, but always overused, 80s chorus effect, making this cat an ideal candidate for the clean grunge and metal tones popularised by the likes of Nirvana and Metallica in the early 90s. If, however, the 80s are still your proverbial thing, a touch of distortion and a few open chords can help to capture some of that perm-addled magic.

One of the pedal’s greatest strengths lies in its ability to make full use of the mix control, thanks to the effective depth knob. Indeed, true vibrato sounds can be obtained by simply cranking the mix and gradually adjusting the depth to your liking. This can capably reproduce the wobbly sounds heard on Blur’s early work but carries with it a slight alteration of your guitar’s tone which the EQ can’t quite offset. Still, this is to be expected when tonal control is assigned entirely to the pedal, without any of the guitar’s original signal.

Another area in which the Cool Cat succeeds is emulating leslie/rotary speaker tones. A common request for chorus pedals, this sound is best achieved through faster speed and lower depth settings and can add an element of fragility or a psychedelic vibe, depending on your playing style. Considering how highly praised my old Arion SCH-1 is for this very task, I was impressed at how well the Cool Cat held up and, in the case of its enhanced control, superseded the old plastic relic.

Interaction with other pedals is an important area for stompboxes, particularly when it comes to modulation and gain, but, once again, the Cool Cat doesn’t disappoint. The pedal responds well to picking dynamics and there were no detectable clipping issues with high output humbucker signals. Indeed, I had great fun placing the Cool Cat after a high gain fuzz and, combined with a digital delay, was able to emulate a number of square wave synth tones surprisingly convincingly.

Overall

Despite a somewhat overzealous exterior design, the Cool Cat Chorus offers a remarkable feature set at an incredibly impressive price point. While it certainly holds up to pedals double, and even triple, the cost, it does have a number of unique quirks that might dissuade potential buyers. For one, it’s not the quietest chorus when used with gain but still considerably more so than Electro-Harmonix’s offerings. Additionally, the stock chorus sound is more of a square wave than a triangle and, as such, its undulating movements may be interpreted as somewhat “sharp”. However, to ask for a wave shape feature on an already overcrowded control panel would be ludicrous, especially considering the troubles already experienced on this front. However, any drawbacks pale into insignificance upon hearing the lush chorus tones this pedal is capable of and, at such a cheap price, there’s no reason not to give this cat a loving home.


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.