Arion FX Pedals
IT On FX: Hot-Foot Review
Still a relatively new name on the market, Arion's effects units are gaining a good reputation. How do they compare with the longer established makes? 'IT' plugs-in to find out.
Arion's effects units are a Japanese made range, distributed by the same people who handle Westone guitars (among other lines) in Britain - hence you're pretty likely to find them on offer in many music shops up and down the U.K.
An extensive range of units is available, including two tuners, a headphone practice amp, analogue delay, flanger, phaser, parametric, chorus, overdriver, distortion pedal and the 'Metal Master' - a sophisticated distortion unit intended to perform a similar function, no doubt, to Roland's Boss 'Heavy Metal' pedal.
As with most makers' effects pedals, Arion's range have most of their basic features in common. They all offer stereo operation (via twin jack outputs) and have some useful ideas included, perhaps the best of which is a removable top-plate which clips in and out of place to reveal the battery compartment below, in which lives the usual PP3 type. Mains power is catered for via a conventional input socket for a 9 volt stepped-down transformer supply.
Constructionally speaking, the Arion range is unusual in that the casings appear to be made of some form of plastic. We'd be rather worried about this aspect - especially for professional or heavy-footed use, as however much it saves off the cost price, and however advanced the plastic, it (surely?) can't be as tough as the usual die-cast metal which most (even some of the cheapest) pedals are made of.
Having said that, the prices are excellent and the remainder of the Arion range's design ideas seem very good. The on/off selection is via a ribbed push-flap, the controls are large and easy to handle, and there are plenty of useful extra features on individual pedals - slider switches offering often very useful stereo or alternative effects, to name just one.
All our test samples worked perfectly and, generally, to a high standard (see individual comments below). We are a bit worried about these plastic casings, though, and would like to hear from any readers who've used Arion effects for any length of time, as to how they stand up to stage use. We'll print your comments, to help other readers, of course.
Analogue delays are a good general test of any range of effects, as they vary quite markedly one brand from another. The BBD ('Bucket Brigade Devices') used to create the delay are now getting quite a lot cheaper (digital delays now standing poised to take over in the next year or so, one suspects), but some applications of these chips are pretty awful. Not, happily to report, the Arion's. In fact this is definitely one of the best analogue delays we've tried to date.
The facilities include twin jack outs, rotary pots governing repeat number/range, a slider handling direct or stereo output, depth and delay onset time. Quoted specs give a delay range from 50ms-300ms, which is fairly respectable but doesn't, of course, tell you everything. What matters just as much as range are noise levels and sound quality. On these two scores the Arion performs very well indeed - noise being virtually absent (unless whacked though a massive stack at full blast), and the tonality of the pedal was also first class.
One of the better analogue delays on the market, the range runs from a close 'automatic double tracking' sound through slapback echo to complete runaway.
This would certainly be one to consider in our view, and can stand against most other analogue pedals in all respects. At the low RRP it's a definite bargain.
There probably isn't an electric instrument made which won't benefit from having a parametric equaliser used with it. In that respect, the Arion stereo could appeal to any type of player using any type of gear.
Offering stereo outputs, controls for gain (+/- 12dB), frequency range (120Hz-1.5kHz) and band width, the Arion has a very useful extra in that it appears to have a built-in compressor circuit, which can be accessed by using the top (second channel) jack output, with the slider set to 'Sustain Eq.' Although not provided with a variable compression threshold control, this effect (switched in or out via a slider switch) gives a very useful sustain length, coupled with the more than adequate tone boost/cut facilities offered.
This latter effect is probably most useful for guitar players, where solos can be augmented by punching in the sustain and tone adjustment in one foot-controlled operation.
Tonal range is excellent on this pedal (again, bearing in mind the price) as is the effect of the sustain feature - albeit a non-adjustable facility.
Noise levels, again, are quiet, the range is good and the price excellent. Definitely recommended!
Rate, depth, manual, feedback plus direct/stereo controls are what you've got here on, once again, a very good performing pedal for the money being asked.
Delay time on this pedal runs from 1.5ms-12ms (about average), and once more the noise level has been well controlled, given that all flangers appear to exhibit some whooshing and swooshing when left running while switched on and plugged through your amp. Nevertheless, this one is better in this respect than many, has a good range of effects and particularly impressive tonal qualities. From an almost Bo Diddley vibrato to a slow flanging effect, this pedal certainly delivers the goods, and at a very fair price.
£51 isn't asking very much for a good quality effects unit by today's standards, and the Arion Stereo Chorus is certainly a good one. Controls govern rate, depth and tone (this latter being especially useful). Direct and Stereo sounds are governed by a slider switch, and in use the Arion chorus produces a very musical sound. Using BBD chips, again, the chorus works well on bass, keyboard and guitar, giving that desirable 'two instruments at once' sound very convincingly. Again, it's the sound quality and low noise rather than 'on paper' spec. which impress with this pedal. Sorry to be so boring, but it seems to us like another sensible Arion buy!
No doubt produced to compete with Roland's Boss HM-2 'Heavy Metal' pedal (reviewed in December 84's IT), this is an advanced distortion pedal with controls operating level, low frequency boost/cut, high frequency boost/cut and distortion level, in addition to a 'direct/soft' slider switch and stereo operation.
Used mono, the tonal variation you can get from the Metal Master is very good, the range running from a fat, meaty sound on chords to a screeching top - very 'Strat-on-fire', in fact. The distortion quantity is absolutely over the top - roaring, searing solo lines coming out at even the lowest levels via the smallest of amps. On stage, however, we'd question whether the inherent artificiality of all distortion pedals is really necessary (assuming the ownership of a decent guitar and amp), but, certainly for rehearsals and practice at home, the Arion is a real ball of fire. In absolute terms we'd not rate the 'Metal Master' as highly as Boss's 'Heavy Metal', either in terms of its ability to distort chords without break-up or its build quality - but distortion sounds are very much down to personal taste and the combination of guitar and amp you happen to be using. You must, however, bear in mind the prices being asked. The Arion is a fair bit cheaper than the Boss and provides more sheer filth than you'd find in a caff full of bikers.
The alternative 'Soft' distortion setting (selected from the slider switch) sounded more to us like a tonal change than a variation in distortion type, but (with the right guitar - maybe a single coil equipped type with high output pickups - it could well have its uses.
We sampled the Arion with guitars ranging from a Gibson SG to a cheap Korean copy, and it worked with all of them to produce a sound which'd have Lemmy all set to tear-out your heart. If that's the effect you happen to be looking for and this price is your level, then the 'Metal Master' is one of the best pedals yet for giving your next-door neighbours a taste of brain damage!
In addition to the above units, we also sampled the rest of the Arion range and, overall, found them to be excellent performers on a value for money basis. The makers may have cut corners on physical strength, but they have paid you back handsomely for the money in tonal and effect terms. For the not too physically dangerous user or the more hard-up player, we'd say that they represent very good value.
More details from FCN Music Ltd., (Contact Details).
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