The subject of effects boxes is guaranteed to put players firmly on one side of the fence, either positively for them, or equally positively against. It's understandable really: those against usually have purist instincts anyway, and shy away from any modifications to or distortions of their instrument's sound. Those in favour, on the other hand, can go too far in their direction, piling on effect after effect until you're not even sure what the instrument was in the first place. A happy medium uses effects sparingly, and thus more effectively, slotting the sounds into a total picture and resisting the 'new-toy' temptation of over-indulgence.
Without doubt, another important factor is cost (and when wasn't it, you ask?). Pouring over brochures and dreaming up all manner of outlandish sound creations is all very well, but when it comes to handing over the dosh to the shopkeeper, creativity can take a poor second place to economic considerations. Which leads us to consider three of Carlsbro's new Minifex units, made for them by Cliff Electronic Components. Those price economics we mentioned will be helped by the low to midrange prices of the boxes (inc. VAT), of which we chose three to look at: the Siren (£17.83); the Suzz (£22.28); and the Chorus (£49.91). The other units in the series are the Phaser (£35.65), the Flanger (£49.91) and the Compressor (£35.65).
The plastic cases themselves may look familiar enough to you as they've been used for various control applications, not least of which is Carlsbro's use of the multiple-function boxes for footswitch applications with their amplifiers, particularly for things like channel switching on two-channel amps. E&MM used the footswitch box for the Auto Swell project in the November 1981 issue, as well as the effects project this month.
It's easy to see why the casings are so popular: the light, strong plastic is perfectly suited to being kicked around stage and studio, and the silent, electronic switching used by Carlsbro is activated by a rounded flap on the front of the box, making it more reliable for players whose aim suffered with the old small-button type. At the top of the unit is space for a status LED which, thankfully, more and more makers are incorporating into their FX units, and on the sides are spaces for two control rotaries if needed — the actual control and interface set-up varies from pedal to pedal depending on what's required. Sockets are on the back.
The battery (9V, PP3-type) is reached by unscrewing two crosshead screws on the base, which also features a reasonably effective pair of rubber floor-grips. The battery-change unscrewing and rescrewing is a process which could prove frustrating in bad conditions (i.e. most gigs), and I must say I always seem to end up losing the screws at annoying moments (i.e. most gigs). Some sort of screwless, clipping cover would have been better although one suspects this could have put a few bob on the price. All you can do really, I suppose, is to ensure that you change batteries as infrequently as possible by using high-power alkaline types. There's no mains facility, which is a pity.
Let's look at the three review samples, then. We can dispense with the Siren pedal pretty quickly. There's only one socket on the back — an output, you'll be pleased to know. If you really want to, you can plug this into a spare channel on your amp — in other words it's completely separate from your instrument — and get on with your wailing. There's no LED, as it's pretty obvious when the thing's on: kicking the flap will give you — you guessed — a siren sweep, lasting for as long as your toe's on the thing. When you lift off, the siren dies away, cutting off short before the 'bottom' of the sweep. You'd soon tire of this rather daft effect, and the cut-off is annoying too. All in all, I'd spend the 18 quid on a Nickel Cadmium battery charger and batteries for the other pedals and forget this one.
And so to Suzz. This is Carlsbro's particular monicker for fuzz, overdrive, sustain, distortion, overload... call it what you will. We do have LED indication on this one — the Minifex units are actually switched on by the insertion of the jack plug into the In socket on the back, the labels for these sockets being thoughtfully moulded into the underside of the unit thus saving you the annoyance of finding labels peeled off. The controls on the side of the Suzz box are Gain (on the left) and Sustain (on the right), which are self-explanatory. The actual rotaries aren't marked, so it's impossible to line them up against anything — a dab of white paint can't cost much, and would make a lot of difference when it came to remembering settings. I found it was just possible to adjust the controls with my foot while playing, though I can't recommend the accuracy of this ploy (it was better when I took my shoes off, but this was environmentally risky).
At £23, the Suzz is fairly wild and raucous, but worth the cash. It certainly wasn't at all noisy, and I used it with varying degrees of success on guitar, bass, keyboards, and even on a drum machine, though I don't think I'll be repeating that in a hurry. Carlsbro's own description of the Suzz, that it 'produces the effect of overload distortion and sustain at all output levels', will do, and it's a good buy.
The most expensive of the three units we looked at is, as you might expect, the Chorus pedal. The chorus sound must be familiar to most of you by now, for which Roland are chiefly to blame, having bolted chorus units into their amps and made sundry other items with the ethereal, jangling sound capability. The sort of 'multi-instrument' depth that chorus creates, through short delays and deviating sound sweeps, is particularly pleasing on arpeggiated guitar chords or on electric piano, although it's widely used in many settings — using it on bass can be rewarding, for example.
The Minifex Chorus is, like the rest of the series, relatively straightforward: it features an analogue delay line continuously varied by an LFO. The status LED is there to tell you when it's on, and either side of the case are rotary controls for Depth (on the left) and Speed (on the right). This is the usual degree of control given over chorus, although there are exceptions like the MXR Stereo Chorus which has three control constituents. Also standard on the Minifex is the fact that you can push the Speed control to a level which seems to be almost totally unusable in practice, although there may be the odd occasion when you could use the wobbly, out-of-tune effect for special things. Generally, though, you'd probably find yourself keeping the controls around their centre-points. The Chorus is a good, basic unit that does all you really need from such a device and, once again, the price is attractive.
One way of getting a slight improvement in signal-to-noise and a more powerful performance from the Minifex units is to patch them between the pre-amp-out and slave-in sockets on your amp, should it have them. Carlsbro, naturally, do — I happened to have a Carlsbro Stingray Pro amp when I tested the units, and this has the facility via 'Pre-Amp Out' and 'Slave' sockets to do the relevant business, which proved handy. The boxes do, of course, work well in the standard instrument/jack-lead/FX-box/jack-lead/amp arrangement.
Of the three boxes we looked at, the Chorus and Suzz can be recommended. We assume that the Phaser, Flanger and Compressor will be of a similar standard.
The Carlsbro Minifex units are available from: Carlsbro Sales Ltd., (Contact Details).
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Review by Tony Bacon
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