Dod 944 Chain Reaction
Dave Burrluck stuffs everything into one box and sets off to find DOD
As each day passes the gap between low and hi-tech in the musical instrument industry seems to get wider and wider. Hi-tech computers and synths procreate at an alarming rate, each new species having some new idea or concept. Below ground however in the low-tech zone things are different. Interbreeding between the species has led to creativity becoming a distant memory and mutants abound, copies of copies, each one claiming that he or she has something 'new' to offer. Paranoia strikes hard in the low-tech zone; the need to convince the hostile inhabitants of being 'new' is an overwhelming desire. So great is this desire that products (currency in the low-tech zone) are so dressed as to always appear 'new' when of course it is just a disguise to try and elevate one's self into the hi-tech zone.
A company with a long pedigree are the American based DOD. This company has provided the low-tech zone with many wonderful effects but is now in the transitional phase of becoming a hi-tech concern. The Digitech range was the first attempt and now a new addition is the DOD 'Chain Reaction', nothing particularly new but a good attempt at providing a fine-looking regurgitation of the old ideas.
The Chain Reaction then is a rack-mountable effects chain featuring four onboard effects — Distortion, Digital Delay, Chorus/Flange and Parametric eq, all controllable from a slim floor board offering extras of 'infinite repeat' for the Delay and a general by-pass function. The effects themselves are housed in a metal case 445mm x 205mm x 90mm and finished in a smart satin black — a prerequisite of hi-tech status. The floor controller is a thin rectangular box 645mm x 90mm x 40mm housing six flat-type foot switches and connected to the 'brain' via a single stereo jack lead. Each unit has very clear white lettering, the Digital Delay even has LED readout, while each of the foot pedals has an LED status indicator. Certainly the Chain Reaction is a smart looking unit solidly built to DOD's usual high standard, but like any multi-effects units it is only as good as the quality of the effects included.
DOD have a good reputation in the distortion stakes: certainly the American Metal and Digi-Tech Distortion are trés bon. This HM distortion falls somewhere between the two, slightly more variable than the American Metal but less variable than the Digitech. With four controls — Distortion, Level, Low Boost, High Boost — the HMD is easy to use. According to the spec, the tone controls boost and cut, a little bit academic really, the important thing is that the unit has plenty of tonal variation if 'tonal' is the right word to use in respect to distortion!
In use the HMD portrays the American style HM perfectly with a remarkably controlled distortion, the distortion control adding only a subtle degree of distortion increase. The tone section is excellent enabling you to tailor your own sound exactly as you want to hear it. Possibly the unit could have more 'looseness' to the distortion — after all if you want to get right OTT why shouldn't you?
This is a sensible idea, offering both chorus and flange effects in the same unit — I do wish more people would offer this combined effect. With four controls — Speed, Width, Delay and Regeneration, the unit is very flexible despite the fact that no stereo outputs are provided. The regeneration control acts as the pivot between the two effects and as the spec sheet states; "a chorus effect generally has no regeneration, very little width, and a slow speed while a flange effect generally has regeneration, maximum width and a slightly faster speed". Certainly with up to 12 msecs delay time you have far more variation than typical foot pedals usually provide. The advantage of this twin function effect is, of course, that many 'inbetween' effects can be created and while both the single effects have a good tone and correct character it is these mixes that make this part of the Chain Reaction most interesting.
This section of the Chain Reaction has two things going for it, firstly a delay time from 50 msecs to 100 msecs and an LED digital readout. It has the minimum of controls — Delay Time, Mix (between dry and effect) and Repeats (Feedback) — but works extremely well. The readout, in milliseconds, is obviously a great advantage in that precise delay times can be set — handy in both studio and live situations although the delay time control is very sensitive. If the 'mix' and 'repeats' controls could have been included in the display — a simple 1-10 readout for example — the unit would be much more usable, especially live. Because of the sensitive delay time control it's very frustrating trying to select exact times especially in a live situation and then having to approximate the repeats and mix control. This definitely limits its potential. With a bandwidth up to only 6.5kHz the unit is also of limited use in a studio environment though adequate live for instruments and only okay for vocals (more of its potential later).
Certainly a nice inclusion to the 'brain' — a parametric is so useful in all applications. However this unit is again a little underdeveloped. We have two fixed frequency ranges - Low 200-800Hz and High 800-3600Hz — with cut and boost on each range of -10dB and +12dB. Also in this section we have an overall Level control. So that's the theory but in practice there are limitations. As a general EQ it's fine; the specifications should speak for themselves but because of the fixed bandwidth which is quite wide the ability to isolate certain frequencies is lost. The fact that the 'High' range is in fact quite low, only up to 3.6kHz, also reduces its use again in a studio environment. However taking it on face value this section has a two-fold function. The obvious is to use it as a general eq for what ever instrument you're using. Alternatively it can be used as a volume boost, on it's own or with the HM distortion which is especially useful. This is in fact the application I found most handy for guitar, as a 'clean' solo boost with some added mid-range which was also handy in combination with the distortion.
These four sections form the basis of the unit but DOD have sensibly included a few extras too. On the front panel we have a mono input and output jack. Both have a separate level control — the input level linked to an LED bargraph for a visual glance at your input status. The output control when full off still provides an output to the amp or whatever; turning the control up obviously boosts output and increases noise. The last control is something called 'Enhance' a kind of presence control which boosts treble but is so subtle it's best left full up and forgotten.
At the back of the brain we have two more input/output jacks which override the ones at the front, presumably offered as an interface for desks or permanent mounting in a rack module. We then have six extra jacks Distortion Out, Flange/Chorus In and Out, DDL In and Out and Parametric In. These allow the chain to be broken and changed as well as other effects to be installed in line.
While all these options allow the live musician maximum flexibility the unit falls a bit short for studio use in that although individual effects could be routed to a patchbay the on/off selection is still via the footboard. If these back panel jacks allowed the effect to be on when individually taken out this would do away with the foot pedal and allow the unit to be used on four different signal lines via insert functions or auxiliary send/return loops. Alternatively a simple on/off switch could be installed on each section so that finger as opposed to foot activation would be possible.
As far as foot pedal controllers go the one provided here is pretty good and robust in construction. The flap switches, while looking a bit weedy, are sensitive and require only a glancing blow to activate the unit. The bypass switch is obviously a must on any effects board as it not only allows instant return to straight instrument sound but also a degree of presetting — when the bypass is on effects can be selected which are only activated when the bypass is pushed off. However the switches are too far apart for dual selection. For example if you have Chorus on then want to go to Delay and Distortion the bypass function can't be used to present the two new effects.
The infinite repeat is also a useful addition especially because of the precise setting of the Digital Delay. It allows a phrase to be played and then replayed indefinitely once the infinite repeat is selected. However it's quite a tricky process but one that once mastered could be useful. Of course once the Delay is used for infinite repeat it can't be used on the 'live' guitar or whatever.
The grouping of any chain of effects into one unit is always a risk but the choice here seems sensible, primarily designed, one would think for the guitarist/keyboardist(?). Despite what DOD would want us to believe, I don't think the unit would be of great use in a studio because of the lack of switching as mentioned and frankly the FX aren't really of a high-enough standard. So it looks as if the unit would suit the live musician the best, where the sheer neatness of the unit is a definite advantage. The only problem arises in the price, in that isolating each effect and pricing them separately you come to quite a cheaper figure. It does seem that we're paying quite a lot for the convenience of this package, especially if you consider you can make up your own pedal board including power supply case and by-pass for under £50. (See Phil Walsh's 'Workbench' articles in IM). You can then add individual effects at anytime and any price to suit your own requirements ie: Stereo DDL £170, Stereo Chorus £80.00, Flanger £80.00, Distortion £80.00 and Graphic EQ £80.00.
There are of course the advantages of having this unit resting neatly on your amp or wherever enabling you to alter parameters during performance without groping around on the floor.
If the Chain Reaction were to retail at £599 I think we'd have a more competitive unit so long as the musican liked all the component effects. This really underlines the problem of multieffects units, they all seem to be somewhat of a compromise in quality, price and versatility. I think the rack-mount 'brain' and floor switching is correct but when, oh when, will somebody design a unit like this but with memories, either to chain groups of effects together or rather one which stores different parameters of sounds and is programmable?
Maybe the 'Chain Reaction' is unsure of its real function. It isn't ideal for a studio and has untapped potential for live work. Instead of trying to please everyone in every situation maybe DOD could develop the 'Live' and 'Studio' version. Maybe I'm a miserable sod, expecting too much for too little. Whatever, I'll stick to my Phil Walsh — inspired pedal board until someone comes up with something NEW at a reasonable price.