Dod's Crack Rack
Dod 944 Chain Reaction
On the rack again!
Where effects systems are concerned, putting all your eggs in one maker's basket has never been a particularly popular policy with most players. The majority of guitarists seem to find that while they like Brand A's Distortion, it's Brand B's Flanger that they want, and that makes them reluctant to buy all their effects in one package from one maker. On the other hand, having everything in one unit does offer a lot of advantages - not least because it sets your feet free from entangled encounters with half a dozen scattered pedals and countless snake-like leads. Then again, an advantage of buying your effects singly (in pedal form) is that it saves you having to find large amounts of cash in one fell swoop. Any manufacturer trying to tempt you to make one costly purchase of a multi-effects unit, then, has got to have something pretty special to offer to overcome these twin reasons for resistance. And that's precisely what American makers Dod hope they have come up with in their 'Chain Reaction' rack FX system.
The Dod 944 Chain Reaction is about as neat a multi-effects system as you could hope to find. The main module is a single unit high metal clad box, which you house in the universal 19" wide rack frame system. To this is connected a single footpedal board, again strongly constructed, which gives you on/off control of the effects, plus a few useful extras like bypass and 'infinite repeat' on the on-board DDL.
The main module offers what could well prove to be a winning combination of effects, certainly from the point of view of trying to be all things to all guitarists. The first stage is a fairly sophisticated 'Heavy Metal Distortion', the second a flanger/chorus, the third a digital delay and the fourth a parametric equaliser. This combination of units in a multi-effects system seems very sensible to us because, although whether or not you like a distortion and a flanger/chorus is a matter of personal taste, one digital delay sounds a lot like another, ditto a parametric - what counts are their specs.
Another point in the Dod's favour is how very sensibly it's laid out. Once bolted into your rack, the mains on/off switch is on the extreme left of the control panel, and you then run across from distortion to flanger/chorus to digital delay to equaliser, ending up with a stack of three pots which govern overall input and output levels, plus the mysteriously named 'Enhancer' - more of which anon.
Despite offering four comprehensive effects, the Chain Reaction could hardly be easier to understand and use. Starting with the distortion section, this features four pots: Distortion, Level, High Boost and Low Boost. On all of the effects, a red LED glows when the section is activated by the footswitch panel. Moving on to the flanger/chorus stage, this offers you Speed, Width, Delay and Regeneration. Curiously, no specifications are given for the amount of control you have over each of these functions, so judging them was a matter of using our ears - probably fair enough, because it's what the Dod's flanger/chorus sounds like that really matters, not paper specs. Nevertheless, some specifications would have proved interesting, even simply for direct comparison against other makers' units. The digital delay, however, does have something to say for itself, if only that it runs from 50 milliseconds up to 1000 Ms. Controlling it are Delay and Mix pots (the latter blending 'dry' and delayed sounds) plus a third control labelled 'Repeats'. A red readout gives you a visual indication of the delay time set, incidentally. As you can see, simplicity of operation and clarity of purpose are major points in favour of the Dod's design - you certainly don't need a degree in astrophysics to understand and use it, and that can be invaluable (even if you do happen to have such a qualification!) when you're under the pressure of a live gig.
Moving to the parametric, this too is very straightforward. In case you don't know what a parametric is, by the way, it's probably easiest to think of it as a very flexible tone control where one knob enables you to select the exact frequency you wish to adjust, and another allows you to cut or boost it. The key to a parametric's desirability lies in the way in which you aren't tied to a fixed band of frequencies, and have complete tonal control as a result. In the Dod's case the two frequency ranges covered are 200Hz-800Hz (effectively low) and 800Hz-3.6kHz (high). Each band has its own cut and boost pot, and there is an overall level control too. No figures were given to show how much cut and boost is provided, but we'd guess that somewhere around the usual ±10-15dB applies, judging from the effect it seemed to have.
After these four stations, a single pair of jacks offer input and output, following which you have the aforementioned overall input and output level controls and that 'Enhancer' function. To reveal all, this is really a a form of treble booster, but it can be very useful in putting back the high frequencies which effects so often seem to leach out of your sound. Oh yes, just before we finish, an LED ladder shows operating levels, while a final red LED indicates bypass on or off.
While all the controls you need are sensibly placed on the front panel, the main module features a lot of useful extras on the back. What you get are eight signal ins and outs (main input and output, distortion out, flanger/chorus in/out, DDL in/out and equaliser input). From these you can patch-in any other effects you may want to use; maybe a phaser, reverb, tape echo or whatever. Finally, of course, a stereo socket is also rear panel mounted for connection of the separate footswitch panel, from which you remote control the racked unit. As far as the pedal board itself is concerned, there are six section to this, one for each effect, plus 'Infinite Repeat' and 'Bypass'. Each has an LED status indicator.
Although the Dod is very straightforward to use, we didn't feel that the manual provided with our sample was really forthcoming enough - although it was only a photocopy and may have been an early version. No specifications are given for either noise levels or effects range (apart from delay times and what the front panel tells you about the parametric's scope), and we were left wondering why this should be. In practice, it probably doesn't matter whether you have 10 or 15dB cut or boost (not with a stage-orientated effects unit, anyway), but it's nice to know.
ITs testers first tried out the distortion function. Certainly versatile, the Chain Reaction's distortion is pretty much on a level with any of the better quality 'HM' pedals that we've tried in our previous reviews of such beasts. Like all of them, it isn't an effective substitute for true valve overload, but it rasps and roars more than sufficiently to set any HM fan's heart racing and yet is adjustable enough to work quite acceptably at lower 'dirt' levels. Significantly (and we sampled at least half a dozen different guitars with it), the Dod's distortion worked pretty well with all of them. If we have a criticism of it then it would only be that it's a bit characterless - but that's not a major complaint.
The Chain Reaction's flanger/chorus is also a good one - we were all agreed on that. No figures being given, we can't make immediate comparisons with anyone else's Speed or Time ranges, but suffice it to say that the Dod's ran from a slow swirl to the obligatory 'artificial tremolo' effect very satisfactorily, and seemed as versatile in its span as any comparable pedal. The flanging effect was particularly vibrant and, especially when the parametric was used in conjunction with it, could be made to sound very fine indeed. Likewise the chorus, which could be juiced-up to sound really first rate; again, particularly so when used in conjunction with the parametric section for fine tuning.
Certainly the quality of effects offered in these two stages is very good, and only an individual's personal preference for the sound of another maker's effects could really count against them.
The DDL section on the Chain Reaction is, again, pretty much par for today's course in terms of the delay range offered, but it does have the strong plus that it's nicely quiet in operation and sounds quite natural. Maybe more to the point is the way in which it can be switched to infinite repeat function via the appropriate footswitch. This adds a lot of extra usefulness to the basic delay effects you can get by adjusting the three main controls, as it allows for a degree of manic instant Brian May sound effects, just at the touch of a remote button. As delays go, its facilities are about average; but it does seem better than many of the basic pedal delays we've tried in its quietness. Parametrics need some understanding to give of their best, and it might take you a while to figure out the ideal way of using this section. When you have got it sussed, however, you'll find it a highly useful device. As it can be used to 'flavour' both the other three effects in the Chain Reaction and/or your natural sound, it's especially handy to have, and serves almost a triple function in that it can 'tweak' effects, set your basic sound to the exact degree you want (it's particularly useful with rather toneless guitars or weak amps), and can also serve as an on-stage feedback killer.
Dod's Chain Reaction is certainly toughly made, right down to the sturdy floor unit, and is delightfully simple to set up and use. We found the extra ability to patch-in other effects very useful, and admired the unit's smooth and quiet level of operation.
Overall, we'd rate the distortion and delay sections about average compared with most of today's premium class pedals, while feeling that the flanger/chorus and parametric were better than most. We also liked the advantages of having all our effects off the floor (they're harder to steal when they're in a rack too, don't forget!) and felt that the choice of effects offered by Dod was very sensible. On the other hand, an RRP of £699 does make the Chain Reaction an expensive way of buying these four effects. Even if you went for the most expensive pedals you could get, a similar set-up could be put together for under £500, and that extra £200 (or a lot more if you opted tor less than the most costly pedal types) needs some justifying. Good though Dod's Chain Reaction is, we couldn't help feeling that their individual pedals seem to represent a more attractive buy, offering similar effect quality for less money. Obviously, having four individual pedals to handle causes you more hassles, but the extra money you're being asked to pay for the convenience of having an all-in-one system seems too costly to us. All the same, if convenience and ease of operation seem worth the extra money to you, then the Chain Reaction is well worth looking at. Otherwise, maybe you should check out Dod's pedals? That's something we hope to be doing in a future issue.
RRP £699 inc. VAT.
More info on Dod effects from Rhino Music Spares, (Contact Details)
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