The idea of a no-frills, budget line of effects is great. The practical reality is convincing only in patches, and with hottish competition in the pedal market working very much in the buyer's favour, such a line really needs to go some to live up to now quite high expectations. Much has changed technically since the Phase 90 was the bee's knees.
The power consumption on the £49.95 Frontline Super Chorus seemed heavy for what was actually being achieved. Two output sockets gave a rather pointlessly in-phase modulation for a consumption at maximum (measured on a healthy Fluke 8024B) of 19.08 milliamps — which is expensive in PP3s. With the effect off and all settings around midway, the machine clocked between 12 and 13 milliamps: quite a lot while hanging about for the big break.
The £39.95 Mini Chorus top guzzle came out around 14.82 milliamps, effect-off tickover 10.37 milliamps. The chorus sound that in the Boss CE2 is rich, and fairly rich in the old Guyatone, was rather more silvery and patchy on the two Frontlines, but still recognisably chorusy. The Super lifted level a little when switched on, but not as significantly as the Guyatone, and the Mini cut level very slightly when switched on.
The Super offers control over the delay time as well as rate and width of modulation; the Mini simply has control over the two latter functions. The economy aspect needs careful thought. A "Stereo" Chorus like the mains MXR floor unit or the newer Guyatone gives outputs that have out-of-phase modulation — this is what gives that lovely, wide, floaty effect. Other units offer an effect/direct output option which still has some stereo picture value. An in-phase dual-output is of doubtful value, but a straight mono is clearly fine for most stage uses. The "stereo" options have some recording value, but in floor units tend to be rather noisy. Logic would seem to favour a simple unit with a lower battery consumption figure.
The Delay (£69.95) is a nice unit, bearing in mind the limitations of the genre. With electric pickups it is a little disappointing around about the D on the first — plenty of clunking repeats but not a lot of floating about and singing. Top end loss is inevitably quite considerable. On a harmonically much richer electric-acoustic, though, this is less of a problem and this unit will serve a picker very adequately for a minimum of inconvenience. The Frontline is no exception to any of the general rules, and within its terms of reference performs satisfactorily.
The power consumption, at a maximum of 13.45 milliamps, is not unusual, and popping out to do a lightweight gig will not see you stranded if you start off with a fresh battery. A mains-derived power supply makes economic sense for sustained use, and a centre negative connector is fitted to each unit. This is the same as Boss and Guyatone, but always check before hooking up — some makers do not diode-protect their circuits against reversed polarity. A shame that, it can save a lot of grief.
The Flanger comes into the Very Acceptable category at £49.95, and will do all the usual over-the-top "whoosh" effects with the feedback up. At the extreme feedback setting the thing will whistle aimlessly to itself, and with the feedback knocked right back it will do a passable chorus effect in spite of the shorter delay time required for flanging.
If you really are on a tight budget then the Flanger is an obvious compromise pedal with an ability to edge into a number of tonal areas, including that often occupied by a phaser. Power consumption could cane the battery budget though — I clocked 17.3 milliamps at maximum width setting. Average use would probably run it at around 15 to 16 milliamps. Look out for a flashing LED indicator on longer gigs. The battery that arrived with the unit expired during initial consumption checks, and was duly consigned to the bin before it could leak — watch out for that on high-consumption pedals. A leak in one of these units could cause a nasty mess as the battery compartment is not separated from the circuitry.
The O/Drive-Preamp unit is also a useful dual-purpose device, although the review unit seemed confused. The gain control seemed to govern level, while the level control preferred to govern gain and consequent distortion. Maybe someone put the pots in the wrong way round. However, it is possible to use it clean to lift level either for a clean solo or for a piezo bug, or it is possible to use it to add filth of the spitting-and-glass-hurling variety — the usual diode-clipped nastiness is eminently suitable for hooligan musical activities.
Noise levels aren't too bad. The circuitry is good and contains a very respectable NEC 4558 op-amp, and consumption runs at about 5.15 milliamps. Compare the old MXR Microamp at 0.3 milliamps, or their old Distortion+ at somewhere over two milliamps. Both these figures are pre-LED, which usually adds about two milliamps, depending on required brightness. £24.95 for this one.
The big disappointment was the Phaser. It sounded like tired windscreen wipers, didn't seem to have much filtering range, and at higher rate settings was unpleasantly violent. Power consumption was unnecessarily high at a maximum of 16.3 milliamps. Unless the review unit was faulty, it seems the design might need a rethink. Price: £24.95.
The switching on all of the units discussed here was positive — a clean change-over every time. The transmission from hinged footplate to switch is via a small spring, so it is possible that that might change as the spring decays naturally.
Generally, should economy include battery consumption? And if so, are LEDs and their extra couple of milliamps consumption that necessary? People seemed to manage fine on the old MXRs with their mechanical switching — the odd clunk passed usually unnoticed on stage and only became a problem in a studio where many of the floor effects units are barred by noise-sensitive engineers anyway. In any case, it was always possible to hit a mechanical switch smack on the beat and have the noise covered by drums. I think I would prefer to see economies made in those areas before cutbacks in effect performance.
But as the toolshop guy said a while ago, if you're dead broke a Polish drill is fine, better a slightly wiggly hole than no hole at all. Most times, anyway.
Gear in this article:
Review by Adrian Legg
Previous article in this issue:
Next article in this issue:
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!