Next EPS 1000
It's tempting to replace the "X" in Next with an "A", because the EPS-1000 certainly gets a gold star for neatness. Four effects pedals and a programming unit for them, in a gadget 15in long, 10in wide and less than 2in high.
The EPS works on a similar principle to the Roland SCC700, allowing you to memorise effects patches so that the press of one button could call up one, two, three or four effects linked together.
The pedals are standard modules featuring a large black pad that takes up the first third of the top surface and acts as the on/off switch. The controls are in a small valley between this pad and a raised lip at the far end, so they get a little extra protection.
The programmer is a metal frame, finished off by two imitation teak end cheeks for the sake of appearance. At the front are six half inch wide rubber-topped switches that control the memories. It can store eight programmes in two banks of four. The switch on the far left swaps over the banks, the next four select the memories within them, and the last rubber button bypasses the system so your signal goes direct to the amp.
A red LED display reads out the patch you've chosen, and two extra LEDs let you know what bank you're in — green for 1 to 4, red for 5 to 8. Programming is the task of yet another four buttons, each with an indicator light. These correspond with the pedals themselves, numbered (or lettered) A to D.
To fill a memory you select the appropriate bank and position, flick the "preset" switch to "record" which automatically clears the last entry, then press buttons A and D for example, return to "preset" and there you are — the A plus D patch is permanently stored, or at least as long as the backup batteries survive (about a year).
It takes a few minutes to fit the pedals. The four screws holding the rubber base plates have to be removed, though the plates are left in place. The pedals are linked via twin shaft jack plugs (two plugs joined back to back) and all four are then dropped into the space within the frame after first connecting the sockets carrying the DC supply at the rear, and the input and output leads for the first and last effects in the chain.
Though similar in philosophy to the Roland SCC700, the EPS-1000 is on a far smaller and less versatile scale. For example you can programme what effects are on, but not in which order they're connected — that's decided when the units are linked by those twin shaft jacks. And (typically Japanese) they read right to left — D, C, B, A — though the programmer runs left to right — 1, 2, 3, 4.
It's always possible to override the memory by pressing the pedals' own on/off switches to bring them in or out of circuit. There's a lot of room to play with on the frame's front panel, so I would have preferred for Next's designers to have spaced out the memory switches. They're less than 1½in apart and it's easy to hit two at once.
The back panel is almost bare, just a mains on/off switch and the unit's input and output sockets.
Next do a range of eight pedals from Analogue Delays to Phasers. This test sample contained the DS-200 Distortion X, CO-300 Compressor, FL-600 Flanger and SG-100 Signal Gate.
The Distortion X is strange. As well as the usual volume, tone and strength controls there's a fourth knob handling something called "wave", which I presume alters the harmonics or waveshape of the fuzzed signal. It's a very thrashy fuzz box, rather than an edgy distortion unit, and the wave control took it from a squeaky, high pitched ring to a mellower gurgle, none of which I found especially attractive.
Next (sorry), farther along the line is the Compressor, bearing volume, tone, attack and sustain controls. Such devices protect amps and speakers by throttling back sudden loud passages. The attack determines how rapidly it reacts — stamping down immediately, or allowing some of the dynamics to come through. The sustain helps prolong strums which would otherwise quickly die away.
The CO-300 was admirable at disciplining your playing without exhibiting the hiccuping unevenness which some compressors demonstrate. But many guitarists and bass players like such a pedal to add a hard punch to the beginning of each note, and there the Next didn't fare so well.
The width, rate and feedback controls on the Flanger are joined by a manual knob that can sweep through the frequencies by hand and freeze them at one point. As a flanger it had a good chorus sound with the width at maximum and the feedback at minimum. But turn that feedback up and it began to sound very boxy and unnatural, finally ending in bathtub resonance similar to wind blowing down a drainpipe. Some players go after that metallic quality, but it's too fierce for my ears.
The signal gate is a useful addition, though in fact the Nexts are pretty quiet pedals and don't steal too much treble and volume. The Distortion buzzes from time to time, but that depends on the Wave setting.
A signal gate is like an effect for the silences. It detects when you are not playing and shuts down the output so the various hisses, hums and burps don't leak through.
As for the memory section, that's fine, though in truth there aren't too many combinations you can get from four pedals, especially when their order is predetermined. I found on this review sample that sudden changes farther down the effects line — like turning off an echo unit at the mains — could cause the EPS-1000 to sneeze electronically and jumble its programmes.
At a pinch it should be possible to fit other makes of pedals into the Next frame, though you might have to get weaving with the drill and screwdriver to keep them secure.
It's good to see programmable effects systems coming down in this price, but in the end any unit is only as good as the pedals that rest within it, and those produced by Next are okay, but not the most impressive of their ilk. £245