Vesta Fire Effects
Unusual names but all used to a good effect. We report on this newest range.
Vesta Fire pedal effects
It's difficult to think of a new function for a small black box with a big footswitch on it, but that's just the task facing the designers of a new effects pedal range. Still, if anybody can come up with new solutions it's the Japanese, and Vesta have at least gained a good reputation with some very high quality studio effects. Their RV2 and RV3 reverb springlines, Driving Exciter and Programmable Graphic Equaliser all represent good value for any studio, but despite the trend towards using rack mounting units on stage there'll always be a call for cheaper pedal-based effects - and the temptation to press them into studio processing use to save money.
So how do the new Vesta pedals stand up? Well, the construction's certainly good enough - a substantial metal body with a wedge-shaped profile, a chunky and stiffly sprung footswitch to the right of the top face, rotary controls with coloured caps, metal in and out jack and 9V DC sockets and a rubberised underside with an easily removable battery cover for the usual PP3. The footswitch is generally a little stiff, but that's preferable to a feather touch which switches the effect over every time you put a foot near it.
The Distortion unit in the range revels in the name of Razor Sharp, and controls are the usual Level, Distortion and Tone. As you'll hear on the tape, the effects given are pretty good - a smooth fuzz with a sharp edge at the top of the tone range, never becoming strident but quite capable of dealing out some heavy stuff if required.
The distortion pedal's closest mate is the Power Tube overdrive (£35), which simulates the effect of an overdriven valve amp with a warmer and fuller fuzz. We think the effect's fairly lifelike - judge for yourself.
The compressor unit is eccentrically titled Life Saver (£35), and if your life depended on squeezing the last drop of sustain from the distortion or overdrive pedals or on levelling out uneven keyboard volumes (for instance from a Fender Rhodes or Pianet which has seen better days) the name would be quite appropriate. Level sets the output volume and Sensitivity increases compression as you turn it clockwise, potentially giving your keyboards more smoothing or your guitar longer sustain at the volume level you want.
The Chorus rejoices under the name of Natural Energy (£55) and is a stereo design using an additional output for the out-of-phase signal. The effect is good, leading to less offensive de-tuning than many comparable units, and the stereo facility is handy if you have two amps on stage or two tracks of tape spare to record on. The phase and flange pedals are also stereo-equipped; the Hyperactive Stereo Flanger (£60) has the four familiar controls Speed, Depth, Colour and Manual, the manual knob allowing you to pick a static flange position which can be useful for changing the tone or harmonic content of a sound giving an out-of-phase pickup effect (and that's just on keyboards!). The swept effects range from vibrato to gentle 'skying' and wacky wobbling.
The phaser, Vital Spark (£49), is very competitive, although the effect itself is a little out of fashion at the moment. That will all change with the next psychedelic revival (if you missed the last one, there'll be another one along in a minute), and the Vital Spark will be ready with a selection of smooth swooshing effects, fast wobbles and voice-like mid-speed phase sweeps. The fastest setting on both Phaser and chorus could do with being a little higher, but the resulting over-the-top effects wouldn't be used too often.
Next is the Buf and Loop II (£35), which seems a bit obscure at first but which could in fact be a very handy little gadget to have lying around in any studio. Firstly, it's a buffer preamplifier to compensate for long cable runs and the low input impedance of several pedals; that means it'll boost a signal weakened by running through multiple effects by around 26dB. This function also allows it to overdrive amps which aren't normally susceptible to this, although the effect couldn't then be switched in and out. Also, the B&L acts as a switchable effects loop allowing you instant access to two alternative chains of effects or to either of two amplifiers.
The footswitch flicks you from the main output (connected to any subsequent effects you like) to another socket labelled Send, from whence it can go to different effects and another amp (or the same amp), or back to the Receive socket for further treatment by the first lot of effects. If that sounds confusing, you've got to keep in mind that the loop is also active inside the pedal even if nothing is plugged into the Send and Receive sockets; since you've got two Volume controls for the Master circuit and the Loop circuit, you can use the Buf and Loop to switch between two preselected volume levels for any input signal. Potential uses could include turning up a guitar for a stage solo, or reliably taking your keyboard volume down to a level suitable for accompaniment rather than lead work.
The B&L can also boost a microphone high enough to use an effect such as chorus on your vocals, or can drive a guitar up to the right level for direct insertion into a mixer - just the sort of thing to solve a million and one studio problems.
The last Vesta effect is in a different format and comprises a versatile digital delay pedal. Called the D-1X, it sells for £176 and has all the usual input level, feedback, delay time, delay range and level controls. All these functions are familiar from rack-mounting echo unit designs, but it's unusual to see them on a unit this size; the two large circular kickswitches emphasise the fact that the D-1X is designed for fast stage use.
The delay ranges available are 4-16mS, 16-64mS, 64-256mS and 256-1024mS, so the maximum time is just over a second of very clean repeat; the Hold works anywhere in the maximum range of 256-1024mS, and you can then play straight through the pedal over a repeating pattern. It's surprising how much backing you can fit into 1024 milliseconds!
As it stands the D1-X has no modulation functions for the sake of economy. If you need flanging and vibrato however, you can add on the LF-1 LFO unit (£51) which screws into the top of the pedal, sharing its 9V power supply (no battery option this time) and also connecting to it via a short control voltage lead. Once that's connected you're away - the LF-1 provides sine or triangle modulation with variable Rate and Depth for a massive variety of effects from a generous flange to vibrato, wacky vibrating echoes, sound bending, tuning distortion and much more.
The D-1X has stereo outputs too, and the output quality is very high indeed. There's little sign of hiss or distortion, although using it as a DDL for multitrack mixdown may be a little optimistic. Overall, though, it's a great success, certainly the most impressive effect you'll find in a package this size.
As ever, for some more tangible (or audible) info on the pedals, all you have to do is take an advanced course in prising the cassette off that little sticky thing they use that never wants to let go of it, and then let it rip. If you're already convinced and just want to know where to buy some, contact the distributors, MTR at (Contact Details).
Review by Mark Jenkins writing as Tony Mills
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