Ross Effects Pedals
This month we're looking at four effects pedals under the brand name of Ross (a subsidiary of the International Music Corporation, Texas). The complete Ross range is comprised of nine models competitively priced between £27 (for the Distortion) and £99 (for the Stereo Delay).
The models under review — Compressor, Distortion, Chorus and Direct Box/Noise Gate — all come in identically finished high impact, black die-cast cases. Input and output sockets are the standard ¼" jack variety and there is a 3.5mm socket, labelled PWR, for connecting a 9 volt DC power adaptor. Otherwise, all units run off a standard 9 volt battery located inside the case. Unlike many of today's effects pedals there is no special battery compartment which means that you have to undo four screws and remove the baseplate in order to change a battery — not an ideal situation but one you can live with.
Other features common to the four models are the latching on/off footswitch located on the surface of the sloping case, and the two recessed rotary controls which are virtually flush with the case but still accessible to the fingers. One benefit of this design is durability, as these knobs are unlikely to snap off if the pedal is dropped. Now to the effects themselves.
This has two controls labelled Distort and Level, and employs a dual op amp-based circuit to create signal clipping, producing a square wave output rich in harmonics from most input signals. Distort actually varies the degree of clipping, ranging from a smooth overdrive sound (counterclockwise) to a full rasping fuzz on full setting. The Level knob adjusts the effect output level and is used to match signal levels between each effect or between your amplifier for example.
A useful unit this, whose distortion remains full but clean enough to keep individual notes distinguishable. If Level is turned up and your amp input level kept low, then quite a long sustain can be obtained from the device. At £27, it is one of the better distortion units around for the price.
This is an often misunderstood effect which can be a beneficial sound aid if used correctly. A compressor, if you didn't know, is effectively a levelling device which works by reducing or 'compressing' large signals and boosting low level signals, prolonging the length of a note, for example. This is why the circuit is widely used in sustain pedals.
However, in boosting low level signals there is, of course, the danger of also amplifying background noise, so you need to ensure that such things as guitar leads and amplifiers are well maintained and well screened.
The amount of compression is adjustable, using the Sustain control, from 15 to 40 dB. The more compression used, the longer the effective sustain. There will also be less level difference between the loud and quiet sounds. The overall output is determined once again by the Level control and needs adjusting once the compression ratio (Sustain) has been set. At about £32 this a good little device capable of producing a smooth compression effect with few side defects.
Based upon two bucket brigade devices this unit produces a very deep, rich chorus effect that was superb on electric guitar and drum machine. Rate and Depth controls provide adjustment of the LFO speed and amount of effect, respectively. When Depth is completely off no appreciable effect can be heard regardless of the Rate setting. Using these two controls in combination, a range of processing effects can be achieved, from automatic double tracking (ADT), ensemble, Leslie speakers to a deep, bright chorus. The unit has a quoted 90 dB dynamic range, and in use no perceivable background noise was ever audible.
This is probably the best mono chorus pedal on the market in my opinion and at a cost of £49 represents very good value. Certainly one to make a beeline to your nearest dealer for.
An unusual combination to find in pedal format this one. Like the previous devices there are two recessed rotary knobs. One is labelled 'Threshold' and this determines the volume a sound must be at before the gate 'opens' and that sound is heard. Any sound below the threshold (such as noise) will be too quiet to trigger the gate and so no output will be heard — a simple method of noise reduction.
Turning the Threshold control clockwise raises the threshold level with the result that any decaying signal is cut off abruptly. This technique is currently used to help obtain the ambient drum sound much beloved of Peter Gabriel, Bill Nelson and Phil Collins amongst others. The drums are placed in a 'live', reverberant room, miked up and the signal passed through noise gates. The threshold can then be set on the noise gate so that only a loud drum stroke will open the gate, allowing the drum mixed with the reverberant room sound (ambience) to be heard. Then as soon as the drum sound begins to decay it falls below the threshold level and is cut off suddenly. The end result is a tight drum sound that packs a lot of punch and sounds extremely live.
The second control on the DI Box/Noise Gate is a three position rotary switch which allows you to bypass the ground (earth) connection to your amplifier, mixer or both. This has obvious benefits in preventing the formation of earth loops between various equipment which generally manifests itself as an annoying 'hum' or 'buzz'.
The direct inject section of the pedal lets you plug your unbalanced instrument lead (jack) into the unit and interface it with balanced equipment such as a mixer. There's an unbalanced (jack) output or balanced, transformer isolated XLR output connection, ensuring correct impedance matching between instrument and amp, or instrument and mixing desk.
Internal construction of all four units is adequate. There really should be an isolated battery compartment though. One extra feature of the DI Box is the provision of a 'phantom powering' facility. Inside the case is a short jumper lead that can be hooked onto the relevant pin on the PCB to allow use of an external 15 to 48 volt supply, for increased screening protection.
The sound quality of these Ross pedals is high indeed, particularly that of the Chorus which impressed me a lot. Prices are very competitive and it's a refreshing change to see a Direct Box/Noise Gate at £39 amongst the model range. With so many effects pedals on the market it's good to come across a range that has that little something extra.
Other models in the series comprise: Phaser (£39), 10 Band Graphic Equaliser (£49), Phase/Distortion (£54), Flanger (£69) and Stereo Delay (£99). The Ross range is distributed in the UK by John Hornby Skewes, (Contact Details).
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Review by Ian Gilby