T.C. FX Units
Are effects important to your sound? Are you bugged by unwanted noises from yours? Danish manufacturers T.C. Electronics say they've got the answer in a range of 'luxury' pedals. We gave them the IT test - could they stand our size 10's without screaming?
You might well think that yet another range of effects pedals coming onto the market was one too many - after all, what is there left that hasn't already been done by the dozens of Far Eastern manufacturers?
Since their re-launch in the U.K., however, the Danish-made T.C. Effects range looks as if it may have found a ready market among users demanding ultra-performance from their pedals. We say re-launch, of course, because this a second crack at the U.K. market for T.C. Several years ago, when they made their first British foray, if s probable that musicians as a whole didn't have the sophisticated needs which so many do today. As things stand now, however, with the explosion in higher home and demo studio recording quality, and with 'live' players working to ever-increasing standards, electronically 'noiseless' pedals, leads and suchlike are more in demand than ever. So, just how good are T.C.'s products - are they really capable of true studio quality?
Manufactured from black painted sheet steel, adorned by white lettering and fitted with large rubber grip pads on the bases, T.C.'s pedals certainly looked as tough as their manufacturers claim them to be. Even the most violent pedal abuser would be incapable of damaging one of these boxes.
Unusually, the on/off switches employed aren't of the 'kick flap' kind, which you find on many of the better Japanese units, but are the traditional-looking push button types. In fact there is a sense in which T.C.'s pedals do look a bit old fashioned. But does this matter? Surely what really counts is how they work?
Specifications on the T.C.s are highly impressive - they're more like pro-studio rack mounted equipment, in fact, and throughout our tests we couldn't find any areas of doubt about T.C.'s performance claims. Frequency response, for example, is quoted at 20-20,000Hz as a basic standard (some of the units comfortably exceed even this outstanding level); a frequency range not only far and away beyond that of most effects, but well up to the standard of professional studio gear. Moreover, T.C. claim a dynamic range on their pedals greater than 100dB. This means that you have (in practice as well as theory, we found) a completely noiseless effect.
PP3 batteries drive each unit, although these are inconveniently arranged, as to get at them requires undoing crosshead screws and removing the pedals' baseplates. Mind you, each one of these pedals has unusually low current consumption, so a decent quality battery should last you a long while. Overall, though, we'd have preferred to have seen one of the 'quick-change' systems, such as that used by Boss, Arion and others, as many pro players tend to change their batteries on every gig just to be sure of having enough power. Having to remove the whole bottom plate (with the attendant danger of losing the screws in poorly lit backstage areas) is a shame. T.C. do offer two excellent transformers, however, so battery access may not be necessary anyway.
We gave each of the pedals in T.C.'s range a thorough test, using a wide variety of instruments and amps, and this is what we found.
Fitted with four very sturdy and precise rotary controls, governing volume, bass, treble and distortion, this is an extremely useful and particularly versatile effect. In line with T.C.'s aim of offering pro-standard quality it has some unusual special features, including an XLR (cannon) socket on the side of its sturdy steel frame, which enables you to run a feed direct to a mixer. Sensibly, the signal from this is at low impedance level, so that it will work with a pro-quality mixer. It also features another of T.C.'s worthy ideas - a socket which enables you to get the pedal off the floor and switch it on or off via a silent switching 'by-pass unit'. This system applies to just about all the units in the range and could be very handy. Completing the range of controls are a slider switch governing boost or distortion selection, and a noise supressor threshold rotary which you can set for the best possible signal to noise ratio - cutting back unwanted noise levels.
Used in its 'Boost' mode (selected via the slider switch at the top of the unit) the effect here isn't a typical fuzzy kind of overload/distortion - in fact it's more of a (clean) level raiser, which allows you to boost your input signal so that you can either overdrive the input of your amp or, alternatively, just lift the signal from a guitar with less than ideal output. Obviously, amp overload effects are the most obvious applications for this unit, but we also found it very useful for adding a bit more 'welly' to a transducer output signal from an acoustic guitar. While doing all this, of course, you can also modify the sound itself, by using the two tone controls - both of which were highly effective.
Another application we found was in lifting signal levels to improve the tonal quality and general performance from a guitar with weak pickups; not to get distortion, but to improve the instruments overall sound quality.
To add icing to an already impressive cake, this T.C. also has an adjustable noise supressor threshold control on its top surface. Setting this with care enables you to get rid of unwanted noises from badly shielded instruments, lighting rig interference etc. Equally usefully, it doesn't have the sudden cut-off effect associated with conventional 'noise-gates'.
This unit is also a distortion producer. Selecting this effect via the slider switch, a smooth, fairly warm distortion comes into play. It's always desperately hard to describe effects in words, and distortion is one of the worst to try and cover. Tastes vary, and a lot depends on what guitar and amp you use. Overall, our feeling was that we've heard distortion sounds which we've preferred, and those which we've liked far less than the T.C.'s. This feature will have to be decided on a personal taste level - and that can only be up to you. This pedal set a standard during trial which all the T.C. pedals we sampled maintained. It was near-silent in operation, versatile, and beautifully manufactured. Used for uplifting the signal from a low-level guitar, adding tone from the bass and treble controls, bringing distortion in (where desired) and with that highly effective noise suppressor control, it would particularly suit any advanced player.
Two units are offered here, one 'voiced' to work best on guitars, the other for bass guitar and keyboards.
Three rotary controls top a typical T.C. matt-black steel case; Speed, Function (selectable between Linear, Peak and Notch) and Width. Set among these is a small metal flick switch which enables you to choose between 4, 8 and 12 filter operation.
The T.C. Phaser is unusual in that it not only allows you to select the filtering manually, via the top-mounted switch, but also uses either of two special 'programme' jack plugs, both of which are supplied with the package. In addition to the onboard selection range, you can insert one of these two 'dummy' jack plugs, each of which contains its own pre-programmed circuitry. These two plugs (one red capped, the other blue) fit into a special 'programme' socket, each offering different centre frequencies for the range 'swept". Insert the red capped dummy jack and the T.C. Phaser sounds deeper in its effect. Replace it with the blue and the range runs appreciably higher.
To compound the versatility of this effect, in addition to the influence of the two programmed jacks you also have the choice afforded by the flick switch governing filter operation. In sound terms these, again, seem to vary the depth of the phasing effects, and combine together to offer what must be the widest range of different phasing sounds from any one unit.
To make matters even more complete, the T.C. also lets you connect two of these pedals together, thus synchronising the phasing of two different instruments or working on a stereo signal. Moreover, if a volume pedal is connected, then the swept range can be controlled by foot operation.
Over and above offering an unmatched range of phasing effects, it does so with a quietness which is downright spooky if you've got used to the normal 'filter-noise' from the average phaser pedal. Not only is the T.C.'s phasing sound sweeter and warmer than most, it's also markedly cleaner - crystal clean, in fact.
With the extra features of enabling you to foot-operate the phasing depth (via a volume control) or connect two T.C. Phasers together to handle stereo input signals or have two instruments phased together, plus a superlative sound quality and extensive options of phase effects themselves, this was certainly the most impressive Phaser we've found to date and, if not exactly cheap, is well worth the price asked if phasing is your sound and you want the very best.
Bass players and keyboardists who want phasing should look out for the Bass/Keyboard versions of this pedal - the T.C. XIIBK model, which works identically to the guitar version but operates one octave lower.
Once again, T.C.'s no-compromise attitude to electronic design scores maximum marks. Chorus and Flanging are probably (distortion pedals aside) the most sought-after effects today, but they can often be troublesome, with inherent noise problems and sometimes a distinct lack of smoothness in their travel across the sound spectrum. There were no such problems, however, with this T.C. pedal. Hiss and hum levels were non-existent and the overall sound quality was actually notably better than we've obtained from some rack-mounted units!
Facilities on this model include red LEDs to show optimum input gain and overload, a three-way switch giving chorus, flanging or pitch modulation, rotary controls for speed, intensity and width. Add standard jacks and T.C.'s by-pass system inputs, and a pair of jack outlets for mono or stereo feeds, and you've got a very complete unit indeed.
Judging whether an individual Chorus or Flanger is ideal for you entails making two decisions - one, whether it works smoothly and with as little unwanted noise as possible; the other whether the effect's sound suits your personal tastes. While we can be 100% sure about the first of these criteria, we'd never try and dictate the latter; so whether T.C.'s version of Chorus/Flanging and Pitch Modulation is for you will have to be down to a personal test. We will say, however, that you're unlikely to find a smoother sounding flanger in a pedal, nor such a quiet one. It's obvious that the best quality components have been used in this model, none of the short-cuts sometimes seen in pedals having been taken. The delay range runs up to 15ms. and even at the extremes both the chorus and flanging sounds come across cleanly and clearly, with no unwanted lumpiness.
In addition to the basic chorus and flanging sounds, you also have a third option - pitch modulation - but you might have to play around with this to find the best use of it, as it's not the sort of effect you'd want to employ on every song. A 'sort of' hybrid of chorus and flanging is perhaps the best way to describe it.
Yet again, a superbly designed pedal with a quality of sound way above the ordinary. For the player who can afford it, and who is looking for the very best, this pedal is an another winner.
The features on this unit comprise standard jack ins and outs, a by-pass socket, distortion on/off slider switch, bandwidth control slider, noise supressor/threshold rotary governor and large pots covering Sustain, Gain, Function and Centre.
For some reason parametric equalisers seem to be among the least well understood of effects, but in fact they're quite simple to use once you grasp the basics. A normal tone control (as T.C. point out, helpfully, in their brochure) operates on a fixed centre frequency, and turning it up or down only alters the frequencies within the pre-selected bandwidth. A parametric, however, allows you to vary the centre frequency, adjust the width of the band to be effected and then select either cut, in varying degrees. It's a much better way of controlling and tailoring sounds than conventional tone controls and has the extra advantage of packing into a small space what would otherwise require a huge graphic equaliser to achieve.
This pedal, having both sustain (another name for compression in this instance) and that tone flexibility, is a particularly creative combination - implying that a fair amount of the ideas input in this series must have come from working musicians. Suppose that the lead solo sound you like is a creamy, smoothly extended sustain. That's not so difficult to get (given decent equipment and a suitable technique) providing you can use the full power of your amp. But what if you can't? What if your gigs are too small, you're recording at home, or just practising? To a degree, master volume systems can help a great deal here - but not every amp has them, and they won't do everything that this pedal will. Using the compressor effect here will enable you to get sustain at sound pressure levels which you (and your neighbours!) can live with - and it works beautifully well. Of course, compressors aren't new, but there aren't so many good ones around, and this one works outstandingly well.
Another application for this pedal might be if you wanted a tonal change when you went into a solo, and either didn't have enough Eq on your guitar for the sound or didn't have a twin channel switchable amp. Employing the sustain feature to give you the note length you want, you can also vary the tone of your instrument - giving you the best of all possible worlds in one effect. Link it together with T.C.'s Booster/Linedriver/Distortion pedal and the combination would be pretty devastating in what it allowed you to achieve by way of modified solo sounds.
The available range adjustable via the parametric section is extremely wide, giving you an equaliser centre range from 50 - 5,000 Hz with ± 16dBs of potential cut or boost. The sustain control range is quoted as 40dB which, once again, shows the sort of standards that T.C. are working to.
Yet again (especially set-up correctly with the noise supressor/sensitivity trigger in operation) the T.C. is amazingly quiet in its operation - but you almost begin to take that for granted once you've sampled a few of these pedals. Overall, this is a pretty subtle effect and is suited to the more experienced player who's faced with a sustain/tonal problem which needs solving without interfering with the natural sound from his or her guitar or amp. By any standards this is one of the most useful pedals that we've come across.
Just one more effects pedal completes the range, a Dual Parametric. With this, you get control across two ranges of centre frequencies - 20 - 2,000Hz on Band 1 and 100 - 10,000Hz on Band 2. On each band you have up to ±16dB of cut and boost and a bandwidth of, in effect, 0.1 - 1 octave. Frequency response is, again, outstanding for a pedal, ranging from 10 - 40,000Hz. To further add to what's on hand there's also a further ±12dB on tap for a 'treble' control.
Used carefully, this pedal can either be employed to eliminate feedback-inducing resonances when playing live (especially with miked or transducer pickupped acoustic instruments), or it can change the 'voice' of an instrument radically. It could be the ideal pedal for the acoustic/electric player or anyone with feedback problems. Equally well it's uses on bass, keyboards - even in home recording as an extra equaliser (so good is its operational quality) shouldn't be underestimated.
In addition, T.C. also have some other highly useful units on offer, one of which is a tiny pre-amp. With controls for volume, treble and bass, this unit is ideal for boosting the level and tonal range of pickupped acoustics and semis, electric pianos etc.
'You gets what you pays for' is one of the oldest cliches around, and not always the most accurate. Nonetheless, the T.C. range does go to support this old maxim. Yes, these units are, by and large, considerably more expensive than the average effects box, but in terms of the quality of their sounds, the way they are made, the supreme resistance they appear to have to unwanted noises and interference, they definitely justify their prices.
Whether these units represent value for money for the individual must depend on whether you can make use of their ultra-high quality. You're paying for quality, and undoubtedly that's what you're getting. Professional musicians who broadcast, anyone who records, session players, players with high quality P.A. systems, quieter playing Folk or Jazz musicians (who may be more at risk from unwanted noise levels than louder guitarists); in short, anyone who needs the best. There's even a good case for studios buying a set of these to replace some of the horrors that bands often bring in with them! There's probably nothing on the market to equal these T.C. pedals technically, and as such, they're worth every penny.
Further details from T.C. Electronics' U.K. distributors, Musimex, (Contact Details).
Gear in this article:
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!