Yamaha SDS Pedals
Dave Burrluck back again, treading callously on a new range of innocent young pedal effects
The job of designing effects pedals can't be easy and one wonders how many more permutations of the same ideas there can be. The SDS range is yet another variation on a recurring theme but in typical Yamaha style is well designed and above all very competitive. There is always a market for the low to medium priced FX pedal and with prices of £43 and £59 the SDS range is immediately attractive.
Six pedals are offered – compressor, distortion, overdrive, chorus, flanger and graphic Eq – the only notable exception being a delay. No new sound processing concepts here then, but what can you expect? Yamaha, more than most, have the hi-tech market well covered and this experience has undoubtedly rubbed off on these units.
It is good to see that Yamaha actually care about the lower end of the market. This is evident by the accompanying booklet explaining each effect in depth with some interesting sound settings for each unit as well as comprehensive technical specification. So you may only be spending 40 quid but immediately you feel you're getting your money's worth.
Cosmetically the units look smart in a matt black finish each with its own labelling colour from purple through to green. Each has the same physical appearance and size 71mm x 56mm x 126mm (WHD) while individuality is provided by a different design of the rubber pad on the footswitch! Battery or mains power is the usual option – both 9 volt – and a battery is provided with each unit. Apart from the chorus which has an extra 'stereo' output we have the usual in/out ¼" jack sockets on either side of the pedal, plus a positive action flap-type footswitch and red LED status and battery power indicator.
The units retail at £43 for the compressor, distortion and overdrive while the chorus, flanger and graphic go for £59.
This is quite a standard unit featuring three controls – Attack, Sustain (release) and Output Level, all quite acceptable on a pedal of this price.The surprising thing is the effectiveness of the controls' range, with the attack providing a choice from the extreme compression setting, where the sound 'fades' in, to a much quicker attack fattening the front of a sound. Used with the sustain which effects the length of a sound after the initial signal, subtle or quite obvious sounds can be achieved. The apparent high output level means that noise from the unit can be reduced to a minimum as the output level control need only be set on two or three to match the straight output level of a guitar. Unless you use the unit as a booster or have the sustain full up for all applications noise isn't a problem.
The compressor has many applications for all musicians both in a live and studio situation but the key to successful use lies in familiarity with the unit. However, for the asking price you won't go wrong, the inclusion of the attack control makes all the difference giving the unit a great deal of flexibility.
Essential pedals these days it would seem and both these units do the job. The Distortion's more extreme character provides a wide range of sound from tight overdrive to very flappy and fuzzy distortion. The more gutsy Overdrive pretends to sound like a Marshall stack at full tilt but somehow doesn't quite achieve it – which is hardly surprising for the price. Both units have the same three controls – Distortion/Overdrive, Tone and Output Level which provide a wide range of options. Again the output level is high with plenty for solos, but the tone control on both units sounds best in mid position.
To my ears the distortion was a bit too close to a fuzz box for comfort and although the Overdrive was more 'realistic' neither pedal seemed to capture a classic sound. However, using these in line with the Graphic and Compressor, things are much more interesting and both the Distortion and Overdrive benefit from added mid-range giving the units more body and balls. With both units noise is evident but then a Marshall stack is hardly hiss free! If you're into high class modern distortion sounds these pedals fall a bit short although used in a chain with other units they do the job. I think it's really a case of 'what do you expect for £43?'
Another MOR effect, but like the chorus does everything it should. Four controls – Speed, Feedback, Depth and Manual – pull no surprises and work in the usual time-honoured fashion. A far more versatile effect than a chorus but also far more noticeable; if used to extreme it really can date a piece of music. However, musicians on a tight budget would do well to consider this unit as you can achieve a good chorus effect without the use of the Feedback control and you still have all your flanging effects open to you. Of course with a delay time of 1.5 to 18msec you won't be able to cover exactly the same areas, but like I said if you can't afford both, the flanger would do you well. Background hiss and sweep is a bit more apparent on this unit but again it is by no means unacceptable. Unfortunately power consumption is high reducing a standard (presumably non-alkaline) battery to a mere eight hours of life. Still you could afford a mains adaptor as well. Again, the Flanger itself is definitely good value.
A nice inclusion this one as a decent graphic can be worth its weight in gold, not only as a problem solver but also to really stretch the tonal versatility of your instrument. This one provides us with seven bands centering at 100Hz, 200Hz, 400Hz, 800Hz, 1.6kHz 3.2kHz and 6.4kHz with an overall level control of ± 15dB. Quite a fair specification and obviously very useful. So often a unit like this can change an average instrument sound into an excellent one and also compensate for naff acoustics in a live environment. You'd be surprised how this unit, in conjunction with the compressor, can transform your rather raw and dull guitar into something quite professional sounding. As I said before, using it in conjunction with the distortion units makes all the difference. Noise can be a problem if you boost too many top frequencies but sensible application of this graphic results in a better than average signal-to-noise ratio. The golden rule is to remember that if you need more top don't just boost the higher frequencies, cut the lower ones and increase the overall level.
This is an interesting unit in that it's a compromise between a 'stereo' facility and control variation. The resulting unit has only Depth and Speed controls, further versatility being rejected in favour of a 'stereo' output mounted on the face of the unit. Sensible? Yes, I think so in that while the versatility of the chorus effect is compromised the actual quality of the effect is very good providing a very MOR chorus.
The delay time – between 0.5 and 2msecs is restricting but adequate. The 'Stereo' output is a bit of a misnomer. What it is is merely a direct 'no effect' output – even when the chorus effect is on it won't pass out through this output. However this is quite handy in many applications. For example the normal output could be sent to one group of effects while the direct output sent to another splitting the signal to good effect. Conversely one output could be sent to an amp, the other to a desk either live or studio.
Why they call it a stereo output is beyond me; rightly Yamaha don't call the pedal a Stereo Chorus, although I imagine it would be easy for the chorus to be mis-named in a retail situation. Be warned then, this unit is a mono chorus effect with a direct (no effect) output which can be sent anywhere you want it – another amp, effects chain or desk input. Still, the quality of effect is good and the direct out very handy. It isn't a studio quality chorus but then it's not designed to be. For the money you can't go wrong.
The SDS range is sensible. It takes no risks and gives us nothing new and rather reminds me of a Foreigner album! With the exception of the distortion units the range is definitely above average – the distortion and overdrive are merely adequate. The big advantage is the price; basically I don't think anyone would be disappointed with their purchase. Isn't it strange how the boring things in life turn out the best in the long run... sometimes. While these pedals pull no punches for new sounds they just make the old ones a lot better. All in all, very liberal pedals!
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Review by Dave Burrluck
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