Akron, Ohio-based Earthquaker Devices may have ascended on the reputation of their top-notch fuzztones. But it hasn’t taken long for the company to build one of the most varied pedal lines by any small manufacturer—one that ranges from quirky tremolos and vintage-style phasers to guitar synths (see the Bit Commander review in the November 2011 edition). The Dispatch Master delay and reverb is not Earthquaker’s first delay or reverb unit. In fact, the Dispatch Master is based to some extent on the company’s limited-run Ghost Disaster delay. But it’s one of the company’s first forays into DSP design. And the combination of the digital delay in reverb makes this a exceedingly flexible and beautiful sounding texturizing tool that ranges from analog-sounding and traditional to hyper-spacious ambient zones in a super-compact package.
For such a big sounding pedal, the Dispatch Master is a little thing—such is the benefit of well-orchestrated digital design. The unit couldn’t be much simpler to use either.
The Reverb control effectively controls the size of reverb—transforming the effect from an intimate, subtle room effect to outsized deep-in-the-mineshaft reverb. The Time effect controls the delay time, which ranges from analog-sounding slapback to nearly two full seconds of delay.
Those two controls also act as switches for isolating the individual effects. You can use the Dispatch Master exclusively as a reverb by dialing back the Time control all the way to zero, which disengages the delay function. You can also use the Repeats control to increase the Dispatch Master’s decay and depth. Turning the Reverb control all the way off disengages the Reverb entirely. And the Mix knob controls the overall blend between dry and effected signals whether run together or independently.
Apart from its brilliant simplicity, Earthquaker’s little Dispatch Master stands apart from both its expressive potential and the transparent quality of the digital processing power that is the pedal’s foundation. The digital reverb is impressive and exceptionally organic. It’s much more geared toward a ambient room, hall, or cathedral-type sound than a spring reverb. But the absence of digital artificiality is remarkable. And even at maximum settings, the unit retains a very natural decay and immensity that evokes being alone in the dark and empty hold of some enormous freighter. More modest settings are also very effective for adding color to an otherwise lifeless tone, as I found when I plugged the pedal in during a late-night practice session at home where I had to keep my volume at infuriatingly low levels to spare the cranky neighbors.
The Delay is rangey and sweet-sounding, with a exceptionally natural decay. The limitation of just a Repeat control never feels like a hindrance. And if anything the breadth of the Delay’s capabilities is one of the only sources of frustration. The Time control is wonderfully sensitive, but it can be a challenge to dial in exactly the right delay time without a fair bit of practice. And it’s easy to nudge the delay from a perfect medium-slow echo to near-slapback setting with an errant bump. The only other real trade-off for the pedal’s compact size is the inability to truly control the reverb and delay independently when both are engaged. That said, the delay’s long repeat settings work so beautifully with the deeper, more ambient delay settings that you’d likely be inclined to use them together in that manner anyway.
The Dispatch Master is one of those pedals that can find you reconsidering the worth of whole swaths of your stompbox collection. It’s also the kind of effect that you grab when you don’t have much space and when you’re trying to do the most with the least. Together and independently the reverb and delay can move from understated to epic in scale, which makes this a pedal that will get you out of almost any jam. And if you’re anything from a country player, accompanist to a singer-songwriter, pop texuralist, or experimental adventurer, it’s easy to imagine hitting a club gig with this thing, a little fuzz or overdrive, and a Champ and being able to cover just about anything a band throws at you. Even if the Dispatch Master isn’t dirt cheap, considering the built-by-hand-in-Ohio quality, Earthquaker’s admirable track record of innovation, and the sounds-to-weight ratio of this cool little box it represents a real and considerable value.
compact, rugged, and versatile reverb and delay in a single small stompbox is more appealing than lugging multiple, potentially lesser pedals.
straight ahead is how you like your signal.