A few years ago TC Electronic debuted
the Flashback Delay/Looper, a compact
digital delay that not only packed a ton of
delay flavors in a petite package but also
incorporated the company’s now famous
TonePrint technology. The impressive collection
of delay types ranging from tape echo
style to reverse delay was enough to sell a
lot of gigging players on the unit. But as the
TonePrint library (which offers free delays
created by professional artists) has continued
to grow, the Flashback continues to become
an ever more functional and versatile unit.
Never a company to sit still, TC
Electronic heeded the clamor from its sizable
online community of users and created
a more expansive Flashback. The resulting
Flashback X4 Delay/Looper turns the little
Flashback into a relative behemoth four
times the size of the original. The payoff?
A dedicated tap tempo, three presets, additional
delay voices and TonePrint slots, and
an enhanced—and much more capable—
loop function for building your own walls
Simple But Serious
The Flashback X4 gives players a lot more
sound options and control than the original,
but it remains simple enough for plug-and-play use and TC seems to have placed
that aspect of the X4’s performance at a premium.
The upper leftmost knob switches
between twelve delay types (including 2290
with modulation, tube, and space settings),
plus an additional four TonePrint presets.
TonePrints can either be uploaded from the
TC Electronic website via USB, or via your
smart phone through your guitar’s pickups.
Yes, you can literally “beam” a TonePrint
to the Flashback X4 by placing the phone
speaker output to your pickup and transmitting
the TonePrint data (assuming
your phone supports the app). It’s a useful
innovation if you need some fresh presets at
rehearsal or for a last-minute cover tune.
Delay time, feedback, and delay level
work just as they do on any conventional
delay—changing the distance between
repeats, total repeat length, and repeat
intensity, respectively. The subdivision
switch alters the intervals for note repetition
with quarter-note, eighth-note, or quarter-plus-eighth-note counts.
The rightmost knob, looper level, is
only activated when the corresponding
looper switch, located at the lower right,
is engaged. And the looper enables you to
record up to 40 seconds and add almost
limitless layers to your foundation. Unlike
the original Flashback, the looper on the
X4 can be used in conjunction with the
delay. Though once in looper mode, the
footswitches change from your delay presets
to a mini-editing station that can pause,
playback, playback once, and undo the last
layer of your loop.
Additional features include stereo input/output, MIDI jacks to clock sync delay, an
expression pedal input (which can control
delay time, feedback, or delay level), and an
interior DIP switch to choose between true
bypass or buffered bypass. All of this comes
in a tough metal chassis and enclosure
sporting the same cobalt sparkle finish as
the original Flashback.
At nearly four times the size of the original,
making space for the X4 may be hard
to justify for those who use delay only occasionally.
But echo freaks will doubtless be
tempted to ditch more limited units for the
bounty of excellent delay sounds that lurk
in the X4’s circuitry.
Echoes of the Past,
One of the new delay options on the
Flashback X4 is the 2290 w/Mod, which
takes the performance characteristics of the
classic TC 2290 delay adds some very chorus-like modulations on the repeats. Using
a Les Paul plugged into a Carr Bloke, I was
able to coax the X4 into producing dancing
delay embellishments that would make
The Edge proud. And the setting is a perfect
match for the quarter-plus-dotted-eighth-note
subdivision. This combination might
be about as close as you’ll get to U2-in-a-box
without splurging on countless rack effects
and a couple of techs for maintenance. The
dedicated tap tempo also helps you add a
touch of precision to keep your echoes surgically
succinct with a rhythm section.
Using the USB interface, I downloaded
the Omar Rodriguez-Lopez TonePrint
entitled “David, the Dogs!” from the TC
Electronic website. This TonePrint mates a
tape delay-style voice with dirty repeats that
are louder than the original input, which
creates a kind of sputtering, hacking cough
of a delay that works great in chaotically
rocking situations. But though the “David,
the Dogs!” setting is a little bonkers, all the
adjustability you get from one of the X4’s
standard delays applies to the TonePrint, and
you can quell the repeat intensity by rolling
down on the delay level. That said, as with
many of the TonePrints, the extreme nature
of the sounds is their strength—and having
these unique and often radical effects alongside
more traditional delays makes the X4 an
even more valuable gigging and studio asset.
Plugging into the stereo output, I flipped
the rotary switch over to ping-pong delay,
and sent one output to a silverface Bassman
and the other to a Nace M1-18R. With
a Telecaster in hand and a little distance
between the amps, I created a rather massive
sounding post-rock setup, creating
a frenzied delay pattern of chirping crisp
triads in stereo. At times, I found the ping-pong
a tad sterile for my taste, and a tone
parameter would have been a nice addition
to shape repeats on all settings. However,
rolling off the Tele’s tone rounded the
output considerably, and the minute differences
in sterility that provoked my aural
nitpicking would likely go unnoticed in a
live situation with a full band.
The looper feature on the X4 is a vast
improvement over the original Flashback
looper simply due to increased control. TC
set up the four footswitches to maximize use
of the 40 seconds of looping time, which
enabled me to lay a foundation, play a
harmony—inevitably screw up the last few
notes—and then use the undo function to
peel off the flubbed layer and make another
pass. The once footswitch is also a smart feature
that will play your previously recorded
loop and cut off before repeating the cycle.
This is especially useful for a precise ending
for a tune, or summoning a recurring harmony
if you’re the sole axe slinger in a band.
You can also use the onboard delay when
creating a loop, a much appreciated feature
oddly missing in some delay/looper combos
including the original Flashback.
The Flashback X4 is an excellent sounding
delay by any measure. And it’s home to
an absolute wealth of features—including
more delay voices than can be covered in
the space of this review. The inclusion of a
more capable looper means the X4 claims
quite a bit of pedalboard real estate, but it’s
not that different from a lot of other industry-standard delays and loopers that take
pride of place on a lot of pro boards.
A few of the delays will inevitably sound
a bit antiseptic to analog heads, though
players who savor the crystalline sounds
of digital will savor how clean it sounds.
Overall, though, the X4 has a warmer character
than a lot of digital delays out there.
The Flashback X4 is a total workhorse.
At $249 it’s priced right, and with a free
TonePrint database that grows constantly,
you’ll have ever-expanding acreage of new
territory to explore without spending