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May 2014

SubDecay Starlight Pedal Review

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SubDecay Starlight Pedal Review

The genesis of the flanging effect—at least as a term and production technique—is pretty well known at this point. As the story goes, Abbey Road engineer Ken Townsend developed the technique based on a request by John Lennon to create virtual backing vocal tracks. Townsend realized Lennon’s vision by offsetting pre-recorded vocal tracks on the tape reels while shifting the amount of offset to create a pseudo-chorus effect, much to Lennon’s delight.

Flanging as we know it today, at least in stompbox terms, is essentially the same process—a very short delay (less than 20 ms) where the delay time constantly shifts, exciting a changing range of frequencies to produce a swirling undulation of resonant sound. The effect can create a tight and boxy atmosphere or a sweeping cascade. It can also be used subtly to lend just a little movement to your tone. Because the techniques are similar, most flange units are able to create a simple chorus effect as well.

Oregon-based pedal maker SubDecay’s new flange pedal, the Starlight, takes its cue from vintage flange pedals like the classic A/DA Flanger by using analog bucket brigade devices (BBD) to produce the delayed signal. BBD circuitry is loved for its rich, vintage warmth, and the Starlight uses the MN3209 BBD chip (a similar circuit to the MN3010 chip found in the 1978 revision of the A/DA Flanger) that adds an authentic vintage quality to the sound.

Simple by Starlight
Like just about every SubDecay product, the Starlight, with its asymmetrical knob array, looks cool and distinctive—no small consideration on a crowded pedalboard. Modulation on the Starlight is controlled via the shape knob, which gives you options for six different low-frequency oscillator (LFO) shapes—sine, triangle, triangle/ square mix, random, triangle step, and manual. These shapes dictate whether the effect sounds smooth and gradual (sine, triangle), jagged and jarring (triangle/square mix, random, triangle step), or static (manual). The speed knob controls modulation rate, while the regen control determines the intensity of the effect (use this one with caution.)

The pedal requires a power supply, but inside the unit you’ll find three trimmers that let you jump in and calibrate internal control voltage, feedback, and bias. The company cautions most players against tweaking these, but adventurous players will find they can significantly change the headroom and aggressiveness of the tone.

Earthy to Intergalactic
The shape control is fun and intuitive to use—especially once you’ve got a feel for how distinctive each voice is and how it performs. Want a bizarre ’50s UFO sound? Set the shape to triangle/square mix. For that quintessential psychedelic shimmer, like on the guitars of Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell,” go for the classic triangle shape. If you’re shooting for the nasal, resonant sound that Brian May uses to slice through mixes like warm butter, try the manual shape setting. In this setting, the LFO is turned off and control is handed over to the speed knob.

Tweaking the speed knob in manual mode lets you fine-tune the frequency spectrum coming into the Starlight from your guitar and any pedals upstream. A guitar’s pickups and any effects before the flanger profoundly affect flanger tone. But the manual control gives you a lot of power to shape that signal, and you can tame a pedal as unruly as a Big Muff cranked to the gills to create deliciously nasty hurricane swirls that never quite get out of control.

Ratings

Pros:
A small analog unit that nails the classic flange sounds while adding a wider variety of selectable LFO shapes. Easy to use.

Cons:
Compulsive tweakers may need more tone-shaping power.

Tones:

Ease of Use:

Build:

Value:

Street:
$199

SubDecay
subdecay.com

For all other shape settings, the speed knob simply sets the speed of the LFO. And compared to, say, the AD/A Flanger’s 512-stage MN3010 chip, the Starlight’s 256-stage MN3209 BBD chip can produce very short delay times. As you roll the Starlight’s speed knob up toward its maximum you can reach a fluttering flange that sounds like a fast and twisted tremolo.

The regen control is powerful too—staying nice and dry at the lowest levels and bordering on overpowering (in the best way) at maximum settings. On some flangers, internal noise can make using regen at max levels virtually unbearable. The Starlight’s noise level is so low, however that the heaviest regen settings can be a powerful expressive tool—a major plus.

The Verdict
If you’re looking for a great sounding flanger that’s on the easierto- manage side of the spectrum, but still has more range than your average two- or three-knob device, the SubDecay Starlight nails the target. At about 200 bucks, it’s on the expensive side for a compact dedicated flanger, and if you’re a player who just spices up a passage here and there with flange, the price may be more than you can justify. But the Starlight is expansive in its capabilities, and there are more than enough flavors of flange in this pedal to keep you occupied for years—especially if you record with any regularity. Throw that consideration in the mix, and the difference in price between the Starlight and a less capable flanger looks a lot less significant.

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