TC Electronic Flashback X4 Pedal Review
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 of sound.
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 another dime.