Review: Xotic Effects BB Plus
August 4, 2008
A while back I reviewed the AC Plus from Xotic Effects and was impressed enough to add it my pedalboard. I love the sound of an overdriven tube amp, but I also love the distinct timbre only my Tele’s single coils can deliver. Until I plugged into Xotic Effects, I didn’t think it was possible to love them both at the same time unless I bypassed the pedalboard altogether.
The AC Plus is without a doubt the most transparent, organic-sounding booster/overdrive I’ve ever used. It’s got a way of augmenting the sound I’ve worked hard to get from my gear without reducing its tonal complexity – and it’s so versatile it’s become the keystone of my stage rig.
Along comes the new BB Plus, and with it a whole new frontier of tone potential. The BB Plus is based on the famous BB preamp, which produces a more focused attack, a harmonically richer lead tone, and a tighter, more “singing” sustain. Slightly more aggressive, it adds meat and muscle to your signal, but still doesn’t force you to sacrifice tonal complexity for gain.
The thing that makes the folks at Xotic Effects seem more like alchemists than first-class effects producers, though, is the way they’ve managed to get around the dilemma most buyers face when searching for that “just right” addition to the signal chain: do you want something that sounds really great, or do you want something with genuine versatility? With the BB Plus you get both.
When I say it sounds really great, I mean sincerely superb! And you can set it up as two independent distortion effects, or use one channel for clean volume boost and the other as an overdrive/lead boost, or set one for distortion and use the other as a boost – whatever you like – and you can mix them together as you please. It’s like having a custom pedal on your board.
Just like the AC Plus, the BB Plus consists of two separate boost/preamp channels, each with its own volume and gain control. But the two channels are also stackable in either direction: B > A or A > B. The flexibility in cascading gain structures is seriously cool business, but with the addition of hard and soft compression settings and independent tone controls for each channel (single tone control for Channel A, and 3-band EQ for Channel B), there doesn’t seem to any particular flavor of overdrive or distortion that’s out of reach for this pedal. From clean boost and gritty blues to face-melting wail or fuzz mayhem: if you can imagine it, this pedal can produce it. And these tones are convincing, not just close approximations.
What’s really outstanding about the pedals in the Xotic Effects line is that they’re not the slightest bit gimmicky. Unlike a lot of products on the market now that are aimed at recreating a ‘vintage’ feel or imitating the sounds of a particular amp or a famous player, the flexibility of the BB Plus allows you the freedom to craft your own distinctive overdrive tone, or several of them. If you want a vintage Plexi feel, a Vox-y sizzle, creamy brown sound, tweedy crunch, or even just a very transparent volume boost, it’s all there – but you’re not limited to that.
Both channels are true bypass and independently switchable. Channel A, with the heart of the original BB preamp, has a rich, open sound that goes from clean to mean without losing complexity or clarity. Its single tone control works mostly on the mid and treble frequencies, so there’s not as much tonal versatility here as in the other channel, but it is remarkably transparent at every gain setting. The hard compression setting (button down) has a 500hz corner frequency for deeper bass, while the soft comp (button up), with its 1khz cutoff, creates tighter distortion with a brighter sustain. The difference between comp options is more pronounced at higher gain settings.
Channel B, with its 3-band EQ, offers greater tonal control, especially over low end. The controls themselves are highly interactive, offering a cornucopia of precise tonal flavors. You can create a signature tone for yourself, or recreate a recognizable classic when you’re sitting in with your favorite tribute band. It even does a very nice “scooped” tone, which is not usually something I go for. The compression option in this channel works much like the one in Channel A, but with a bit more gain and different corner frequencies (350hz for “hard” and 500hz for “soft”).
I found the versatility really helpful when I used the BB Plus in two different playing situations. Playing in a trio, I set up one channel for rhythm with a deeper low end and ramped up mids, and used the other channel as a lead boost with more focused bottom and crisper highs. This enabled me to cover a wider frequency range with my rhythm playing to make the trio sound fuller, without dramatically changing the tone when I boosted up for leads. Then, while playing along with an acoustic guitar and keyboard, I was able to tighten up the low frequencies and reign in the mids to avoid creating “boominess” in the overall sound. This left the other channel free for a super-clean boost when I needed to cut through the mix without blasting into overdrive.
Like the AC Plus, the BB Plus came with documentation offering a few example setups, including a persuasive pair of sixties-era British blues rock tones, but honestly it’s a lot more fun to find the sweet spots that work for your gear on your own, and it’s dead easy to do. And like its counterparts in the Xotic lineup, the BB plus will make even a dull amp sound warmer and more alive, and it will enhance any pickup selection without masking the characteristic colors of the different pickup settings.
While I’d recommend sticking with the super-transparent AC Plus if you’re mainly a single-coil player, the BB Plus will definitely put a deliciously rich, complex palette of tone options right at your feet at a price that won’t make you blush. While it might not be the last boost/overdrive pedal you ever buy, it will certainly be the last one you’ll ever think about selling.
you want top-notch tone and versatility in an attractive, sturdy, easy-to-use package
you’re tone deaf, or slightly daft
MSRP $280 - Xotic Effects - prosoundcommunications.com