Analog Man’s Mike Piera seems like a pretty open-minded guy. Sure, he has strong opinions about what sounds good. But for a dude who modifies and builds pedals that more than a few performers call the best in the business, he sees the merit in mass-produced and accessible circuits and is quick to debunk “mojo” myths.
That wide view of the stompbox world means Piera can spot a sleeper pedal with the best of ’em. And one of his latest projects is a limited-edition resurrection and re-imagination of the “block logo” MXR Envelope Filter—a pedal that has, thus far, remained under the radar to speculative vintage fetishists. Analog Man’s version of this very expressive envelope filter is much more than a clone (even though it’s built using NOS MXR circuit boards). It adds an emphasis knob and a Mu-Tron-style up/down switch that expands its musical potential extensively.
Walks Like A Duck, Quacks Like A Duck
Analog Man doesn’t disguise the origins and inspirations of the Envelope Filter circuit. From the knobs to the logo and fonts it’s a reverent homage to the post-script MXR years. The MXR-ness is more than skin deep too. Opening up the pedal reveals a NOS MXR Envelope Filter at the heart of the works. (This also reveals a peek at the significant differences between the MXR circuit—which uses op amps— and say, a MuTron III, which uses an optical circuit.)
The Analog Man Envelope Filter adds functionality to the MXR’s original two-knob set in the form of an emphasis knob, which boosts the resonant peak selected via the threshold knob. It also includes a toggle that emulates the MuTron III’s up/down switch, which dictates whether a filter sweep begins at the low or high point of the peak. The two controls are fairly simple, but they add a world of extra tone possibilities—particularly given how interactive the controls can be.
Stuffed Envelopes Like any envelope filter worth a damn, you will have to put some homework into finding the Analog Man’s sweet spots and sensitivities. But if there is a word that defines the Analog Man Envelope Filter, “sensitivity” might be the one. And the extent to which you can tailor and harness that sensitivity and dynamism is both impressive and practical in musical terms.
Some of the coolest settings are the subtlest. Threshold settings that emphasized high-mids, a mild boost from the emphasis control, and a fairly fast attack speed add a ghostly and irregular sense of motion to strummed chords and arpeggios—creating an effect almost like a dynamic phaser. Playing single-note leads at the same settings, however, emphasized vocal, vowel-rich textures.The contrast between the effect on strummed chords and single-note picking is most obvious and effective in the switch-up position. But the ability to create such varied textures for lead and rhythm parts without touching the pedal is extraordinary. And when you get a feel for the dynamic responsiveness and picking sensitivity of the pedal in this mode, it starts to feel incredibly expressive and mysterious.
While the Analog Man circuit is quite different than that in a MuTron III, getting classic Jerry Garcia-style lead tones is easy if you select the up toggle positions, keep the threshold in low-mid focused regions between 10 and 12 o’clock, and dial the attack about two-thirds of the way to the fastest setting. For my Stratocaster, at least, this setting delivered the ideal rate of swell and smoothness. It’s a very forgiving setting for leads, delivering just the right amount of dynamic range while eliminating most heavy resonant spikes.
One of the really beautiful things about the Analog Man is how rangey and effective the emphasis knob is for eliminating those spikes. At its lowest levels (and depending on where you set the threshold) it can reduce the filtering effect to a trace element in your overall tone. Laying on the emphasis is essential if you want to dial in the quackiest, funkiest filter effects. But the range between these two extremes is impressive indeed, and helps enable a lot of fine-tuning with the threshold and attack controls. Factor in the internal trim pot that adds or subtracts bass emphasis and the number of available filter colors becomes extra impressive.
The Verdict Analog Man’s Envelope Filter is reminder of just how effective and unusual the envelope filter effect can be when you put enough control at the player’s fingertips. Getting beyond the most clichéd tones and applications does take some work and the pedal’s response from guitar to guitar and pickup type to pickup type can vary wildly. In the end, though, the sensitivity and deep, varied shades of color between settings is what makes the Analog Man Envelope Filter special. And though they’ll make just 100 of these based on the NOS MXR circuit boards, we hope they’ll find a way to duplicate the magic in future versions.
Watch the Review Demo: