The first release from Texas-based Jackson Audio marks an impressive debut. Prism assembles three familiar overdrive flavors in a single box, but they’re configured in an innovative and musically useful way, with several attractive extras.
Prism is one pretty pedal. It resides in a folded-metal enclosure polished to an eye-catching shine. The controls include three Boss-style knobs, two sturdy mini-toggles, and a clickless relay-style footswitch. Prism looks sharp on the floor and feels substantial in your hand. The circuit board features small-format surface-mount components, with the jacks mounted on the board. There’s no battery compartment, so you need a 9V power supply (not included).
Brace for bling when you switch Prism on: The super-bright, plus-sized LED changes color according to the large boost knob’s position. The light show might not have a ton of practical value, but it sure looks bitchin’.
The Thing with Three Heads
Prism’s right-hand toggle selects between three independent boost circuits: transparent (a sparkly clean 18V JFET boost), amp (a MOSFET overdrive with tube-like characteristics), and color (a silicon-transistor booster for peaky, resonant distortion in a Brian May vein).
The three modes share a single post-drive clean boost circuit, and they are routed through an active 2-band tone circuit with controls labeled “tone” and “body.” In lieu of a drive control, there’s a second 3-position toggle with preset low, medium, and high drive settings. Nice touch: Even though the three modes share a single drive toggle, the exact overdrive settings vary appropriately from mode to mode. At the end of the circuit is a signal-fortifying buffer. Note that you can’t stack multiple boost stages. You can only use one at a time.
Clean and Mean
Transparent mode employs an 18V JFET boost with headroom to spare. True to form, the JFETs contribute glistening highs and low-mid clarity. Low-gain settings add subtle presence and body, while high settings can force a clean amp into overdrive, or an overdriven amp into crisis. The dynamic response is terrific. Distorted tones clean up beautifully when you lower your guitar’s volume pot, even at high drive and boost settings.
The first audio clip demos transparent mode, first with the pedal bypassed, and then at each of the three drive settings. (The boost knob and tone controls are parked at noon in all the audio examples.) It’s transparent, alright. Clean or distorted, your guitar’s character emerges unscathed.
Warm and Woolly
You know all those “amp in a box” pedals that mimic Marshall stacks, tweed Fenders, and so on? These usually employ MOSFETs, which have tube-like characteristics. When pushed to distortion, MOSFET overdrive tends to compress and distort your signal much like an analog amp.
Prism’s MOSFET-based amp mode delivers as much tonal range as transparent mode, and the dynamic response is equally gratifying. Again, there’s ample level to make a clean amp get nasty. You hear the three amp-mode drive settings in the second audio clip.
Rude and Resonant
Color mode lives up to its name. High-gain settings possess sharp midrange peaks a bit reminiscent of a cocked wah pedal. These edgy, resonant tones slice like swords. Unlike the other two modes, you don’t get naturalistic cleanup when you roll back your guitar’s volume. Yeah, there’s less distortion, but tones remain strongly colored, just as the mode’s name promises. The three color-mode drive settings appear in the final audio clip.
Meanwhile, the treble and bass EQ controls have modest, tastefully selected ranges, perfectly voiced to accommodate guitar-to-guitar variations or to wring maximum variety from a single instrument. You might conceivably use every possible EQ setting.
Prism provides three contrasting but equally useful boost modes. A great-sounding active EQ stage and well-chosen drive presets further expand the pedal’s formidable range. A classy build and eye-catching appointments sweeten the deal. Aside from the fact that you can’t use more than one overdrive circuit simultaneously, playing Prism feels a lot like having three individual drive pedals. It’s easy to imagine it serving as a pedalboard’s sole overdrive tool.
Watch the Review Demo: