Ratings

Pros:
More practical, manageable, and musical than it appears at a glance. Capable of generating very complex textures. Extends the voice of any pedal you own.

Cons:
Can be tough to control at more radical settings. Sensitive controls can feel very twitchy.

Street:
$250

Death By Audio Total Sonic Annihilation 2
deathbyaudio.com


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It’s easy to overstate Death By Audio’s renegade, oddball reputation. For every few instruments of sonic terror in their line, there is a completely practical and masterfully executed stomp like the Fuzz War or Interstellar Overdriver. The Total Sonic Annihilation 2, however, is not one of these. It’s an oscillator, it’s a fuzz, it’s a sonic blender that feeds your pedalboard’s signal back into itself before turning it all into rainbow-colored tone puree. It’s awesome. And for better or worse, it will certainly reinforce the perception that Death By Audio are circuit-twisting maniacs. But it’s also capable of very musical, even beautiful manipulations of your core tones. And it’s cleverly designed to walk the line, if somewhat precariously, between the sublime and the insane.

Vicious Cycles
The principle behind the Total Sonic Annihilation 2 (a re-think of the first pedal DBA ever built) is pretty simple: The pedal sends and receives the signal from your pedal chain. When you activate it, it sends that signal back through a feedback and high-gain boost circuit that you can manipulate with the TSA2’s deceptively simple control set. Needless to say, situating the TSA2 first in your chain opens up the greatest number of tone manipulation possibilities. But you can place it anywhere in an effects chain, and there is a measure of extra control afforded by having fewer pedals in the TSA2’s sound mangling clutches.

It’s not essential that you use the send and return functionality to make the TSA2 sound killer—it’s a very cool fuzz and filter effect all on its own. But using the TSA2 to manipulate other effects exponentially expands your sound palette and compounds the fun.

The biggest of the knobs is the feedback control, which regulates the amount of external signal you stuff back into the TSA2’s circuit. The big knob means you can theoretically make changes to feedback level on the fly with your foot. But as we’ll see, there is an inherent twitchiness to the circuit that makes imprecise adjustments risky business.

The cluster of four controls just below the feedback knob manipulates the active boost portion of the TSA2’s circuit. There’s an on switch that can drop the boost function in and out of the circuit entirely (though a second footswitch might have been a more practical choice). The left toggle is a phase switch that flips the phase of the boost in relation to the signal return. It can radically transform the sensitivity of the feedback control and shift the boost circuit’s oscillation point. The small gain knob controls the aggressiveness of the boost, which can range from overdrive to full-blown fuzz. The limit knob, however, might be the most invaluable control of the lot. It sets the maximum level for the pedal’s output. And though it’s tricky to set up just right, it’s critical for taming the inevitable resonance spikes and oscillations that the TSA2 generates.

TSA2 requires a certain appetite for randomness. Control freaks need not apply.

Destroyer of Worlds (With a Sensitive Side)
As with many DBA effects, TSA2 requires a certain appetite for randomness. Control freaks need not apply. But the TSA2 isn’t solely a chaos generator. And with practice and experimentation you can create unique, unexpected, and even subtle twists on familiar stompbox textures.

TSA2 is most fascinating as part of a pedalboard populated by a diverse selection of effects. But one of the coolest things about the TSA2 is that it reacts differently and—contrary to what you might expect of a Death By Audio pedal—sympathetically to different effect types. Fuzz signals, even fat, bass-heavy tones from a Russian Big Muff or DBA’s own Fuzz War can be whittled into searing, intensely focused versions of themselves that you can sprinkle with glitchy, oscillating tails depending on where you set the feedback control. The feedback control can also radically shift the dynamics and reactivity of your fuzz, but that doesn’t automatically mean these qualities are diminished. In fact, you can still play fast leads and retain great note separation between individual pick attacks if you set the feedback right. Conversely, high feedback levels can play havoc with bends and dissonant note clusters in ways you’ll never see coming.

Modulation effects as processed through the TSA2 are a gas. Fast throbbing tremolo and vibrato signals mutate to take on fluttering, polyrhythmic qualities and odd, unevenly decaying overtones. Pitch-shifting effects can yield intense resonant peaks that will actually get louder as the note decays when paired with a fuzz. And I generated amazing inverse-attack filtering effects, where fuzzy tremolo pulses ducked behind individual pick attacks before they swelled back up to prominence in the spaces between.

Delay and reverb effects can, no surprise, turn unwieldy at high feedback levels. But dialed in right, they can be recast to create ghostly ambience you’ll rarely, if ever, encounter in standard delay units, and take on cool metallic reverberative qualities, as well as compound delay textures that fracture and decay in fascinating, irregular ways as you move through a melodic phrase or riff.

The Verdict
Stop me if you’ve heard this before about Death By Audio effects, but the TSA2 is not for everyone. The pedal’s more chaotic aspects may infuriate players who obsess over micro-minutiae. Purists may consider some tones ugly. But if you thrill to the notion of playing at the edge of control or long to extend the color range and capabilities of the pedals you already love, the Total Sonic Annihilation 2 is an endless trove of tone manipulation possibilities.

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