Killer photocell-driven homage to the Uni-Vibe sounds deep, organic, and authentic.
The original Uni-Vibe may have failed as rotary speaker simulation. But in doing so it made sounds every bit as musical, expressive, evocative, and beautiful as any Leslie. Funny thing is that—like a Leslie—the expense and hassle of faithfully replicating a Uni-Vibe dissuades many pedal builders from trying. So when a good one pops up, we tend to take notice.
Black Cat’s Vibe adheres to the notion that a real Uni-Vibe-style pedal has to be light and photocell driven. And in committing to this arcane but oddly elegant analog technology, they created a sonically deep device that can impress the snootiest Uni-Vibe purist.
A Dashing Dandy
I won’t lie. I’m a sucker for a good-looking stompbox. And with its psychedelic, grey-sparkle graphics, the Black Cat Vibe is the kind of box that compels you to kick it on and dive in headfirst. The simple control set has knobs for volume, speed, and intensity, and a small switch toggles between chorus and vibrato modes. Even the knobs themselves look cool, and the pots have the smooth feel of controls lifted from a precision scientific instrument.
Opening up the substantial box reveals that the bigger enclosure is more than just a style exercise. You’ll find a circuit board nearly as wide as the enclosure itself and densely populated with an impressive array of transistors, resistors, and caps. But the coolest bit of the circuit is the little black dome—embossed with a leaping black cat—that protects the photocell apparatus. It’s a tidy and ordered circuit, though I have some concerns about the plastic posts and double-sided tape that secure it—they seem flimsy and out of place on a pedal that otherwise feels positively luxurious.
The original Uni-Vibe’s magic was in how completely alive, animated, and deep it sounded without the advantage of a physically rotating speaker. The Black Cat Vibe has that liveliness and, at times, abyssal depth—creating the illusion of displacing and reordering air, water, and other matter in it’s own strange and intoxicating way.
One of the Black Cat’s prettiest, most surreal qualities is the almost submarine coloration it adds to your output. A lot of this is down to the way the Vibe’s modulation softens the high-end and midrange, and even at high intensity rates this lends a hazy, dreamy quality to your guitar. The high/mid roll-off also makes the Back Cat Vibe and excellent match for aggressive fuzztones, and the high-end peaks of octave-up fuzzes are especially well suited to the Vibe—a good thing given how many players will rush to do their best “Machine Gun” solo as a litmus test.
Another fascinating aspect of the Black Cat’s softer high-mid content is how seamlessly it compliments the pedal’s very wide and unique spectrum of shades and overtones. At slow speeds in particular, you can perceive a delicious mélange of almost metallic, reverberative overtones and super-fractal, sunlight-through-water modulation textures. The pedal offers wonderfully complex sounds that work whether you use them at barely perceptible levels or at completely hallucinogenic orders of intensity. And though the most classically Uni-Vibe-like sounds come by way of the chorus setting, the organic warble of the vibrato channel is no less effective.
The Black Cat Vibe is a sharp-looking, beautifully lush modulation machine. And if you’re dead set on finding the most authentic Uni-Vibe out there, it will be hard to top. That said, there are a wealth of textures beyond classic Hendrix/Trower/Gilmour tones that make this pedal worth investigation, and its ability to subtly color your tone and add almost subliminal but deep levels of movement to your playing is remarkable. We hope future versions will find a sturdier way of affixing the circuit board to the chassis, especially given the near-$300 price. That issue aside, this is a lovingly built, high-quality homage to a timeless classic with the potential to reward you in unexpected ways.
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