EarthQuaker Devices Aqueduct Review
An insane-to-elegant modulation tool that suits chaotic creators and control freaks alike.
Elegant, simple control set. Excellent range in controls. Very analog sounding for a digital pedal.
$199 EarthQuaker Devices Aqueduct Vibrato
Ease of Use:
Traditionalists adore tremolo. Trippers treasure phasers. But vibrato, it sometimes seems, is the official modulation machine of the weirdos. True, vibrato’s pitch-modulating effects can be among the most sublime modulations of all—smooth, woozy, somnambulant, and classy at subdued levels. But vibrato can also be wiggly, wobbly—even downright dorky. Its vibrato’s ability to span that spectrum that makes it my favorite modulation effect on most days. And EarthQuaker’s Aqueduct digital vibrato, with its many imaginative ways to shape and sculpt vibrato waves, including three dynamic envelope modes, might be among my favorite vibratos ever.
Eight Ways to Slice a Wave
Many of EQD’s most recent pedals have been pretty ambitious. Many have also been complex as a result. Aqueduct is refreshingly simple. The top two knobs are LFO waveform depth and rate controls like you’d see on just about any modulation effect (though they take on different functions in filter mode). They’re a range-y set of controls, too, as we’ll see. The third knob is an 8-position selector that enables the selection of five waveforms (sine, triangle, ramp down, square, and random) and three dynamic envelope modes. The soft-relay footswitch, meanwhile, can be used as a regular latch bypass or as a momentary switch, which really suits the Aqueduct’s most extreme sounds.
The Aqueduct’s interior reveals much about EQD’s abundant experience in circuit design. It’s laid out in ordered rows and, like the control set itself, is suprisingly simple considering the many sounds that the Aqueduct can make. The top-mounted I/O jacks and 9V jack enhance the pedal’s space efficiency, too (though there is no battery option).
Subtly Squiggly to Wallopingly Woozy
The Aqueduct’s sine wave mode, which is the tamest of the eight modes (in relative terms anyway), is bursting with cool modulation textures. And the possible tone variations in this mode alone underscore how much range lurks in the depth and rate controls. Moderately fast waves (between 10 and 2 o’clock) and mellow depth settings generate chorus tones that I’m pretty sure I prefer to any chorus pedal in my collection. Crank up the depth mode, though, and the smooth sine wave pulses like a deranged liquid light show.
Triangle mode, with its jagged, toothy waveforms, sounds much more extreme at equivalent depth settings. Lazy rates and subtle depth settings add dreamy movement to spare melodic leads, while the twitchiness of fast rates and extreme wave depths evokes a robot trying to master operatic voice vibrato. The irregular shape of the ramp lends a more organic feel to modulations. It’s easy to get convincing Leslie and tape warble sounds in this mode. At advanced depths and rates, it generates twisted synth-style modulation. But it also adds a beautiful and subtly disorienting sheen to chords and leads at lower depth settings. I can see using this latter application in recording situations a lot.
The square wave setting, with its choppy right-angle waveforms, is trickier to use if you’re not going for sci-fi-style wave pulses. (It excels at ray gun sounds if you need to track a budget space movie). But, like each of the waveforms, it can generate a beguiling modulation undertow to chords and leads at modest depth settings.
As cool as the five waveform modes are, the envelope modes are among the Aqueduct’s most pleasant surprises. Each of the three modes—envelope controlled depth, envelope controlled rate, and envelope controlled pitch—respond dynamically to the intensity of your picking, lending a welcome sense of control over vibrato intensity. The envelope depth and rate modes enable cool variations in texture. The star of the show, however, is the envelope pitch mode. EarthQuaker calls it the “My Bloody Valentine” setting. And it’s uncanny how readily you can replicate Kevin Shields’ deep vibrato arm bends with a little extra oomph and dynamism in strumming patterns. In the envelope modes, the rate control regulates sensitivity and range and the depth control sets the wet/dry mix. The switch in function is easy to navigate intuitively as you change modes, and the extra functionality adds real musical dynamism.
Vibrato fans on the more conservative side of the weirdo spectrum might find little use for the Aqueduct’s many modes beyond the sine wave setting. But I’d venture that these same users would love the subtle variations available in most of the modes at less intense settings, and particularly in the more controlled environment of the studio. For the avowed vibrato freak, the Aqueduct, with its subtle-to-insane range and dynamic envelope modes, will be like a day at the amusement park—one made even more convenient and fun for the simple and elegant control set.
Watch the First Look: