Mastro Valvola TimeLab Review
A compact yet versatile digital delay from Italy.
TimeLab is a versatile little delay from Italy’s Mastro Valvola company. It offers all the features you’d expect from a modern digital delay, plus some cool extras that expand its tonal range.
Spin It to Win It
TimeLab is built around the powerful Spin FV-1, the highly customizable reverb IC at the heart of many recent digital effects. Thanks to clever programming, the pedal offers hi-fi delay, pretty faux-analog echoes, and some cool, quirky variations.
Of course, you get the standard delay controls: time, repeats, and wet/dry mix. Maximum delay time is one second. Maximum wetness is 50%. And no problem dialing in repeat settings that spiral into mad self-oscillation. The repeat pot's taper is especially useful—it’s relatively easy to obtain settings just short of feedback meltdown.
The default digital sound is crisp and articulate. It’s not “digital-sounding” in unpleasantly harsh or grainy ways—it’s just a highly accurate replica of your dry signal. But the real fun starts when you twist the other two knobs: type and filter.
True to Type
The type knob offers four delay modes with strongly differentiated characters: digital, analog, resonance, and mod. As mentioned, digital mode provides pleasant, hi-res crispness. Analog mode siphons off highs for warm, sweet echoes that sit neatly behind your dry signal. The results don’t sound 100% analog—you don't get the “crumbly” distortion of vintage bucket-brigade chips as the regenerating echoes decay. But it’s a highly musical tone that, frankly, a lot of players would probably choose over true analog in a blind listening test.
Resonance mode routes the delay signal through a peaky filter. The effect isn’t as extreme as, say, routing delays through a wah pedal—it just lends the echoes a cutting edge. Meanwhile, mod mode shakes the delay signal with fast, light vibrato. You can’t adjust the modulation speed or depth, but like the Magnatone vibrato the effect resembles, it’s not a sync-or-die sort of effect. It simply adds pleasant animation at rate and depth settings that work across a wide range of tempo.
Fun with Filters
The filter knob enables many additional shadings. Using a high-pass filter to nix treble is an old trick for digital delays mimicking analog tones. But here, the filter swings both ways: It can add treble or cut it. Echoes that resonate more brightly than the dry signal aren’t suitable for all occasions, but they can definitely be cool and useful in some contexts. The filter doesn’t feed back on itself, so you can’t get the signature dub-mix sound of delays that become brighter and thinner, as if they were drying up and blowing away. Still, the filter control conjures many colors from each of the four delay modes. It’s especially useful in resonance mode, where it sets the filter peak’s frequency, allow you to “tune” the effect to suit the part.
There’s also a tap-tempo footswitch with a blinking LED to indicate tempo. The pedal’s backside is home to a 3-way ratio toggle (quarter note, dotted note, and triplet) that dictates how the effect interprets your foot taps. (It’s a helpful tool for players with less than perfect foot coordination, who may have trouble tapping in a rhythm other than a quarter-note pulse.)
Any issues? Yeah, you might hear a few stray noises. Rotating the mix knob produces a scratchy sound—if you need to adjust the mix mid-performance, you’ll hear it. Also, I sometimes encountered very quiet, yet perceptible, oscillation at the brightest settings, even when playing humbuckers, and the noise worsens during battery operation as the juice diminishes. (Yes, there’s a battery compartment, but chances are you’ll use a standard digital effect power adapter instead, since the processor is a voracious 9-volt battery consumer.)
TimeLab provides a plethora of delay tones, all satisfyingly musical. There are a couple of unwanted noises, though most players will be able to work around them. You get all the controls you’d expect, plus a delay-type selector and active filter that greatly expand the pedal’s palette. It’s rare to find such a compelling array of tones in such a compact pedal.