MXR Phase 95 Review
Chewy-to-subtle phase effects abound in this flexible, compact new modulator.
The Phase 90 looms large in MXR legend—not just because it’s been a perennial best seller, but also because it’s the very first pedal the original MXR ever built. The Phase 90’s appeal laid the foundation for MXR’s business. It also became the springboard for evolutions including the Phase 45, Phase 100, and the more recent Phase 99.
Each of these MXR phasers has its fans. Some, like me, love each of them. So it’s a small wonder that MXR took so long to combine phaser designs in a single box. But the best news might be that the Phase 95—which combines Phase 90 and Phase 45 circuits as well as “block” and “script” modes—packs this abundance of swirling modulation colors in a mini enclosure.
The Orange Whip
The Phase 95’s mini enclosure is a smart move particularly when you consider how often phasers get the bump when pedalboard room gets tight. The Phase 95 is just over half the width and almost an inch shorter than a Bud Box Phase 90 or 99, which is already a comparatively compact enclosure. So it’s a safe bet the 95 will survive many more pedalboard parings than its bigger brothers.
Tiny didn’t keep MXR from getting ambitious about the Phase 95’s functionality. Crack open the enclosure and you’ll behold a PCB populated from stem to stern with the numerous components that make a four-voiced, 2- and 4-stage phaser go. It’s an impressively efficient layout, and literally not a centimeter is wasted. As with most mini pedals, the tight quarters means there’s no 9V battery option.
Though the Phase 95 is effectively a four-phaser-in-one proposition, the control set is very simple. There’s a rate knob (probably too small to nudge accurately with your foot, alas) and two small push buttons. The button on the left switches between the 2-stage Phase 45 mode and 4-stage Phase 90 mode. The right button switches between “block” mode (which approximates newer, somewhat deeper-sounding versions of the 45 and 90) and the generally mellower “script” mode that is inspired by early versions of the stompbox.
Phase in Effect
Mini pedals sometimes set up diminished sonic expectations. There’s little reason for disappointment with the Phase 95, however. For starters, the “block” Phase 90 voice is excellent, and the sweet, deep sounds from this mode and the small size alone will probably justify the reasonable $99 street price for a lot of players. In this mode you’re likely to hear few complaints about thin tone—a beef leveled against some newer Phase 90 versions. Used with clean sounds, light overdrive tones, or downstream from fuzz, the block Phase 90 mode is detailed and characterful at just about every point between wave peaks—most notably in sections of high-midrange emphasis. In some phasers, these frequencies can sound flattened, which often leads to somewhat misguided complaints about “volume drop.”
In block Phase 90 mode there is a satisfying, pronounced, almost slide whistle-y rise and fall in these frequency bands that is equally flattering to fat humbuckers or zingy, thin single-coils. The block Phase 45 has some of the same harmonic depth, but the roller coaster ride is a bit more subdued. This is a huge upside when you want your phase tucked back further in the mix or want to be less heavy-handedly psychedelic. It’s also a great match for trebly fuzz, and I found that my Fuzzrite and Tone Bender (which can produce all kinds of gnarly high-mid peaks) excited harmonics in sections of the phase profile that were more obscure in clean settings in a very pleasant way.
The advantages of the thinner, mellower “script” modes aren’t always apparent when used with clean tones. While these modes are undeniably more subtle and favored by many players for their less extroverted voice, in the Phase 95 they sometimes sound excessively filtered and at times seemed to suck some high end out of the dry signal and adversely affect dynamics.
But just as the subtler Phase 45 voice can be preferable to the Phase 90 voice when downstream from fuzz sounds, the script modes can be effective for players that prefer modulation in front of high-gain sources. An example: The block Phase 90 voice lost much of it’s singing high-mid allure and distorted in unappealing ways in front of my Tone Bender. The script Phase 45 setting, however, often sounded much more colorful, clear, and, well, phasey with an assist from downstream high-gain sounds. Similarly, the script Phase 90 sounded pretty great in front of a fat and bassy Russian Big Muff. In the case of the script 45 mode, some of the extra clarity in script mode is probably a consequence of the 45’s simpler circuit. (Extra stages in an analog phaser can generate extra distortion.) But the less-busy harmonic profile of both script settings also helps high-gain sounds breathe more easily. And the option to use either means flexibility for players who move modulation from one side of a high-gain source to another.
At just under a hundred bucks, it’s hard to find fault with a phaser that’s simultaneously as simple to use and flexible as the Phase 95. If you don’t experiment with phaser and gain placement much, the script settings may seem redundant, particularly because they can sound excessively filtered and flat with clean tones. But, even with my own bias toward modulation after fuzz, I still found use for the thinner script-mode sounds depending on the fuzz and the pickups in the mix. And some players that like very subtle phasing may prefer these settings. The bottom line is that the Phase 95 is a lot of modulation for the money. And, in such compact form, it’s probably got a lot more pedalboard staying power, too.