A compact digital reverb that delivers deep tones and shape-shifts with ease.
Unless you’ve been marooned on a island, entirely apart from guitar-nerd media, you may have noticed that we are mired in a reverb arms race. Around the globe, pedal weirdoes are tweaking algorithms and stuffing knob upon knob of fine-tuning power to create the most distantly spacy, authentically springy, and perfectly plate-y reverbs.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the extreme, unnatural, and super-authentic sounds conjured by these tone obsessives. But how does the more practical player get in on the fun without devoting a whole season to a user manual and triggering episodes of knob navigation anxiety? The answer may be MXR’s new Reverb, a sample platter of reverb tones that run from very convincing spring emulations to cosmic-scale echoes—all in a compact, three-knob package.
Bouncing Auf Bauhaus
Compared to a lot of modern reverbs that cover this much ground, the MXR Reverb looks downright austere. In fact, the gunmetal enclosure and three-knob array seem designed to communicate the message that this pedal is as approachable and utilitarian as a toaster.
The knobs are a familiar and conventional set: decay, tone, and mix—essentially the same controls you see on a vintage Fender Reverb. The key to the wider universe within the MXR Reverb is the tone knob, which doubles as a push-button voice selector. Pushing the button illuminates one of the three LEDs in ether green or red. The color—and LED that is illuminated—indicates which of the six voices you’ve selected. One note of warning: You’ll have to use a light touch when making tone adjustments. The push switch is sensitive and it’s very easy to accidentally switch voices.
Shoot the Tube, Space Mod!
The six voices are familiar variations of what are now common reverb types in the digital reverb sphere. Plate, spring, and room emulations are more or less self-explanatory. Mod adds a dose of pitch and phase modulation to the plate reverb sound. Epic combines the reflections of multiple modulated reverbs—an effect not unlike watching light bounce off fragments of mirror. Pad adds octave-up and/or octave-down content in the fashion of a shimmer reverb.
Befitting a reverb pedal with very functional aims (and, potentially, customers who approach experimental reverb reticently), the plate and spring reverbs are very good. The spring reverb, in particular, sounds convincing enough to justify a permanent place for the MXR Reverb—even if you use the other voices sparingly. It betrays its digital origins very rarely (usually at high tone and mix settings) and sounds good on the receiving end of gnarly fuzz tones that can make a lot of digital reverbs sound like crap. It tucks in nicely behind a dry signal at the lowest levels and handles more extreme surf tones with grace—particularly when you darken the tone a touch. The plate reverb is also very good. I really enjoyed darker settings with short decay times and an aggressive mix—a nice zone for lo-fi, garage-Spector tone textures. But the tasteful, subdued neutral colors also make for an excellent set-and-forget reverb.
Of the two modulated reverbs—mod and epic—I used the former most. The extra kinetic energy adds a dreamy, drifting layer to spacious chord progressions and lazy, moody lead passages—especially when used a little lower in the mix. The colliding modulated reverbs of the epic setting are less elegant, generating high harmonic tone shards in longer decays that betray a touch of their digital origin. I did notice, however, that this texture is more effective in a band context, where ride cymbals and bass undercurrents help soften the harmonic edges.
The harder, more right-angled reverberations of the room reverb are less immediately satisfying, but provide a great blank slate for percussive delays and tremolos. Without other effects, short decay and mix settings in room mode tend to evoke the less-than-charming space of an empty apartment. More extreme settings, however, create very big spaces, with a minimum of additional color, for other effects to work within.
Enjoyment of the pad reverb depends on how you relate to the phenomenon called shimmer or octave reverb. But the cool thing about the MXR’s version is that high or low octaves can be used in equal measure or dialed to one EQ extreme or the other, enabling you to sculpt a very focused but expansive sound. I liked the effect in dark low-mix settings. But if you dig the ethereal, floating, angels-on-high sonic sensations of high-octave reverb, the MXR delivers the goods in plentitude.
MXR’s Reverb isn’t the wildest, spaciest, most radical, or most hyper-accurate digital reverb. But it may well share the crown for the most practical if you’re a gigging guitarist that has to cover many moods and inhabit multiple musical settings. It’s easy to navigate (if a bit twitchy), it’s intuitive, and it has real range that enables extreme subtlety with a quick twist.
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