Death By Audio Disturbance Review
Pretty sounds live alongside freakish modulations in a phaser, flanger, and filter combo with super-impressive range.
Fantastic range of phase, flange, and filter tones that span conventional and radical sounds. Cool, practical, and functional trip switch. Beautiful design.
Some tones tend toward metallic, which might put off classicists.
Death By Audio Disturbance
Somehow I sense that the Death By Audio team would appreciate that I wrote the review for their new Disturbance on the day I got a root canal. Dental drills whirring, bright lights, and flying spittle—this is the stuff of many DBA products. Yet the ominously named Disturbance—which manages to be a phaser, flanger, auto wah, and a sort of cocked-wah filter all in one—is actually capable of sounds that fall squarely in the category of beautiful. And like almost all DBA effects, it’s also capable of radical and jarring tones. Its ability to span these extremes is the Disturbance’s strength.
Silver Surfer Slides Away
The Disturbance is, even by DBA’s lofty standards, a cool convergence of industrial and graphic design. The gleaming silver enclosure guarantees you won’t mistake it for anything else on the floor. The control array is clear and functional, too, which is important for a pedal with such nuance and pretty-to-mangled sonic range. All told, it’s a rather simple layout. A small 3-way toggle switches between fazer, flanger, and filter settings. The three knobs along the top of the pedal are familiar and intuitive, but also take practice to understand entirely. Grasping their interrelationships is key to unlocking the whole of the Disturbance’s secrets.
The tensity control is a bidirectional intensity control. At noon, the modulation waveforms sound most fluid and even. As you turn it through its negative range, the output takes on an increasingly more metallic tone, and at maximum negative settings the waves peak with a trebly, whistling tonality. Yet, as you move back toward the middle, you’ll find some of the pedal’s clearest and most shimmering phase and flange voices, with hot, trebly peaks that elevate the modulation sound in a mix. You can even extract some great ’80s-vintage, chorus-like tones in this range at the right rate. To the clockwise side of center, the tensity control yields more vocal modulation voices and more low-mid emphasis that lends a bubble-gum chewiness to the modulation. There are even rich, Leslie-style tones lurking here at faster modulation speeds. At peak levels you can get wailing siren-like sounds from the flange mode, as well as peaky, hollowed-out phase tones.
The center point knob changes the polarity and center point of the LFO wave. Interestingly, it can be very subtle in many applications, and its effects are best understood by messing with it in filter mode. At the furthest counterclockwise setting, you’ll hear a distinct blunting of the transient note, tapering to a clearer tone. At the clockwise extreme you hear a clearer transient that swells into a more phasey tonality. At extreme tensity settings, the center point control has a more profound effect—emphasizing more trebly or bassier elements of the LFO cycle. The width control is, save for the self-explanatory speed control, the most straightforward function. It governs the LFO’s range. At minimum settings you get little sense of modulation at all. But as you turn clockwise the waveforms get thicker and more aqueous. At maximum levels it will negate the effects of the center point control entirely.
Trip It Up and Trip Out
One or the coolest features on the Disturbance is the trip footswitch. It freezes the phase, flange, or filter cycle, adding punctuation in an arrangement or helping bring a solo to a head. When using wild, more intense flange or phase settings, it can be a great way to duck out of a super-swirly section without losing any weird essence, as you might by switching to a completely dry tone. Freezing the precise point of an LFO cycle takes practice—not unlike using a looper. But the more I used it, the more I got hooked. And it’s a great way to extend the Disturbance’s practical capabilities.
Like any DBA pedal, the Disturbance is designed to leave its mark in a musical situation. So, though many settings here border on conventional, they may not satisfy classicists seeking canonical modulation tones. If you’re among this crowd, you may want to consider the tone score on a sliding scale. But I savored and bathed in the breadth of mellow to wild tones here. And I expect that to many players that relish the unexpected or crave sounds that make a statement, the Disturbance’s range of tones will be thrilling. That said, you don’t need to be a deviant or weirdo to find a wealth of inspiration in Disturbance. For musicians of just about any alignment, this is a pedal that will prompt invention. And while the $250 price is a touch high, it’s not much to pay for a pedal that can offer unique phaser, flanger, auto wah, and filter tones—particularly when you consider DBA’s build quality and generous break-it-and-we’ll-fix-it guarantee. Restless modulation fiends take note—the Disturbance is a treasure trove of satisfying swirl and many other wobblingly nasty surprises.