Strymon Iridium Review
Intrigued but also daunted by sophisticated amp modelers? Strymon's latest brilliantly bridges the gap with a simple stompbox-style interface boasting a handful of stellar amp emulations.
Three excellent amp models. Simple amp-style interface. Supports third-party IRs.
No XLR outputs. Stores only one favorite setting without optional footswitch or MIDI.
Ease of Use:
Today's guitarist can choose from a dizzying array of amp replacement tools, from freeware software plug-ins to gargantuan modelers and profilers. Meanwhile, Strymon slips through the side door with Iridium, an amp modeler in pedal form that melds a simple stompbox interface with a small but superb collection of amp models.
Iridium only does a few things, but it does them extraordinarily well. It offers three amp models based on a blackface Fender Deluxe, a top-boost Vox AC30, and a Marshall plexi. It has no effects other than a short room reverb. It comes with nine cabinet impulse responses and includes software for loading third-party IRs. The controls mimic those on simple analog amps, with a few useful extras. But there's nothing approaching the deep editing of, say, a top-shelf device from Fractal, Line 6, Kemper, or HeadRush.
While Iridium has modest user options relative to flagship modelers costing two to four times its price, its core tones rank with the best. The pedal's heart is a super-powerful SHARC chip—the same processor used in many full-featured modelers. The programming is uniformly excellent. Modeling is a surprisingly subjective art, and tastes vary. But to my ear, Iridium's Fender, Vox, and Marshall models can hold their own against any rival products.
That makes Iridium a superb solution for many studio and stage scenarios, especially if a big modeler is overkill for your needs. If you do most tone creation on your pedalboard, these simple but excellent amp emulations may be all you need. It's an obvious choice for travelling-light tours and backline gigs. Hey, if I were playing a big festival with shared backline, I'd opt for a direct Iridium signal over “take your chances" in a heartbeat.
Scoop, Sparkle, and Slam
One switch chooses from three amp models, while another selects between three cabinet IRs per model. The three amps share the same controls: drive, treble/mid/bass, and master volume, though their behavior varies from model to model. You can also add varying amounts of simulated tracking-room reverb. The results sound like real amps in real rooms. But it's not a do-it-all 'verb, and it probably won't replace any of your other ambient effects.
In Fender Deluxe mode, the bass and treble knobs perform as on the original amp, which has no mid control. So the mid pot at noon replicates the original spectrum. Raising it brings mids forward for more tweed-like tones, while dialing it back further deepens the amp's signature mid-scoop. In Vox mode, the mid control is a low-pass filter directly before the simulated power amp, replicating the topology of a top-boost AC30. (Nice detail: When you max out the gain, the model automatically siphons off some lows, maintaining bite and definition at the dirtiest settings.) In plexi mode, the available gain range exceeds the original, providing hot-rodded grind when cranked.
In short, the models are nuanced and authentic. Their dynamic response is convincingly amp-like, and they respond realistically to upstream effects, as heard in my demo clips. The first clip features only guitar and Iridium, with no additional processing. In the second clip, I introduce a grab-bag of effects.
The nine included IRs are excellent. The choices are straightforward. (For example, plexi mode offers IRs from Marshall 4x12, 2x12, and 8x12 cabs.) The bundled Strymon Impulse Manager software (for Mac and PC) can load third-party IRs. You can even select different cabs for the left and right outputs for double-miked stereo effects.
The Ins and Outs
Iridium's rear panel isn't quite as simple as it seems. There's a mono input jack and 1/4" stereo outs, but the input jack accepts stereo signals via a TRS cable, so you can preserve the stereo imaging of upstream effects. Nearby is a USB jack for loading IRs.
There are three ways to use the 1/4" expression-in jack. A standard expression pedal becomes a volume pedal when connected, trimming level either before the amp/cab modeling, or after. It can also morph between a stored favorite patch and an alternate set of parameters. The jack is also a MIDI input for remote program changes. With Strymon's $129 MultiSwitch Plus connected (not tested), you can toggle between three favorite settings. (Iridium can also recall up to 300 patches via MIDI.) There's also a 1/8" headphone jack on the front/side panel. You can definitely have a satisfying practice session with just your guitar, an Iridium-equipped pedalboard, and headphones. Iridium runs on standard 9V power, but requires 500 mA (adapter included). There is no battery compartment.
Many users will master Iridium in minutes without cracking the manual. But it's still worth reading, because of some welcome secondary-function tools when you boot up in “Live Edit" mode. These include adjustable input/output levels and reverb room size, and the specifics of MIDI and controller behavior.
To my ears, Iridium's tones hold their own against any current amp modelers. Yeah, the tone menu may be restricted to vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, but it's still damn good ice cream. There's little to no learning curve—it works like an amp. Iridium's cost isn't crazy, given the R&D it required and the presence of a spiffy SHARC processor. Still, for nearly 400 clams, I'd have liked XLR output jacks (for, say, playing clubs without needing two direct boxes or ¼" adapters). It would also be nice to have access to more than one saved sound without connecting additional hardware. Still, Iridium will be a perfect faux-amp solution for many players.
Watch the First Look: