One Bad Mother&$%#in’ Delay
Tasty delay, drive, and modulation come together in an inspiring, unconventional echo machine. The PG Mile End Effects MTHRFCKR=RPTR review.
Unconventional dirty and warped echoes. Control layout is a visual and tactile delight. Cool potential as outboard studio effect.
Expensive for a digital delay. Big if you are pedalboard-space obsessed.
It's funny to consider the time guitarists spend in search of filth. The only thing funnier, perhaps, is imagining legions of old-school audio engineers shaking befuddled heads (or turning over in their graves) as guitarists undo the work of decades spent questing for pure, distortion-free sound.
The Mile End Effects MTHRFCKR-RPTR digital delay, like so many creative modern effects, embraces distortion to an almost perverse degree—probing not just the realms of fuzzy overdrive, but mangled modulations as well. This design motivation is a product of Mile End founder Justin Cober's fascination with cassette tape degradation.
Exploration of tape distortion is not a new concept. Anyone who builds an Echoplex- or Space Echo-inspired pedal usually seeks to replicate the irregularities of the tape medium. But Mile End's take puts the wiggly, mangled, and mutated possibilities of the form front and center. And while it's perfectly capable of lovely normal delay sounds—with dark, modulated delays that would tickle any Deluxe Memory Man devotee—the MTHRFCKR=RPTR shines brightest (or dirtiest) when you use it as a force for weird.
A lot of folks are bound to take one look at the MTHRFCKR=RPTR in its 7.4" x 4.7" Hammond 1590D enclosure and decide that it's too big for their pedalboard. That's fine. But obsessions with pedalboard space sometimes obscure the ergonomic and tactile virtues of larger effects. Take the old Deluxe Memory Man: Its size, control layout, the resistance in its knobs, and the way it fits a player's hands and fingers all conspire to enable creative control manipulation that, in my experience, isn't easily replicated with an expression pedal or small-form knobs arrayed in neat little rows.
Mile End seems to understand much about these ergonomic advantages. The MTHRFCKR=RPTR's knobs are laid out so you can simultaneously manipulate delay time or repeat controls with your thumb, the LFO rate or speed controls with your ring finger, and the volume or gain control with your pinky. If you tend to set and forget your delay settings, this type of functionality probably won't interest you much. But for players that use delay as a second instrument as much as an effect, it cracks open a multitude of expressive possibilities. And it's easy to see how the MTHRFCKR=RPTR could be enormously appealing to experimental and prepared guitar players, keyboardists, and synth artists, or engineers and artists itching to break free from the constraints of in-the-box studio effects.
Space Dirt and Cosmic Dust
Though digitally generated, the sound of the MTHRFCKR=RPTR's echoes should please any old-school analog delay fan. Even before you apply the gain and LFO-driven modulation sounds, you hear soft, blurry decay in each repeat. There can also be a little digital tone neutrality in the repeats—at least compared to true tape and bucket brigade delay devices—but it leaves ample headroom for the copious color that comes via the addition of gain and modulation.
Generally speaking, the controls have conservative tapers, and tone shifts can be subtle—even within a 30- or 40-percent increase or reduction in a given parameter. Players eager to exploit the MTHRFCKR=RPTR's more radical potential might be disappointed by these limitations. But I found the smoother, more subtle tapers to be a big advantage, and more musical, when using the controls interactively.
The Mile End doesn't overwhelm you with tone shaping options. But the wet switch, which removes the dry signal entirely, and the waveform switch, which toggles between random, non-cyclical square waves and uniform sine wave modulation, are simple-to-use additions that can be transformative. The random-cycle square waves best replicate the capstan-motor-gone-wrong and stretched-tape funkiness of vintage tape delay units. At subtle levels it adds authenticity. In heavier doses—and particularly with a fat dollop of gain from the pedal's preamp section—the random waveforms add a dreamlike haze that makes slow, spacious solo improvisations kinetic and rich with color. The all-wet setting has less utility in straightforward playing situations. But for abstract, deconstructed sound collage and improvisation, it's incredibly liberating—especially with generous sides of dirty gain and random modulation. Some of my favorite MTHRFCKR=RPTR sounds dwell within these settings. There's also a soft-relay footswitch for driving the pedal into self-oscillation.
The preamp gain section, which really enhances delay and modulation textures, produces harmonically balanced and very organic overdrive sounds. It can sound a touch fizzy at the very highest gain levels—almost in the fashion of a tweed Deluxe amp cranked to the gills. But it's a delight at most settings, even without the delay or modulation in the mix.
The MTHRFCKR=RPTR is not exclusively or indulgently eccentric. It's a very practical digital delay with a heavy and authentic analog flavor and an extraordinarily fun and creative control interface that sparks unconventional sounds and ideas. It's certainly a digital delay analog heads can love. But it's also likely to find fans among engineers and artists—pro and homebrew alike—that will embrace it's tactile and ergonomic advantages and unconventional tones to unique ends in mix and production tasks.
Tweaker or Freaker?
It can strain the brain, but this incredibly flexible (and fun) harmonic trem stands out in a multitude of modulated ways. The PG Anasounds Ages review.
Recorded using a Telecaster with Curtis Novak Tele-V and JM-V pickups into a silver-panel Fender Vibro Champ with a Warehouse G8C miked with a Royer R-121 feeding an Audient iD44 going into GarageBand with no EQ-ing, compression, or effects.
Clip 1: Bridge and neck pickup, first with Ages bypassed, then engaged with out at 3 o’clock, depth at noon, and tone at 10 o’clock.
Clip 2: Neck pickup, first with Ages bypassed, then engaged (with triple-cosine waveform selected) in envelope-controlled rate mode, then envelope-controlled depth mode, with out at 4 o’clock, depth at max, and tone at 3 o’clock.
Lots of lovely tones. Very flexible for its size. Cool attack-sensitive modes.
Can be time-consuming to dial preferred internal settings. No expression-pedal jack. Manual and control labels could be clearer.
Ease of Use:
The term “harmonic tremolo” is almost a misnomer. Most classic tremolo sounds come from amps using a light-dependent optocoupler or either power- or preamp-tube bias shifting to modulate the volume of your guitar signal. But the harmonic effect popularized by 1960s Fender brown-panel amps splits your signal in two—bass and treble—and modulates them in opposition to each other. The net effect—typically colored with grit from the three 12AX7s used to drive it—often sounds more like pitch shift than other tremolo types. Magnatone’s famous vibrato, which is often lumped in the harmonic tremolo category, uses phasing and filters to achieve a similar pitch-shifting modulation effect.
French outfit Anasounds’ new take on harmonic tremolo is the deceptively simple-looking Ages. Even more ambitious than its innovative and pedalboard-friendly Element spring reverb, it packs a host of options into an enclosure with just four knobs, a 3-way toggle, and two footswitches.
Tweaky or Freaky?
Depending on your proclivities, Ages’ controls might seem ingeniously streamlined or a test of your cranial recall capabilities. Because although the basic functions of controls—tap/osc(illation) and bypass footswitches, the mode toggle, and out (effect gain), tone, depth, and subdivisions knobs—are mostly grok-able by name, several hidden options lurk within.
For starters, if you hold down the bypass footswitch for two seconds, the tri-color LED turns from either blinking red (bypassed) or white (engaged) to blue, indicating you’re in “trimpot mode” (which, as we’ll see, is somewhat confusingly named). Trimpot mode enables control of several parameters, including two favorite—and rarely encountered—features in a tremolo pedal: attack-sensitive rate and depth modes. Here, the tone knob becomes an envelope control governing either rate or depth of the effect (depending on the mode you select with the toggle).
If you turn the tone/envelope control left from noon, rate or depth decreases with greater pick intensity. If you turn clockwise from noon, rate or depth increases with greater pick intensity. Meanwhile, in trimpot mode, the depth dial works hand in hand with tone/envelope—becoming a threshold control for the rate- or depth-ramping effect. Lastly, trimpot mode can repurpose the toggle and subdivision knob so you can select one of seven different LFO waveforms (sine, rising-ramp, falling-ramp, square, polynomial, double cosine, and triple cosine). Once you’ve set the waveform, envelope, and threshold, you tap the bypass toggle to save them, then re-position the knobs and toggle to your desired depth, tone, and mode settings.
Dizzy yet? Hold on, because we haven’t even talked about the actual trimpots—oh, and the DIP switches! Be prepared to crack open Ages because, depending on your pickups, these controls could be the difference between loving your Anasounds and not. Two trim pots fine-tune the tone knob by increasing or reducing the range of available treble and bass gain. Two more trim pots govern the minimum and maximum amplitude (range) of the LFOs. And two DIP switches toggle between preset frequency-filter points for the bass LFO, and the treble LFO.
The Anasounds Ages can do so much that it’s hard to cover it all here. At its core, it serves up lush, inspiring harmonic trem sounds with way more control than any vintage amp. But it’s not without its quirks/frustrations: There’s no expression input, yet there’s a mini jack for connecting the company’s magnetic-sensor Spinner product ($140 street). I give Anasounds creative points for thinking outside the box, but this exclusion feels like you’re being nudged toward a proprietary additional purchase with very limited applicability (Spinner currently only works with one other Anasounds pedal). That said, the Ages’ ability to shape tones—deliciously nasty, tweed-style dirt, with a cool cocked-wah EQ curve, for instance—while offering powerful dynamic control options, make it a unique-sounding tremolo powerhouse.
Origin Effects Deluxe61 Review
A positively luxurious stomp nails the liquid textures of brown-panel Deluxe bias tremolo.
Top-shelf quality. Immersive, liquid, trem' textures that meld seamlessly with guitar and amp tones. Elegantly simple but capable control set.
Origin Effects Deluxe61 Bias Tremolo
Editor's note: Deluxe61 Amp Tremolo & Drive is the updated name of the Origin Effects pedal that debuted under the name REVIVALTrem.
Some gear nerd debates get pretty pointless. Disputing the merits of different op-amps in two late-model RATs? Maybe that time would be better spent practicing. But tremolo circuits are another matter. The differences between bias, optical, and harmonic tremolo can be audible and profound. Each has its merits and champions. But in terms of soul and musical utility, it's hard to beat bias tremolo's soft, contoured pulses and mellow-to-throbbing range.
Origin Effects' all-analog Deluxe61 is based on the power tube bias tremolo from the brown-panel Fender Deluxe—a circuit many players regard as the silkiest ever built. Authentically reproducing such a circuit is no task for the timid. Then again, Origin made its name reproducing the topology and performance of the legendary UREI 1176 studio compressor in stompbox form. So it's no surprise they would tackle an effect so nuanced and full of sonic intangibles. What's impressive is how the Deluxe61 nails those elusive, intoxicating bias tremolo colors.
Wave-Riding Luxury Liner
If you love the sense of craft that goes missing in much modern technology, the Deluxe61 will be a treat. It's built almost absurdly well by stompbox standards. Ever wondered what the Rolls-Royce of pedals looks and feels like? This is certainly a contender.
A two-tiered circuit board accommodates the many high-quality components that make up the modulation and drive circuits. (The latter is derived from the company's excellent Revival Drive.) Soft-relay footswitches and jacks are all chassis-mounted independent of the circuit boards. The enclosure feels close to bulletproof. Clearly, the Deluxe61 was built for heavy touring and meant to be serviced in the unlikely event a component fails.
The control set is smart, logical, and simple in practice. Even the two footswitches, which cleverly enable operation of the drive channel independent of the tremolo, are thoughtfully situated toward the outboard reaches of the enclosure—reducing the risk of hitting both switches simultaneously.
There may be more radical tremolos, but few achieve such musical seamlessness.
In some respects, it's easy to characterize the modulations the Deluxe61 produces. They're exceptionally smooth, liquid, and very dreamy. But they are also beguilingly complex. Some stronger settings subtly suggest pitch shifting and phasing without suffering the dynamic penalties those effects can incur—a remarkable bit of sonic trickery. A/B'd against the optical tremolo in a recent-vintage '65 Twin Reverb reissue, the Origin is clearly more complex and watery, its undulations less binary and harsh, and its effects on picking dynamics less intense. Compared to a near-50 year old Vibro Champ that utilizes a preamp-bias tremolo circuit, the Origin nails the very best of the vintage amp's sounds and responsiveness, but sounds richer and offers much more expansive fine-tuning range in the pots.
There are trade-offs for all this intoxicating aqueousness. The Deluxe61's most intense modulations might not be intense enough for players that like the hard pulses of a Vox Repeater circuit or the angular textures of an optical black-panel Fender tremolo. Nor does the Deluxe61 get as woozy as a Magnatone-style circuit (a harmonic tremolo to which brown-panel Deluxe tremolo is often likened). But the payoff is clarity and presence that makes nuanced, complex, and melodic musical passages sound perfectly interwoven with the modulations. There may be more radical tremolos, but few achieve such musical seamlessness.
Then there's the versatility afforded by the extra modulation and drive controls. The 3-position "multi" toggle significantly extends the range of the speed control, enabling super-fast flutters amp trem' can't deliver and giving expressive fodder to experimental tremolo fans. Another toggle activates a harder, almost triangle-shaped wave to generate more intense modulations. The post-drive EQ switch is invaluable for making the effect more subdued or pronounced when switching between dark and bright amps or pickups, but also offers a flatter-response option if you want to route directly to a recording interface or a desk. The drive channel, meanwhile, is delicious—generating sweet and malleable low-to mid-gain drive and body that you may never want to remove from your tone equation, tremolo or not.
The Deluxe61 is expensive at 430 bucks. But the quality is absolutely top shelf and the sounds are, too. What's more, you can enjoy the benefits of bias trem without the extra wear and tear that bias trem circuits inevitably inflict on your tubes. If you're on the fence, perhaps those cost savings can help justify luxuriating in this pedal's priceless tones.
Origin Effects Deluxe61 Tremolo & Drive Demo | First Look