TC Electronic SpectraDrive Review
A true multi-tool for bassists that packs all the essentials for performance and practice.
Clip 1: Slap sample without preamp, and then played again with SpectraDrive engaged. Bass at 1 o'clock, lo-mid at 1 o'clock, hi-mid at noon, treble at 2 o'clock. SpectraComp set at 7 o'clock.
Clip 2: Fingerstyle sample without preamp, and then played again with Spectradrive engaged. Bass at 12 o'clock, lo-mid at 1 o'clock, hi-mid at noon, treble at 12 o'clock. Tubedrive fully engaged.
Budget-friendly box with big-bang features. Excellent preamp EQ.
Uninspiring preloaded effects.
Ease of Use:
It doesn’t take a lot of effort to find a solid bass tone. While our guitarist compadres rack their brains trying to find the perfect relationship between instrument, amp, and effects, we bassists often just plug our trusted axe into an amp and—with a few tweaks of the preamp—voilà! It’s low-end gold. Numerous bass-gear designers have acknowledged this resourceful approach in creating portable devices loaded with essential components for the working bassist. TC Electronic is one such designer, and their latest pedal, the SpectraDrive, marries function and form. It’s a combination preamp, DI, effects pedal, and practice tool, all packaged into a sandwich-sized stompbox.
TC Electronic has worked with a lot of bassists over the years, and it’s clear the SpectraDrive is a product born of these relationships. The front panel contains a 4-band preamp that’s voiced similarly to the EQs in TC’s amps. Along with the gain and level controls, the six knobs surround two of the standout features of the pedal: the TubeDrive and SpectraComp controls. Although the pedal has built-in effects, these controls function with TC’s proprietary TonePrints technology, which allows players to fine-tune the drive and compressor effects by downloading different TonePrints from TC’s website or app.
Many preamp boxes provide DI functionality, but the SpectraComp contains a couple extra goodies. Accompanying the ground/lift and pre/post switches around back is an instrument/line switch, which extends the sonic quality of the signal to the mixing board. Meanwhile, the company’s Bonafide Buffer circuitry mitigates tonal degradation due to long cable runs.
The SpectraDrive also transforms into a practice amp. A pair of mini jacks are located on the left side for headphones and audio playback devices. TC uses speaker cabinet simulation to deliver a live feel through the headphones.
Taking Care of Business
Three applications revealed the quality of this new workhorse. The first was as a preamp pedal at home, where I placed the SpectraDrive between a Fender American Standard Jazz and a Bergantino rig comprised of a B|Amp and HD112 cab. Once I set the gain and level, I was able to appreciate the SpectraDrive’s responsive EQ. Increasing the low end with the bass dial gave my notes a little more weight, but they stayed devoid of muddiness. The low-mid was fantastic at providing just the right amount of punch and power to the tone.
Some EQs tend to add a harsh timbre when cranking the high mids, but that wasn’t the case with the SpectraDrive. Its high-mid section produced a pleasing presence ideal for fingerstyle or pick playing. Those who like a little bite to their tone will appreciate SpectraDrive’s treble control. Overall, I found the pedal to be super clean, as it allowed the sonic details of the J bass to really shine through.
While the SpectraDrive earned points in the preamp department, my impressions of the SpectraComp and TubeDrive effects were mixed. To my ears, it was somewhat of a challenge finding a sweet spot with the SpectraComp, but once I did, it delivered slaps and string pops with focus and attack. The TubeDrive did put a little hair on the sound of my Jazz, but I would have liked some more aggressiveness from the effect. With that said, the beauty of TonePrints is that other flavors of compression and drive can be loaded to the pedal, and there will likely be even more in the future as the TonePrints library continues to build.
I also presented a challenge to the SpectraDrive in a live environment by relying on it as a preamp/DI for a show with no backline. Using a monitor as a reference, I applied a slight boost in the low- and high-mids to give the Jazz an authoritative voice. And throughout the performance, I easily made the slight EQ adjustments I needed to fit well within the mix. Thanks to TC’s latest, I felt comfortable I could handle just about any live show without a traditional bass rig.
Having the SpectraDrive on the road indeed turned out to be handy. Tasked with learning some last-minute tunes in my hotel room, transcribing bass lines was made easy thanks in part to the SpectraDrive’s sonic clarity. (I’m sure the neighboring rooms likely appreciated the silent practicing, too.)
Forgive the analogy, but the SpectraDrive is a pedal version of R2D2. This tiny helper accommodates players with easy tonal shaping and solid tonal production. Its features are on par (if not better) than other preamp/DI pedals I’ve had my hands on that cost twice the price of the SpectraDrive. Although the provided effects left me wanting more at times, I look forward to hearing other TonePrints for this fun and flexible stompbox. If you’re looking for a pedal with supreme versatility and loads of tools that won’t break the bank, take a look at the TC SpectraDrive.
Watch the Review Demo: