Posts Tagged ‘Octave’

Arion MOC-1 Octave

Friday, May 1st, 2015

Arion-MOC1-Octave

What is it?
Arion MOC-1 Octave. Made in Sri Lanka around early to mid 00’s.

This unit was my very first brush with Sri Lankan reissues. Bought it as new for the nice price tag and more importantly, out of curiosity. Arion is rather personal brand. Its pedals have certain cult reputation which isn’t based on its plastic appearance, but the tones. Sure these come cheap, but that doesn’t attribute to bad craftmanship nor bad tones. Negative things come from plastic housing with a plastic battery lid that are just as prone to get lost as the ones on old DOD FX-series boxes. Other downside is the knobs. The pots are not bad at all for small 9mm board mount pots. The push on knobs get loose way too easily. So one strike for the plastic enclosure, second for the battery lid and the third for the knobs. Already at this point one could argue that i shouldn’t praise effects with such obvious flaws. But. The plastic enclosure can handle stomping, the knobs do not  part ways with the rest of the pedal by themselves and that is true for the battery lid too. so none of those offer enough leverage to call Arion units simply bad. Then comes the areas which are way more important. Take a look at the photo below. Neat work, and the boards are exactly as they were in the original, early 80’s japanese Arions.

Arion-MOC1-Octave-guts1

Traces and solder joints are just plain work of beauty. Acidy and hand drawn feel. How can you not love this? The board design adds more to the so called “mojo” factor than many other things. I try to restrain myself from using the m-word too much as it’s been used without any warrant so much over the years. Either way, the trace side is just beautiful. Component side isn’t that sleek, but still decent. Seeing the actual board pretty much take all the firepower out of the three culprit arguments. What does the plastic housing matter, if the electronic and board designs show this level of excellence? Not sure, but these could be made on to original japanese boards. Just assembled in Sri  Lanka.

Arion-MOC1-Octave-guts2

And then there’s the electronic design. Some forums claim the circuit is straight up clone of the classic Boss OC-2. Haven’t traced this and i have yet to see an original schematic to confirm. Just by the looks of the board, i’d say no. It’s not your straight up clone. It has similar features, but still no. At least the semiconductors and number of them do not match. While the features of 1 octave down, 2 octaves down and the clean mix level are similar,  that doesn’t mean that the circuit has to be identical. Even if the most important thing would suggest that too.

How does it sound?
Clean, but powerful. One of the best analog down octaves in terms of tracking and keeping the octaves in place. MOC-1 is actual true competition for OC-2, EHX Octave Multiplexer and others alike. Very nice sounding unit that keeps the output levels in usable range. Other than being plastic (and the other slight culprits mentioned above), there isn’t much negative to say about the tone. Very decent unit to have and use. Takes easily a spot in the top five of all analog down octave dividers.

Danelectro DW-1 Dan-o-Wah

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

DW1-DanoWah

What is it?
Danelectro DW-1 Dan O Wah. Made in china in around 1997.

I sourced this one a long time ago. If i recall correctly, i got it in a trade and there was (and still is) very little traces of use. Gee. I wonder why. That being my first thought about all Dano rocker pedals, i didn’t have too high hopes. I do recall this not working at all when it first arrived. After checking it, the only issue was just loose solder joint at the DC jack. Unit worked fine with a battery and that’s how the seller deemed it as “working”. Quick and simple fix later i was ready to do some more studying.

DW1-DanoWah-1

The outside of the unit is per the rest of the rocker pedals. Looking like a car and having it’s rubber feet looking like wheels. As the controls are not conventional pots, the idea of having the user manual printed in the bottom is not a bad one.

DW1-DanoWah-2

The number of features pictured in the manual shows that there must be more to the circuit than just a standard wah. After all, we are talking about six different wah voicings, all with and without added distortion and up octaves.

DW1-DanoWah-3

Opening the bottom plate confirms my suspicions. Yeah. This hasn’t been drawn over a coffee break. This amount of components and features is something that comes by once in a while, but it’s not your average “let’s just copy the cry baby and leave it at that”. I’m not going to dig too deep into how it is made. I do have my suspicions about the electronic design(s), but i’ll talk about those a bit later.

DW1-DanoWah-4

To begin with, the electronic design has number of switch circuits to select between the modes and banks. The idea of using “banks” in simple analog effect isn’t that common. The “exhaust pipes” act as push buttons that choose the wah mode and if the octave is added or not. Bank, wah and distortion can be turned on with the stomp switches on the front end. This means that the octave can be used in the other section of 60’s/70’s style modes and the second can be without it. Distortion can be engaged from the top buttons separately.

DW1-DanoWah-5

Through hole components on the wah/octave board seem nice. Mostly metalized polyester caps. If the enclosure was metal or just sturdier, this might have been a big hit. Other than  the enclosure, there is very little wrong with this effect.

How does it sound?
At first, pretty standard wah with couple of different voicings on the switches. Add the octave up and the good vibes are coming closer. Add the distortion, and we’re at tonal beach sipping ice cold pina coladas with no hurry to go anywhere. Wah tones are, well. Standard. Not too far off from your basic Cry Baby and/or Vox wahs. The distortion feels generic, but it works great with the wah. Now, when the distortion and octave are both added it’s almost like we have fOXX Tone machine paired with vintage wah. Not bad. But the platicky feel and utter unroadworthiness give their weight for the unit. Due to these shortcomings, DW-1 won’t ever reach the status the design would deserve. Close, but no cigar.

Digitech WH-II Whammy II

Monday, January 5th, 2015

WhammyII

What is it?
Digitech Whammy II, made in canada. Possibly sometime in the 90’s.

It’s rather rare occasion that someone gets a chance of buying a rare western made unit for a low price. For me, the day this one came for sale was one of those rare occasions. I paid good amount of money for this, but didn’t check out any auction sites or anything to determine what there usually go for. And when i did… Boy was i glad i bought this. In reality, i paid about a quarter of what these usually sell for. Of course, the unit had seen use and the switches weren’t making connections in the best possible manner. Nothing that i can’t fix myself though. But in all, the unit was in nice condition. Sure. I had to come up with a power supply for it, but being the pedal freak that i am, there is a medium sized cardboard box full of different DC and AC supplies in my possession. The pedal is powered with 9V AC supply, which isn’t that uncommon – i had one suitable at hand straight away. I cleaned the unit a bit and the condition isn’t bad. Slight wear and tear, but nothing remarkable. What was more interesting was that the labels say “Made in Canada”. I had no idea Digitech had done any manufacturing in maple leaf flag country. But by the looks of it, a lot more brands should have turned to canadians to do their work for them.

WhammyII-guts

The look of the build quality is very pleasing. Sturdy and strong. There is a lot of the board that has been manufactured by hand and that is always a great selling point for me. I hadn’t been too interested in any version of whammys due to simple fact that i do not know how to use one. Whammys are great toys to fool around with, but just don’t see myself having one on my board. Nor would i see myself using it regularly. But while the effect themselves are not the peak of interest, the genre is. Foot controllable pitch shifting. Good idea that has been in the shadow of many other genres since the beginning of time.

The one thing that surprised me the most was the foot control. I did assume the control was done with a pot, like for nearly all the basic wah pedals (Vox, Cry Baby etc.), but this is not the case with a Whammy. The control here is optical. Meaning that there is a LED that moves closer and further away from a light dependent component that is inside that cardboard box on the board. What do you know! There is always something new to learn!

As the features go, we have out rocker pedal, a bypass switch, and. The mode switch on WHII is a stomp too! One can change the mode of the effet by stomping on it. The later Whammies have a know switch for this. The modes are harmonies from octaves to 5th and octaves from one to two. Both down and up. The design isn’t polyphonic, so it doesn’t act well with chords, but it tracks both up and down harmonies/octaves very well with single notes.

How does it sound?
I can only compare this to Whmmy IV at the moment as these two are the only ones i have. But when i do compare them, it just seems like IV is the exactly same sounding effect, just made cheaper in asia. Whammy II sounds like a very decent foot controllable pitch shifter. It can be used as a harmonizer or an octaver by simply not touching the rocker pedal. The modes work well and sound good. Maybe the low octaves aren’t exactly as good as they are in Arion MOC-1, but still very good. As for the harmonies and shimmering up octaves.. Just beatiful. Man i’m glad i have this unit.

Axtron OCT-5 Octaver

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

Axtron-Octaver

What is it?
Axtron OCT-5 Octaver. Made in japan, possibly in the late 80’s or early 90’s.

The sucker for down octaves that i am, i just had to get this pastic thing. It wasn’t even that cheap, but these japanese plastic oldies do not come by that often. So i went for it. There aren’t that many of these moving around, even in the other brand names these were offered back in the day. The same circuit in the same enclosure was apparently sold also under Axtar, Pickboy, Columbus, Profile+ and Vision brands. The same effect. In the same enclosure. Not that uncommon for japanese units back then. This series apparently had ten different pedals in its catalog. Haven’t seen many others for sale anywhere. Possibly the folks having them are still convinced they are worhtless garbage. That assumption is not that far fetched.

Axtron-Octaver-guts1

The build quality is cool. Hand drawn traces and neat solder joints. The sin of japanese designers in the 80’s was the plastic housing. If these units were housed in a metal case, the sales would most likely have been higher. Nevertheless, the work looks good and the pedal utilizes the classic japanese two stacked board layout we’ve seen in many other units. The elctronic switching seems to be similar to old Boss and Maxon/Ibanez flip-flop switching done with two BJTs and the actual switching by FETs. The effect circuit seems to be created with two Sony branded 4558 dual opamps and a 4013 flip-flop for the octave divider.

Axtron-Octaver-guts2

There are three knobs that control the clean signal level, octave down level and the distorted octave down level. So it’s not exactly like the big sellers, OC-2 from Boss, MOC-1 from Arion and so on. The circuit seem to have something personal going on for it. But even though it may be well made and the design of the boards look promising, there are some caveats.

How does it sound?
This being the biggest one. It’s a well tracking down octave, that’s created in a same way others have divided octaves since the days MXR Bluebox was first out (there may be earlier examples, but Bluebox is good to mention). The distortion side of the effect also has a nice structure and texture. Nothing wrong with those. But. The overall level, even with all the knobs maxed is below unity. This renders the unit more or less unusable. For a collector and a freak for down octave dividers, this may offer some value, but for anything else. Nope. Not that much. If you are not a collector, do not spend more than 25 buck for one. It most likely will not be worth anything more than that. May the brand be any of the ones mentioned above.

DOD FX35 Octoplus

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

DOD-FX35-Octoplus

What is it?
DOD FX35 Octoplus from FX series. Made in USA late 1995.

For the love of octave dividers! Some will always say that one can never have too many fuzzes. Well. I say one can never have too many down octave divider pedals. As with most of the effects in the genre, the signal is pushed as hard as possible to CD4013 CMOS flip-flip circuit. This will result in our good ‘ol analog down octave tones. The downside to achieving down octave tones with a flip-flop is that the tracking is hard to keep in line. As these dividers go, DOD does it slightly better than other. But i’ve talked about tracking before. So let’s get down to business and open this beast up.

DOD-FX35-Octoplus-guts1

I do feel a bit solace wheneven i open up one of the FX serie DOD. There may not be much symmetry or any other eye candies around, but since the boards are always neatly made, there’s not much negative to say about them. Sure, it could be prettier, but the functionality in design is much more in portant aspect in DODs. Like in architechture of buildings, DOD FX serie represents the functionality. As i said, it may not be that pretty, but it gets the job done. There is an original schematic up at America’s Pedal, in addition to a bit of more information. There’s even a scan of mid 80’s print ad up in there! You should probably check those out as well.

DOD-FX35-Octoplus-guts2

Same aesthetics as for the component side apply to the solder side. Not pretty and there is always this feeling of forced spacing on the board design. Can’t describe it any better than this, but i hope you get my feeling. At least there is some personality in these traces..

What comes to controls, we have our down octave level, tone control and clean level. As the schematic (link above) shows, the level controls determine how much of each signal gets to the output buffer and the tone control affects only the octave side. The topology of the tone control isn’t that far away from the classic one knob tone stack we’ll find in all of the Big Muffs.

How does it sound?
Like a world class analog one octave down divider. Clean level is capable of bringing a bit of boost to our attention while the octave level feels  slightly sluggish. Not that it is sluggish in terms of output, but the lows go low enough to feel like it. Even though it’s just one octave down. What comes to tracking, this is a prime specimen. Divider doesn’t go off the track as badly as many others and it tries its best to keep the divider in control even with two notes ringing at the same time. No, this isn’t polyphonic in any way, but the results are great. The tone control is rather dull and unnecessary. It can take some of the inaudible lows away from the overall sound, but for me, the sweet spot is still where this pot is at minimum level.

Working, good sounding one octave down divider circuit in classic DOD housing. You really can’t go wrong with this one. It may not be the greatest octave down there is, but is still is pretty appealing thing to have.

EHX Octave Multiplexer (XO)

Friday, November 7th, 2014

EHX-OctaMultXO

What is it?
Electro-Harmonix Octave Multiplexer from XO series. Made USAaround late 00’s

No. I’m not writing everything about this again. Just check out the post about EHX Octave Multiplexer Reissue. The main points for the design are written in there. There are a few differences between these two units, mainly on construction methods – that’s why i’m posting these separately.

EHX-OctaMultXO-guts1

From electronic point of view, this is exactly the same effect as the big box reissue. Only differences are the manufacturing methods and the type of components. While the reissue tries to stay true to the vintage Octave Multiplexer, the XO series version just tries to add more user value to the design.

EHX-OctaMultXO-guts2

The main difference in features is the “Dry out” jack placed next to the “Wet” output jack. This allows the user to split the signal to two paths. First for the sort-of bypass and second for the processed signal. Nice feature, but has few applications. Supports experimentation though. And that’s not a bad thing.

How does it sound?
Exactly like the huge box reissue. Both of the versions sound exactly like each other, so in reality there’s not much point in having both. Unless you love down octave divider effects and are a pretentious asshole, also known as the collector. Again – For a bit more in depth article on this circuit, check out my Octave Multiplexer Reissue post.

EHX Octave Multiplexer (RI)

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

EHX-OctaMultRI

What is it?
Electro-Harmonix Octave Multiplexer Reissue. Made in USA around 00’s.

For starters, EHX Octave Multiplexer was originally an apparent move to compete with all the other octave divider boxes that started to emerge in late 70’s and early 80’s. I have no idea when the very first down octave effect was produced and by who. Still, the basic idea of driving a flip-flop circuit over the top produces the analog octave down effect we know and love today. Sure, the technological advances have bumped us to the point where small footprint pedals can produce polyphonic octave down effects. But there’s still nothing like trying to get these flip-flop based octave dividers to track your signal properly. As a caveat, this type of circuitry can easily miss the note you wanted to add the effect to. When that happens, the tone produced is just wild and completely senseless. This behavior is something that can’t be digitally modeled. And it is a feature, love it or not. So is a modern polyphonic down octave better than its analog counterpart with its own flaws? I’d say no. Musicians have created a tons of great sounding guitar tones for tons of great albums with effects like these. To love the mistracking means that you have to be a person with adventurous mind.

EHX-OctaMultRI-guts1

The unit we’re looking at here is the 00’s reissue of the original 80’s Octave Multiplexer. The circuit has similarities to its predecessor, but there are modernized parts to it. The sub switch is not present on the original and this is the biggest difference between a reissue and the vintage unit. This switch takes the low octave in and out of the processed signal. If taken out, the “High Filter” control lets one use this as a up octave. Sort of.

EHX-OctaMultRI-guts2

The low octaves are created with a 4013 16-pin flip flop circuit. As seen in most of the effects in this genre. EHX couldn’t have done a better or worse job with their circuit, since it’s all about the 4013. The tracking aspect can vary with the rest of the circuit and in my opinion EHX does this remarkably well. Actually the Octave Multiplexer ranks at least as high as Boss OC-2 in my personal favorites list. The way this flip-flop works is that the signal pushed through it has to be huge. But if it’s too big, the tracking won’t work right. And if the signal is too weak, the octave divider doesn’t work. One can, of course push a massive fuzz through the flip-flop like done in MXR Bluebox, but to create all analog, distortionless, well tracking octave down effect isn’t as trivial as one might think. Some people prefer to use a compressor in front of this kind of effects to help the tracking. It works to a degree.

EHX-OctaMultRI-guts3

Board design and manufacturing methods look exactly like all the other reissues in EHX catalog. Not a pleasure to look at, but not ugly by any means. Massive sized box will definitely keep a few future fans away. But for that, there is XO-series version with otherwise the same electronic circuit. Just made with baked-in SMD components instead of the real deal.

How does it sound?
Wild and mean with a decent tracking. I think the size and the of the box may have been contributing factor to why Boss OC-2 has always been considered as a classic and EHX Multiplexer hasn’t. To my ears the Octave Multiplexer sounds at least as good, but with added craziness in the form up octaves as well. It sure is a beautiful sounding octave down. Every time i need an octave down when recording it’s either this or the XO version i take with me. Unless it’s a dirty down octave that is needed. Then the choice is DOD Buzz Box. Not much sense in trying to feed clean down octaves with wild distortions. So. For clean down octaves. EHX Octave Multiplexer is the king.

Boss OC-2 Octave

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Boss-OC2

What is it?
Boss OC-2 Octave from compact series. Made in taiwan, april 2001.

Another classic from the Boss compact catalog. The OC-2s were originally housed in much lighter brown enclosure with the label “Octaver” on them. The name changed to “Octave” in 1984, meaning that the original ones were manufactured in japan from 1982 to 1984. These first issues are nowadays highly sought after and in one word, rare. And in another, expensive. The board on this unit is definitely a later revision. There’s not much left from the old school japanese design, and has been replaced with modern autorouted feel on overall board.

Boss-OC2-guts1

There’s a schematic with good semiconductor listings up at Hobby-Hour.com and you should check it out. This same page shows also the original board layout with original traces. There are one single  and one dual flip-flop IC on the original board design, but that has changed on later revisions. As we can see, the board of this 2001 unit has two CD4013 chips in the lower right corner of the board. There are other changes in the layout too, so the differences between a 1982 unit and this one are more than just minor.

Boss-OC2-guts2

The two octaves down are using two channels of the flip-flops and the one down is using one. So the leftover one on the modern board is unused. How do these changes affect the tone? Don’t have a clue as i haven’t had the pleasure of comparing the modern one with the original design. Features are quite simple. We have three knobs which control the levels of clean, buffered signal, one octave down and two octaves down. There are two opamp channels driving each down octave settings. These controls maxed will result in wild, not so good tracking of the down octaves. The analog feel is strongly present.

How does it sound?
The tones this one produces are very good. Where as most old school down octaves tend to feel low on down octave levels, this isn’t a problem for OC-2. The tracking on OC-2 is also very respectable. Although, once the octaves are maxed, the guitar signal still feels a bit weak to keep the octaves in tact, resulting in brain melting, uncontrollable mistracking. Paired with a compressor before OC-2 will help to keep the tracking in line. While we’re at it, a fuzz of distortion before this will also give out very nice results. I think the most well known instances of hearing OC-2 in action are the CKY albums from the 00’s.

To sum it up. This is the octave effect to have. Even though OC-2 was discontinued in 2003 and replaced by more modern OC-3, the cult reputation and usability of this all analog down octave monster is well warranted. Definitely one of the best Boss boxes around.

Boss PS-5 Super Shifter

Friday, August 1st, 2014

Let’s do a month with Boss pedals only. Why? Because i can. Starting the Boss august with PS-5 Super Shifter…

Boss-PS5

What is it?
Boss PS-5 Super Shifter from Compact series. Made in taiwan in april 2008.

To begin with. As usual, i ran the serial number through the Bossarea.com serial number decoder. This is something i always do whenever i get a new Boss pedal for my collection. Of course i keep a list of all the Boss pedals in separate text file. Now this wouldn’t be anything interesting, but as the current collection is, i placed the PS-5 next to PH-3 on my list. I must have been slightly tired, but i couldn’t make a clear difference between the rows for PS-5 and PH-3 (ok, i always read/edit the list with an editor that uses fixed font). The reason i got confused for a second was that these both units are made in Taiwan and in april and in 2008. Plus when you think about the list with nicely tab formatted text, you’ll know the rows will have a lot in common. Super vs. Phase, PS-5 vs. PH-3 and the dates.  Anyway. Got this in a trade about couple of weeks later of when i first realized that i don’t have any dedicated “Harmonizer”, or “Pitch Shift” effects in my collection. Wasn’t actively looking to get one, but it just happened. The guy trading it told me that he thought it was a nice effect, but he didn’t seem to use it much.

Boss-PS5-guts1

Opening the bottom plate showed nothing of any surprise. A board filled with tiny SMD components and so many “via”s that i lost count after the first 15 seconds. (For those not familiar with what i’m talking about – the vias are tiny holes on the board that are meant to take the connection to the other side of the PCB.) Flipping the board over continues with the same. A few big digital chips and a few operational amplifiers. Not my closest target for affection, but clean and neat nevertheless.

Boss-PS5-guts2

Which means that i’m not able to discuss the design at the moment. Yup. I simply don’t understand it well enough. There isn’t a schematic available, but the user manual is rather interesting read.

The unit is very feature packed. At first i thought the features just look like a lot and the up shifting is the main deal. No. That’s not it. I’ve been only playing around with this unit for a few hours since i got it, but mixed lightly on the balance pot and finding the tuning and a scale. That’s how it starts. It’s basically Boss’ answer to Digitech’s Whammy if you take a expression pedal and attach it to the PS-5. That plus all the static settings.  There are two features worth mentioning, even after all that. The “T. Arm” mode. The stomp acts as a momentary switch when this mode is on. This way one can get a digital reproduction of a tremolo arm function that comes naturally with Stratocasters. The last mode is “Flutter”, which is another digital reproduction of the thing most of us do with a tremolo arm. The features are pretty complex, so i’ll just leave you with that. And the link above to the manual.

Sadly, these features leave a slightly bitter taste. The question that rises, is this supposed to be a real, usable professional tool or just a toy to play around with? Other than that, it feels rather solid.

How does it sound?
The reason that guy didn’t use this much? I too was a bit put off by the number of features at first. There is a harsh digital feel to the most sounds this spews out. But i found the pitch shifter feature to be gold. Once the right extra pitch for the scale and the reasonable balance is set, this circuit sounds very good and nearly natural – despite all the digital harshness. Placing a fuzz after this will take a lot of the digital signature away and well, it’ll sound next to awesome.

In all, there are way too many different types of sounds to say exactly how this sounds. Some of the features sound very good and they have a purpose. Others are just picture clear resemblance of some plastic Tomy My First Effect Pedal toy. Toy aspect doesn’t feel too good, but there are a lot of usable range on the controls. If the user knows the pedal well enough, it may be a nice tool on a studio desk. Maybe the designing engineers tried just a bit too hard on this one.

Danelectro DJ-13 French Toast Octave Distortion

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

DJ13-FrenchToast

What is it?
Danelectro DJ-13 French Toast Octave Distortion. Made in china around mid 00’s.

This one is one of the more classic designs in the series. The internet reveals that the design is 1:1 with a classic fOXX Tone Machine with added standard Dano Mini series electronic bypass switching. In other words, it is a four transistor fuzz that features a switchable octave up. There are a few schematics available, here’s one from Gaussmarkov.

DJ13-FrenchToast-guts

Looking at the schematic shows an gain stage at the input, followed by a transistor stage that is responsible for the octave up. This stage uses two germanium diodes to mangle the signal in octave mode. Diode arrangement isn’t completely different to one found in latter version of Roger Mayer’s Octavia, while the setup leading to those diodes is. On this point we have our “gain” control. Yup. You can call it what ever you want, but it is simple volume control setting the level for the next stage. After that there’s one more driver stage pushing the tone control, which isn’t completely different to one found in Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi. Not completely alike either. Finally, there is one more gain stage before pushing the signal to the the final volume control.

There have been numerous boutique clones of the Tone Machine around for years, but seeing one coming in this price range by big brand was new and exciting to me. This, in addition to Chili Dog Octave (and a few others), are the greatest offerings in Mini Series. Definitely recommended pedal – if you can look beyond the plastic housing..

How does it sound?
Wild and great. Amazing redesign if the Tone Machine. Mean, piercing up octaves. It’s in no way clean or dull, but lively with tons of harmonics, for both non-octave and octave modes. For the price – this is the closest you’ll get to having a classics Tone Machine sound.