Distortion pedals have been chasing the “overdriven tube” sound ever since the advent of the Ibanez TS-808 in the late ’70s. Some have gotten closer than others to the harmonically rich distortion that tubes typically produce when driven into saturation, and 30-something years hence, it’s probably fairest to say that many distortion pedals can deliver tube-flavored tones, but not necessarily the same tones and/or feel that tubes produce.
The H.A.L.O. pedal ($399 street), however, may have gotten the closest to this goal having been designed from the ground up to give you a ton of control over even-order harmonics, with the end result being overdriven tones that capture both the complexity and the dynamic response of a good high-gain tube circuit.
The H.A.L.O. (which stands for “harmonic amp-like overdrive”) is equipped with two gain circuits that are selected via footswitch. A second Bypass switch kicks the effect in or out. The Gain 1 and Gain 2 controls set the overall distortion level, with Gain 2 bringing on more gain when turned past 12 o’clock. Adjacent to these is the Tone control followed by Level 1 and Level 2 controls, which are the respective “masters” for the Gain knobs. The EQ consists of Bass, Contour, and Presence, and there are two switches: a 3-position Shape that activates symmetrical clipping, asymmetrical clipping, or clean boost; and a bypassable Saturation switch that adds gain and compression after the Gain controls (selectable for Gain 2 only or both). Other features include a slide-out drawer for the 9-volt battery, status LEDs for bypass and Gain select, and a DC power input. The H.A.L.O. has 217 components—a lot for a distortion pedal—which explains both its cost and somewhat hefty appetite for batteries.
Despite having a myriad of functions, I found the H.A.L.O. very easy to use. After a little experimenting with the Shape and Saturation switches, I opted to use the former’s “clean boost” setting (i.e. minimal compression and harmonic enhancement), and set the latter switch to “off.” From there I put the Bass and Contour knobs at around two o’clock, Presence at 11 o’clock, Gain 1 at 10 o’clock, and Gain 2 a bit past noon. With the Tone knob at 10 o’ clock, the H.A.L.O. delivered a very rich and dynamic distortion tone from a PRS Modern Eagle II running through either a Fender Deluxe Reverb or a Victoria Silver Sonic (both amps set relatively clean). On gigs I’ve been using Gain 1 almost exclusively for both grungy rhythm tones and solos—only kicking in Gain 2 when extra sustain was needed, which is accompanied by a small but noticeable increase in treble. The distortion tones are super touch sensitive, slipping easily into singing sustain when you dig into the strings, and there’s lot’s to like about the midrange complexity, low-end focus, and sweetness of the highs. I’m also impressed by how dynamically responsive this pedal is—it’s very much like a tube amp in that regard.
The H.A.L.O. sounds smooth and non-raspy whether delivering lightly overdriven rhythm tones or over-the-top sustain, making it very adaptable to many styles, particularly if the sound and feel of overdriven tubes is what you seek from a pedal. —Art Thompson
Authentic tube-style distortion and lots of ways to shape the sounds.
May be too similar sounding if you already have a good high-gain tube amp.