If the Orbital Modulator ($169 street) from Source Audio wasn’t my favorite
pedal at this year’s NAMM Show, it was in the
top two. Although it appears to be essentially
a collection of 12 different chorus, flange, and
phase flavors (plus tremolo!), the Orb Mod
actually goes way beyond that generous
offering by giving you crazy control over how
you modulate and manipulate those effects.
The results range from trad to rad to mindbending,
all with righteous sonic quality.
I plugged a PRS SC58 into the OM then into
a Bad Cat Hot Cat. Being an unabashed chorus
guy, I selected the Quad Chorus setting and was
blown away by what I heard: not just rich, dimensional
chorusing—it definitely had that—but
incredibly quiet operation, impressive low end,
and no seasick out-of-tuneness that bedevils
so many chorus pedals. Cruising through the
other effect choices revealed loads of thick,
chewy sounds, with the Thru Zero Flange and
8 Stage Phaser being particularly bitchin’. If that
was all you got with this box, I would still give it
a high recommendation. But you get more—a
lot more. Let’s dive in.
The two most obvious parameters for each
effect are controlled by the Depth and Speed
knobs. Simple enough, right? Things get more
interesting when you hit the Option Select
button. This button cycles through six parameters
that you then adjust with the Option knob.
It’s a little confusing at first, but you get used to
it. It works something like this. The first Option is
labeled Delay/Freq. When you’re using a chorus
or flange, the Option knob determines how long
or short the delay time is between the dry and
modulated signals. With phasers, this controls
the center frequency of the phased sound. There
are vast ranges of cool tones to be found by
messing with even just this option.
Hit the Option Select button again and you
get control over the Feedback parameter. Next
up is Volume, which can give you up to +6dB of
boost—awesome for anyone who feels like they
lose something when they engage a modulation
effect. And, speaking of losing something, many
players feel like chorus pedals rob low end. Enter
LoRETAIN, our next option, which does what the name suggests and gives rise to uncommonly fulland
clear-sounding effects by allowing you to only
apply the modulation above a certain frequency.
Depending on how you set it, it’s possible to have,
say, a wacky, undulating phaser on the top strings
while your low E rings normally. Wild!
The next thing on the Option Select button is
labeled Tremolo. Why not just have that on the
Effect selector knob, you ask? Good question.
The answer is because the trem on the OM is not
used instead of the other effects, but in addition
to them. This creates swirly, dreamy, vertiginous
sounds that are deep and cool.
We’re still not done. In classic Source Audio fashion,
this box also lets you choose between several
different modulation sources with the Mod Source
knob. You get sine wave (for more traditional effect
sounds), square wave (for more extreme, choppy
phase tones and great “yow-yow” resonator textures),
and envelope follower, which allows you to
bring the effect in with your pick attack.
Okay, so that’s all this pedal can do, right?
Nope. You can also do a ton of awesome things
by using an expression pedal, a Hot Hand ($149
wireless, $35 wired, sold separately) ring controller,
or MIDI to tweak parameters in real time. I’m a fan
of the Hot Hand and so I hooked it up to the Orb
Mod and used it on a flange sound. If I strummed
slowly, I just got a gentle, hollow-sounding swoosh
on my chords, but if I shook the ring violently, I
was rewarded with insane warbles. I could regulate
how much flanging crept in by how I moved
my hand. If you’ve never tried it or witnessed it, it
really is a whole new way to experience effects.
It takes some getting used to, but once you get
it dialed, it’s a very organic, dynamic, constantly
shifting musical sound.
After you choose your effect type, adjust your
parameters, and select your modulation source,
you can store it as one of the two presets. And
you should do so as soon as you get everything
set, because with so many options it’s somewhat
difficult to replicate tones. The Orbital Modulator
is a deep, deep machine and, if you’re not careful,
you can get lost in it. I’m a veteran tweaker and I
rarely read manuals before diving in, but I actually
read through this manual twice before I could
explore what the box has to offer. Thankfully, all
of the default settings sound great right off the
bat, and they’re easy enough to modify with just
the Speed and Depth knobs. Plus, holding down
the option button until the lights flash recalls all
the factory settings.
This is a gorgeous-sounding collection of modulation
effects that can be as plug-and-play simple
or down-the-rabbit-hole complicated as you want
it to be. It’s a truly stunning array of options and,
combined with the pristine sound quality, it’s an
insane deal at this price. Nicely done.
Kudos Beautiful effects sounds. Unreal
flexibility. Awesome value.
Concerns Interface can be confusing.
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