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Source Audio Orbital Modulator

January 30, 2014
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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.
Contact sourceaudio.net

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