Pigtronix Echolution

August 1, 2009

DESIGNED IN COLLABORATION WITH THE MAN who created the Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man, Howard Davis, the Echolution ($649 retail/$479 street) employs a unique analog/digital hybrid design. “While a digital microprocessor creates the delay, two proprietary non-linear analog filters provide the soft clipping, compression, and headroom of a tapeecho,” says Pigtronix’s David Koltai. “In other words, instead of digitally modeling analog devices, the Echolution achieves its sound through extensive analog signal processing occurring before and after the digital delay section.” That topology also eliminates the bandwidth and delay-length limitations inherent in BBD-based analog delays.

Another thing that distinguishes the Echolution is the way in which its ingenious feature set and intuitive knob and switch-based user interface also put access to previously unplumbed sonic realms literally at your fingertips. The pedal’s three footswitches, eight knobs, and ten mini switches—not to mention its external footswitch and expression pedal jacks—endow it with enough real-time control capability to raise the eyebrows of even the most jaded echo head. The pedal can be used in mono or stereo, and is powered by a proprietary 15VDC adapter.

The Echolution’s global controls include knobs for Drive (input gain), Blend (effect level), Feedback, and Hi-Cut (high-frequency damping), and the pedal operates in two modes: In Modulation mode, you set the delay time using the Delay Time control (or an optional expression pedal) in conjunction with the Modulation Delay Time mini switch, which selects one of three ranges: Short (10-120ms), Medium (100ms-1.2 seconds), or Long (1-12 seconds). The Modulation section also has controls for Chorus and Tremolo depth—which may be used simultaneously—and an LFO Speed control common to both effects. In Tap-Tempo mode, you set the delay time using the Tap-Tempo footswitch, and an LED flashes to indicate the current delay length. At least three taps are required, and a “rolling average” algorithm smoothes out inconsistencies. While you can theoretically tap in delay times up to 20 seconds in length, in practice tapping in delays longer than about ten seconds is impractical.

Once the delay time has been selected, you have the option of adding in up to five additional delays—in much the same way that some vintage tape-echoes combine signals from multiple playback heads—each of which corresponds to a fraction of the total delay time: 1/3, 2/3, 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4. And here’s where it gets really interesting. You can flip a switch that reconfigures those fractional relationships according to the Golden Ratio, the mathematical formula underpinning the Golden Spiral. The Golden Ratio may or may not reveal “the rhythm of the universe” (as stated in the manual), but it certainly makes the Echolution’s multiple delays sound more rhythmically coherent in relation to the tempo, and the musical results can be fairly magical.

There’s also a Loop switch—which functions like the “Hold” button on some older digital delays, freezing an already repeating phrase, rather than setting a new loop length—and a Reverse switch, which lets you reverse longer delays and looped phrases. Both functions may also be controlled with an optional footswitch. Flipping the Trails mini switch enables echoes to fade out naturally after the delay is bypassed.

Despite its abundant controls, the Echolution is actually quite easy to use once you get the hang of it. The manual is relatively clear and concise, explaining each control in detail and taking you on a Guided Tour of all functions. It also contains 14 diagrams showing settings for some common effects.

I tested the Echolution with a PRS Custom 24 guitar and a Rivera Venus 6 combo amp—both in line and in the amp’s effects loop—to see how it performed in mono. Then, I tried it in stereo with a second amp, and also as a stereo outboard processor in my studio. The pedal worked fine in mono, but really sprang to life in stereo, sometimes creating an inexplicably wide stereo image extending several feet beyond the edges of the speakers (I found myself looking over my shoulder more than once).

For me the most important test of any delay is how harmonically robust and spacious it sounds, and a good way to determine that is to dial in a short delay with a little regeneration, play a note, and slide that note up the fretboard (think Hendrix’s “May This Be Love”), listening for what’s happening besides just a clean reproduction of the original sound. The Echolution excelled in this test, emitting cascading waves of luscious repeats. Longer delays fared equally well, except for a slight increase in noise and high-end brittleness out past around eight or ten seconds.

The Drive control—which ranges from unity gain to serious overdrive—only affects the sound when the pedal is engaged. It may be used to compensate for the overall gain loss sometimes associated with switching in delays, or to simulate the sounds some vintage tape-echoes produce when their tube preamps are overdriven—and when combined with the Hi-Cut control, it also allows you to approximate the raggedness and limited bandwidth characteristic of many analog and tape delays. Maxing the Feedback control when using shorter delay times will cause the unit to self-oscillate without digital artifacts, though not in the super-cool “spaceship taking off” way that a tape-echo or primo analog delay will.

While the Modulation section has controls for Tremolo and Chorus, they only affect the delayed signal. That means that if you want to get full-on tremolo, for example, you’ll need to max the Tremolo control and set the Blend control to 100 percent delay. It is also possible to get serviceable chorus sounds (and lots of more interesting variations), as well as rotary-speakerlike effects, but I found that using the Modulation section’s controls to process longer delays and looped phrases to be where the real action was. My only quibble is the audible wiping noise that the tremolo makes.

While the Echolution works beautifully in standard delay applications, I was most excited by its capability to produce cool and unusual new effects that you can’t get with other pedals—and almost equally important, its capacity to let you create those effects on the fly. It’s the kind of pedal you’ll want to put on a stand next to you so you’ll be able to reach over and flip switches and turn knobs as you go. And to take full advantage of its capabilities, be sure to use an expression pedal for changing delay time in Modulation mode, and a two-button footswitch for hands-free looping and reverse effects.

I experimented with the Echolution for several months and discovered myriad ways to use it both with guitar and as a studio processor. Here are a few of my favorites: Tap in a short delay on the Tap side, and program a longer delay with deep chorusing and fast oscillation on the Modulation side, then switch between them to add wild warping effects to particular notes while soloing. Layer some long delays using the Modulation side, loop them, add fractional delays to make them polyrhythmic, reverse them, and modulate them before disengaging the effect with Trails active, so that the delays fade out gradually as you transition to a new part. Do the same, but after reversing the delays, undo all of your moves and return the loop to its original form before disengaging the effect. Loop a phrase and manipulate the delay time with the Delay Time control or an expression pedal to get scratching-type effects. And finally, loop a few bars of a funky rhythm guitar part with fractional delays using the Golden Ratio to keep them even, then reverse the part and play a counterpoint riff along with it, adding the forward part to the loop if you choose.

Other than the sweeping noise, my only complaint about the Echolution is that while it has 20 seconds of delay time on the Tap side, I was unable to tap in delays longer than about eight seconds. And, even if you can “tap” in 20-second delays, the required three taps would take 60 seconds to execute, which is silly. That said, 20-second delays are not really what this pedal is about, and the majority of users will likely find the 12 seconds of delay time available in the Modulation section more than adequate. Despite its quirks, however, the Echolution’s unique features, superb sound, uncanny stereo imaging, and finger-friendly controls earn it a place among the classics in the Echo Hall of Fame.

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