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Stompbox Fever: Origin Effects Cali76 and SlideRig

October 22, 2013
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FEW PIECES OF STUDIO GEAR ARE AS REVERED as the Urei 1176 Peak Limiter, designed by Bill Punam and originaly introduced in 1967. Employing Field Effect Transistors (FETs) to control gain, the various iterations of the 1176 impart a special magic to nearly any sound that’s run through them—including electric and acoustic guitars. In addition to handling standard compression and limiting functions superbly, the 1176 adds a distinctive brightness and clarity, as well as a bit of bite when pushed (especially with its four Ratio buttons engaged simultaneously in the fabled “All Buttons In” mode). Origin Effects’ Simon Keats, who is a guitarist as well as a veteran pro audio designer, has sought to capture some of that 1176 lightning in three pedals optimized for guitar. “Attack and release times have been customized to suit guitar and bass in an effort to create a pedal that doesn’t have any ‘bad’ settings,” explains Keats. “The attack has a wider sweep than the original, and the release is capable of faster response times, providing greater resolution in the useful areas. The pedals also feature a fully discrete preamplifier very similar to circuits found in mixing consoles manufactured in the 1960s by British companies such as Neve and Helios.”

CALI 76 LIMITING AMPLIFIER

The Cali76 ($339 direct) features an entirely class-A discrete signal path based on the 1176’s topology, but condensed by eliminating parts not essential to producing guitar-friendly sounds. It has the same Input, Output, Attack, and Release controls, but instead of the four Ratio buttons there’s a knob that spans the range between 4:1 and 20:1, and the old-school multifunction meter has been replaced with an LED VU meter designed to better handle the Cali76’s faster release times.

Internally, you can choose between True Bypass and Buffered Bypass modes by changing the positions of four tiny jumpers (Buffered Bypass helps maintain signal integrity when multiple pedals or longer cables are involved). Similarly, by changing the position of the Input Sensitivity jumper to one of four optional settings, you can pad the input’s gain response, resulting in additional headroom for accommodating hotter input levels. Inside is also where the 9-volt battery resides, providing about 50 hours of good-quality operation, though the unit performs even better when fed up to 18 volts from an optional regulated power supply such as the one available from Origin ($27).

I tested the Cali76 with a variety of guitars and amps, and although it responded to each a little differently, the results were uniformly stellar. I was able to dial in everything from a supersubtle high-end sheen to gorgeous sustained notes and chords that still retained an expressive dynamic range and clear articulation to massive amounts of merciless squashing—all without introducing noise and odd artifacts except on the most extreme settings. It also played well with several fuzz and distortion pedals—placed both before and after them in the signal chain—and did wonders when taming wildly erratic EBow lines. Of course, the Cali76 isn’t exactly a plug-n-play pedal, and therefore you do need to have at least a basic working knowledge of compressors to achieve optimal results. But once you familiarize yourself with the controls you’ll be delighted with the variety and quality of the sounds you’ll be able to conjure up.

Kudos Brilliant design. Excellent build quality. Exceptional sound.
Concerns May be a little pricey for some.

CALI 76 LIMITING AMPLIFIER TRANSFORMER-OPTION

Although the Cali76 is a pedal, it works so well and sounds so good that you may be tempted to use it as an “outboard” processor in recording and live sound applications. To that end—or just to increase your sound crafting and connectivity options generally—you may want to go for the Transformer-Option version ($469 direct), which sports a class-A discrete output amplifier driving a custom-designed output transformer, a fully balanced and electronically isolated 1/4" Line/DI output with Ground Lift and Pad switches (allowing you to connect the unit to gear of nearly any type, and drive even the longest cable runs), and a 1/4” Amplifier output equipped with a High/ Low Gain switch (which lets you drive the output amplifier for greater harmonic complexity and at least a hint of classic “All Buttons In” crunchiness).

As far as sound goes, the Transformer-Option version actually performs even better than the standard Cali76 when used as a guitar pedal, and I was also able to integrate it into my UA Apollo/ Pro Tools 11 recording system without a hitch. So, considering the enhanced performance and connectivity, and the “two-fer” aspect of also getting a great analog outboard processor, the additional expense seems a mere pittance.

Kudos Brilliant design. Excellent build quality. Exceptional sound. Flexible routing options.
Concerns May be a little pricey for some.

SLIDE RIG DUAL-CHAINED LIMITING AMPLIFIER

Lowell George’s clean but highly sustained tone on Little Feat’s Dixie Chicken album served as the inspiration for the SlideRig ($379 direct). Apparently, George daisy chained a pair of 1176s together ahead of his amp—and that’s essentially what is going on within this pedal. The SlideRig contains two Cali76 circuits “utilized in a true dual-chained topology,” in addition to the same class-A discrete preamp and other similar components found in that pedal. The SlideRig may be powered either by a 9-volt battery or an optional power supply.

There are identical sets of Output, Ratio, and Input/Comp controls on the outside of the pedal, and inside you’ll find jumpers for choosing between three Attack and Release speeds (Slow, Medium, and Fast) for each compressor, along with a jumper for selecting True/Buffered Bypass. You’ll also find two levels of Treble-Lift, should you wish to restore some of the high frequencies typically rolled off when heavily compressing signals. An On footswitch engages the effect and activates the Rhythm controls on the right side of the pedal, whereas the Solo footswitch activates the Solo controls on the left side of the pedal (both compressors are always on), effectively providing two user presets.

Suffice to say that the SlideRig possesses pretty much the same basic sonic virtues as its siblings—but with the added capability of exceeding all reasonable limits when it comes to smashing signals into submission. You can get almost supernatural levels of silky sustain that are still very musical sounding, but there’s also the capability to go bonkers and make the pedal pump, breathe, spit, and sputter in ways that would likely give Joe Meek goosebumps.

Kudos Brilliant design. Excellent build quality. Exceptional sound.
Concerns May be a little pricey for some.
Contact origineffects.com

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