Review: Data Corrupter Modulated Monophonic Harmonizing PLL

Whether you walk on the wild side, or wear your bike helmet inside elevators, the Data Corrupter delivers a ton of inspiration to both camps.
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As guitarists who love to experiment with bizarre sounds, how could we pass up anything called a “modulated monophonic harmonizing PLL?” The phrase itself almost makes no sense, unless you’re one of the science nerds on The Big Bang Theory. But it portends secret labs and clandestine government agencies messing with the fabric of time and space, so count us in.

There actually is a boatload of science in the Data Corrupter ($225 street), and if you truly believe the mysteries of PLL—or phase locked loop—technology, it dates back to 1673 and some wacky Dutch physicist goofing around with pendulums. Fast forward a few hundred years to 1932, and you have the British deploying the PLL concept to both strengthen and stabilize telecommunication signals. A relatively quick trip of four decades later, RCA comes up with its CD 4046 CMOS Phase Locked Loop IC, which ends up sometime around the early 2000s in John Schumann’s PLL analog harmonizer—a rare and much-sought effects box for sonic alchemists and iconoclasts that can currently fetch prices of more than $2,000 for a used model—and, thanks to Schumann’s particular madness, a pre-war telecommunications circuit becomes a musical tool.

The Data Corrupter is perhaps a more intuitive and stable device for plugging in guitars, basses, and keyboards, but it’s still faithful to Schumann’s PLL concept—which is to viciously morph an input signal into something buzzy, fuzzy, and completely unique. You get three voices to tinker with: Square (a wonderful fuzz tone), Subharmonic (with eight octave/interval options), and Master Oscillator. There is also a Frequency Modulator switch that works in Glide mode (a portamento slide between notes) or Vibrato mode (the pitch modulates up and down for very cool sci-fi laser effects). A three-voice mixer gives you ultimate control over the blend of synth sounds.

As a guitar pedal, the Data Corrupter tracks an input signal so accurately that it’s downright frightening. That’s a very good thing if you worry about that stuff, but we were somewhat disappointed that the pedal zip-locked itself to our performance gestures. Happily, the manual warns that chords and sloppy playing will result in chaotic tracking, and we say, “Do it!” It was so much fun to roll back the Volume on a guitar and hear the Data Corruptor struggle to track the signal. The randomness and tonal surprises can be fantastic, and part of the joy here is pushing the pedal beyond its limits just to see what happens. After all, you don’t buy a “Data Corruptor” to craft pristine, ’70s-approved guitar tones that revel in their awesomely forthright conventionality, do you? In fact, for one test, we let Armageddon rage by plugging the output of an EarthQuaker Rainbow Machine pitch-shifter into the Data Corruptor and simply sustaining one note.

Less adventurous types can cut back on the mayhem, and use the Data Corruptor to produce sustained, tortured fuzz reminiscent of a ’70s Electro-Harmonix Micro Synthesizer, as well as other cool fuzz flavors. You could also work out your Jan Hammer obsession with its lessferal synth-like tones, lord over your friends by demonstrating its marvelous prog-rock-inspired lead sounds, get all “Baba O’Riley” by emulating sequencer pads, or simply dedicate the pedal as your “horror-flick effects generator” and call yourself an soundtrack auteur. Whether you walk on the wild side, or wear your bike helmet inside elevators, the Data Corrupter delivers a ton of inspiration to both camps. Any pedal that can be so outright bizarre, and simultaneously so usable, earns not only a place on the bridge of our starship, but an Editors’ Pick Award to boot!

KUDOS Incredibly intuitive design. Conjures strange and beautiful noises.
CONCERNS Not for the faint of heart. Bravery required.