Review: T-Rex Soul Mate

If you tour regularly, gig around town a lot, play in church on Sunday mornings, or just go to lots of rehearsals and jams, then anytime you leave the house with your guitar you are likely faced with that age-old question: “Which pedals do I feel like stomping on today?
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If you tour regularly, gig around town a lot, play in church on Sunday mornings, or just go to lots of rehearsals and jams, then anytime you leave the house with your guitar you are likely faced with that age-old question: “Which pedals do I feel like stomping on today?” Before long—especially if you get on planes often (where size and weight become restrictive factors)—that question may soon become, “Isn’t there a simple, easy-to-use, lightweight, all-in-one effects box I can bring that has enough pro sounds and features to get me through the gig?”

Heading out for a recent run of shows in Europe with Jefferson Starship, I was in that very quandary, and for perhaps the first time ever, I said, “Screw it, I’m leaving my pedal-board at home.” Instead of hauling that heavy bundle of stompboxes, power supplies, and patch cables along with me, I tossed a T-Rex SoulMate ($599) into my suitcase.

The SoulMate is aimed at specific niche: Those guitarists who like the plug-and-play simplicity and portability of a floorboard multi-effector, yet have little interest in digital amp modeling, MIDI assignability, effects menu mazes, or squatting on the floor at soundcheck editing patches. In Bank mode, the SoulMate does allow you to assign different effects combinations to the individual footswitches, thus mitigating the “tap dance” factor involved with switching between said effects combinations mid-song, but that’s the extent of its program-mability. Though modern in look, the SoulMate’s chrome-ringed knobs are entirely old-school in function—in other words, utterly and wonderfully unprogrammable. I anticipate most players will run the SoulMate as I did: in Live mode, where each footswitch activates a single effect.

Sonically, the SoulMate keeps things simple, presenting the four effects that guitarists use most—overdrive, distortion, delay, and reverb (based on T-Rex’s popular Moller, Mudhoney, Replica, and RoomMate pedals, respectively). There is also a footswitchable volume boost, tuner, and quarter-note-based tap-tempo function for syncing delays to the groove. Sixteen knobs on the face of the unit control effects parameters. Boost level is set with a cool pop-out knob on the rear panel of the SoulMate’s handsome brushed-aluminum hull.

The SoulMate onstage with a Marshall JCM 2000 half-stack in Aschaffenburg, Germany.

In conjunction with classic Marshalls, Voxes, and other amps with low-headroom preamp circuits, the SoulMate’s Boost easily pushes the amp into a toothy overdrive. However, being that I play with Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famer Paul Kantner—who likes to crank Rickenbacker 12-strings loudly through two wide-open Fender Twins—I found the Boost most useful when it was paired with high-headroom amps such as the backline Fender and Mesa rigs I used in Bergamo and Bolzano, Italy, respectively. With those amps set clean, the Boost provided a handy volume increase that projected lead parts over the din of the band.

The SoulMate’s four effects unite to deliver a versatile and pleasing sonic palette. When I wanted habanero-hot high-gain sizzle, I’d step on the distortion. On most songs, though, the overdrive was my go-to lead tone. With more than enough drive and volume to make the single-coils on my Strat and Tele sing confidently—as well as the ability to sharpen articulation by infusing clean signal via the Blend knob—it proved a very useful drive circuit. And when bombastic feedback was called for, I’d run both drives at once and hold the guitar up to the speakers.

The delay was great for everything from simple slap-back echoes to Echoplex-style ray gun freakouts created via mid-song knob twisting à la Tommy Bolin. The delay section also has a handy bonus feature: modulation. A modest clockwise twist of its Chorus knob adds a pleasant warble to the repeats. Cleverly applied, this can create the impression the SoulMate has an independent modulation effect onboard (which it doesn’t). The SoulMate’s other time-based effect is the reverb, which generously offers four different flavors, including a warm-sounding “spring” setting, and an LFO voicing for those who like a touch of chorus-y frequency oscillation.

For me, a chief selling point of the SoulMate is its effects loop. This is a truly pro feature that some similar all-in-one products don’t offer. For starters, the loop is very welcome if you want to insert, say a chorus pedal post-overdrive/distortion (so it doesn’t sound muddy) but pre-delay (so the echoes aren’t chorused). More gratifying than that, though, is the ability to run the SoulMate’s drive effects in front of an amp while patching the delay and reverb into the amp’s loop (in other words, after its preamp). It’s only via this four-cable approach that you can enjoy clear delay and ’verb effects in conjunction with over-driven amp tones. Include a volume pedal in the loop, and you can control your amp’s level without sacrificing preamp gain (a very useful application at church gigs when bands often need to drop below speaking voices).

Of course, no effects box is perfect, and if you gig with this stellar offering from T-Rex for a couple weeks, you may notice some tiny but forgivable flaws. For instance, with amps set really loud, the SoulMate’s housing can, like many pedals, become a smidge microphonic if you tap on it. The delay offers no dotted-eighth tap-tempo subdivision, making Edge-style rhythmic ricochets hard to achieve on the fly. There’s a miniscule volume dip when the reverb is engaged. And while the reverb sounds deliciously dimensional when the SoulMate is run in stereo through two amps, stereo “ping pong” echoes from the delay section are unfortunately not on the menu. And while I love that the SoulMate’s universal power supply comes with U.S., Euro- and U.K.-appropriate outlet adaptors, it’s a wall-wart that takes up two spaces on most power strips, and it has a thin cord that is not only flimsy feeling, it’s so short you’ll need an outlet fairly close to your feet to plug it in. Lastly, the tuner’s primitive, three-LED display is a bit slow to respond and doesn’t instill a feeling of über-accuracy.

Overall, though, from the Euro tour to a church gig to a show with up-and-coming pop singer Anna Renee Roberts, I enjoyed every moment I spent gigging with the SoulMate. It sounds great and is an aesthetically pleasing clutter killer. If you like clear tones, a clean stage, and a light suitcase, you may find the SoulMate to be an excellent travel companion.

Kudos Tasty tones. Onboard tuner and effects loop. Custom canvas carrying case.

Concerns Tuner feels less evolved than the other features.