Visual Sound VS-XO Overdrive

The Visual Sound VS-XO churns out everything from blues grit to massively saturated sustain.
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Visual Sound has been making pedals prized by professionals for nearly two decades. A Spring Hill, Tennessee, location puts them in shouting distance of Nashville, where you regularly see Visual Sound pedals on boards in bars up and down Broadway. Elsewhere, these sturdily built, great-sounding effects might be obscured by the hubbub about the latest boutique maker, but the company’s new VS-XO Premium Dual Overdrive ($179 street) should break through the chat-room static.

The VS-XO offers two separate drives in a traditional rectangular housing. A few might miss the unique V2 series case—with the ridge that protected the knobs and the distinctive chevron shape, but the more standard V3 design affords extra room for knobs and switches, while maintaining a pedalboard-friendly size. The footswitches are more typical looking than the V2-series’ mushroom-shaped version, though still featuring the buffered “Pure Tone” system rated at ten million cycles. They also remain blissfully quiet—mechanically and electronically—and a new switching feature allows you to go under the hood and change either or both to true bypass.

Each channel has Drive, Tone, and Volume controls. The left side sports a small Bass control that ranges from bass cut to bass boost, and the right channel has two slider switches. Clipping chooses among three clipping voices and Bass selects one of three bass levels: slight cut, slight boost, and more boost. A small Clean Mix knob on the right channel lets you blend in a parallel clean sound from boost only—unaffected by Tone, or Drive—to full effect. The VS-XO sports separate ins and outs for each side. Going into the right channel input and out the left channel lets you internally drive left with right. To reverse the path you go into the left channel and use a short guitar cable from the left output into the right input, and then go out of the right output. This dual I/O arrangement also lets you control each side separately in a MIDI switching system.

I tested the VS-XO with a Fender Strat and a Gibson Luther Dickinson ES-335 through a Fender Blues Junior and a Little Walter 50-watt head. The right channel offered a Tube Screamer-style mid-bump, but, unlike that classic pedal, I was able to choose the amount of attack compression with the voice switch, and tailor the amount of bass to the guitar—more for the Strat, less for the Luther’s P-90 pickups. The left channel served up a tonally balanced drive with a softer attack. Both sides were extremely dynamic, responding beautifully to guitar volume and pick attack. The left side drive and the right side clean boost were virtually transparent too, allowing the individual character of each instrument to shine through clearly.

With the Visual Sound VS-XO I was able to churn out everything from blues grit to massively saturated sustain. And from one extreme to the other the pedal sounded not just amp-like, but like a well-mastered record. Nothing groundbreaking here: just a cornucopia of Editors’ Pick-worthy overdrive tone!

KUDOS Multiple options of terrific-sounding, professional-quality drive in a pedalboard-friendly package.