The delay pedal field has long been split into old-school analog – promising tonal warmth and richness – and new-school digital – promising power and versatility. The Dark Echo (retail $199/street N/A), however, stands proud with a foot in each bucket. Built by Jack Deville Electronics in Portland, OR, with early design consultation from guitarist Cameron Morgan, the Dark Echo utilizes the functionality of a digital echo processor, but combines that with a fully analog dry signal path and analog support circuitry. This means the proportion of the un-echoed signal determined by the Blend knob setting remains entirely analog, while a digitally-produced delay blended into it creates the echo effect (meanwhile, true bypass switching ensures that your “off” signal remains entirely analog, too). It’s already a clever way to approach an echo pedal, but the Dark Echo has further tricks up its opaque sleeve.
Constructed in a compact, black crinkle-finish metal box measuring just 4.25" x 2.25" x1.25", the Dark Echo sports engraved silver logos and legends on its top face. Controls include the standard knobs for Blend, Repeats, and Time (length of delay, from 50ms–450ms), and the single input and output and center-negative 9V adaptor jack are all par for the course, but this pedal’s added dimension reveals itself in the enigmatically-named Sway knob. The Sway circuit applies a triangle wave to modulate the delayed portion of the signal. Set fully counter-clockwise Sway is off, but rotating it through its sweep changes the intensity and frequency of the modulation simultaneously, but in an inverse relationship. Lower settings yield a faster speed with a lower intensity, higher settings produce higher modulation intensities at a slower speed. In addition to the external controls, the Dark Echo carries an internal output volume trim-pot that provides up to +12 dB of gain (the unit ships set to unity gain).
Used as a plain old echo pedal, the Dark Echo offers a smooth, warm tone that I might have guessed was totally analog if I hadn’t known better. Repeats darken progressively in a manner that’s musically pleasing, and the overall performance certainly leans toward vintage-styled delay tone, with just a little noise behind the decay of the echoed notes. Despite the digital engine, there are no super-long echoes to be had here. Delay times run from an effective slap-back to an atmospheric 450ms chop. The Repeat control functions as expected, and can even drive the pedal into oscillation for special effects (and since the signal runs through the delay circuitry even when bypassed, you can begin your feedback oscillations at any time, then kick them in mid-riff for some wild affects). The Dark Echo would be a fun and hip-sounding delay pedal even if it only carried the upper three knobs, but the Sway function adds a deeper dimension still. Sway’s a bit counterintuitive in that it affects your tone more at shorter delay times, since the modulated repeats are coming at you in tighter bunches, but stretch out your Time setting and you feel its subtle depths better. I liked it most when added judiciously to medium and longer delay settings, which added a hypnotic shimmer to the echoed signal, increasing this little delay pedal’s “wow” factor exponentially. With shorter delays, however, Sway can get a touch nauseating—a trick for sheer noise production and retro space-age special effects. Even as such, it’s a groovy addition to a tasty little delay pedal. —Dave Hunter
Contact: Jack Deville Electronics, (510) 326-4645; jackdeville.com.