Deep Blue Chorus
Rocktron's R& department has apparently contracted a serious case of stompbox fever, as evidenced by the recent introduction of six new pedal designs.
Made in China, these affordably priced units represent Rocktron's take on some classic effects with innovative twists and surprises added for good measure. Features include rugged extruded aluminum housings, easy-access pop-out battery compartments, AC adapter jacks, and large, skid-proof rubber feet-and dig those miniature chicken-head knobs!
The Deep Blue ($99 retail/$69 street) is a stereo chorus built around the legendary Panasonic MN3207 1,024-stage analog bucket-brigade delay chip, and it sports Rate, Depth, and Intensity controls, dual outputs, and an LED that illuminates when the effect is activated. In Mono mode, the Deep Blue enhanced perceived dimension with a deep and lusciously liquid complexity that engulfed the room with its ever-shifting sonic presence. Through two amps, it sounded breathtakingly huge.
There's just something undeniably compelling about the sound of a good analog chorus: the lush and fluid richness, the sense of density and space, and the distinctive warmth that's so difficult to emulate with digital circuitry. And unlike some chorus pedals that emphasize the upper midrange and treble ranges, the Deep Blue's chorusing is remarkably balanced with no low-end roll off-which further contributes to its sense of fullness. If you like your chorus fat and juicy, the Deep Blue is for you.
Sporting the same Panasonic MN3207 analog bucket-brigade chip as the Deep Blue chorus,
the Hypnotic Flange ($119 retail/$83 street) offers stereo outputs along with Rate, Depth, Manual (modulation delay time), Feedback, and FX/Level controls. There's also a knob labeled Trance that greatly expands the pedal's function and range by adding a random low-frequency oscillator to the mix. It was easy to extract classic flanger sounds from the Hypnotic Flange, including some thick and meaty textures reminiscent of Robin Trower and early Van Halen, and an impressive rotary-speaker simulation. The Manual control is particularly effective at altering the effect's harmonic emphasis, and the Trance control pushes this pedal over the top as it produces effects ranging from arpeggio-like sweeps to thick, wobbly chorused dementia. If you're looking for a pedal that can cover the classic flanger moves, as well as offer some hip new tricks of its own, you may find yourself mesmerized by the Hypnotic Flange.
Nitro Clean Boost
Sporting a single Boost knob and a jumbo LED status indicator,
the Nitro ($79 retail/$55 street) can provide a clean boost of up to 22dB. Driven by a low-noise, low-distortion NE5532P dual op-amp, the Nitro can easily pummel the most recalcitrant amplifier into submission, yielding more exciting and dynamic tones and textures. I found the Nitro worked especially well with a Fender Twin, as the pedal's impedance buffering enhanced detail and clarity, while extending top-end crispness and chime-perfect for adding some sparkle to country solos. Low Boost settings imparted a more responsive and lively feel, softening the amp's attack for easier playability, and cranking the Boost knob made the usually mild-mannered Twin growl with vicious authority as it adopted a more British persona. The Nitro isn't a distortion pedal in the usual sense, as it only provides a clean boost, but it's a hip choice if you're lusting for some old-school styled overdrive.
The Pulse Tremolo ($99 retail/$69 street) features Speed and Intensity controls, a large LED that pulses in sync with the oscillations,
a tiny side-mounted slide switch that selects either triangle or square-wave modes, and a Rocktron-built, LED-based optocoupler. Each optocoupler's light-sensitive resistor is specially selected for peak performance, as well as to ensure consistency from one unit to the next. It's unusual to find this sort of boutique-like obsession with component quality in a pedal this affordable.
Through a blackface Fender Super Reverb, the Pulse offered a convincing and respectable approximation of the Super's onboard tremolo (which Leo Fender stubbornly referred to as "vibrato"). In Square mode, the oscillations sounded exceptionally strong, offering very abrupt and square corners, and an assertive midrange fullness that throbbed with the percussive force of a floor tom. This could be just the ticket if you're looking for a cool-sounding tremolo that won't get swamped-out in a dense mix.
The X-Tune ($99 retail/$69 street) is an attractive chromatic tuner that features handy dual output jacks:
one that's automatically muted while you're tuning, and another that's always active. When tuning, one of 12 LEDs illuminates to indicate the nearest pitch. Above the pitch bar, two more LEDs indicate whether you're flat or sharp, and a blue LED illuminates when you're in tune. The X-Tune automatically calibrates itself to A-440 every time it's activated, unless you chose to tweak it either flat or sharp via the Calibration button. This easy-to-use feature comes in handy when you're playing with other instruments such as pianos and accordions that aren't tuned to standard A-440 pitch. In use, I found the X-Tune remarkably stable and glitch-free, as it locked onto the pitch quickly and held it consistently as I tuned the string. In fact, it's one of the fastest and most user-friendly tuners I've encountered. X-alt in tuner x-tasy with the X-Tune.
Designed to produce more extreme distortion tones, the Zombie ($99 retail/$69 street) features Bass and Treble controls, along with Scream (gain) and Louder (output level) knobs.
The Zombie's most innovative function is its Stare control, a unique function that, when turned clockwise, makes the waveform increasingly asymmetrical, producing more harmonic distortion to give the sound a more "forward" sense of projection. Make no mistake, even with the Scream knob turned all the way down, the Zombie is an extreme distortion pedal that refuses to indulge in meeker Tube Screamer-style distortion textures. Turning up the Stare control adds an impressive sense of enhanced dimension, as if the asymmetrical distortion is literally forcing sound out the speakers to command a more authoritative presence. If your metal tones have been languishing in the murky backwaters, the Zombie can thrust them into the forefront.