27 June 2013

Pedal Effects: Strymon El Capistan - First contact


Well, I never realized how important a Delay pedal is until I went to mix in the box by myself. Then, I've understood the importance of ambience restauration or recreation.

Despite of the expensive outboard gear used in Studios, it seemed to me a nice idea to have a nice delay that could change the ambience of my sound and better set the guitar in the right depth in the mix.

For sure, for a budget, TC Electronics Flashback gives you any kind of delay type and a reasonable sound. More expensive, Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay is hard to beat when used with distortion.

I am not a delay hacker. I am not going to create multi-echoed delays (a la U2) or any other kind of creative delay (well, who knows in the future!). My interest focus on a delay pedal that can put the guitar in the right space and depth in the mix, that's all.

Testing several delay types, I've decided that the delay type I was looking for was the Tape Echo type. I guess, this is because the most of commercial records were made with some EchoPlex unit and, there are a lot of top notch guitarists that rely on these units (as Brian May, that works with a couple of them!).

So nice so sad. Price of real tape echo units, as the EP 2 is unaffordable for a guitar aficionado. That's the truth. Even if it was possible, those kind of devices need a lot of maintenance to have them always in an optimal working status.

Therefore, next step was to look for some delay pedal that just could suit my needs.

Indeed, Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay is one of the best all purpose delay units. It works incredible good with distortion effects and, it just enhances the sound, when used with caution. If you overdo the effect, you can start to hear some digital artifacts (digititis) but, overall, it's highly recommended as a "plug & play" pedal. Easy to set up, awesomely sounding.

Then, I wanted to explore Tape Echo emulations and, went for a Wampler Faux Tape Echo delay. It's also a nice pedal but, to be honest, while it works really nice for clean sounds, it tends to wash distortion sounds and, to thin and edge the sound.

Probably because of that voltage issues I was discussing in my previous entry or, maybe because the pedal sounds like this. I don't know. But the truth is that I had better distortion results with the Mad Professor's one. And, I had better clean results with the Wampler's one.

To be honest, I was lately weighting whether to use Mad Professor's or Wampler's one in my pedalboard. But, in the meanwhile, I was reading lot of people talking about Strymon delay units and, I've reviewed Youtube entries and was very interested on what I've heard. So, I bought an Strymon El Capistan as my last try in delay effects.

Today, I was able to check how El Capistan worked and, this entry will discuss about such a pedal and my first impressions.

Analog, Digital?

Everybody knows it: an analog delay delivers warmer tones than a digital one. This is a drawback of using digitial audio technology. But be careful, an analog delay isn't the cup of everybody!. Maxon AD-999 Analog Delay (top notch in analog delays) wasn't my cup.

Most of digital delays have at least one mode that emulates an Analog delay.
A Tape Echo type delay is just emulating an analog delay: usually, an EchoPlex 2 unit.
You will see a wide offer for this kind of delay, including Carl Martin, Fulltone, among other large list of pedal makers.

Some pedal maker will try to convince you that their digital pedal is less digital than it seems. So, a typical selling argument is "the unprocessed signal uses a true analogical path". And, ok, that's good, indeed but, what happens to the processed (wet) signal?.

When we were discussing about digital audio, in my past entry: Home Studio: Mixing - Part 1, we tolk about the importance of AD/DA converters and, how they become a key feature to achieve the most natural (whitin the boundaries of digital audio) sound.
And, just about this is what pedal makers should had to talk about: the quality of their AD/DA converters.

We assume that we have a digital unit so, don't sell snake oil, just tell us about the quality of your converters and, the quality of the processing components you are using in your pedals.

Fortunately, Strymon isn't focusing on how analog is the (already) analog unprocessed signal but, he enhances the quality of its AD/DA converters, that are working with a resolution of 24 bits at 96 KHz of sampling ratio. And, that's a good resolution. I would personally prefer 32 bits at 48 KHz (or 96 KHz) but...

Some characteristics and Sound

One thing that surprised me is the light weight of this unit. Maybe it's using aluminium box?. I dunno but, it really weights nothing compared to the rest of my pedals.

You can read anywhere else the huge list of characteristics that this pedal has (this, just emulating a Tape Echo machine) and, you can bet that you could tweak the pedal to the extreme, to suit your needs. But, I've just tested it as it came stock.

To me, it was so easy to dial the delay sound as if I was using the Deep Blue Delay. Just some tweaks in the controls and everything started to sound really good. Not the case of the Wampler Tape Echo, that drives me crazy.

Wampler's unit is able to generate echos that are loudest than the original sound and, this adds confusion to the resulting sound. As far as I see, El Capistan is creating echoes always under the original signal level.

For my needs, I went just for the Single Head / Type A emulation. With all controls at noon, I already had an usable sound but, I wanted to roll back a bit the Mix, Repeats and Time. Very intutitive, as the Deep Blue Delay is.

I've checked also the effect of Tape Age and Warble&Flute knobs.
The Tape Age works very similar to a Tone control, achieving the brighter position at left hand. It was really sweet and, I've never got the excessive high end that I can hear in Wampler's unit.
The Warble knob adds some modulation to the sound and, works really nice.

Overall, I was greatly surprised with the resulting sound. It works flawless with distortion pedals (as the Mad Professor's does) and with clean stuff (as the Wampler's does).
In Youtube videos, it sounded to me a bit in the bright side and, I was wondering if it would sound as the Wampler's one but, in real work, it sounded really natural and, it's very easy to match the tone of the delay to the amp's tone with small tweaks on the knobs.

That AD/DA converters are working really fine and, the sound is very natural, open, dynamic and organic.
This time, I've ran Wampler Decibel+, Wampler Ego Compressor and Wampler Euphoria at 18V, to compensate the drop in voltage of my mains line. Weehbo PlexDrive and JCM Drive worked with dynamic switch at 18V also. I've also put the Drybell Vibe Machine at 18V and, everything sounded killer.
I was enjoying a lot this testing session.

I didn't heard the typical digital artifacts of digital delay units. Maybe, because I never went to extreme settings and, maybe because of the quality of converters.

To be continued...

I am gonna experiment a lot more with this unit to have a final verdict but, what I've seen up to now is that, for what I want it, it has the best characteristics of both, Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay and Wampler Faux Tape Echo and, none of their drawbacks.

The sound is clear, open, defined and, echo tails sound very natural to me.
It has more features than I need but, the one I really need it does with spades.
Very recommendable delay unit, if you are after a Tape Echo emulation pedal!.

If I feel inspired, I will come back with some specific video. Otherwise, the Strymon will sound in any video made by me in a future, beginning today.

Nice work, Strymon!.

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