Few things divide modern guitarists and gearheads as much as opinions of digital multi-effects pedals. One camp thinks you can neither clone a classic nor iron out their imperfections: if you want “that” sound, just get the vintage stompbox. The other side favors digital innovation, having a library of well-crafted tones on hand, and the convenience of all of this in a single package.
This week on TPS, Dan & Mick wade further into the world of modulation and see how the Strymon Mobius Modulation pedal sounds when played alongside some of the iconic effects it aims to recreate. These include: the Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress (flanger), the Boss CE-2 (chorus), and the MXR Phase 100 (phaser). As Dan forecasted at the outset of the episode, “it’s as close as That Pedal Show will ever come to ‘this pedal vs. that pedal.’”
In addition to some dramatic moments (including the first-ever TPS on air string break) and disclosure of deep personal information (we learn Dan’s favorite ice cream flavor is Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia—there’s a surprise), the compare and contrast between the Mobius and its small-format counterparts revealed there are pluses and minuses on both sides of the leger. To this end, rather than force a decision or declare a winner, let’ do a quick rundown of the assets of both multi-effects and solo pedals.
Where the Multi-Effect Mobius Wins
If anyone can pull off digital renditions of effects and pack loads of them into a single box, it’s definitely the team over at Strymon. Just ask the hoards of Strymon faithful that never leave home without their Timeline delay engine or Big Sky reverb machine. So why might the Mobius be a solid choice for modulation maniacs?
One of the most obvious advantages of a multi-effect pedal, like the Mobius, is its convenience factor. Unless you find yourself in a Bryan Adams tribute band—or maybe covering the odd Ryan Adams song—chances are you won’t be loading fourteen different modulated effects onto your board for a gig. Yet what about that one solo where you want to kick in the phaser or that bridge where you toss in some flanger? With a pedal like the Mobius you can do that without lugging around all those singular pedals for some momentary uses.
In addition to this, Dan highlighted the inevitable problem with vintage effects: their components simply weren’t build to last. Contemporary effects, particularly digital ones, not only have a long shelf life they also allow many of us a degree of access to effects from the past we otherwise could never afford or have the opportunity to play. For Dan, “a lot of vintage electronics are going to break down, but that’s another big box ticked for the Mobius.”
Apart from matters of usability, the Mobius is not shy on stellar tones. Take, for example, the chorus options on board. As Dan & Mick hailed, the Boss CE-2w Waza Craft is closer to a CE-1 than any modded CE-2 on the market. On its own, then, it is a force to be reckoned with. In the other corner, the Mobius weighs in with a whopping five variations on chorus with prescribed parameters to chase down the particular sounds of the analogue, bucket brigade sound of the ‘first compact pedal chorus,’ otherwise known as the Boss CE-1. After tag-teaming the classic chorus opening riff of “Run to You,” Mick happily acknowledged, “That’s not bad! I think that’s pretty impressive.”
Where the Solo Effect Pedals Win
Like your clunky first car, part of the magic of vintage (or good reissued) effects is their imperfections. Part of what makes them what they are is the added noise they produce, the unplanned frequency jangles, or the way their sounds even change with age. Yet it is such aspects of their tone that are either challenging to reproduce when modelled or are removed from the equation so as to streamline the sound.
For example, after playing the Electric Mistress alongside a similarly dialed in sound on the Mobius, Dan noted a certain clarity in the EQ that is a hallmark of the vintage effect. “Here’s the thing, it [the Mobius] sounds great. If you listen to an Electric Mistress you will perceive a lot of bottom end goes. It’s noisy. It sounds thin. So, it seems to me, they’ve tried to fix those things, but in actual fact they are not things that need to be fixed.” At this point, another variable comes into the equation. As Mick reminded, we all have certain favorite effects, and versions of them—for Dan, Electric Mistress is top of his “best of” effects list. Simply put, no matter how high caliber the digital rendition, such original effects will never be dethroned in the hearts of individual players.
For all the pros and cons across the comparison, ultimately parallel tests like this aren’t about determining a winner—they’re about discerning the best sound for your style and option for the venues you find yourself in. Whether you’re in need of an all-in, full-featured Strymon genius machine like the Timeline, Big Sky, or Mobius or are looking to get your hands (or foot!) on reissued classic effects from Boss, MXR, or Electro-Harmonix, stop in to Riff City and we’ll help find the best fit for your rig.
TPS Episode Rig Rundown:
Guitars: Dan: 1963 Closet Classic Fender Telecaster (ca. 2000). Mick: Collings 360 LT; 1960 Fender Stratocaster.
Amps: Wampler Bravado 40 watt head; 2x12 cabinet with Warehouse Guitar Speakers; Vox AC 30.Effects: Strymon Mobius; Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress; Boss CE-2w Waza Craft; Chase Bliss Audio Brothers; MXR Phase 100; Sweet Sound Mojo Vibe; DLS Roto Spin; MXR Reverb M300; Jim Dunlop Echoplex Delay.