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Four Soundblox pedals from Sourc

We last saw the folks from SOURCE AUDIO when we reviewed their Hot Hand Phaser/ Flanger, an ingenious take on modulation effects that allowed real-time control of parameters with a wireless controller ring worn on the picking hand. The mad scientists at SA have been working away to bring you the Soundblox series of stompboxes, some of which are similar to what they’ve done in the past and one of which is like nothing we’ve seen from them or anyone else. And, although these new boxes can be used with­out the Hot Hand ring controller, it does increase their functionality. We rocked the Blox through a variety of amps, alone and all together, with every guitar we could find, including Strats, Les Pauls, a Schecter Blackjack ATX, and a Reverend Ron Asheton model.

By their own admission, Source didn’t want to design yet another “normal” distortion pedal, so if you’re looking for a Tube Screamer or DS-1 wannabe, the Multiwave is not for you. If, however, you want to craft all-new dirty tones and get way, way out of your same old grind, this box merits your attention.

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The deal with the Multiwave is this: It divides your guitar signal into several different frequency bands. Each band is then distorted separately before they’re all recombined and sent to the output jack. This is cool for a bunch of reasons, but the most obvious is the way complex chords sound when processed in this manner. Remember when Eddie Van Halen told GP, "You start dickin’ with chords like 7ths and 9ths through a blazing Marshall, and it will sound like crap”? Professor VH was talking about the intermodulation that occurs when you play intervals other than 4ths, 5ths, and octaves with distortion. Play a 7th chord with a lot of distortion and you’ll hear all the garbled, clashing overtones. If you were to record each note of that chord to a separate track – still with raging distortion – the clashing would pretty much disappear and all of a sudden you'd sound like Brian May. That’s son of what’s happening with the Multiwave.

You get 21 different distortion algo­rithms, which are divided into 2 separate banks: Multiband and Single Band. Within each bank you get 3 groups of effects: Normal, Foldback, and Octave. The Sustain knob controls a compression circuit that is before the distortion (which is governed by the Drive knob). I plugged in and selected set­ting 1 in the Normal Multiband region, with the Sustain and Drive knobs at about one o' clock. I hit a major 7th chord and was greeted with a very interesting sound – the chord was very clear and distinct, despite the fact that it had a ton of gain. Messing around with other dense voicing yielded similar results. It’s not as if the overtones don’t clash, they just clash in a very different – and more pleasing – manner. It's strange at first but it's addictive. I fiddled with the Sustain and Gain knobs before scrolling through the other presets. Source cautions against maxing both of these controls out and that's good advice, because those sounds can be so over the top as to be unusable. The Sustain and Gain knobs work together in an intriguing fashion. Smacking a chord and then turning the Sustain up brings in overtones and octaves, even on non-octave settings.

A unique and super-cool thing about multiband distortion occurs when you’re playing loud. I played a chord on setting 1 and, as it started to feed back, I noticed that more than one note was feeding back at a time. It's really wild. As those notes were feeding back, I was able to play on the other strings and hear every note come through. Because the notes are all being distorted separately, they don’t compete with each other for volume the way they would with conventional distortion. You have to hear it to really understand, but it’s very hip, musical, and delightfully non-guitaristic.

I moved into the Foldback settings and found them to be fairly intense, sounding kind of like the distorted signal is eating itself. Many of these have a spitty, lo-fi quality that is something of an acquired taste. These tones are also fairly bright, and I found myself instantly reaching for the guitar’s tone and volume knobs to take some of the edge off. The Octave presets are a blast and they can mutate a guitar tone into something that sounds like organ, harpsichord, or a horn section on acid. Like many octave effects, these sounds benefit from lower volume and tone settings on the guitar. I got along better with settings 10 and 11, which don’t have the foldback quality of 12, 13, and 14.

The Single Band Normal settings aren't exactly “normal" in the sense of tube overdrive, but at lower Sustain settings they will give you a more traditional distortion tone. The Single Band Foldback and Octave versions were so extreme that at first I couldn’t handle their crackly freakiness. That’s because I was trying to play them as 1 would conventional distortion. When I started fading chords in with the volume knob, suddenly these weird tones sounded more like a trippy old Arp synthesizer and I became fascinated with them. Finally, I tried the Hot Hand ring controller with the Multiwave. It controls the amount of gain and responds almost like a fuzzy tremolo. This was sort of cool but ultimately I liked the pedal better without it. [For an in-depth review of the Hot Hand, see the August, 2007 issue of GP.]

The Multiwave is a very interesting box and what 1 like about it I like a lot. It doesn't sound like anything else out there and some people who tried it were put off by that. It would not be my first choice for a blues or rock gig, but for anything that’s edgy or experimental – a la David Tom, Nine Inch Nails, or Reeves Gabrels – this is a powerful new distortion tool.

The Tri-Mod Flanger contains 11 different flavors of flangification, with three different ways to modulate the chosen effect (hence "Tri-Mod”): with an envelope follower, where your picking attack controls the effect; with an LFO determining the depth of flanging; or with the Hot Hand ring controller. Sonically these effects are very similar to the flangers in the original Phaser/Flanger, which means they sound great – rich, deep, and dimensional. You can choose from thick, hollow, bright, undulating, or static flanges – all of which are musical and useful. I really like this pedal with the Hot Hand ring. By allowing me to control the rate of flange in real time with hand motions, the ring transforms the effect into a living, breathing thing. It’s a very dynamic, organic way to manipulate guitar sounds and also makes this box a great tool in the studio, for freaking out keyboards, vocals, and drum and percussion tracks. 

This is the evolution of the first product ever from Source Audio, and it serves up 11 wahs, again with three choices of how to manipulate them. The envelope follower range of the Depth control is a natural choice, turning the Tri-Mod into a collection of auto-wahs whose center frequency is set by the Frequency knob. There’s a lot of funk to be found with all of them, in particular the Classic Wah and Low Pass settings. Using the LFO, I found the Multipeak presets to be intriguing. The manual describes them as advanced filters with multiple peaks and dips moving in opposite directions. How funky is that? Not surprisingly, the real fun began when I donned the magical Hot Hand ring. Then I could create plenty of conventional wah textures but what I really dig about this setup is how easy it is to get great pulsating textures that are son of half wah/half tremolo. Any guitarist who has ever wanted to compete with DJs and sound designers who seem to corner the market on bitchin' filter effects should give this a try.

Finally we meet the sibling of the Flanger, the Phaser member of the Soundblox family. The drill is the same, lots o’ phasers, three ways to shift 'em. Source has provided some classic sounds that will remind you of Uni-Vibe and Phase 90 colors, although you can do things with them that the originals never dreamed of. You also get phasers with multiple notches and varying degrees of resonance. Although I don’t know exactly what that means from a scientific standpoint, 1 know it when I hear it, with some tones being full and rich and others more hollow sounding (with the latter tones being perfect for skinny intros or dynamic breakdowns). The Hot Hand is an awesome partner for your phase dances, but the Envelope Follower is really neat because, at certain settings, you can make the swirling start and stop depending on how hard you pick. It’s a weird, cool sound that will make listeners wonder what the heck is going on, which is always a good thing.
Source Audio seems to have a great handle on simultaneously honoring tradition (with something like a classic-sounding flanger) and innovating (with all-new distortion textures and a super hero-style magic ring to control parameters). These Soundblox boxes are great additions to their growing line of effects.

Matt Blackett
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  26 October 2015
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