Hands-On Review:DigiTech X-Series Hot Rod, Multi Chorus and DigiDelay pedals.
by Shawn Hammond
When it comes to gear, nine out of 10 guitarists are Neanderthals. Our guitars have to look vintage, our amps must have vacuum tubes and each of our effect devices can't serve more than one function. That's why single-function stompboxes continue to reign supreme among guitarists. It's also one of the reasons DigiTech's multi-effect gurus have returned to their roots with the company's ingenious X-Series stompboxes. At present, the series consists of 10 units: three distortions, a reverb, a delay, a flanger, a phaser, a compressor, an envelope filter and a chorus. Four X-Series pedals for bassists are also available.
While each of the X-Series boxes sports just four knobs to control its single effect, the units are astonishingly flexible and tasty sounding. The key to each X-Series pedal's coolness is its AudioDNA chip-the same kind that lets DigiTech's groundbreaking GeNetX processors morph characteristics from any two of several classic amp models into previously unheard tones. In addition, the X-Series pedals sport DigiTech's ultracool CIT cabinet imaging circuitry, which digitally emulates a Marshall 4x12 cabinet loaded with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers to let you go direct to a P.A. or recording console.
To get a taste of what these unassuming boxes have to offer, I picked what are probably the three most popular effects-a medium-to-high-gain distortion, a chorus and a delay-and took them for a spin. My test guitars included a Sixties Fender Strat with Custom Shop Fat '50s pickups and a Gibson '67 Flying V reissue with Seymour Duncan Seth Lover humbuckers. Each pedal was tested using tube amps that produced tones ranging from Fender clean to a Vox chime to a Marshall roar.
Hot Rod Distortion
Within the gain continuum of X-Series distortion boxes, the Hot Rod sits midway between the Tube Screamer-like Tone Driver and the macabre-sounding Metal Master. The Hot Rod has two outputs: one for use with a guitar amp and a second that incorporates CIT cabinet emulation. Controls include level, tone, gain and morph, which lets you get a piece of the GeNetX action by blending tones from the Hot Rod's three classic stompbox models: a Pro Co Rat, a Boss DS-1 Distortion and an Arbiter Fuzz Face.
Treated to a blind A/B test that pitted the Hot Rod against the real deals, I was stumped by the Hot Rod's stellar tone matching. But the A/B demos weren't the only things that blew me away. When I tested the pedal with my own gear, my respect for the Hot Rod only deepened. Setting the morph control fully counterclockwise yielded all the buzzy, nasal-sounding raunch that has made the Rat the pedal of choice among scores of big-name ax meisters. Nudging the knob clockwise brought up classic shades of Boss DS-1 dirt. At high noon, those pure DS-1 flavors transformed into a Marshall tone that I was able to tweak for everything from Zeppelin to STP.
Just past noon, the morph control delivered the other end of the nastiness spectrum-grimy, speaker cone-rattling fuzz of the Arbiter DS-1 variety, the kind that smears guitar tone into Hendrix-flavored psychedelia. Finally, cranking the morph knob to its extreme brought about full-on Fuzz Face tones that provided Sonic Youth-style mayhem.
Bear in mind, morph control settings are just the tip of the Hot Rod's iceberg, thanks to the pedal's wide-ranging controls for tone and gain. So while the Hot Rod may look tame, it kicks major booty. In essence, this is several dirt boxes in one-at a price that's a steal.
Multi Chorus Digital Multi Voice Chorus
I've never been a huge fan of chorus. However, after plugging into DigiTech's Multi Chorus, I found myself viewing the effect in a new light. The gorgeous, three-dimensional tones that issue from the Multi Chorus recall the legendary swirl of the rotating-speaker Leslies. So maybe chorus isn't so geeky after all!
The Multi Chorus has stereo outputs, cabinet emulation and knobs for level, speed, depth and voice. Like the Hot Rod's morph control, the voice knob is what sets the Multi Chorus apart from the competition. Set fully counterclockwise, the control delivered outstanding-but not outlandish-single-voice chorus. Twisting the knob to the right increased the delight, as the chorus effect multiplied. Up to 16 choruses can be dialed in, each oscillating at random intervals. All in all, the Multi Chorus gushes enough animated magic to convert all but the most die-hard chorus-o-phobes. Once your bandmates are swimming in the sea of sound, there's a good chance they'll be so entranced they forget to yell at you.
DigiTech has long prided itself on providing guitarists with tons of delay time, and the DigiDelay continues that trend by providing up to four seconds' worth. It also offers four types of delay (ping-pong, tape simulation, reverse and modulated), tap-tempo operation and a looping function. Like the Multi Chorus it has stereo outs, cabinet emulation that can be activated at power up and a simple layout with four controls-level, repeats, time and mode.
As you'd expect from DigiTech's digital gurus, the DigiDelay sounds pristine. Modes 1, 2 and 3 deliver varying levels of delay time, while positions 4 through 7 produce analog-tape simulation, modulation, reverse delay and looping, respectively. The DigiDelay's tap-tempo function is a cinch to operate: simply activate the effect (in any mode), depress the footswitch for two seconds and tap in the desired interval time. Creating loops of up to four seconds is also a no-brainer: set mode to position 7, bypass the effect, begin playing as you press and hold the footswitch, then release it at the end of your loop. You can add lines to your loop at any time by pressing and holding the footswitch again. A quick stomp halts loop playback.
While I wasn't too surprised by the DigiDelay's sound quality-DigiTech has had this effect nailed for years-I was shocked by how warm its tape simulation sounds. I wouldn't claim that it can match the soothing vintage vibe of, say, a Maxon AD900 Analog Delay, but it comes very close, and at a fraction of the AD900's cost. Similarly, while there are delay pedals on the market that offer comparable levels of flexibility and more than four seconds of delay time, none is as affordable as this baby-and for a lot of us, that's a big factor.
THE BOTTOM LINE
DigiTech's X-Series pedals are proof positive that butt-kicking tones don't have to cost a fortune or be clad in goofy-looking, handpainted cases. If you're in the market for a new stompbox, you should definitely give these treasures a listen.