Hands-On Review:No-nonsense high-powered floor effects

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By Barry Childe
Boss ME-50A few years back, the world of effects processing got turned on its ear by the concept of digital modeling. Soon amp modeling wasn't good enough and there was warping and morphing and other ways of mixing various models. Now, although there are some very cool modeling units out there, I'm perfectly happy with my amp; what I've been missing are straight-ahead effects that are easy to use. Using the research that went into the development of their huge line of stomp boxes, Boss has created an all-in-one floor effects unit that's incredibly powerful, features an assignable expression pedal, and requires zero time to learn.


Sublime simplicity
The ME-50 is set up like a pedal board, featuring all of the Boss pedals you've learned to love. But it's much easier to use than a real pedal board. There are eight sections: tone modify (EQ plus pickup and body modeling), compressor, noise suppression, reverb, overdrive/distortion, modulation, expression pedal, and delay. Each of these sections can be turned on or off and features a simple knob to select the specific effect you want. There are ten tone modify presets, 4 reverb types, 22 distortion types, 11 modulation types, 11 delay types, and six expression pedal effects. The distortion, mod, and delay sections each feature the same parameter control knobs that you'd find on a Boss pedal, and a stomp pedal to turn the effect on or off.


So there's literally nothing to figure out. Just pick the effect type you want, tweak it the way you want, and you're good to go. No menus, no complicated gyrations, just a host of high-quality effects.


If that weren't cool enough, you can hit pedals one and two together to turn on a chromatic tuner that knows when you're on and when you're not. There's none of that annoying hypersensitivity to harmonic overtones.


Elephant memory
Of course, one of the greatest gifts of the digital revolution is the memory patch. The ME-50 has ten banks with three patches each. There are presets built in, but they're all fully editable. To find a patch, you just hit two of the stomp pedals together to enter memory mode, find the bank number on the large LED with the arrow keys on the box or with an optional footswitch, then step on the stomp pedal corresponding to the patch you want.


Editing a patch is a breeze. You just hit the write button, set the knobs and buttons the way you want them, and hit write again. I found plenty of presets that suited me straight out of the box, and had tweaked a few to my whim within a few minutes. This is by far the easiest multi-effects unit to use that I've played through.


Click to EnlargeThe acid test
Of course, the coolest user interface in the world is worthless if the sound quality isn't there to back it up. With the ME-50, it's there in spades. I went through each of the effects one at a time with all the others turned off. I'm amazed at the consistency of the quality. Every single effect is robust enough to be a stand-alone stomp box. And even with everything turned on at once, the unit is still very quiet--much quieter than any chain of stomp boxes I've used.


I'm especially impressed with the expression pedal effects. You can either use the pedal as a volume pedal or choose wah, resonance, voice, ring mod, +1 octave, or -1 octave. The wah is a really broad sweep and generates a very well-defined frequency cut. It also sports a toe-end switch to turn it on and off.


Righteous raunch
For my taste, probably the strongest feature of the ME-50 is the overdrive/distortion section. It's based on the OD-20 Drive Zone (which, I must admit, has been my primary distortion unit for a while now). The different distortions are amazingly useful for all types of sounds, from very edgy highly-defined crunch to totally soupy, rich washes of sound.


A good deal of amp modeling is really just distortion modeling and the ME-50 covers that ground incredibly well. I thought 22 types of distortion might be a bit over the top but when I got to messing around with them I realized how critical it can be to have just the right distortion. The broad variability makes it much easier to match sounds for playing covers. There's even a square-wave effect for making synth-type sounds.


Click to EnlargeMarvelous mod
The flanger, phaser, two types of stereo chorus, harmonist, tremolo, pan, vibrato, uni-V, and rotary effects in the mod section are all first-rate. They're quiet and don't generate that annoying signal crack at extreme settings. The three parameter knobs have different functions depending on the effect selected.


One of the best features of this section is a function that lets you set the tempo of the effects to match the music just by tapping the pedal. (Of course there's also tap delay.) I particularly dig the rotary effect that really pumps out the cool Leslie vibe when you run it in stereo.


There are 1/4" stereo outs, a 1/4" TRS line/phones out, a 1/8" TRS aux in (which I use for running my MiniDisc in when I'm practicing songs), and a 1/4" TRS footswitch in that lets you plug in two optional footswitches to control bank up and down and turn the tone-modify and compression on and off.


The ME-50 is definitely the most usable and powerful floor processor I've ever played through. (I don't intend to ever return the unit Musician's Friend sent me for review!) The sound quality is fantastic, the layout is impeccably logical, and the selection of effects is awe-inspiring. For the price, it's a steal.


Now's the time to own your own ME-50. It's like getting the whole Boss stompbox lineup for one low price. We'll make you a deal you won't beat anywhere, we guarantee it.


Features and Specs:

Effects types:
  • Tone modify (EQ, pickup modeling, and body modeling), compression, noise suppression, reverb, overdrive/distortion, modulation, delay, expression pedal effects
Overdrive/distortion types:
  • metal, loud, lead, crunch, natural, MT-2, DS-1, DS-2, BD-2, OD-2, OD-1, scream, DST+, guv, rat, muff, face, modern OD, stack, hi gain, modern DS, square, oct fuzz
Delay types:
  • analog, 400-2000ms, 100-500ms, 25-125ms, 0-30ms, slow echo, pan, space pan, reverse, hold, tap
Modulation types:
  • flanger, phaser, st chorus 2, st chorus 1, chorus, harmonist, tremolo, pan, vibrato, uni-v, rotary
Expression pedal effects:
  • volume, wah, resonance, voice, ring mod, +1 octave, -1 octave
30 editable presets
  • 1/4" stereo outs
  • 1/4" TRS line/phones out
  • 1/8" TRS aux in
  • 1/4" TRS footswitch in
  • Tuner
Reverb types:
  • room, hall, spring, and mod