This article was obviously inspired by last Friday’s That Pedal Show (TPS) episode with similar title. In watching that I thought - hang on a minute - I have all these pedals, with the Chase Bliss Audio Automatone Preamp MKII the most recently added. So before the episode - 3 were already in my pedal-chain - the Chase Bliss Audio Brothers Analog Gainstage since it first came out, the relatively recent Jackson Audio Golden Boy, and of course my brand new Automatone Preamp MKII.
Even though the TPS demo for the OD-200 was not in the least bit inspiring - this is a pedal I know really well, and decided that I should really have all of these pedals active in the chain - as they each have a certain mojo about them in particular areas, and actually deliver a huge degree of versatility with quality tones. The OD-200 does a number of voicings quite brilliantly - and in conjunction with these other 3 I think there is near enough no flavour of overdrive you cannot come within a cat’s whisker of.
Each of these is priced at different levels and has a different degree of complexity and usability. The lowest cost option is also probably the overall most versatile - the OD-200 at around £200, the Golden Boy is at £300, Brothers at £350, and the Preamp MKII at a somewhat eye-watering £750 and circa dollar equivalents. In terms of simplicity of use, the Golden Boy comes first, then Preamp MKII, then Brothers, and finally the OD-200 which has a few of those lower-level sub-menu options that I can find somewhat annoying at times.
Most feel that the Preamp MKII has the most dynamics, followed by the Golden Boy and Brothers. While the hybrid nature of the OD-200 means that certain tones don’t sound quite as elastic and natural as on the other pure analog signal pedals - and can come across as a little more compressed and harder in nature.
Much of this is about knowing how to deploy each pedal - as the Brothers, and OD-200 in particular have quite a more significant learning curve than the Golden Boy and Preamp MKII. Same goes really for the ease of dialling in tones. And while on the Brothers, OD-200 and Preamp MKII the Midi / Presets recall all settings values - the Golden Boy only allows you to store / control Clipping Setting, Boost Setting and Gain Cyle Level Setting - as far as I understand.
Henning Pauly’s recent Preamp MKII review comes through at a very opportune time - as that probably covers the most of that pedal’s features vs any of the other demos up until this point. In terms of which pecking order I place these in - you will need to wait until the Final Thoughts results at the foot of this post. I will do my usual - if you could only buy 1, 2 or 3 etc. and why! Note that I specifically don’t use a MIDI Switcher / Controller for a variety of reasons - where my key interest in the Programmable side here is for the storing and recall of Presets!
I’ve fairly recently reviewed the Golden Boy, and my article on All-Rounder Overdrives covered the relative merits of the OD-200 and Brothers amongst others. I still feel I have the definitive written review of the OD-200 so you can reference that for further details.
Here follows the catalyst That Pedal Show YouTube Video and then the individual pedal details and how they weigh up against each other.
I have lots of experience with this pedal having been onboard with Jackson Audio since their very fist Prism Boost + Buffer + EQ + Preamp pedal. The Golden Boy is really an alternative version of the Broken Arrow pedal - which had a Tube Screamer style core voicing. In place of that, the Golden Boy has more of a Blues Breaker / King of Tone voicing at its heart. You get that same classic 6-knob topology with 3-Band Active EQ - Volume, Boost, Gain, Bass, Middle, Treble. But all the clever stuff happens courtesy of the 2 footswitches - which yield 3 different functions when used separately or together. Hold down the left-hand footswitch and you can step between 4 different clipping modes :
The right-hand footswtich yield 4 different boost modes when held down and stepped through :
And if you press both footswitches together you get to step up the Gain level in increments of 25% - up to the maximum level set on that dial.
When using midi - the control here is CC type versus PC type - so it does not store full presets with all knob values like these others do - it simply controls on/off function, clipping type, boost type, and gain cycle level. What is really clever with the Golden Boy though is that Brad Jackson has employed a Level-Matching circuit which means that it maintains Volume output levels as you switch through the different Clipping Modes. It sounds like there is something similar employed in the Preamp MKII, while on the OD-200 the levels are all over the place when you switch between the different modes - not just in the degree of volume output, but also the gain / saturation. Anyone who has a normal analog clipping pedal - the Matthews Effects Architect V3 is a great example of this where the output volume is all over the place on different clipping settings. I feel that Boss in particular should have been able to do something a little more clever with its OD-200 in that area.
Overall the Golden Boy is very simple and elegant to use - it lacks proper presets as such - but the ability to be able to rapidly switch up Clipping, Boost and Gain Cycle Modes while maintaining output volume near enough gives you that same sort of function within a live playback situation. I have found both the Jackson Audio Broken Arrow and the Golden Boy to be an absolute joy to deploy. It is in my opinion the simplest to use of these 4, sounds terrific - but can't quite compete with the overall range of tones generated by the other 3. What it covers though may just be perfect for you. For my purposes this is mostly my Blues Breaker pedal of choice!
For me I actually principally use this as a Fuzz - so even though it has 2 great stand-alone overdrive modes - I typically always use this pedal with the 2 Fuzz Modes engaged or 1 Fuzz + Boost / Overdrive. I've retold the tale many times how and why I got the Strymon Sunset first - both came out at a similar time, and the Strymon Sunset is in fact more of a core Overdrive - but has no onboard presets as such. For the Brothers - this is actually one of my most beloved Fuzz units alongside the Dr Scientist Frazz Dazzler.
The Brothers 6 modes are split by 2 A/B Channels :
Channel A / Left - Resonant Electronics Designs / Field Effects JFET Circuit
Channel B / Right - Joel Korte TL072 OpAmps Circuit
Each Channel has a Gain and Tone Control, alongside Blending Mix Knob and 3-way switch for either way series or parallel stacking, there is also a Master Volume - I have sometimes felt that it would have been advantageous to have had separate level controls too, but this pedal acquits itself really well - with a huge variety of tones - which you can save to 2 onboard presets - or via MIDI PC Control you can access a total of 122 Presets.
There are 16 further dip-switch options on the rear of the pedal which are used for Expression Pedal control. As mentioned I don't yet use Midi, and I don't use the 2 Presets a whole lot either - I just have 2 great Voicings dialled in on Channel A and B - which sound good individual or stacked together!
Fuzz-wise this can cover quite a lot of Big Muff and Fuzz Face styles, though it doesn't really stretch that far into Tone Bender territory. I really love the in-betweeny Fuzzy-Drive settings here where the tonality kind of sits right on the cusp of overdrive and fuzz. In any case with 3 flavours per side as such and 2-way series plus parallel stacking there are a lot of possibilities here. Some players have used this as their main drive pedal - while for whatever reason - this has always been secondary in that area for me, and primarily a Fuzz!
If you haven't read my in-depth OD-200 review I recommend you start there first as there's a huge amount of ground to cover which just wouldn't be right for this particular style of article. I will mentioned some of the key points here - but for the full overview you should really read the long-form piece.
In many ways this is the ideal programmable pedal in terms of 128 Midi Presets and parameter settings etc. And while it sounds great on many modes, it doesn't come without a few flaws either. I've already grumbled about the often significant disparity in Output Levels and Gain Saturation between modes - you cannot really just scroll through all the different Drive Types with all the dials at 12 o'c - you need to make changes for every mode - often all 5 dials. The Gain also seems to be vastly differently calibrated per mode, in fact the range sweep on the 'Fuzz' mode is particularly odd. I already stated in my original review that all these could do with tweaks - surely a decent firmware update could improve / resolve all that.
Secondly, the Boost Side of the pedal is not independent - meaning that you can only use it in conjunction with a Drive Type - and when the Pedal (Drive) is 'On'. This to me is another huge oversight - as it is a feature of pretty much all my Drive + Boost pedals that the Boost is independent - and can therefore be used on other Upstream and Downstream pedals in the chain. Surely this is something that Boss could fairly easily fix with a firmware update. There is also a niggle when cycling through the Presets - in that when you come back around to Panel / Manual mode - it has reset all those values - so if you spent time going in and setting up the Boost as Parallel and to certain values - you suddenly find it's been reset back to standard Series defaults!
I noted in my 'In-depth' review that there was something in the core character of the pedal in the density and hardness of the overall clipping / breakup / distortion and EQ. In that while it doesn't sound brittle at all unless you go to stupid extremes, the tonality though seems to be somewhat 'hardened'. For instance on a lot of my overdrives the Bass and Mid frequencies come in with a much softer character - not exactly saggy, but just slightly warmer and smoother - while the OD-200 comes in slightly 'Hard'. So when trying to temper the Bass slightly - on most of my analog overdrive - I can sort of 'soften' up the frequency profile - with the OD-200 though I just get less or more of that slightly harder-edged bass.
Funnily though the Soft-Clipping of the Tube Screamer voicing is actually very good though - with exactly the right sort of character. The first big success for me was actually the Big Muff style 'Fuzz' voicing - which really delivers some quite superb Big Muff flavours - even though the Gain onset is bizarre to say the least in the early taper. The Fuzz was my first favourite voicing before I dialled in some really great sounding presets for Overdrive, Blues, Scream, Cntr OD and Dist Modes. In fact all those mentioned Modes are pretty great - and this pedal really excels at the more extreme / Metal-style distortions - which can be as hard-edged and brutal as you like - albeit you dial in too much and you do run a slim risk of getting some brittle artefacts - but they're surprisingly actually extremely rarely encountered.
I went through a rollercoaster of emotions with this pedal - from excitement to disappointment, then elation, and in the end some general sort of head-nodding respect. I still feel that there is plenty more to be done and refined here - but generally the foundations are pretty solid. Some of the sub-menu items are annoying to get to, and in some ways the usability can be a little clunky - and the great diversity in Mode knob tapers means that it's not always as easy to dial in your preferences as it should be. Another niggle is that when in Preset mode you're not at all clear what the settings are, or in fact which Drive Type is applied - this highlights a flaw in having a screen a little on the small side - with insufficient resolution. The OD-200 relies on a lots of sometimes cryptic abbreviations - and it should really display both Drive and Boost Type applied to be properly useful - while the screen just cannot do that in the current format.
Nevertheless, and despite those actually relatively minor niggles - this is the most powerful Drive pedal in this selection - and if you're patient with it - you can tease out some amazing tones. Here follow all the incredible different flavours you can use in combination on the OD-200 - 12 Drive Types and 15 Boost Types :
DRIVE TYPES :
BOOST TYPES :
With all the options - this is easily the most complicated to use here and the one with the highest learning curve. For the initial period I also kept mistakenly using the 'Level' knob for the Boost - versus the PARAM Knob that in fact covers all Boost settings! Part of me feels that the Level knob needs to be renamed to avoid confusion - I've spoken to other users who also had this issue!
Overall I still think this pedal is a great proposition with plenty of promise - and most of the issues I have with it can be solved relatively easily with firmware updates. I'd also like to see the number of onboard footswitchable presets upped to 8. All of this has been passed back to Boss - I just hope they act on these essential usability updates as they can elevate this pedal to a really stellar level. I expect it to be refined over the years too - that is the advantage of a firmware upgrade path. There are lots of low-hanging issues here that should be fairly easily solved - equalising and re-calibrating all the individual modes will take a while longer.
I still really rate this pedal - which is why it's justifiably back in my pedal chain - but I'm adamant that it can be made a whole lot better still with fairly minor changes. If High Gain is your thing - then this is the only pedal for you in the pictured quartet really. It does do some excellent lower gain Voicings too - while purists will likely always favour the analog signal path of the others. I have 3 FET / JFET + DSP Preamp pedals - the Strymon Riverside, Strymon Sunset and this OD-200. For whatever reason I find the EQ on the Strymons a little softer and more natural in some ways - while the overall drive character of all 3 is really very natural and analog sounding - with the Boss only getting very slightly brittle when you max out all knobs on the highest gain Voicings. Overall though this is undoubtedly the most versatile and powerful here - but with some noted flaws.
This is my most recently arrived drive pedal and while I've not had as much play-time with it as these others, in many ways I'm pretty much up to speed already - since I've been eagerly following its every development since its initial reveal at Winter NAMM 2019. This has been one of the most eagerly anticipated pedals for me as it combines so many of my favourite drive settings and functions - including selectable Pre-/Post-Gain Parametric Mids with 3-way Q-Bandwidth selector. With its active 3-Band EQ, selectable Mids, Diode Clipping Options and Fuzz options - there really is nothing else quite like this. For me the automatically moving sliders are a nice bonus - as the key aspect here is the 30 onboard footswitchable presets available to me. I wasn't that familiar with the original Benson Amps Preamp pedal - of which this is the bells and whistles MKII version. The Benson Preamp is based on a transistorised version of their best loved Chimera 30Watt amp - whose voicing sits somewhat adjacent to and between - a Fender Tweed Deluxe and Vox AC30 - depending on how much Bass you have dialled into the signal - less Bass means more AC30-ish, more Bass means more Tweedy! That said it's not exactly either really - which is why I describe it as 'adjacent' or in near proximity to.
I love how Chase Bliss describes the clipping options in its manual as Soft Symmetrical Silicon Tube Squeezer style and Hard Clipping Asymmetrical Tone Pony AKA Klone style. So with the 3 core Voicings, 3-Band EQ with Selectable Parametric Mids with Q-Control you are covered for everything pretty much from Low Gain right up to Plexi Style Levels of satisfying crunch. On top of that you have two flavours of Fuzz - Open or Gated, which sound vaguely transistor-style, but could also very well be a well calibrated Opamp. I read that a lot of people were talking about ditching their CBA Brothers for the Preamp MKII - while I view them as quite different beasts really and rather very complementary units - the Brothers is generally a touch 'softer' in most areas while the Preamp MKII can deliver a whole lot of bite. Note that the clipping stages are relatively subtle too until you have Fuzz, plenty of mids, or plenty of gain dialled in.
Everything on this pedal is immediately obvious and intuitive apart from possibly the 'Jump' settings for the Presets - for which you can simply just ignore those and just use the 3-banks of 10 presets that are there by default (admittedly Banks 2 and 3 are empty!). The Midi Control of this pedal really just mirrors the presets in that you can port across Presets 0-29. But there are some smart CC style functions too which Henning Pauly demonstrates - where you can independently adjust say Volume and Gain - beyond the Preset values, and even apply an LFO oscillator to the Mids Frequency Control. You will no doubt have seen lots of people doing clever MIDI control stuff with this pedal - which is all a little unnecessary for me - I'm just interested in setting up 30 essential flavours here that I can easily dial in and step between!
Here follow the key Pedal Controls and Functions - in effect the Preamp MKII combines the original Benson Preamp Pedal with CBA Condor's Tone Controls and a whole load of new options :
Apart from its size and plastic slider knobs this is really the perfect Preamp style pedal for me. I guess part of me would have liked Active Treble control too rather than simply a high frequency cut - but those are really tiny quibbles in the grand scale of things. This pedal achieves everything it sets out to do and sounds fantastic at every level. The main things holding it back are its price and size - but those are not insurmountable obstacles. All in all this is just the latest Gamechanger drive pedal in the sequence. In fact all of these pedals are Gamechangers in their own way - and were when their first versions presented - first the CBA Brothers, then the Broken Arrow (Golden Boy forerunner), then OD-200 and finally Preamp MKII. Each of these has no direct equivalent as such if you accept that the Golden Boy and Broken Arrow are largely the same kind of thing.
As per the words I finished my Preamp MKII review with - each of these pedals doesn't really have a direct equivalent as such - they're all pretty distinctly unique in what they do within their form-factor - and in terms of the Programmable / Presets aspect.
Each was a pioneer and Gamechanger when they were first introduced - taking the Broken Arrow as the predecessor equivalent of the Golden Boy. Besides that obvious association you cannot get an equivalent pedal to the Jackson Audio Golden Boy, or the CBA Brothers (the Strymon Sunset is sort of close but no onboard presets). The OD-200 is pretty unique in its specific functionality and mix, and so in fact is the CBA / Benson Amps Automatone Preamp MKII.
Each of these really has its own niche - and I actually don't see them as particularly direct competitors really - as I use them typically for very different things. The Golden Boy is really my current compact Blues Breaker / King of Tone of choice - it probably overall has the narrowest remit for me even though its range is still pretty broad. The Brothers is mostly sort of Big Muff adjacent - used more by me for the slightly smoother, more sustaining Fuzzy-Drive flavours. The OD-200 I've actually so far used mostly for its more searing / saturated 'Fuzz' Big Muff mode - but as indicated above I have various other favourite flavours including the OD-1 style Overdrive. Interestingly I prefer all the Keeley-Modded versions of the Boss pedals to their original or Waza-Craft versions, and those voicings included here - while the Blues Drive voicing is actually pretty excellent too - it's just not quite near as amazing as my Keeley-Modded Blues Driver. For the OD-200 I think I will be using it more for its Higher Gain / Metal Style flavours - so I will spend the next few weeks dialling in some favourites there - including an equivalent voicing for my long-term favourite MI Effects Megalith Delta - which the Boss OD-200 is in effect replacing on the rotation.
Generally, apart from the Golden Boy - none of these replaces any of my existing favourite drive pedals - my ThorpyFX Peacekeeper is still my current versatile Klone of choice, same goes for my favourite Keeley Freak Fuzz Modded Blues Driver and Demon Kondo Shifuky Dumble-style pedal. Also the same for the Mentaone Top Boost in a Can and King of Britains. In fact the only pedal recently ousted was the Buffalo FX Carrera - which the Preamp MKII pretty much matched exactly. I feel I can get very close generally - but there is something in the texture and timbre of my favourite drive pedals that endures. If I were a touring musician - I would likely make more sacrifices and do more streamlining. As this is my Studio Rig though I can afford the luxury of having all these pedals active in my chain.
I don't know whether it's 'Newest Toy Syndrome' but currently I'm overall most impressed by my most recent acquisition. Since I got my BYOC Crown Jewel I've always loved Parametric Mids with Q-Control - it does so much to change the nature and texture of a core tonality. Of all of these, the Preamp MKII also sounds and feels the most like a proper Tube Amp. The others may be able to sound like that in places - but the Preamp MKII is unique in carrying pretty much the exact same dynamics and feel of a Tube Amp.
I really like all these flavours each for its own reasons as mentioned - and what type of player you are and what sort of music you play weighs very heavily into the decision making process. I don't really want to put any of these into last place - as none of them deserve it really. If Higher Gain is your thing then obviously the OD-200 is your weapon of choice - if you're more of a purist and have the means then the Preamp MKII is the pedal for you. If you prefer something more fuzz-aligned then it's the Brothers, and if you want the height of elegant and intuitive footswitchable pedal control - then you can't get better than the Golden Boy.
There are of course other considerations here - in terms of tour-worthiness and other practicalities. I see the Preamp MKII really as a Studio Tool mainly. It's a little cumbersome for the road, and those open apertures for the sliders are just begging for a pitcher of ale at the next pub gig that will never happen. In most ways it's actually the Preamp MKII which ticks most of my boxes - the fact that it gives me such a visual and easily intuitive and tweakable control interface - with 30 onboard footswitchable presets puts it head and shoulders above all others. The Golden Boy is probably second in practical utility and usability - albeit you cannot save actual knob settings as presets - but with the Clipping, Boost Type and Gain Cycling Switching and active level-matching circuit it really holds its own in most playback situations.
As I don't use a MIDI Controller / Switcher I can only get 4 Presets out of the OD-200 - which is still a lot better as those are at least footswitchable - while the CBA Brothers requires you to manually shift the Preset toggle-switch left or right - I've always thought CBA should use a dual-press function for Preset switching!
In terms of how these pedals are right now - the Preamp MKII is my favourite proposition with the most natural on-tap practical utility and flexibility. The Boss OD-200 has a lot more potential onboard - but as indicated above it has some minor flaws it needs fixing for my liking so it gets pushed back in the ranking a little. I think I would probably say that the most perfect execution here is the Preamp MKII, followed by the Golden Boy. The CBA Brothers is a great proposition too - but not fully footswtichable and instantly practical beyond the ability to step in 3 different voicing by default. This is something the Boss OD-200 could and should be able to do - for goodness sake make the OD-200's Boost Channel independently usable.
All these pedals do vastly different things for me - and I have many more drive pedals still in my pedal-chain - in fact two more hybrid varieties and 13 further analog types for a total of 19 gain pedals - or circabout half the chain! I still love my rather complex Origin Effects RevivalDrive - while the main thing that holds that back versus the 4 featured here is not its inherent complexity, but rather its lack of presets. If you spend that long tweaking and calibrating your pedal - you'd certainly like the pedal to be able to preserve all that hard work. I've long been saying that Footswitchable Preset Pedals is where all pedal builders should be heading - particularly for those pedal which lots of options, knobs and switches.
Regarding the memory system of the Boss OD-200 this has been fixed to a degree - I just did not full comprehend the implementation of such. You do now have access to all 127 presets on the pedal - albeit after 1-4 the LED sequence remains unlit. Easiest way to navigate through Memories is to hold down MEMORY button and scroll via PARAM dial.
You can set range of presets via universal settings.
So it has solved the presets element to a degree, albeit the roll-out is somewhat clunky.
Longer term I would imagine the 5 LEDs just replaced by a 3-character display!