In the wake of my ’6 Key Pedal Trends’ article from the start of the year - I talked up the likelihood of more parallel routing / stacking pedals following-on from the exceptional dual-channel GFI Synesthesia Multi-Modulator which emerged shortly before Christmas last year.
However, and not entirely because of Covid-19, there has been little to no action in that area this year. My introduction to parallel-routing pedals I believe was back around May 2017 with the Strymon Sunset, then the Empress EchoSystem and Chase Bliss Audio Brothers, and around a similar time later in the year - the Boss JB-2, MD-500 and RV-500. I was actually hoping to get a Source Audio Ventris before the RV-500 - but that was delayed for whatever reasons - and Boss beat it to the punch with its excellent RV-500.
Of course I got the Ventris eventually and rotated out the RV-500, and now the Ventris has been rotated out in favour of the new EHX Oceans 12 - Dual Channel Parallel Reverb. For Delays I actually changed tack - I may still get the dual-channel / parallel Boss DD-500, but in my current Strymon Volante -led setup - the DD-200 is a better fit for me currently - I will likely get the DD-500 at some time anyway.
So a lot happened in 2017 and there have been a few moves in the interim - I was expecting Source Audio to come out with a Ventris-alike multi-modulator - but they released their Collider instead. Boss brought out the OD-200 and RC-10R last year which both have parallel paths in their own way. I wish that the OD-200 boost could be independent though, and that the Rhythm section of the RC-10R had more volume in Stereo mode as I use it. I really enjoy deploying both those pedals, but do consider them to have minor flaws - while the DD-200 and EQ-200 were near flawlesss executions - but only with 4 onboard presets - which is something of an oversight for me too.
So instead of seeing an acceleration of and higher incidents of effects pedals with parallel modes - we have actually not seen many - there were little or none really in evidence at Winter NAMM 2020 - and none of those slightly more spicy fusion-cuisine types really apart from the OBNE Visitor Parallel Multi-Modulator - which is kind of like a tiny subsection of the GFI Synestesia.
Early this year I also caught Stefan Fast’s (PezalZone) really interesting video with Andy Othling (as below) - and how he made use of his OBNE Signal Blender. This was back at the end of January and was pretty much the catalyst for this article. I was also aware of the fairly recent TheGigRig Wetter Box, and my good friend Matt Knight shared with me that he was getting really stuck into his EHX Tri Parallel Mixer. So this article was born out of all of that. I of course added the 4-Channel Wounded Paw example as the largest form factor, but in the gestation of this article - that pedal is now a V4 versus the V3 that was in place when I originally started writing this!
I also thought I should briefly touch on a couple of adjacent pedals which are really even more for experimental players - the KMA Audio Tyler Frequency Splitter - which cuts and splices together two pedal inputs across Low Pass or High Pass filters - for some really cool results. The the now discontinued VFE Klein Bottle Mixer takes a single input signal and splits it in three where you can tweak each path with HPF and LPF filters and then mix them back together and feed the paths into each other in a variety of ways. All really cool stuff - but probably a little next-level for this feature.
Here we are merely concerned with combining anything up to 4 inputs together in parallel. Each of these pedals works slightly differently and has different features - so it doesn’t just depend on how many sources you wish to blend together - but exactly what sort of control you wish to have over those.
Here follow the individual details in unit size order :
I have so much respect for Dan Steinhardt - truly one of the godfathers for us pedal aficionados - and with his next-level TheGigRig solutions he always has the most innovative and elegant of ways to deliver smart functionality in as compact a format as possible. Until the Neural DSP RotoStomp footswtiches came along - my favourites were Dan's OptoKick variety - which still have the smoothest action of any footswitch out there - note that the legend on the actual interactive diagram for the Wetter Box is wrong - and seems to be the one from the earlier Three:2:One pedal! In any case the cleverest thing about this pedal is that all the pedal inputs/outputs can be stereo - if you simply utilise TRS cables. So from the pedal you can see Left/Right overall outputs, but only single Send and Return sockets - so a really clever way to accommodate that functionality. This pedal works more like a traditional looper in some ways with 2 Send/Return loops what you can blend together - and on by-pass the dry signal simply passes through - unlike the others you cannot as such blend the try signal with the 2 inserts exactly - but everything else this pedal does is ingenious! You get all the inputs and outputs mentioned, plus sockets for Expression pedal and Remote switch. You have the main Blend Knob, two smaller knobs for Gain A and Gain B, and switches for Mono/Stereo mode, Mix/Blend mode, and 180° phase inversion on Loop B. You really could not fit more into a pedal of this size - which is super high-headroom too. I would though like to see ideally a secondary footswitch on here with some latching options and possible some smart expression sweep effects - not dissimilar in mechanics to the DigiTech Whammy Ricochet. Other than all that this is a really stellar pedal - and nothing comes close in this form factor - the build quality really is second to none - and this is probably my frontrunner here in terms of my own pedalboard practicalities - and for the simple function of blending two effects together in parallel - for both Mono and Stereo signal chains!
The OBNE Signal Blender is immediately a little more that the Wetter Box - but also a lot less in many ways. The key difference on the Signal blender is the ability to blend together 3 different sources including your Dry/Clean signal. You can do some clever gain-stacking too with the 4-cable method - but it doesn't have the stereo inputs / outputs or overall flexibility of the Wetter Box in many ways. The Signal Blender has 3 footswitches - one per input channel obviously, and the ability to invert phase on Channels A and B. Andy Othling is obviously the poster-boy for this pedal and uses it really cleverly within his rig.
In many ways the EHX Tri Parallel Mixer isn't that structurally different to the above OBNE Signal Blender in that it blends together 3 different mono sources via the usual Send/Return inserts. The main difference here is in what manner of control you have over each of those Channels - so where with the Signal Blender you have really just a single level and phase inverters on a couple of the Channels. The Tri Parallel has 4 controls on each channel - separate Return and Send levels, and individual EQ and Phase inversion controls too. You then have an overall Master Volume Control, and a Dry Volume Control - and three footswitches here as per the Signal Blender. As mentioned in the intro my friend Matt Knight really loves his - but I would have practicality issues in accommodating this large footprint in my rig - it would essentially knock out 3 of my compact pedals! It obviously gives you more clever and refined control than the OBNE Signal Blender, but does not have the Stereo flexibility of the Wetter Box.
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Blender V4 and the new Blender 2EQ on the same pedalboard. The Blender 2EQ features a clean channel and an effects loop both with their own EQ controls, in this cased being used as a crossover to keep lower frequencies clean and only have effects on higher frequencies. #crossover #effectsloop #effectsloopswitcher #woundedpaw #blender @woundedpaw
I believe this is the most recently released of all of these - dating back to just after NAMM - or beginning of February this year. Obviously this is significantly the largest form factor here and would eat up a fair portion of your pedalboard real-estate. But I can see a number of clever studio applications here for more experimental Home-Studio recording artists. The layout of the control topology isn't immediately intuitively clear and you have an odd kind of offset On/Bypass switch - but then some really smart functionality in place here too. Along the top you have first the 4 Channel Volume controls - one per Channel, interrupted by a single Feedback control for Channel C. You then have 2-Band EQ controls - Bass and Trebel for the Dry/Clean / Channel A. In the middle row you have the 8th knob - which is the Series/Parallel control, and then a series of 8 x 3-way toggle switches which allow you to set the path for each channel i.e. Return/Thru/Mute for A-D. You then have Phase inversion switches for Channels B-D, and a 250Hz/100Hz/Off HPF Filter switch for Channel B. So there are some cool quirks in the setup here as applies to slightly separate controls for Channels B and C - which would come in handy for more experimental players. From an ergonomic standpoint - possibly some refinements are needed here in how the different Channel controls are clustered together versus say the simplicity of the EHX Tri Parallel Mixer topology. Needles to say the Wounded Paw Parallel Effects Blender is a really powerful tool - particularly in the right hands. While there is currently no demo out there as far as I can see beyond the 2-Channel variety included above!
I feel that in many ways we're at the star of the Parallel effects revolution / innovation - and we will see a lot more clever evolutions here in the future - with some clever sweep and secondary effects on top of those basic blender intersections.
I came into this with very favourable views on the Wetter Box and Signal Blender in particular. The other two are really just too big for my needs - and would require me to sacrifice numerous of my existing beloved pedal slots which I'm not really willing to do. I'm sure there are some behind-the-scenes Morningstar ML5 possibilities here for parallel signal blending that have yet to see the light of day. But for my own practicality considerations - it has to be either the Wetter Box or the Signal Blender.
And considering that mine is a stereo rig - and if I want to be able to deploy a parallel blender throughout my chain - the only true match for my needs is the Wetter Box. Obviously that causes some degree of complications in finding TRS-Y splitter cables of adequate quality and length - but it's not an insurmountable challenge.
I already have a variety of parallel dual channels effects in my chain - but I'm sure I could do some more clever things with their routing and arrangement - considering in particular that I don't use a Midi Controller / Switcher. I have raised that point before on this blog - and however much I would like a TheGigRig G2 or Boss ES-8 - neither are really particularly practical for my ever chopping and changing pedal-chain. Were I touring musician with a more permanent / fixed signal chain - then much of this would make more sense.
With my own practicalities and challenges though - the only one here that really makes sense to me is the Wetter Box - which is now yet another pedal on the wishlist. There's still a lot on the priorities list for this year - so I'm not sure if this is something for later this year, or early next!
Apart from Andy Othling, Dan Steinhardt, Matt Knight and Stefan Fast - are any of you starting to experiment more with parallel effects blending in this manner?