The key effect of the 80’s seems to be coming back into vogue again, and it has quickly risen from nice-to-have to essential status for me. This really happened when I acquired the Boss MD-500 - whose Chorus, Filter, Flanger and Phaser modes I love in particular. When the Strymon Mobius was in that slot I did not particularly rate its choruses, while I find the Boss ones pretty stellar - including all the stereo Dimensions modes.
So I decided fairly early on this year that I would be getting the new Empress Zoia Multi-Effects / Sequencing unit when it finally materialises. I initially thought that this would bump the MD-500 out of position whose many chorus modes I use a lot - as mentioned. In preparation for this change I first acquired the TC Electronic Dreamscape which is featured here, before bumping that for the Eventide H9 Max. Yet truthfully neither of those was quite up to the quality of the Boss choruses on the MD-500 - so I reviewed further afield - and the results are largely gathered together in this post. I should also add that I’ve now kind of decided that the Empress Zoia will take up the currently spare 40th slot in my pedal-chain - and the the Boss MD-500 will stay on in the chain. I may also consider shifting up to the slightly larger Strymon Ola.
I also forgot to mention that I already have the Chase Bliss Audio Warped Vinyl MKII in my chain - which is used as a rather subtle warbly / fluttery effect - and I really like it for that. While the majority of chorus effects I use come from the larger Boss MD-500 unit. So in some ways the ongoing search might be a touch moot, but I’m always on the look out for a better option / more usable / more versatile / more practical / more dynamic / warmer sounding etc. pedal for each particular slot - and that means none of my existing pedals are wholly safe or sacrosanct. I also like having options and alternatives and do in fact rotate quite a large number of pedals on a regular basis.
So the question / choice is to have something that is a switch-out for the Warped Vinyl, or rather have something in Stereo - which would need to be used slightly further up the chain! In fact this may inadvertently impact on my Tech 21 NYC Roto Choir rotary pedal as that is only mono in, stereo out. For ultimate versatility you need a pedal with dual stereo input and output sockets - so that you can place that anywhere within the chain!
Of those pedals featured here you can probably break them into 4 different category tiers - mono only, tap-tempo, mono-in - stereo-out and full stereo. In fact most likely I would be looking at the full-stereo Dawner Prince Viberator or Neunaber Inspire Tri-Chorus. Yet neither of those have the tap-tempo feature that I really like - in fact only the Warped Vinyl and JHS Emperor V2 have that function, but both are mono.
You have the pretty much industry standard Boss CE-2w pedal - which is strangely mono-in - stereo-out - same as the EWS modified Arion Stereo Chorus. Boss make so many stereo pedals that I find it a touch odd that this one only has a single input socket - but there’s no doubt that the Boss has that classic benchmark chorus sound that most are so familiar with. I’ve also long had a soft spot for the DryBell Vibe Machine V2 - which has so many hidden modes and additional trim-pots - and is the one best loved here by professional players, but that one is usually accompanied by a separate mini tap-tempo / ramping switch - where I don’t see why they can’t build that into the core pedal and have dual footswitches like the Chase Bliss and JHS pedals do. In fact for all these time-based / oscillating modulation effects I still don’t understand why it’s not more common to have a separate onboard tap-tempo footswitch - the technology already exists. And there are a number of pedal-makers doing this already, but most seem to be lagging behind.
Also at the simpler end of the scale we have the MXR Uni-Vibe, Walrus Audio Julia and Way Huge Smalls Blue Hippo - I suppose the Greenhouse Effects Stonefish would also go in that category. For the longest time I deliberated between the Catalinbread Callisto and Greenhouse Effects Stonefish - both are 4 pot dual mode pedals - I went with the latter in the end as I’m really enjoying their Sludgehammer Fuzz at the moment - I did not realise Greenhouse had been around for as long as they have!
So as with a number of the other categories, I’m not sure the perfect compact format chorus is out for me yet - there are several capable ones here, but none so far combines everything I want.
Pedals are listed alphabetically by brand:
This somewhat plasticky Japanese chorus has long been many a professional's secret weapon - to the extent that EWS now include their modifications of the same within their own main product range. A very classically 80's voiced chorus with great dynamics - and EWS upgraded components where they make sense. Andertons sells these but they are relatively widely available now - I would of course prefer this as a full-stereo pedal, but as a fairly simple, classic 80's style chorus this is one of the best - bizarrely now more pricey than the Boss CE-2w - whose predecessors were the inspiration for most of these featured pedals.
I referenced GearManDude's excellent 3-way comparison video above here - which shows that there's really not that much between each of these versions - although the MIJ version does sound just a touch warmer overall to me - but you would be hard-pushed to tell the difference in live scenarios. This is the classic sound of the 80's - or as introduced in 1979 - and the chorus by which all others are judged. Since that time we've had stereo Dimension choruses and thickened-up Tri-Choruses - but the original Boss CE-2 is still the benchmark for the chorus effect - I will likely get one of these anyway at some stage - not sure which one - possibly a modified Taiwanese CE-2 with upgraded components, as the MIJ ones are still fetching silly money - I'm not averse to the CE-2w Waza Craft version either.
So this is my default analogue chorus - actually I have the white second MKII version while the newer black colourway for the MKIII HiFi version brings the Warped Vinyl full circle - as the MKI started off black also. Each version of the Warped Vinyl has become progressively brighter sounding - with re-engineered tone circuits each time. The newest HiFi versions started off as a sort of metallic coppery orange, but that colourway proved too tricky to manufacture and led to too many blemished pedals - meaning that the colour reverted back to black. In the latest version Chase Bliss has swapped out the top centre Volume dial for a Lag dial - which accentuates the fluttery effect. Owing to previous experience of volume drop issues though with various modulation pedals, I'm loath to update from my current MKII version - but I may well take the leap someday. This is still overall the most capable chorus/vibrato pedal in this form factor - with its 6 dials, 3 x 3-way toggles, 16 dip-switches, separate tap-tempo and 2 onboard presets via 4th 3-way toggle. If only this was full stereo it would be the perfect chorus for me at this size!
I said in the intro that this was full stereo, but it's actually the same as the Boss CE-2w - i.e. single socket in and dual sockets out - so it has dropped a touch in my estimation. It's a very capable chorus pedal nonetheless with a high feature set and shape dial, as well as Modern and Vintage voicing modes. I would still like to see a second footswitch for tap-tempo and a stereo in facility - even if it's only via TRS cable.
This is probably the current professional's favourite and used heavily in conjunction with the F-1L mini footswitch to access the 10 - E, S, X and T secondary modes for this pedal. Even though there are just 2 dials and 2 toggle switches on the top face of the pedal - there are a further 6 trimpots - 3 per side to fine-tune the output further. This is a hugely capable pedal and a truly great sounding one too. It does however need that secondary footsmwitche really to unleash its full feature set, and the output is currently mono only. I personally would prefer for those fiddly side trim-pots to be elevated to front-facing mini-dials - with a second footswtich for tap-tempo. And also why not just have a simpler third large mode dial instead of relying on secondary functions on the main Speed dial. Apart from a few minor quibbles though this is an excellent proposition, which could be made better still!
One of the more simpler pedals here, and as mentioned - I struggled over whether to include this one or the Catalinbread Callisto as both are quite similar in many ways - thought the function of each one's 4th dial does vary - the Stonefish has Width, while the Callisto has Mix. So you have a 2-way Vibrato / Chorus switch - and then Rate, Depth, Width and Tone - for a pretty decent sounding chorus at a fairly decent price - although it's just within £10 of the Boss CE-2w.
I was very encouraged to see Josh Scott miniaturise most of his mid-size modulation pedals down to the compact form-factor - with all the functionality in tact as on this V2 Emperor Chorus. It's one of only two pedals here to have tap-tempo, and it also has a 3-way waveform switch. It's still not close to the functionality of some of the upper tier ones, but give you all you really need if you are running a mono rig. The Warped Vinyl gives you more of course - but that's nearly twice the price!
The classic Uni-Vibe needs to introduction and there are lots of bigger box alternatives for that. The MXR compact is a capable performer though and not too far off classic status either - even if I do prefer the Boss sound overall. You just have 3 simple dials here - Level, Speed and Depth, with a push-button switch to access Vibe mode. Different players will have different tone preferences - and this pedal still gets featured quite widely - it's also a touch more cost-effective. But I'm not really in the business of ranking these by order of preference - just indicating which ones appeal to me personally and why.
This is the second most recent introduction here - preceding the Warped Vinyl HiFi by a short while - yet this is one of only two full stereo pedals here - alongside the TCE Dreamscape which I already have. Neunaber in fact follows up its exceptional Immerse delay - with an very similar form-factor Inspire Tri-Chorus - with no less than 8 modes - including a flavour of added delay. Of all the pedals featured here - this would probably be my top choice to add into the mix for my chain. I've already decided that I will get a Boss CE-2 of some descriptions at some stage for occasional swap-out - but this pedal is far more versatile than that and ends up higher on the priority list. It does though lack tap-tempo which I'd really quite like!
So this is the pedal that was in place for barely a month before I bumped it for the quite a bit more capable Eventide H9 Max. I still quite like this pedal - although I feel it could do with a little more output volume. It is supposedly a modern digital update on the celebrated SCF Stereo Chorus Flanger pedal - here honed for John Petrucci's needs with 2 Chorus Modes, 2 Vibrato, 2 Flanger and a single TonePrint option. There's also a 3-way Tone toggle switch - Bright / Normal / Dark - to go alongside the Speed, Depth, FX Level and Mode dials. This is a very capable stereo pedal - and you can get a pretty cool rotary sound out of it too - albeit, it lacks the second footswitch to get the most out of that functionality - i.e. ramp / break etc. I think this pedal could be enormously improved with a few more TonePrint options and a second footswitch, I would also change the 3-way toggle for a mini dial!
This relatively simple analogue chorus / vibrato is loved by quite a number of players - it has the rather unusual combination of Rate, Depth and Lag dials, alongside a further mode dial - Dry, Chorus and Vibrato, and a 2-way Sine/Triangle waveform / shape toggle. The combination of those 5 controls gives you a huge range of in-between modes which those that deploy it use to their best advantage. This is a cool take on the chorus - albeit mono only, and without tap-tempo.
Alongside Josh Scott miniaturising his pedals - I am heartened to see Jeorge Tripps do the same to his Way Huge range - with now 4 pedals I think shrunk down to the compact enclosure size. This is your core classic analogue chorus with just a 2-way mode selector and Speed and Depth dials. There's plenty of players that like this one too, and it is the equal lowest cost option featured here - alongside the TCE Dreamscape and MXR Uni-Vibe - different players will have a preference for each.
I think that if you're after the classic chorus sound - you can't go wrong with the Boss, but if you want a little more then you should be looking at the Chase Bliss Warped Vinyl, DryBell Vibe Machine and Neunaber Inspire Tri-Chorus. If I had none of these and had to buy one - I would likely still go for the Warped Vinyl. Seeing has I already have a Warped Vinyl and a Dreamscape - I would probably go for the pretty versatile Neunaber Inspire - even though it's missing tap-tempo.
In fact if I really wanted an all-in compact-ish Chorus pedal - I believe I would go up a size to the Strymon Ola - which has both the full stereo ins and outs and tap-tempo - actually scrap that - the second footswitch on the Ola is for Favorite - or single preset. So it really does not appear that my ideal stereo chorus tap-tempo pedal exists. The nearest equivalents are the Eventide H9, Strymon Mobius and Boss MD-500 all of which I already have!
Some of these pedal-makers really need to hurry up and innovate some more ...