We’ve covered off Key Effects Pedals per Compact and Mini size, and here we go up a category to Medium. When I think of medium-sized pedals, the makers that immediately spring to mind are Strymon, Empress , Carl Martin and Way Huge (Dunlop) - for whom the medium-size enclosure forms the mainstay of their product offerings. All the newer Orange Amps pedals have been of medium size and same goes for Stone Deaf FX, and I guess in the early 70’s - before Boss came along with its ’Compact’ enclosure - the smaller pedals at that time were around these dimensions. With modern engineering, companies like Chase Bliss, Dr Scientist and Foxpedal have managed amazing feats of engineering - to squeeze all manner of functionality and feature set into Boss’s compact enclosure dimensions.
And while I favour Strymon - who themselves cram a whole host of technology into their medium enclosures - with dual-function dials, dual footswitches and stereo in and out - several others could really do with compacting their pedal enclosures - as in fact Zvex are doing with their Fuzz Factory next - bringing it into a standard vertical compact enclosure. The trend has been for more pedals on your board, which means that spacing and size is really of critical importance now. If your pedal enclosure is going to take the place of two compact pedals, it better contain that degree of functionality.
As with other size categories, I find some odd omissions within ranges - for instance the fact that Strymon has never made a phaser. There’s also no medium-size offering for Acoustic Simulation, so the Boss AC-3 remains in that spot.
I’ve tried to select the very best pedals for each slot, and Strymon wins a lot of those head-to-heads by virtue that its pedals are full stereo, where most of the competitors are still working with mono signals. For modulation, delay and reverb in particular - the stereo dimension adds significant texture to your soundstage, and I really would not want to be without it. In my own pedal chain I mix up both analogue and digital modulation pedals, with the former being mono and the latter in stereo.
Not all of these pedals have worthy alternatives, I will only include such where I consider a pedal good enough for swap out, otherwise we just feature the chosen one:
This pedal is stroboscopic and has a nice, big and easily-legible and bright display. It's the only really decent larger tuner that I can find. Personally I would not venture to this enclosure size for a tuner, as my TCE PolyTune Mini Noir gives me everything I need.
Morley pedals build on noiseless optical technology which is smoother and obviously resistant to wear. The 'Mini' moniker is something of a misnomer as they are significantly longer and wider than my proper Dunlop Mini's and significantly more than the equivalent Mooers. That said - the pedal in question does give you both Wah and Volume with a footswitch to toggle between the two modes, so as far as that goes - you are getting two pedals for one. There's no doubting these are decent pedals, but I doubt I would ever want to go larger than the 2 Mini Dunlops I currently have.
This is a mix of genius and unnecessary width. Unlike the above Morley Wah / Volume pedal - this one needs no switches - you simply step on it to activate. This means that the oversized enclosure is somewhat at odds with this fine technology. I don't see why they can't place the 'Active' LED on the side of the pedal and minimise it down to compact size - where it could offer the Dunlop mini some genuine competition. I would love another decent mini optical pedal alternative at that size to compete with the Dunlop and AMT offerings.
This is a somewhat pricey but modern update of an EHX POG -alike pedal - with various secondary slider functions beyond the Octave ones. It take up less horizontal space but makes up for that in length. Yet for this category, the medium dimension is really defined by the width of the pedal - up to around twice the width of a regular compact pedal. This is a really cool pedal that gives you quite different flavours to the POG, but boy is it pricey. For its overall feature set and size, it's a good 33% dearer than the full-size POG - tricky decision to make, but I think I will stick with my TC Electronic Sub 'N' UP - that plus the new TCE Quintessence Harmonizer will give me a lot more options at a significantly lower price point.
The Strymon pips the Orange Two Stroke by virtue of its dual feature set - even though both the Boost and Compressor elements are somewhat stripped down in nature - yet you can save on space. To my mind the current ultimate 'Boost' pedal is the Jackson Audio Prism - that's probably the one I would aim for, and it is within the compact category too, pricier mind you than the two options here. It's also worth mentioning that the Empress ParaEQ contains a boost too - so that could also be a viable option - although it really depends on where you want to apply the Boost and EQ in your chain.
One of the 'Industry Standard' compressor pedals and featured on a lot of pro pedalboards. The Orange Kongpressor too is an excellent proposition and really works well. I though would sidestep both of these for the compact enclosure size Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Deluxe - which is most probably the best reviewed compressor pedal currently available anywhere - it does come at a significant premium though (£279) - see the earlier piece on Key Guitar Effect Pedals per Preferred Compact Type.
As introduced in the Compact pedals Key Effects article, this is currently the industry standard acoustic simulator and there is nothing I can find in a larger size category - your main options here are between the compact Boss, or mini Mooer clone of that.
I have both Strymon drive pedals and they are both equally fun to use and produce consistently great output - although the Sunset I feel is a little more versatile and has a greater range of tones. I am a big fan of UK pedal and amp maker Stone Deaf and already have their Tremotron Tremolo and look likely to acquire the Fig Fumb Fuzz anytime soon - the Trashy Blonde is the Overdrive equivalent to that, while the Warp Drive is a very slightly different beast for higher gain distortion. And while EQD is probably best known for its more off-kilter modulation and filter pedals it also does some exceptional dirt pedals of its own, including the dual channel - Gray Channel Overdrive - which has lots of clipping options, but no stacking, unlike the Strymon - which allows every kind of paralled and serial stacking of its channels.
Easily one of my favourite and most versatile distortion pedals which could have been engineered even better if it had 3 footswitches acting in 'preset' mode. As it is you have 3 voicings - Fuzz | Overdrive | Distortion - which you can stack in parallel in any combination. It means it shares settings across the channel switcher - so that I use the Fuzz voicing to texture my Overdrive and Distortion. With my recommended modification - you could have separate settings for each of 3 different footswitches - therefore 3 fully independent Fuzz, Overdrive and Distortion presets made up of any combination. Regardless of that it is a wonderful pedal to dial in and sounds amazing. The Strymon Riverside - although not quite as versatile as its Sunset sibling, is still an incredible pedal with in effect 2 channels (favourite preset) you can switch between - I've also added a Strymon mini-switch which can boos this further. Finally we have the Stone Deaf Warp Drive which gives you an enormous range of warp drive through some very clever frequency manipulation. All 3 pedals featured here are super-versatile.
This super-versatile fuzz pedal - which can do pretty much everything bar octave-fuzz is high on my wishlist. It uses the same parametric frequency / EQ type of controls as the Trashy Blonde - for the widest possible range of fuzz tones from smooth to searing fuzz-distortion. If you want octave fuzz, then the new Orange Fur Coat Fuzz is pretty cool, as is the Emma Electronic Okto Nojs.
This smart but large-ish Noise Gate allows you to cleverly switch between Soft and Hard Gates - depending on what you're playing, and how much you need to throttle excess unwanted noise. Most of the noise gates are in the compact pedal category, there really aren't any worth alternatives at this enclosure size. This offers some genuine advantages, although you can achieve similar with the smaller / compact TC Electronic Sentry which would probably be my preferred choice for Soft / Hard gating. While I'm more than satisfied with my current Alchemy modded Boss NS-2 - where I only screen my fuzz and distortion pedals, and I allow the overdrives to pass through unfettered.
This is the industry standard Parametric Equalizer - which you see on a lot of pro boards. It's not as instantly visually clear or quick to dial in as the graphic slider types, but obviously a lot more accurate. There is also the compact WMD Parametric EQ which does largely the same thing at the smaller compact pedal size. There is no doubting that Empress excels at this, but for me - I tend to prefer the ease-of-use of the more standard slider-style graphic equalizers and the Boss GE-7 (Alchemy modded) works really well for me. If I wanted more bands I would likely go up another size category and plump for the smart Whirlwind Perfect Ten - 10 band graphic equalizer.
I've realised of late how much I like Stereo Choruses - in fact the movement of air across the stereo spectrum usually creates much better dynamics and atmospherics than a mono equivalent - and I'm really enjoying using my new Boss MD-500 pedal for all those wonderful stereo choruses onboard. At the medium enclosure size it's hard to look past Strymon who do these kinds of effects so well - fully in stereo and with lots of voicing and feature options the Strymon Ola is the easy winner here, with the EHX Stereo Clone Theory ahead of the Maxon because of its keener price.
once more the Strymon Orbit Flanger gives you full stereo along with a very healthy feature set - the Empress Nebulus in fact contains still more features but is in Mono configuration. And if you want a flavour of the classic 70's flanger, then the closest you can currently get to that is the Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Electric Mistress XO. These are all worthy contenders each of which has something unique and different to contribute.
I would really have loved a stereo phaser at this size, but Strymon don't make one, and neither does anyone else seem to. There are a few stereo phasers at the compact enclosure size but none for medium. The Empress is probably the most feature rich in this category even though mono - while the KMA Astrospurt gives you some really weird and wonderful alternative spacey phaser modulations. For my onw use I have the Boss MD-500 for wonderful stereo multi-stepped phasers and the very clever Chase Bliss Wombtone and Alexander Pedals La Calavera for some furthe mono fluttery phaser modulations - and I don't really need any more!
The Strymon Flint pedal has probably been on my wishlist for the longest time - I have a number of tremolo pedals now - including the MD-500 for stereo / panned tremolo as well as the really clever Chase Bliss Gravitas and Stone Deaf Tremotron. I would still nevertheless like to add the Flint into the mix at some stage - it is so well beloved by pro players like John Mayer and his ilk. The Empress Tremolo 2 is also exceptional in its versatility, while the EHX Stereo Pulsar gives you that lovely stereo warble which works so well.
When Source Audio launched its Nemesis a couple of years ago they really shook up the medium-size enclosure category which had been wholly bossed by Strymon up to that time. The Nemesis is in effect a kind of mini Strymon TimeLine - giving you variations of all the key flavours of delay, while the Strymon Dig (Digital), Strymon El Capistan (Tape), Strymon Brigadier (Analogue) give you more dedicated singular flavours at that pedal size. And while Strymon does have a mini BigSky in the guise of its BlueSky, it still has not launched a mini TimeLine to properly compete with the SA Nemesis - which I feel is something of an oversight.
The Source Audio Ventris Dual Reverb is somewhat overdue by now, having been announced a good year ago and then at Winter NAMM to be ready in the summer, then September, and we still await. In the meantime Boss launched its amazing RV-500 Dual Reverb plus Dual Delay - somewhat stealing Ventris's thunder - so it will be interesting to see exactly what the Ventris ends up like - the final production samples certainly looked and sounded great in the demos. For the alternatives here you can go with the slightly more settings of the Strymon BlueSky - Room | Plate | Spring, or the Hall | Plate | Spring of the Strymon Flint - which has less modulation settings but includes 3 different types of Tremolo - both are excellent options - although both somewhat outpaces by the 12 onboard algorithms of the forthcoming Ventris - which can be played 2 at a time in series or parallel.
For me TC Electronic and Boss rule the world of Looper Pedals - with Pigtronix as the go-to pro-board solution. I have and love the Ditto X2 - which is really not that different to the EHX 720 - there are pros and cons for each and I went for the slightly less cluttered facia of the Ditto. I have also had a Trio+ for quite a while, but it is not a current active component in my chain and has not seen much use of late - its bass & drums accompaniment feature though is something really special, which makes it quite a unique type of looper pedal - but obviously somewhat more complicated to use than the other two mentioned.
The Strymon Deco does a pretty elegant double-tracking effect, but does not really fully compete with the amazing algorithm of the smaller TC Electonic Mimiq which is current leader of the pack - giving you a grand total of 4 voices - the original dry signal plus 3 'dubs'. At this size there is really only the Strymon Deco that I can see - certain choruses, delays and harmonizers can replicate the double-tracking effect pretty closely, but there don't seem to be any dedicated alternatives at this size enclosure. Of course the Deco does a lot more than double tracking, but if you run a stereo rig, you should definitely take a Mimiq for a test-drive - it will radically improve the dynamics of your sound.
The medium enclosure size is a touch of an oddity sometimes - in some cases too large for the feature set offered, while at other times not quite large enough to carry the full feature set required vs some of the bigger pedals. I have 3 of those featured in the above picture in my active chain, with 3 more in addition - The Strymon Riverside, Empress Heavy and Tech 21 RotoChoir - all essential pedals as far as I am concerned. I would quite happily own all of the Strymon pedals, and all the Empress ones too - as well as the Source Audio Nemesis and Ventris - while the Stone Deaf Fig Fumb Fuzz is most definitely high up on my wishlist.
It's totally understandable that pedal makers settle on a particular enclosure size and decide to roll out all their key pedals in that format. It's certainly been a successful formula for Strymon and Empress - even though it runs the risk of being undercut in this instance by equally smart or smarter more compact pedals. I do believe Strymon is being challenged by Source Audio in particular in the medium workstation category - while Boss goes after its dominance in the big box pedal category. There are interesting times ahead for all of us...