When I did my piece on 9 of the Best Phaser Pedals back in July of last year, the Subdecay Quasar DLX was probably the most feature-rich of those mentioned. Now nearly a year later we have 4 slightly unusual medium-sized phasers all vying for attention within pretty much the same sort of form-factor - and each is really quite different from the other.
As I was compiling that piece, it was just a fraction in advance of the release of the Spaceman Effects Explorer. I’ve developed quite a liking for Spaceman pedals over the ensuing year, and while initially being somewhat phobic towards single-effect pedals in larger enclosures, I’ve also development a liking for some of the medium enclosure types. Of course they take up significantly more pedalboard real-estate, but sometimes they really are worth it.
I have 3 phasers currently to my name - my primary current choice - the excellent Chase Bliss Audio Wombtone II, the really cool Alexander Pedals La Calavera and the rather diminutive Mini Phase 95 from MXR. I’ve also had my eye on the superb Empress Phaser and the new Old Blood Noise Endeavors Dweller Phase Repeater - the former of which offers some competition for the Quasar DLX, while the latter is more along the lines of the Ghost Fax.
Yet my attentions have been drawn to the above quartet of late, and I’ve long pondered whether the Subdecay Quasar DLX is still the go-to option within this form factor. Dwarfcraft brings on the more quirky side of phasing, Mr Black introduces Dual Phasing in Stereo, and Spaceman does its usual high-fidelity analogue thing - this time using an optical circuit with 6 Wave Shape options.
In many ways, and apart from the common enclosure size - these pedals really could not be more different - 3 have dual footswitches, but only one of those is tap-tempo, with the others using their second footswitch for Pause (freeze) and Preset - while the Spaceman is just straight on/off single switch. Whenever I see a medium enclosure I always think it should have 2 footswitches - to make proper use of the extra real-estate. A lot of the time this does mean using smarter electronics - or a digital overlay control interface which is currently anathema to Spaceman Effects. I still feel the Explorer could have had a Tap Tempo though!
Pedals are listed alphabetically by brand.
You kind of know what you're in for when the pedal features in a 'Knobs' demo video - per the above. This is not your typical Phaser pedal at all - in fact it's more intended for ambient soundscapers and those with a penchant for granular delays and glitch machines. There's days of fun to be had with this blippy, warbly, shimmery delight. And you immediately forgive the weird mode controls in the lower half of the pedal. It's probably not your pedal of choice if you're looking for more regular phasing - but I am suitably charmed by this one to maintain interest. I'm still not really sure it's for me, or how I would use it - but there's not doubt that this is both a fantastic and fantastical noise-maker!
This is the most recently launched of the quartet, and in many ways the simplest of the 4 featured here - but also potentially the richest sounding as it combines dual parallel phasers split left-right, and which you can offset significantly by using the Shift dial. You get to choose either 4 or 6 stage phasing with the latter significantly more pronounced as well as being a more complex waveform, and then you have fun with offsetting those two parallel phasers with the Shift dial. Mix is blend, and Rate is speed as usual. You also have the benefit of being ables to save a preset - meaning that you can switch between a more regular phase style to something really crazy during live playback. This is a fairly simple idea executed really well. Compared to the Ghost Fax above, this is an entirely different animal though really.
I'm a huge fan of Zak Martin's Spaceman Effects - his fuzzes in particular, but there is no doubting that he produces some of the best sounding pedals anywhere - with superb top-notch build quality and components. And the 6-stage Explorer is no exception - with 6 Wave Shape options and 5 further tone-sculpting dials - but only the single on/bypass footswitch when compared to the others here. As always - it sounds amazing and has that little extra which goes some way towards justifying its high ticket price - that colour-shifting LED is cool too also - but this is easily the most expensive option on this page. I am still drawn to it somewhat - possibly like a moth to a flame?
With its 11 Shapes / Waveforms, this is still the pedal to beat for playback modes. Also within this quartet this pedal is unique in having a tap-tempo which tends though to be quite common with this type of modulation, and something which I really like about my Chase Bliss Wombtone. In many ways this is still the most versatile of these medium-box phasers, and in many ways the most practical one too - although the Preset on the Twin Lazers is also very handy. I guess each of these pedals will appeal to different types of players - while me being the eclectic sort like each of these in their own way. Subdecay also has the more compact Quasar Phaser V4 which manages to retain most of the modes - although it looses the secondary footswitch.
I originally had the KMA Machines Astrospurt Four-Stage JFET Phaser also included in this selection as it fits the form-factor, but it somehow does not appeal to me as much so I left that one out - Stefan Fast really likes it though. With the above assortment it is so much 'horses for courses' as some players will like some aspects of these but not the others - probably all of these pedals are quite distinct and unique and likely to appeal to different types of players. I do think the Empress Phaser warrants a mention here in the same sort of size box, but horizontal alignment. The Empress has no less than 5 dials, 5 toggle-switches and dual footswitches - with tap-tempo. I still think the Quasar DLX is more pedalboard-friendly though overall.
Bizarrely too, even though the Spaceman Explorer is somewhat the least technically adept here, it is also the one that holds the most appeal for me. I don't think any of these would unseat my Wombtone though - but I really like something about the Explorer here. It really is impossible to give each of these a score out of ten and put them in a ranking as they are not really exact equivalents at all - if and when I go down the Montreal Assembly Count-to-5 and Red Panda Particle - sort of glitchy granular route, then the Ghost Fax would be my top choice here. If I wanted something basic but syrupy and immense sounding then the Twin Lazers would be the pick.
I really thought this piece would help firm up my decision process and help me make a definitive decision about whether I should acquire any of these. I've seemingly come out the other side as undecided as I was when I went in - which means - if in doubt - leave it out - so I'm doing nothing for now. Something about that Explorer though ...