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Best of High Gain and Metal Distortion Pedals Mini Focus and Final Roundup

Airis EffectsAleks K ProductionAmptweakerAMT EffectsAMT ElectronicsBlackhawk AmplificationBognerBossBrown Sound DistortionDecibelicsDistortionDual-DriveEmpress EffectsFriedman EffectsGoosoniqueworxHorizon DevicesIbanezKeeley EngineeringKlirrton ManufakturKMA AudioKSR CeresLone Wolf AudioMarshall Style DistortionMetal DistortionMI EffectsMooerMulti-DriveOneControlPushking PedalsRedbeard EffectsREVV AmplificationRockfabrik EffectsSTL TonesSuhrTWA EffectsWamplerXvive Audio+-
2019GPXPersonalFavouriteHighGainPedals700.jpg

So I thought I would combine the Mini Pedal selection with the final overall category roundup featuring my current favourites and forthcoming/future acquisition targets. The above visual may be somewhat convoluted, but it well illustrates the trade off in footprint and practicality/utility you get across the different enclosure form factors.

 

I’ve stated before that I’ve largely moved away from the larger styles of enclosures in favour of more pedals of a more compact nature - which means more tonal variety and versatility in the chain, as well as easier swap-around / rotation.

 

Up to this point I’ve covered off in sequential order - Vertical Medium, Horizontal Medium, Large and Compact size enclosures. Finally, it’s time to focus in on what is available around the 1590A enclosure size. I have selected 14 suitable candidates within which Mooer obviously dominates, and of which pedals I have 4 myself - the Decibelics Angry Swede, Ibanez Super Metal Mini, OneControl Anodized Brown Distortion and Xvive Golden Brownie Distortion.

 

Obviously Mooer has the most options in this area with 20 of its Micro PreAmps which I covered off around this time last year, as well as 2 further Metal-style distortions from its core Micro Pedal range. I selected my favourites from each category here - the two core ones and 5 of the best PreAmp variants.

 

AMT have an interesting series of ’X’-Drive Mini Pedals - of which the P-Drive (Peavey 5150/6505) and E-Drive (Engl Special/Fireball/Powerball) variants are my favourites - each has an extra level of sizzle / mids accentuation / chewiness which I prefer to the other slightly more darker varieties.

 

Beyond the highly capable 3-Band EQ, 2-Channel, Cab Sim and mode selection of the Mooer Micro PreAmps, the most impressive engineering obviously pertains to the Decibelics Angry Swede. To date I’ve not encountered any more finely engineered pedals than Guillem Vilademunt’s Decibelics - the Swiss Watch equivalent of mini pedals - beautifully intricate and made with the finest THT components - his circuit reproductions are exactly matched to their original inspirations with original componentry and identical frequency profiles. If you want the best exact HM-2 Heavy Metal clone out there, then the Decibelics Angry Swede is the one, the compact-size XIX Tech HMD-1 is more of an enhanced wider ranging HM-2 replica, but if you want total equivalency then the Angry Swede is the current best choice.

 

Other pedals included in the Mini roundup are the 5-controls (2 x dual-concentric) Ibanez Super Metal Mini, OneControl Anodized Brown Distortion (Brown Sound), Suhr Riot Mini (Brown Sound), TWA Fly Boys Metal Mini and Xvive Golden Brownie Mini (Brown Sound) - yes I know - a lot of EVH / Brown Sound options / alternatives.

 

In terms of acquisition targets I probably need to add a few more Mooers to the roster - since I have none of those listed. Most imminent targets though are the AMT P-Drive Mini and Suhr Riot Mini - which I’ve been intending to get for a long time now.

 

As always, pedals are listed in alphabetical order by brand - here grouped by pedal enclosure size from Mini through to Large. For the other category selections I’have picked out my current rotation favourites and acquisition targets from each group and will reference those in smaller segments below. In general I have 16 of all the above in the collection - or 29 of the full category of 65 high gain pedals featured over these last few weeks.


AMT P-Drive Mini JFET Distortion (Peavey 5150/6505) - €52

As mentioned in the intro - AMT have a cool range of Mini JFET-based drives - distortions mostly actually, and of those half a dozen or so varieties, my pick of the bunch is the Peavey-style P-Drive - with the Engl-style E-Drive running it very close. There's just 3 knobs on these - Level | Gain | Tone with a Voice switch on the left-hand side of the pedal for alternative voicing - usually slightly brighter or darker with slightly different gain structure. The P-Drive and E-Drive have a little additional mid-range chewiness and sizzle to them than the others in the range - just an extra level of texture and character that really appeals to me. Funnily enough there are 6 sort of EVH/Brown Sound pedals in this lineup - variously JCM800, EVH and Peavey style. Each has very slightly different textural characteristics and on different days my preference can lean one way or the other - I generally love the EVH sound, and have a large number of favourite pedals in that territory.


Decibelics Angry Swede (Precise HM-2 Clone) - £152

This is simply about getting the best format of pristine HM-2 voiced pedal currently on the market. There's no way you would find a mint Boss HM-2 at this price level, and the Angry Swede is the most closely matched circuit currently available - right down to that pedal's output frequency profile graph. Of course made in Mini variety with the finest THT components, and with a better signal-to-noise ratio / better noise-floor than the original. You don't really expect this little pedal to be as powerful as it is - but check out all the head-to-heads, including the one above - and as I can vouch - this sounds unerringly identical to the original with all that texture and tone fully in tact, but in a much smaller format with some additional engineering improvements. If you're looking for a pristine HM-2 type pedal - then this is definitely the droid you are looking for!


Ibanez Super Metal Mini - £85

Just like Ibanez did with the TS808, it also miniaturised its original SM9 Super Metal Pedal into this format of enclosure with all 5 controls intact courtesy of dual-concentric / stacked knobs. The controls are Edge (Treble) | Punch (Bass) | Attack (Presence) | Level | Drive. I personally would have liked a bit more gain and headroom here - and I would say the same about the TS Mini which I also own - but both totally carry the tonality of their larger original siblings.


Mooer Blade Distortion (EHX Metal Muff) - £54

This is Mooer's take on EHX's Metal Muff - with 3 Knobs - Volume | Tone | Distortion, and a 3-way toggle switch for Hi Boost/Boost Off/Lo Boost. It's a pretty good replica as far as that goes and decent sounding - while not everyone likes its particular flavour of high gain - and some find it too fizzy / fuzzy - obviously the same types that are unlikely to like Boss's HM-2 and MT-2 pedals. For those that aren't particularly captivated by these tones - try out the more traditional style medal of the Mooer Rage Machine - immediately below:


Mooer Rage Machine Distortion (Digitech Death Metal Distortion) - £50

This used to be Mooer's singularly best High Gain pedal from its original core range of Micro Pedals, and still sounds great to my ears - although it has a lot more competition nowadays, particularly from its Micro PreAmp range siblings. Controls on this occasion are Low | Level | High | Rage (Distortion).


Mooer Micro PreAmp 001 Gas Station (Diezel Hagen) - £75

And so the first of my picks of Mooer's Micro PreAmp pedals - for which pretty much all of the High Gain varieties are decent and usable - in fact many are used in fly-rigs by celebrated Metal bands. I've picked out my 5 favourites - which all have the same feature set - 5 knobs - Treble | Mids | Bass | Volume | Gain, and then a 2-way button for Channel A/B - as corresponds to the originating amp - either Clean / Crunch | Clean / Distortion or Lower Gain / Higher Gain. Holding down the button also activates a decent Cab Sim. These pedals totally punch above their weight and are about as fully-featured as pedals can be at this size. I'm a huge Diezel amps fan, and this is a pretty great take on the Diezel Hagen.


Mooer Micro PreAmp 002 UK Gold 900 (Marshall JCM900) - £75

Feature-wise as previously described - this time taking on those most popular tones of the highest gain Marshall JCM900. This is another great replica of this genre which pretty convincingly evokes the original amp inspiration.


Mooer Micro PreAmp 011 Cali-Dual (MESA/Boogie Dual Rectifier) - £77

Another of my favourite amp varieties servers as inspiration here - the Dual Rectifier series, and one more Mooer come up trumps - I really like this variety, and it's often my selection for favourite high level high gain mini distortion pedal.


Mooer Micro PreAmp 015 Brown Sound (Peavey 5150 MKI) - £77

Even though there are so many examples of the EVH / Brown sound tone - this is still another great example of / for that genre. Mooer's 005 Micro PreAmp give you the MKIII variety of the 5150 amp, and that pedal is used in both Cradle of Filth guitarist's fly-rigs.


Mooer Micro PreAmp 016 Phoenix (Engl Fireball 100) - £77

When you think original High Gain Metal amps - traditionally it's always been JCM800/900 from the UK and Diezel VH4 and Engl Fireball for Germany, and the MESA Rectifiers and Soldano SLO100 for USA. This is a great replica of that Engl signature style sound - not a million miles away from Diezel, but still very distinct.


Anodized Brown Distortion (EVH 5150 / Brown Sound) - £69

This is one of the earliest pedals I had in this category - being a huge fan of BJFE Björn Juhl and his various associated lines of pedals - in fact I have his #1 Distortion from Mad Professor too - also a Brown pedal in sound and looks. I could have done with a little more gain and more volume here - which is a criticism I have for some of the One Control mini pedals, while the larger compact size pedals from say Mad Professor and Bearfoot FX tend to have a little more oomph and more reserves on tap - particularly the latter brand. In any case a pretty great sounding brown sound - which could really though do with a little more volume and gain.


Suhr Riot Mini Distortion (Brown Sound) - £139

I have the original older brother to this, as well as the combined Suhr Eclipse pedal largely modelled on the Riot, as well as the more medium-gained Shiva Drive - which I do have the mini pedal version of. The Mini Riot runs its older sibling really close - the larger one has slightly more oomph and range to it, and would be nearer 100% with just a couple of very minor tweaks. If you watch That Pedal Show - you will have seen Dan and Mick's head-to-head of Mini to Compact pedals - and I agree with them in that the original Riot had a touch more satisfaction to it - I'll hold out a while longer then in expectation of a tweaked Mini Riot at some stage! Definitely a pedal I will acquire at some stage. You get 4 controls here - Tone, Level, Distortion and 2-way sort of Lo/Hi Gain Voice switch - where I like the extra sizzle!


TWA FB-05 Metal Distortion Mini - discontinued - $69 when new

I've been peripherally aware of the TWA Mini FlyBoys range for a while and have featured a couple in some of my other Mini pedal roundups. This is another really decent, nicely saturating mini high gain distortion pedal if you can get your hands on one. I don't believe they've been discontinued for long - and there seem to be still a few copies floating around on Reverb.com etc. This is one of those I may just snap up if I come across a keenly priced one by chance. You get 4 controls here - Volume, Distortion and Tone knobs, alongside 3-way toggle switch - Hi Boost/Boost Off/Lo Boost.


Xvive Golden Brownie Distortion (JCM800 / Brown Sound) - £42

And so to yet another Brown Sound variant, the final pedal of the mini roundup, and another one which is already in the collection. The EVH / JCM800 / 5150 / 6505 Brown Sound is obviously one of the most copied out there, and there are 6 in this selection alone and of which I already have 2, and will most definitely get the Suhr Mini Riot at some stage - along with the AMT P-Drive which I seem somewhat taken by. I've yet to decide definitively which Mooer Micro PreAmp varieties I will go with eventually - but there's obvious overlap there with JCM800, EVH MKI and EVH MKIII varieties - we shall see what materialised in the end. The Golden Brownie has 4 controls - Drive | Volume | Tone | Presence.


Mini Enclosure High Gain Pedal Roundup

Of the 14 strong selection I have just acquired 4 to date (Angry Swede, Super Metal, Anodized Brown, Golden Brownie) - I'm obviously mostly active in the compact enclosure arena, but do intend to get some more minis at some stage. The star pedal here in engineering terms is the Decibelics Angry Swede - but that type of metal is not necessarily for all - meaning that the AMT Mini X-Drive pedals and Mooer Micro PreAmps are probably the likeliest acquisition candidates alongside the Suhr Riot.


Compact Enclosure High Gain Pedal Roundup

This is a sort of summary/highlights of the recent Compact High Gain Pedals Feature - where I have picked out 9 notables, 6 of which I have in my current rotation, and 3 of which I'm looking to acquire soonish - the Airis Nemesis PreAmp, Amptweaker TightMetal JR and Blackhawk Balrog V3.


Vertical Medium Enclosure High Gain Pedal Roundup

Summary/highlights of the recent Vertical Medium High Gain Pedals Feature - I have 2 of these, with 4 acquisition targets - KMA Audio Wurm, LWA Left Hand Wrath, Rockfabrik Mind Abuse, and STL Tones Andy James Revenant Signature.


Horizontal Medium Enclosure High Gain Pedal Roundup

Summary/highlights of the recent Horizontal Medium High Gain Pedals Feature - here I have 3 of those listed, with two acquisition targets - the Goosoniqueworx Kult and Horizon Effects Apex PreAmp.


Large Enclosure High Gain Pedal Roundup

Summary/highlights of the recent Large High Gain Pedals Feature - where I have recently acquired the Bogner Ecstasy Red, and have the Friedman BE-OD Deluxe, Klirrton Grindstein and KSR Ceres as acquisition targets.


Final Thoughts

As mentioned in this article - I've covered off 65 High Gain and Metal Distortion Pedals over these last few weeks and have thus far over the years managed to accumulate 29 of those candidates - with several more acquisition targets identified along the way and as above - and of which some number will be added still over the forthcoming months and years.

 

These High Gain pedals of all sizes are getting closer and closer to those original richly detailed and textured saturating valve amps they largely try to replicate - but there's still a percentage point or two to go for exact equivalency. In my own chain I combine my high gain distortions with additional boost, EQ and texturising components (incl. TCE Mimiq Doubler) to give me an even more textured distortion and to increase those harmonics, transients and distortion artefacts - but I'm aware that however amazing these pedals now sound - they still have the last tiny step to take.

 

Most of these favourites here are are described as increasingly or incredibly amp-like and dynamic, and these pedals have evolved nicely to these higher levels of touch, feel and dynamics. I think we're very close now to getting a near 100% match equivalency on amp-like characteristics and I look forward to witnessing the attainment of that final threshold over these next few years.

 

The detailed visual above highlights some of those very best candidates available - and depending on your own particular preferences - tone, texture, tightness, chewiness, size and budget - you should hopefully find several suitable targets here. It's impossible to pick a single ONE from each category as they are really quite diverse although some tropes proliferate - so I try to present as broad a selection as possible and as relevant - but one that still intrinsically appeals to me.

 

There has never been more choice of such high quality pedals at this pedigree - we're living in a golden age of effects pedals, and I feel better is still yet to come! I've noted Seymour Duncan has been teasing a new 'Classic Metal' pedal of seemingly Vertical Medium enclosure dimensions - I will of course review, compare and contrast that when it's made official this forthcoming Tuesday 12th of November! Hopefully that will be worthy of being another acquisition target.

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
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