As luck would have it, and just as I’m settling into my current pedal chain, and pretty satisfied with my choices, along comes Boss to stir it all up again. Used to be that back in the day, if you wanted big studio quality do-it-all modulation, delay and reverb workstations, then Eventide was your man - so-to-speak. The ModFactor (£373), TimeFactor (£365) and Space (£465) ruled the roost for a while - without any real competition, and those pedals are still amazing at what they do, and do still justify their upper echelon pricing.
Then Strymon came along with its own slightly more refined versions in the form of the Mobius (£412), TimeLine (£414) and BigSky (£440). There is a reason that those pedals are found on the majoriy of pro pedal boards - they just produce the most amazing, pristine and lush sounds. These pedals are hugely versatile and very high on functionality, the one key issue being one of option paralysis and a rather steep learning curve on configuring the various sub-menu options. However I was totally sold on the Strymons and these were my ’Emperor’ pedals until...
So along comes Canadian pedal specialist Empress and strips out most of the complexity that tends to blight these types of big pedals - leaving you with everything controllable on the surface live-and-direct with the various dials available - it means you are more hands-on here, and probably quicker to dial in a pleasing sound from scratch - and without referring to a manual. The downside being that there is no screen, and a rather limited preset functionality. However, the Empress EchoSystem is a totally genius delay pedal, I love it, and would not hesitate to say the best pedal in its category currently in my opinion. It does everything so easily and effortlessly, but as there is no screen and no on-screen definitive digits, it is more difficult to dial in exactly the same sound a second time. I love the fact that on the Strymon you can just dial in the exact tempo or millisecond setting etc. Empress has a somewhat simplified Modulation pedal in the Nebulus (£299) which can’t really fully compete with the others on this page in that category, but the EchoSystem (£449) and Reverb (£449) are top drawer.
All of the big reverb pedals have their own unique sounds and strengths beyond the usual Room, Hall, Plate, Spring, Shimmer etc. - the BigSky has the ’Cloud, Chorale and Magneto’, the Space has ’Black Hole’, and the Empress Reverb has ’Ghost’ - these are all worthy pedals and if you have any of the three you would be hard justified getting one of the other ones.
Yet along comes Boss, and sideswipes the yet-to-be-released Source Audio Ventris which has had hype for months, and pretty much kicks those other 3 heavyweights into the corner. How does it accomplish this you may ask - I would encourage you to watch Rabea’s demos - which I have included below. Both pedals allow you to run any of the effects in dual mode - serial, parallel or split by A/B channel much like the Empress EchoSystem which I love for that reason. The Boss RV-500 (£339) goes one better by allowing you to assign a delay to each of your reverbs too! making a separate delay pedal almost unnecessary! The Mobius competitor MD-500 (£339) does the same dual-engine, parallel | serial | left/right split of the RV-500, but without the additional delay options. The very slightly older Boss DD-500 (£305) which does not currently have those really smart features is kind of the runt of that litter, but Rabea seems to say that the dual / parallel / splitting features are coming in an imminent firmware update release.
For my needs, there has been a slight shift in power here, and where Strymon was long in the lead in its shiny high pristine tower, it’s now somewhat lagging behind on innovations in its strongest performing category. There are a number of dual-engine workstations out already with more on the way. I was surprised when the Empress EchoSystem unseated my TimeLine, I am even more surprised that Boss will likely unseat my Mobius and Big Sky with its two new smart offerings. Watch Rabea’s demos and make up your own mind: