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Mini Pedals State of the Art PT 1 : Nine leading examples of Contemporary Mini Pedal Smart Engineering

Ambient EffectsAmp and Cab IR SimBanana EffectsBecos FXBig Muff Style FuzzBoost and OverdriveCompressorDecibelicsDigital ReverbDistortionDSM NoisemakerFree Fall DiverFunction F(X)FuzzFuzz-Drive and FuzzstortionGuitar Synth and SequencerKlone and Transparent OverdriveMarshall Style DistortionMetal DistortionModulationMooerMulti-DriveOddball FuzzPigtronixReverbReverb WorkstationShimmer ReverbSilicon FuzzSpacey ReverbSuper-Fuzz StyleUtilityXotic Effects+-
2019GPXMiniPedalStateOfArt700V3.jpg

This is my 3rd re-write from scratch of this article - I keep coming across new details! This was initially inspired by the arrival of Mooer’s E7 series - first represented by the Tone Capture GTR, and now by the very recent 7-Mode/7-Presets E7 Synth pedal which continues that distinctive new enclosure format - which is in someways an evolution from Mooer’s Micro-PreAmps - with the same 5 mini knobs and push-button topology, but here accompanied by 7 Mode/Preset LEDs positioned down the left-hand edge of said pedal. You also get latching and momentary modes on the footswitch - where the momentary/hold mode on this occasion triggers Arpeggiation per each of the 7 Modes/Presets.

 

The Mooer E7 Synth Pedal thus triggered this article into exploring the state of the art of these newer more evolved mini pedals - which are quite a lot moved on from their forebears as such. The earliest mini pedals - Mooer and the like were typically lower cost reduced-functionality/features and somewhat compromised versions of the larger original pedal inspirations. That does not mean several of those mini pedals didn’t/don’t sound great, but rather that the earlier versions were approached more as a lower-cost mass-market exercise with usually slightly cheaper components onboard and with something of an economy proposition.

 

All things evolve and develop though, and both established pedal brands and entirely new entities have started building Mini ’equivalency pedals’ - as much with the same quality components if not better than the originals. I highlighted this in my ’The Rise in Near Equivalent Mini Guitar Effects Pedals’ article, and shortly after that did a piece on ’The Perfect Mini Guitar Pedal Design’ from which the below image is taken:

PT 2

The 9 pedals featured here, are ambassadors for the very best of the current Mini Pedals State of the Art in terms of engineering innovation and quality - possibly I've overlooked one or two, but these are at least the ones I am well aware of. If you believe I have overlooked any notable alternative candidates / additions - please let me know and I can include those in my PT 2 follow-up.

 

This listing starts with Japan's Banana Effects - where I've selected their Abracadabra Shimmer Reverb, but could have gone with any of their current range of 4 mini effects - I will be doing a follow-up article just on Banana Effects. Next up is Romania's Becos FX - who have become very well known for their superb Pro Studio Compressors in pedal-format - I featured their CompIQ Pro Stella before in this site's Edits section (actually also the original Mini CompIQ Pro and Mini Solo Boost Master) - and this time around it's time for the updated CompIQ Mini Pro - which I would probably take over my previous favourite Mini Compressor - Wampler's Mini Ego.

 

Next we have the two beautifully engineered Decibelics pedals by Spain's Guillem Vilademunt - the 'King of Klones' Golden Horse, and pocket rocket HM-2 Heavy Metal powerhouse replica - the Angry Swede - both of which you should already have read about on this site a few times! Then we have Chile's DSM Noisemaker AKA Daniel Schwartz - who's particularly well-known for his CabSim pedals - here in the guise of the OmniCabSim Mini - I'm also intrigued by his other mini pedal - the Sub Atomic X-Over CMOS Bass Drive - and am wondering how well that would work with guitar!

 

Following-on we have Dave Friesema of Function F(x) Pedals fame - whose 'Pickdropper' Instagram has been featuring some exceptional mini fuzz pedals of late - including a Hive Mind Buzzaround type, Professional MKIII (TB MKIII type) and this exceptional mini version of Function F(x)'s full-size Clusterfuzz pedal.

 

The final trio are the aforementioned Mooer E7 Synth which triggered all this, and two of my longer-term mini dirt pedal favourites - the 6-mode Pigtronix Disnortion Micro Fuzzy-Drive, and Alchemy Audio's Modded Xotic SL Drive with dip-switches externalised as mini-toggles.

 

So this lineup of 9 to me represents the very best of current mini pedal engineering in its various guises and categories - from design to engineering to effect innovation. When we think of how much technology is now accommodated within the typical smartphone - all this can only get better and better - there is still so much potential for innovation and improvement. It used to be a case that the mini pedals were a space-saving slightly inferior economy choice - while nowadays - the mini pedals can actually be the preferred format of effect - and they are now actually commanding the sort of prices this level of engineering deserves. I particularly like seeing proper milled aluminium knobs on many of these, meaning I'm generally a little less pleased with a load of mini plastic knobs - but sometimes those are the only choice! (I still feel those could be improved / differentiated - like on Tom Kogut's Tomkat Cloudy Multi-Effect pedal).

 

Pedals are listed alphabetically by brand as usual:


Banana Effects Abracadabra Shimmer Reverb - £189 (Amazon!)

Apart from the incredible number of features crammed into this tiny enclosure, the equally marvellous fact is that these pedals are available throughout the world courtesy of Amazon of all stores - not Reverb.com but Amazon! In any case Japanese brand Banana Effects have a very formidable lineup of Mini Pedals including this one, the Aurora Pitch-Shift Delay, Mandala Glitch Pedal and Matryoshka Bass Synth - I really like each and everyone of these and will be doing a follow-up feature after this post. I have in mind to acquire the Mandala first as part of my 2019 'Year of Glitch' Mission - and then I will endeavour to collect the other 3 in appropriate sequence - with possibly the Aurora after the Mandal, and then this Abracadabra. What's clever about this pedal is not only the number of controls here - but the detailed legends which note the significant variations for different modes. The 9 controls here are Unlatch | Tails | Kill Dry | Harmonix/Rate | Mode - Exotic OctUp / Exotic 5th / OctUp + Vib / Shimmer + 5th + Vib / Int + Cho + OctUp / Int + Cho + OctDn / Error Delay / Sh + Noise | Depth/Feedback | Filter/Decay | Volume | Sensitivity/Intensity. In fact each of the 8 Modes has a symbol next to it - which matches a different variable on 4 of the parameter controls. Some will likely need a magnifying glass for the tiny text, but I'm glad that it's all there on the face of the pedal! Each of these pedals has a complexity which belies its tiny format - the scope of what these little pedals cover is just incredibly and puts many offering to shame and several times the size.


Becos FX CompIQ Mini Pro Compressor - €149

I've been long impressed with newish Romanian brand Becos FX, and as mentioned - covered off their original 13 Controls! compact format CompIQ Stella Pro Compressor in this site's Edits section along with some early minis. This brand needs to be revered as much as Origin Effects and Keeley are in the Compressor sector - not enough players know about this best kept trade secret. On this occasion we feature the smaller sibling - Mini Pro Compressor CompIQ which only has 6 controls compared to its older/larger sibling and in its latest iteration features the Mix/Blend control on the face rather than side of the pedal. Besides the essential Mix knob we have 3 further knobs - Ratio, Threshold and Gain, and then Soft/Hard Knee toggle-switch and Fast/Slow Timing (Attack & Release) toggle switch. We also get a colourful 5-segment LED Meter to show degree of compression. I have a fare amount of history with Mini Compressors - starting with the Xotic SP Compressor, then Alchemy Audio Modded Xotic SP, and finally a Wampler Ego Mini before I moved up to the really clever footswitchable presets of Jackson Audio's Bloom Compressor + EQ + Blooming Boost pedal. Often in my pedal roundups I talk about the Jackson Audio Bloom, DryBell Unit67 Compressor + EQ + Boost, Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Deluxe and ThorpyFX Fat General - I also need to get used to mentioning the Becos CompIQ's in the same breath. While the Jackson Audio Bloom and DryBell Unity 67 are somewhat slightly different hybrid units, probably in the straight-up Pro Compressor stakes - the one to beat nowadays is the CompIQ STELLA Pro Compressor and the Mini iteration for more specialist applications. I really like both those pedals and will likely acquire both eventually for different purposes, although I don't think anything is replacing my Bloom for now as I use all it's 3 functions far too regularly. Note that the above demo is of an earlier version of the pedal which lacks the Timing control and has the Blend/Mix mini knob on its side.


Decibelics Angry Swede Mini - £151 (£336 as bundle with Golden Horse)

This is obviously something more of an acquired taste than the other Decibelics Mini - the Golden Horse (Klone). In the same process as for the former, Guillem Vilademunt set out to engineer an exact replica of the HM-2 with the finest THT components and in the mini form factor. The Angry Swede has several advantages over the original - including of course size, 9V power supply vs 12V and a very significantly improved noise floor as demonstrated in the video above. The experience of this is very similar to when you first activate the Golden Horse - in that you are somewhat surprised by the projection, clarity, volume and quality of the output tone. In my opinion the Golden Horse and Angry Swede are the most finely made Mini Pedal tone-machines (dirt pedals!) currently available, and in his sound lab, Guillem has wholly managed to meet the brief of creating exact replicas in tone, dynamics and feel - with some further engineering improvements and innovations along the way. If you're familiar with the Boss HM-2 Heavy Metal, the Angry Swede works identically, and is also optimised for all 4 knobs to be dimed as per the original. If you want an HM-2+ then I recommend the XIX Tech HMD-1 which has a somewhat more extended feature set and range. For total equivalency you really cannot do better than the the Angry Swede - the HM-2 is long since discontinued, and the very few remaining pristine versions of that are so few and far between, and go for way too much money. If Swedish Death Metal is your thing - then the Angry Swede should be your tool of choice nowadays.


Decibelics Golden Horse Mini - £201 (£336 as bundle with Angry Swede)

I've said everything I need to say about this pedal - the Rolls Royce and Rolex of mini overdrive pedals - with next level attention to detail and craftsmanship and the best sounding exact replica of the Klon Centaur that I have come across - with the same 3 controls, dynamics, feel and tone. There are more broadly featured Klon clones out there and I also have several of those, but for an equivalent experience of tone, feel and dynamics nothing comes close in my experience - and the diminutive form factor is just another bonus. Everyone should have one of these! I have 9 different exceptional top-drawer Klones in my collection - and this mini version is still my favourite of all.


DSM Noisemaker OmniCabSim Mini (CabSim + DI) - $169

I featured Daniel Schwartz's DSM Noisemaker Drive Maker in my Best of Central and South America feature earlier this year - while the brand is more associated with Bass Players, and its OmniCabSim series of pedal-based Analog Cab Simulators - most famously the medium-enclosure OmniCabSim Deluxe - while I infinitely prefer this slimline miniaturisation. It comes with mostly the same controls - 4 knobs for Texture, Resonance, Level and Amp Gain, and then 2 toggle-switches for Cab Size and ByPass/On, as well as two smaller slider switches for Cab/Thru 1/4" Out and XLR Lift/Gnd - all told 8 controls! I also really like the look of the Sub Atomic CMOS Mini Bass Drive with its 6 controls and smart splitting of High and Low Frequency Distortion - wondering just how well that will perform with regular guitars. In the medium enclosure CabSim stakes nowadays I would probably opt for the new Strymon Iridium, but at the mini scale end - DSM Noisemaker would be my maker of choice!


Function F(x) Clusterfuzz Mini - $169

I can't recall exactly when I came across Function F(x) Co-Founder Dave Friesema's 'Pickdropper' Instagram page - possibly via post on Fuzztopia group, but I've been somewhat smitten by his beautifully-made mini-fuzz pedals for quite some time now. I will likely approach Dave in the new year with a view to his supplying me with 3 of his best (IMO) the pictured Mini Clusterfuzz, and then also 4-knob Hive Mind Buzzaround and Professional MKIII (TB MKIII) Pedals. Dave has already told me that the current production run of the Mini Clusterfuzz has only a 3-way Clipping toggle - while I spotted the previous gold version of said pedal which also retains the Filter switch from the full-size version. In fact the Mini version is closer to the full-size than the current Compact Jr variant. I will be trying to bend Dave's arm into doing me the version of the Clusterfuzz as per the above version - while I negotiate for all 3 of my preferred mini pedals. These are beatifully engineered varieties with proper milled aluminium knobs and the finest of components - and I believe I will really enjoy owning these classic fuzzes in their mini formats. I've long had the full-sized Clusterfuzz on my wishlist and have referenced a few Function F(x) pedals on this site - but for me it's the Mini editions where it's at! As there are no demos of these new mini pedals around currently I've referenced the full-sized pedal demo by Mike Hermans. (Note that the Mini has only 3 vs the original's 5 clipping options).


Mooer E7 Polyphonic Synth Micro - £99

I've been really impressed with Mooer's recent E7 series of pedals - following on and extrapolating somewhat from their highly featured Micro PreAmp Pedals. The E7's have a column of 7 LEDs down the left-hand edge of the pedal - which light up and signify both different Modes and Presets - with the mechanic that essentially you can store your own preferences on each mode / preset. You then have 5 control knobs and push button switch to switch between Modes/Presets. The Pedal footswitch is set up to work both momentarily and latching for different purposes - so on the E7 Polyphonic Synth the hold/momentary mode is for Arpeggiation. This pedal obviously cannot compete in most ways with the new Boss SY-1 Synth and Subdecay M3 Monophonic Synth - each of which have 11 x 11 different modes / algorithms. The Mooer E7 Synth though has Presets - which is really very smart. You obviously don't get quite the wide variety of tones that you would with the compact synth pedals mentioned, but you get a handful of pretty useful synthy tones - and the Arpeggiator Momentary feature is both pretty ingenious and really handy! On my nice-to-have rather than essentials list currently.


Pigtronix Disnortion Micro - £130

This Fuzzy-Distortion is a pedal that lived in my chain for a while, and is certainly another of those which punches significantly above its weight - with 4 knobs and a push-button control for Series or Parallel gain-stage routing - we further have Gain, Volume, Drive Tone and a 6-mode Fuzz Shape rotary selector for - No Filter | Mid Bump (808) | Low Pass (Carlos) | Mid Scoop (Muff) | Low Pass (Bass). For its diminutive size and proportions, this pedal nonethelesss really has a high degree of versatile and usable tones.


Xotic Effects SL Drive Mini Alchemy Modded with External Switches - £122

Of all the Mini pedals I've owned this one has occupied a space in my pedal-chain for the longest time - it's currently on hiatus while the Sitek Wuffy Fuzzy-Distortion occupies that slot. In any case this is another incredible little pedal - particularly in the Alchemy Audio Modded edition which externalises the 4 otherwise internal dip-switches. Controls for this particular SL Drive are regular-sized Drive and Tone knobs and mini Volume knob, with 4 toggle-switches on the right-side of the pedal for - High/Mid Frequency #1, High/Mid Frequency #2, High/Mid Cut, +6dB Boost - those settings are essential for flipping between Super Lead and Super Bass modes, and don't really serve a proper purpose being on the inside of the pedal. Xotic has learned from this as its new Super Sweet and Super Clean mini pedals now come with external dip-switches - while I probably still prefer metal toggle-switches to those plastic dippers. In any case this is one of my best loved Plexi pedals of all time - I prefer it to my special edition Red Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret - it's just one of the best Plexi pedals around - no matter the format - not that I also use the Xotic voltage doubler to run it at 18V.


Bonus Round! : Free Fall Diver 'Huge' Fuzz Distortion - ¥23,000/$186/£144

This Japanese mostly fuzz boutique brand is totally new to me - although I've caught quite a lot of their videos of late - including great demos of their CSF, MOFF and ReLK compact size pedals. For the purposes of this article though it's their 'Huge' mini pedal which really is the jaw-dropper. You get this enormous wall-of-sound style fuzz-distortion - somewhere in the larger Big Muff Fuzz family or at least connected to that tonality. Just 3 classic controls here - Volume | Sustain | Tone - and this pedal sounds exactly like its name - absolutely immense. I always find it rather pleasing when you get such a big sound from such a small device - rich and fully rounded - but such is the state of current pedal art that these smaller pedals can fully properly take on their larger relatives these days. I will likely be exploring the Free Fall Diver brand in more detail in the future - currently as I understand it they are not available really outside of Japan - all those dealers they have don't like to ship abroad. But I've seen one or two of the compact sizes - including a CSF Octave Fuzz up for sale on Reverb.com. I just need to figure out a better way of getting hold of ones of these than using Tenso - which I've always found a little clunky.


Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

I am so impressed with how far mini pedals have come, and how they continue to surprise and impress. Whether you behold the amazing internals and component arrangement of the mini Decibelics pedals or hear and feel their tonal splendour - you just cannot fail to be impressed. I've often said that pedals are mini jewel boxes of delight as well as being inspiration machines and tone machines. All 9 pedals featured here are pretty exceptional each in their own way. I obviously have 4 of these - the 2 Decibelics, the Disnortion Micro and SL Drive. Of the others I fully intend to acquire all the Banana Effects at some stage, and probably most of the mini Fuzzes Dave Friesema goes on to make, as well as one or two Mooer E7's also along the way - and of course the Free Fall Diver Huge. As my rig is stereo I don't have much call for the DSM Noisemaker OmniCabSim Mini - there I am more likely to investigate the probability of using the Sub Atomic CMOS Mini Bass Drive for regular guitar. As stated, I would also intend to get both the Stella and Mini Pro CompIQ's from Becos FX.

 

Anyone who tries to belittle or denigrate mini pedals really does not know what they are talking about - yes there can be some pedalboard stability issues for which there are actually several viable solutions/alternatives for now including the Stomptrap cradles (£20) - I personally have not felt the need yet - my stuff mostly stays where it's supposed to.

 

There are lots of players who use certain mini pedals for specific mini functions - often a Boost pedal, with the Analog.Man Mini Beano Boost and Xotic EP Boost famous examples of that - I really rate the Xotic Mini Pedals - particularly the Alchemy Audio modified versions of those - I also find several of the mini compressors are stellar. For some the TC Electronic Ditto Mini is an essential - while for me my to-date all-time Mini favourites are the Decibelics Golden Horse Overdrive and Xotic Effects SL Drive (Alchemy Audio Modded). I also have a large number of mini fuzzes including El Músico Loco Wee Beaver Fuzz, EWS Little Fuzzy Drive, and Golden Fleece and High Road Mini Fuzzes from Mythos Pedals - in fact you really can't go wrong with mini Boosts and Fuzzes - while so much else of quality is continually being added to the mini roster. There's really no reason why several of your pedalboard pedals should not be mini pedals by default - and not just for space-saver purposes!

 

PS - note that in the above Mini equivalency pedal visual - the Wampler Tumnus was the only one of those pedals that appeared first in mini edition and the Deluxe compact version came later - it's usually the other way around!

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
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