I’ve yet to feel the need to switch over to one of those floor amp-modellers - along the lines of the Boss GT-1000, Fractal Audio Axe FX8, Headrush Pedalboard, Hotone Ampero, Kemper Profiler Stage and of course Line 6 Helix - which popularised his sort of thing in the first place.
I’ve always felt that the Line 6 Helix and Hearush Pedalboard had a leg up on the competition because of their amazing colourful and intuitive control menus and topologies. In many ways for the longest time, much of the field has been doing their own spin on the core Helix topology.
Yet we have a new challenger to the throne - Darkglass Electronics sister company Neural DSP - who’ve recently been killing it with their incredibly high fidelity software plugins. In terms of formalising this within a hardware offering - the ’Quad Cortex’ - Neural have made some really magnificent innovations along the way.
Neural DSP's first innovation is of course their 'Proprietary stainless steel stomp + rotary actuators' - which I've renamed to the far more catchier 'RotoStomp'. As mentioned in my previous article - these switches are a combination of rotary dial and footswitch in one unit - so you can get the same sort of 4-vector parameter control which GFI System's Synesthesia Dual Channel Modulator makes use of. Meaning that every footswitch is a knob - and nearly every knob is a footswitch.
This innovation on its own is pretty brilliant, and I trust they have don all the necessary testing to ensure long-term lifespan and efficacy - which would be the chiefest of my concerns. The barrels/shafts of the RotoStomp footswitches to look much more solid (thicker) than their equivalents. And there is no reason why you should not be able to engineer robust and reliable actuator controls in this manner. Of course cost of R&D, engineering, tooling and manufacture needs to be weighed into the process - but these footswitches are a genuine game-changer, and I can see multiple usage scenarios on a variety of different more regularly sized pedals - you should be able to significantly reduce the need to rely on internal trim-pots if you can just rotate and set your footswtiches. This does of course mean digital control - and so it would not make sense for all pedals - but like I said I can some amazing future synergies possible here.
While the new RotoStomp footswitches are impressive on their own, the way the interact with the main display is another level entirely. I've personally always been bothered by dual/alternative functions on knobs as you need to press and select the alternative - and then return the knob back to its approximate original primary position!
For the Quad Core - as the footswitches have become the main controls - we need some way of mapping over those functions in an immediately intuitive interface. Helix obviously allows you to have a label above every footswitch - but the new topology Neural has created is fare more user friendly and immediately intuitive. The Footswitch LEDs light up in the relevant parameter controls colour - pink as in the visual- and you can instantly see a graphic depiction of which control does what and what level it is set to. You can page through further parameters per signal component element - and each time see exactly what controls you have available to you and to what value they are set to.
There are 11 footswitches on the pedal and the lower half of the control touch screen display exactly what you can change and with which footswitch / knob. The beauty of this system is ease of use and learnability - and it has the further advantage in reducing the number of moving components - in theory making for less maintenance long-term, as well as allowing the pedal to occupy a far more compact form factor than every full-fat equivalent.
I feel that this is one of the best example of product design in recent times - and the team behind it needs to be congratulated on their achievements. It's not just the RootStomp footswitches and the intuitive touchscreen interface - it's every part of this format - the 'box' itself and the various ports and sockets on its rear edge. I'm not really in the market for floor amp modellers like I said at the beginning - but I'm so much more than intrigued by this one.
I think all the other amp-modeller outfits need to up their game here to stay within touching distance. Obviously the product is not fully finalised yet, but the two prototypes that featured at NAMM already looked very polished indeed. At $1,600 this is kind of the going rate for a professional grade amp-modeller and there seem to be plenty of takes based on the pre-orders placed already.
As a pedal user I'm just really impressed with how all this has come together and look forward to seeing this unit shine, as well as its impact on all other pedals out there. Much like Formula 1 is in the end responsible for all manner of motorcar innovations - that eventually make it into the mass-market production models. I feel there is a lot here that pedal makers can learn from.
I will be doing my 'Perfect Pedal' prototype update in the next blog or two, and you will undoubtedly notice some key assimilations there. As far as I'm concerned this is the new benchmark for pedal control topology / interface - the gauntlet is down and the challenge has been issued!
What do you all feel about the Neural DSP Quad Core - are you considering one for yourselves?