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Personal Polarbear Effects Capsule Collection and Range Overview

Big Muff Style FuzzBitcrushing and Lo-FiBoostBoost and OverdriveDelayDigital DelayDigital ReverbEffects Pedal MakersFuzzFuzz-Drive and FuzzstortionGlitchLo-Fi DelayModulationOddball DelayOpAmp FuzzOverdrivePLBR EffectsPolarbear EffectsReverbShimmer ReverbSilicon FuzzTape DelayTubescreamer Style Overdrive+-
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I’ve had an odd sort of relationship with Polarbear Effects’ Darko Vadja since 2018, where in the interim I have acquired most of his pedals. In fact the only notable omission as far as I’m aware is the original BB-size Floral Drive - for which there was a plan - which never quite materialised in the end.

 

The early part of the relationship was relatively communicative - while I’ve not had a response from Darko - bar for a Christmas Greeting - in nearly two years. You can see on the Polarbear Instagram that he fairly rarely replies to comments. He does though mostly react to messages and requests, and is supremely proficient in dispatching orders quickly.

 

So my very first then PLBR Effects acquisition was the original compact edition Narwhal Muff-style Fuzz - acquired in May of 2018. I believe I then acquired the Pizza Crusher - before scooping up both the Narwhal Black and Maritimus Muff-style fuzzes. The white original variety of the Narwhal being a modern variant of fMuff style fuzz, with the Black edition somewhat more Vintage sounding.

 

The BB-Size Maritimus Multi-Clipping Fuzz was kind of the flagship pedal then - before the launch of the BB-size original Flora Green Multi-Clipping TS808 style drive. I’m actually glad now I missed out on that as I much prefer the compact dimensions of the second smaller version of Floral Green Dual-Channel Overdrive.

 

In the early batch the Pizzacrusher was kind of the odd-one-out - both in terms of looks and function. And had started as a sort of Glitch-Modulated Bitcrusher before Darko decided to add a square-wave fuzz voicing to it too.

 

All the earlier pedals were branded with the acronym logo PLBR Effects - while the newer batch of 3 is branded Polarbear Effects.

 

I feel Darko has really found his style now - particularly with the Young Hearts and Compact Floral Green enclosures - which have etched black surface facias where the black is presumable acid-etched away or similar to reveal a mirror finish for graphics and knob labels - not always the most visible text, but certainly very elegant. The Drowner by contents is a more conventional white-printed-on graphic design - which is still quality, but not quite as elegant as the other two recent compacts.

 

The Young Hearts was launched during Winter NAMM 2020 - and it’s taken me a while to get the version I really wanted (Black with white knobs - now clear!). In fact I picked up all 3 recent Polarbear pedals this month of June - first the Young Hearts, then the Compact Floral Green, and finally the Drowner.

 

I put in a request for white knobs which I thought a better contrast to the mainly black enclosures - however I later decided to get Clear Knobs from ’Love My Switches’ - as they suited the look better. All 3 of those most recent pedals now have clear knobs - which I feel look fantastic like that.

 

Here follow the individual details on each pedal - with documented controls etc. :


Narwhal White Modern Muff style Fuzz - discontinued - €114 when new

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Controls - Volume, Tone, Fuzz (Gain), 1st Stage Clipping : Silicon/None/LED, 2nd Stage Clipping : Silicon/None/LED, Shape : 1 Mids Push/2 Scooped, TB : Tone Bypass.

 

The very first PLBR Pedal as far as I'm aware was intially just called the Narwhal Fuzz/Distortion - while after the more Vintage-sounding Black Narwhal was introduced - this then came to be known as the White/Modern Narwhal - which is a little more aggressive and punchy than the latter black version. There's plenty of range onboard here, and a very decent output volume. It doesn't fall exactly within the distinct Big Muffi Pi hierarchy - while this certainly leans towards the gainier and more aggressive side of the Muff spectrum.


Narwhal Black Vintage Muff style Fuzz - discontinued - €109 when new (discounted)

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Controls - Volume, Tone, Fuzz (Gain), 1st Stage Clipping : Silicon/None/LED, 2nd Stage Clipping : Silicon/None/LED, Shape : 1 Mids Push/2 Scooped, TB : Tone Bypass.

 

The second Narwhal is a slightly smoother, more vintage-styled Muff voicing - really meaning smoother and mellower - along similar lines to the Russian variant Big Muff Pi's. An excellent companion to the White Narwhal which I very marginally prefer - both are excellent though. Those various clipping options certainly give this Muff more versatility than most.


Maritimus Multi-Clipping Muff-style Fuzz - discontinued - €109 when new (discounted)

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Controls - Pre-Gain, Tone, Highs, Sustain, Volume, Noise : Highs Bypass, Feedback : Drone/Octave/Squeal, Clipping : 1 Silicone/2 Germanium/3 Schottky/4 LED/5 Mosfet/6 None, Shape : 1 Classic BMP Scoop/2 Heavy Mids Scoop/3 Punchy Mids, Internal Dip-Switch : 1 Stage Clipping : LED/Silicone/None.

 

PLBR Effects' flagship Muff-style Fuzz came with a plethora of clipping and voicing options for ultimate versatility. Obviously a little bit more capable than the two individual Narwhals - while I pretty much like those equally. This can get slightly more fuller sounding than the Narwhals but all 3 are worthy - and I'm glad to own the full set.


Pizzacrusher Bitcrusher Glitch Fuzz - discontinued - €149 when new

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Controls - Crush (Resolution), Tone, Volume, Sample (Rate), Clean/Square Wave Fuzz Switch, Speed, Modes - 1 Random Crush Value/Speed/2 Crush Value Arpeggiation/3 Speed Fixed, Crush Random.

 

This is a rather more quirky direction and something that most probably led to the development of the Drowner Fuzz Crush Reverb later on. As I related in the intro - this started of as a more basic bit crusher with glitchy modulation - before Darko decided to add the Clean / Square Wave Fuzz switch. I rather more prefer it with its fuzz voicing - which is why I see this mostly as a sort of glitchy crushed fuzz. It's a lot of fun to play with for sure - while you need to be careful how you apply the Glitch to keep things fully musical.


Young Hearts Lo-Fi / Glitch Delay - €175

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Controls - Level, Repeats, Delay Time, Attack, Delay, Secondary FX Engage and LED Indicator, 3-way VCR Toggle : Reverse/Static/Forward, 3-way Feedback/Divisions Toggle, Depth, Mod Shape : Triangle/Square, Mod Speed, Feedback Amount / Repeats Refine, On/Off Footswitch, Momentary FX and Tap-Tempo Footswitch.

 

I've barely scratched the surface yet with this highly capable and versatile Lo-Fi VCR Glitch Delay - which makes the absolute most of the PT2399 chip. Darko describes the Young hearts as :

 

"A PT2399 chip-based delay. It's a lo-fi, VCR modulation echo machine of imperfection filled with nostalgia, jam-packed with VCR inspired capabilities. It's all about time manipulation. Includes tap tempo, and Delay time is roughly around 50ms to 750ms."

 

With 12 controls, secondary FX and dual footswitches there are few more capable delays - particularly in a compact enclosure. The only downside for me really is lack of stereo output - otherwise this is a magnificent tour de force!


Floral Green Compact TS808-style Dual-Channel Overdrive - €150 (Limited Edition of 10)

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NOTE that the above demo is of the previous BB-size version of Floral Green - no demos exist for the newer compact edition!

 

Controls : 2 x Volume, Tone, Gain, 2 x 3-way Clipping (Undocumented) : can see 3 Red LEDs, 2 White LED's, 2 Sets of Asymmetric Diodes, and presume middle position is None, Separate Footswitches to Engage Each Channel.

 

The second more compact version of the Floral Green - with slightly fewer, but supposedly different clipping options. I'm all about modernity and practicalities and this compact unit is obviously much easier to fit in on the pedal-chain. I'm sort of glad I never got my original BB-size edition - this is how I would want to have it. A really gorgeous enclosure finish too with matt black facia etched away to a mirrored finish for graphics and legends.

 

I think I've roughly figured out the two 3-way Clipping Switches - Channel I is Silicon/None/LED, while Channel II is possibly LED/None/Shottky. Channel II feels slightly gainier, so I would assume White LEDs there, and the Red ones presumably for Channel I! At least that's my nearest guess until Darko consents to volunteer the exact details! A great sounding versatile Overdrive in any case which is fantastic stacked too.

 

The original BB-size Floral Green by contrast had the following clipping options, alongside fat switches for each channel :

 

1 : silicon/schottky asymmetrical clipping
2 : silicon diodes clipping
3 : silicon/LED asymmetrical clipping
4 : LED clipping
5 : LED clipping
6 : germanium clipping
7 : mosfet/silicon asymmetrical clipping
8 : no diodes


Drowner Fuzz/Crush/Reverb Shoegazer - €199

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Controls - Dry/Wet Mix, Reverb (Decay), Shimmer (Amount), Reverb & Crush Volume, Order : FCR/FRC, Sample Rate Frequency, Crush Signal Mix, Fuzz Volume, Crush On/Off, Left Footswitch Engages Reverb & Crush, Right Engages Fuzz.

 

I've described this as the perfect Shoegazer Pedal - with its combination of sort of Muff-style Fuzz, Reverb with Shimmer, and Bitcrushing. You need to be most careful with how you apply the bit crushing as it can get a little convoluted with most of those settings dialled up - while it's generally very straight forward to tweak - and is really easy to shape - with the perfect balance of controls and footswitches. For the form factor it's nigh on perfect for this genre of effects and really gets the most out of the least amount of controls.

 

Of course you need to adapt your playing to slow and languorous - but you fall in sync pretty soon engough. This is a really smartly executed pedal!


Final Thoughts

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I am very happy to have a fairly definitive collection of Polarbear Effects pedals - and feel that Darko has definitely stepped up a notch with his 3 most recent pedals. I think he should adapt the clear knobs like me - and roll out every product with the same black/mirrored finish as the Young Hearts and Compact Flora Green - they looks stunning - particularly in my enhanced editions.

 

I think now is as good a time as any to start a Polarbear collection - as all 7 here have something unique and distinct about them. Of the early 4 - it's the Pizzacrusher weirdly that gets the most outings in rotation, while the Compact Floral Green and Drowner are currently in the chain for a rotation or two.

 

I feel the Young Hearts is the most technically accomplished pedal here - while the most satisfying is probably the Drowner - while you do need to tune that just right. I have a lot of Muffs and Overdrives - and all of these will feature in the rotation again - even with all that competition.

 

How familiar are you readers with Polarbear Effects - do you have any favourites yourselves?

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
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