Francesco Accurso reviews the new range of pedals by M-Tech Audio
When it comes to guitar pedals my first concern is always the deterioration of my signal. The more pedals we add to the chain the thinner the tone, and the increase in background noise is ever so apparent when we use those cool but dated units from the 70s and 80s. Some people rely purely on true bypass so that the signal will stay clear of pedals when not in use. This is a good enough solution when we work with only one or two analogue units, and there are a number of engineers who would improve your old stomp box by adding a modern switch to it. Unfortunately things can get real nasty when we increase the number of pedals and we start introducing digital delays and choruses. This recently happened to me when I added a Nova Delay to my board; the sound got thinner and all my beautiful boutique amps lost their magic. Being very fond of TC Electronics products (who can forget that their 2290 Dynamic Digital Delay has been for years the most sought after delay machine for studios, producers and professional guitar players alike) I was gutted to realised that, unless used in parallel, even the best digital units fail to preserve the clarity of our guitar sound with an evident drop in dynamics and tone. And if back in the day I used to run my digital effects through a well-designed send/return, nowadays I tend to rely on a solid combination of pedals to adjust gain stages and colour my sound and I constantly struggle with tone loss.
The solution, in my opinion, is the one adopted by luminaries like Pete Cornish (David Gilmour, Brian May, Alan Holdsworth, etc..) who preserves the analogue dry signal while changing the impedance of the guitar by using a buffer at the beginning of the chain. This creates a low impedance feed which can then be distributed to all units without any loss of tone and volume and we can be certain that our amplifiers would read the guitar signal as if it was plugged straight into it. So my first move was to introduce a buffer unit at the beginning of my chain, and there are a number of custom made options which include it in their design. The other important issue is the one of the dry analogue signal, which should be preserved wherever possible. That proved to be more of a challenge since in most digital pedals the conversion happens at point of entry, with the mix between wet and dry signal done in the digital domain.
Not being able to afford a man like Pete Cornish, I contacted Massimo Mantovani, head engineer at M-Tech Audio, who himself customises boards, amps and pedals and who designs his own line of gear for the professional musician. Massimo has an outstanding working history having provided support to some of the best names in the industry (TC Electronics, T-Rex, Bogner, Suhr, Mesa Boogie, etc…), and many colleagues used his services to manufacture high end boards and customise their amps. He modified my Nova delay by increasing the quality of my direct dry signal, and in doing so restoring my tone, but unfortunately there was no escaping the digital conversion and he offered other alternatives in the form of two beautifully designed pedals.
These two brand new units, a digital Delay and a Chorus/Flanger, have in common a Class A Buffer (made with discrete components) at the input stage and a Line Driver isolated transformer at the output. This guarantees a 0db unaltered sound at all times while processing the signal in parallel; to this day these are the most transparent pedals I have tried. Having worked for many years as a consultant for TC Electronics, Massimo based his designs on two historic pedals, the SCF Chorus/Flanger analogue unit and the Flashback Digital; no need to say that I was completely taken by both pedals.
I first tried the Chorus/Flanger by plugging the guitar straight into it and connecting the output to a custom made Bassman (more on that in a different post). There is an input trim to adjust the gain, a control for speed and width, a selector to switch from chorus to flanger and a knob to adjust the intensity. The unit can be used in mono or stereo and there are a couple of switches on the side to lift the ground and kill the dry direct sound if needed. What I immediately noticed was an incredibly dynamic response with a crispiness to die for and no trace of the muddiness frequently found on cheaper units. This is a pedal which displays all the spark and 3D spatiality we would expect from high end rack units and with all the headroom any guitarist will ever need. Very intuitive and fast responsive, this is a chorus for the professional musician who would never compromise on tone and quality and the only downside to it would be its size and the fact that both pedals are fed by a traditional 240volts kettle lead. Massimo told me these units have been made following the specifics of a custom order but they can be supplied with a more pedal board friendly power supply, so problem solved. And for what concern the size…well, they are as big as my Voodoo Vibe.
But let’s move on to the second unit. The delay can be used in mono, stereo and also with a three way system, with a dry out in the middle and a stereo output redirected over two satellites. There are four knobs to control time, feedback, fx level and delay type (2290, analogue, tape, lo-fi, Dynamic, mono, ping pong etc…) and a switch to choose between subdivisions (1/4, 1/8 and ¼+1/8).
In this unit I couldn’t tap the tempo with my foot but the pedal would automatically recognise my speed after a couple of strums on my strings. I generally prefer the tap function but I found this system equally effective. Once again my tone was nicely preserved, with plenty of headroom and a clarity which matched the previous pedal, and overall the unit performed flawlessly. The interface is very intuitive, easy to use and fast responsive and I could easily create complex delay patterns and/or simple reverberating atmospheres.
The final consideration regards the price and availability of these products. When I enquired about costs, I have been given figures which don’t vary much from any high end unit on the market (approx. £500/600) but I need to point out that these are custom made boutique pedals which are only made to order, and the delivery times could vary considerably depending on the work load of the lab. We are now on talks with Massimo Mantovani and M-Tech Audio to try and create a few samples for the English Market and I will hopefully have a few units to showcase in the near future.
Stay tuned for other reviews of their range of custom made products and visit the M-Tech Audio website at www.mtechaudio.it