Other Equipment

NEW Strymon VOLANTE Magnetic Echo Machine

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one has wasted hours, weeks, months of vibrant youth playing with two tape decks and exploring what can be achieved in sound sculpture.

Ah, but that's not wasted time. That time is not debited against your allotted span. That's time outside of time. Sidereal time. Wormhole time. Time out of time. Each delay repeat reverses the flow. Didn't you know?

Time machines.

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Dangit WB! Why you gotta make me interested in Reverb pedals again?? ;P

78

Ruger, I haven't been trying to get DMM out of it. If you mean warbly murk...it might do that. I'll check tonight.

It doesn't really have a straightforward tone control, just a low cut to progressively thin out the repeats (and you could find the DMM's girth in there somewhere). The "Wear" knob does cut highs (among other artifacts of tape degradation), so with the combination of the two you might be able to dial that in.

The default repeats are by no means over-bright; they're rounded and pleasing, neither too much one thing nor another; I'm finding that one of the chief attractions of the pedal. But by nature they sound a little more composed than the DMM's.

Also, the modulation available under the "Mechanics" knob differs fundamentally from the DMM's. It's more vibrato than chorus (chorusing comes from mixing Mechanics with overlaying repeats). But the DMM's chorus and vibrato are regular in period - the Volante's Mechanics are more random. Though they follow the knobs pretty closely in speed and depth, you can't accurately predict their depth or cycle. To me, that's magic. It's a subtle thing, but it keeps the sound from being static and boring. Apparently the brain is happiest when it experiences a pattern of overall repetition and regularity, but relieved by aberrations and novelty. (Which is why the soul hates a drum machine, or vocals flown from chorus to chorus in a DAW.)

In other DMM comparisons, the "Rec Level" control on the Volante does something similar to the input gain on the DMM, in emulating overdriving an analog preamp. Of course, on a DMM that's exactly what you're doing, and how you get that driven tone. In the Volante, I suspect it's emulated somehow - and it's trying to emulate tape saturation. Two differences: on the DMM, cranking that knob makes the pedal louder, and the drive gets warmer/fuzzier/more blown out as you go clockwise. On the Volante, volume stays linear at all knob settings - and it's a bit cleaner/crunchier dirt. Very pleasing, and depending on your favorite DMM settings, may get you to the same place. But a different range of control. The "saturation" sounds similar to that in the Deco, but not as dark and soft.

It self-oscillates similarly to the DMM, though with more control and composure. Turning the Time knob during oscillation doesn't deliver exactly the same experience as the DMM. In one way it's not as smooth - it's digitally steppier. But it also doesn't get as out of shape and blownout as when the DMM goes into total noise; you can always hear details. And a very interesting detail is that the pitch-shifted smears you get when turning the dial during oscillation both catch up with themselves more quickly than on the DMM (which might be bad if you're trying to duplicate DMMitude) AND become part of the input to the delays and are repeated endlessly but in a much clearer way. Too cool.


But getting a Volante to emulate a DMM (or classic slapback/tape echo tool of choice) is poor economy and a waste of the Volante's voodoo. Three things stand out to me so far (in about 8 hours of playing, much of it spent trancing in great settings rather than exploring for range): first, the ideal balance of clarity and murk Strymon has hit; second, the brilliance of the control over the 4 delay lines (or multi-taps, however you want to think of it); third, the ear candiness of being able to spread those lines across the stereo spectrum.

Clarity vs murk: I hesitate to say the machine sounds "digital," with the usual connotations of cold, brittle, soulless, harsh. The repeats are like the most perfect magnetic-delay reproduction you've heard, with new tape and with perfect eq and input gain. But they stay that way unless you dial in Mechanics (wow/flutter/transport anomalies in tape parlance, modulation by type) or Wear (freq degradation/high cut). And all those controls get predictable at any given combination of settings (though they interact along the way for plenty of variety).

The repeats certainly darken over time as they recede - but they don't quite mud up in the same way as tape or analog devices. And while the soundfield gets denser and more full of stuff over time, it doesn't degenerate into indistinguishable noise. It's not that it calls attention to itself: you can "ignore" it and just enjoy it as a cloudy bed of roil. But if you choose to listen to it, you can still make out the details of individual impulses. That's a novel experience for me. With tape or analog, the underflow can turn to complete muck AND gradually overtake your input. Doesn't happen here. It makes listening to the device more engaging and interesting over time.

Those 8 delay-line control buttons. Way easier to find useful subdivisions and delay patterns than with any other delay I've used. Multi-taps and note subdivisions end up baffling me. Here there's a combination of logic (delay 4 is the longest; 3 is half that; 2 half that, and 1 half again), enough parameters to get functionally endless varieties of combinations, and visual clarity of control. Also, each delay line gets its own decay character, so you have volume dynamics: while line 1 is decaying at its rate, the other lines are each decaying at their OWN rates, so you continue to get some repeats louder than the others. Hard to articulate - but the whole mass of repeats doesn't decay in lockstep in one smooth decrescendo, each line has its own envelope, and they overlap. It can be endlessly fascinating. Trails, man.

And since you can turn off feedback for each line separately, and have one or more lines repeat just once while others are feeding back (in any combination) - or turn off the initial input to the line and JUST hear the repeats - possibility for variety increases exponentially. And that's before you use the Spacing knob to slew between repeat offsets.

What you get is maximum variability and useful range of discovery with a minimum of easily-understood controls.

It's the patterns of repeats that I think will keep most guys intrigued with the pedal beyond the initial "yep, drum; yep, echoplex" evaluation. There's just way more potential for useful sonic entertainment than a pure emulation would offer. More variety.

That stereo thing. A small touch (and one of the few alt-control sound parameters on the pedal), but man is it mighty. Hold a feedback button and twist the time button, and you can park the outputs of each delay line anywhere you like across a stereo pan. This helps clarify what each line is doing (and make the patterns of repeats more interesting), opens up the stereo field to make it more accessible, and further extends the sonic possibilities.

But I'm a stereo junkie. I can't imagine living in Brian Wilson's one-eared world.

I haven't even mentioned the reverb. I don't try to evaluate springiness of reverbs, because I'm not an aficionado or obsessive in that domain - but it has more of the spring character my ear expects after 60 years of hearing amp reverb than I get from some devices which claim the specialty - and the "drip" is surprisingly effective without being either too thin or too exaggerated.

And I haven't even played with the "sound-on-sound" looping yet.


Overall, as we might have expected from Strymon and their approach to digital reproduction of earlier technologies (demonstrated vividly in the Deco), they've delivered a range of effects we might think we can get from other devices - but done it by consistently applying functional metaphors from the old tech itself. Because the control scheme is based on (and labeled for) the old tech, it's easier to get the effects we expect - even while we know that "under the hood" Strymon is manipulating the same parameters other makers of digital effects have access to. And at the same time, that same digital tech gives the Volante waaay more range of possibility than the old tech it's inspired by. It emulates, but vastly extends.

Since I like the characteristic round, balanced and rich tone of Strymon products (Pete Celli's ears must have the same response curve as mine), I'll take the extension Strymon offers over the accuracy of the emulation any time. I'm not saying Volante doesn't knock off a drum echo, a tape echo, and studio decks used for echo - depending on any user's experience of any of those techs, it might. But it definitely delivers a wisely idealized distillation of those techs, transcending the limitations that prevented them from completely delivering on the promise of their own designs in the first place - freeing what was great about those machines from the constraints of their technology.

Doing all that opens up terrain they pointed the way toward, but never quite got to.

All in all, while there are elements of the DMM here (along with the character of earlier tech), the Volante is more than all of them multiplied by each other. IF you like that experimental range. If not, you'd have to audition it for the particular emulation you're after, and I can't judge that for anyone else.

Since there are 8 presets (with immediate access to one at a time from the provided footswitches, more with a remote or MIDI), I'm sure it's possible to set up subtle tape doubling/widening, wobbly flangification, slapback, DMM-like effects, and straightforward delays and turn the Volante into a single very practical gig pedalboard delay solution. (If 4 seconds is enough.) I can't imagine it wouldn't sound way better than good enough in all those roles.

I was just exploring what it might do that seems new to me - or more easily and intuitively achieved with the Volante than with other devices (or combinations of devices). Ease of discovery is important to me, and Volante has that for sure. Makes it easy to go new places with a shallow learning curve based on stuff I already knew.

Can't beat that.

So I kinda like it.

– Proteus

'In other DMM comparisons, the "Rec Level" control on the Volante does something similar to the input gain on the DMM, in emulating overdriving an analog preamp. Of course, on a DMM that's exactly what you're doing, and how you get that driven tone. In the Volante, I suspect it's emulated somehow - and it's trying to emulate tape saturation.'

For once Strymon isn't just emulating something, they're doing it for real. There are 2 JFET preamps driving each input to the delay line, which are controlled by the record level knob. Which is why I'm more interested in this than anything else they've put out.

'Multi-taps and note subdivisions end up baffling me. Here there's a combination of logic (delay 4 is the longest; 3 is half that; 2 half that, and 1 half again), enough parameters to get functionally endless varieties of combinations, and visual clarity of control.'

Actually, head 2 is half of head 4, with 3 in between. So with head 4 at 1000ms for example, it would be 3 at 750, 2 at 500, and 1 at 250.

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Thanks for those clarifications, George. That explains why the math I thought was working on delay spacing wasn't giving me the spacing I expected. (Though the "head spacing" math also gets slewed by the Spacing knob settings.)

OK on the actual JFETs on the inputs, though I'm not a stickler for whether Strymon does it digitally or analogically. I should mention (if I didn't) that the Rec Level here produces a harsher, brighter, arguably more brittle drive than the comparable control on the Deco. It sounds like hard clipping to me. It barks. And since it's on a rotary knob from none to lots, that's fine. (I wouldn't want to be stuck with it on all the time.)

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For those interested, here is the best demo I've seen, and a great tutorial.

I will likely get one of these, someday when they are in stock (past their backordered phase) and I get a 15% or 20% coupon to someplace that sells it...


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