4 Cheap Multi-Effects Units that Don’t Suck

Inexpensive multi-effects processors have long been marginalized by serious guitarists, and not entirely without justification. These all-in-one digital tone generators were long the epitome of that old figure of speech, "jack of all trades, master of none." They typically focused on quantity of effects rather than quality, with most cheap processors packed with endless scrolling banks of flashy, over-the-top presets geared towards dazzling neophytes, rather than providing useful, good sounding effects that real players might actually use. The limits of early digital technology likely played a part in this phenomenon, as digital processing just wasn't advanced enough in the '80s and '90s to legitimately compete with the analog gear it was attempting to replicate.

Recently, however, budget-priced digital multi-effects have been gaining respect in even the most uppity corners of the guitar universe. Digital guitar technology has matured to the point that it can successfully compete with the analog classics, and the companies that manufacture these devices have finally begun to understand how to design good sounding multi-effects boxes that are easy to use, and have the features that gigging guitarists need. They also seem to have finally resigned themselves to the fact that most users want something that will easily integrate with an existing pedalboard, so that guitar players can continue to use their favorite dirt pedals and other stompboxes. This turn of events makes modern multi-effects an excellent choice for players that need a wide variety of modulation effects, for instance, but don't use these effects often enough to warrant the expense of purchasing individual phasers, flangers, and chorus pedals. In this article we'll examine a handful of these modern multi-effects processors that focus on versatility, ease of use, and high quality sonics.

Zoom MS-70CDR MultiStomp Chorus/Delay/Reverb Pedal

Zoom has garnered tremendous respect for the sound quality and affordability of its multi-effects, with the MS-70CDR being a particularly popular unit. This compact, stereo stompbox is loaded with 86 modulation and time-based effects (up to six at once, in any order!), including phasers, flangers, vibes, rotary speaker simulators, pitch-shifters, all manners of delay, and 25 different reverbs. Among the effects it models are famous pedals and processors from Eventide, Boss, MXR, EHX, Strymon, TC Electronic, A/DA, and others. These emulations are uniformly impressive, regardless of price, but for the 120 bucks or so the MS-70CDR goes for brand new, the quality is downright shocking. The Zoom MS-70CDR is ideal for the guitarist that wants to save a lot of space and money while enhancing a pre-existing pedalboard with a comprehensive library of top-shelf modulation, delay, and reverb effects.

Line 6 M5

Line 6 was a pioneer of the modeling and analog emulation game, and the company's delays have become especially revered, with its DL4 being a genuine modern classic. And, unlike many of its competitors, Line 6 has always taken pains to make sure that its pedals are as easy to use as any analog effects box. The M5 continues in this tradition, with over 100 effects taken from the DL4, MM4, DM4 and the company's other modelers, all squeezed into a compact, user-friendly, and very affordable stompbox. Only one effect can be used at a time, but what the M5 lacks in flexibility, it makes up for in simplicity and ease of use. It contains no menus, banks, or any of the things that make more complicated devices so unpleasant to use; just scroll up or down with your feet to any of 24 savable presets. Also, when powered up, the M5 picks right up where you left off, saving precious time and scrolling energy. It's got a tap-tempo button on the face, an expression pedal jack, built-in tuner, MIDI capability, and it features true analog bypass. At 129 dollars, the Line 6 M5 is a very powerful and affordable pedalboard enhancer.

Source Audio Soundblox 2 Orbital Modulator

Source Audio is changing the game with its groundbreaking controllers, unique effect algorithms, and its distinctive approach to multi-effects. The Orbital Modulator is a standout pedal from the company's Soundblox 2 line, containing 14 modulation effects, including flangers, phasers, choruses, and tremolos. These effects can be sculpted and governed in myriad different ways, with an expression pedal, MIDI controller, or Source Audio's amazing Hot Hand. The Orbital Modulator features substantial control over nine different effect parameters, even having a dedicated knob for altering wave shape and envelope, giving it a level of tweakability that one would expect more from a rack unit or software plugin than from a guitar pedal. Source Audio's sonic standards are very high, and the company's algorithms are totally unique, making the Orbital Modulator ideal for guitarists that are interested in digging deeper to create new sounds. Despite all these features, and its pristine, high-end tones, the Orbital Modulator sells for an incredibly reasonable 169 dollars.

DigiTech RP360

DigiTech was an innovator in the early days of digital multi-effects, and has remained on top of the heap (at least in sales) since then. As with any company, it has seen its fair share of ups and downs. For a while, it seemed as if it may never be able to extricate itself from the eighties, but recently DigiTech seems to have turned over a new leaf. The DigiTech RP360, with its classy, understated black enclosure, genuinely excellent amp models and effects, and overall ease of use, is indicative of the new direction the company has taken. The RP360 has 55 amps, 27 different cabs, and 85 effects, all of which are quite usable, and more than a few of which are exceptional. The Lexicon reverbs and the Whammy functions (which will require an expression pedal to fully utilize) are definitely high points, and are alone worth the price of admission. For guitarists trying to integrate it into a pedalboard, a big bonus is the Stompbox mode, which allows the user to assign any one of the virtual stompboxes in a particular preset to one of three stomp switches. The Digitech RP360 is a perfect maelstrom of usability, great tones, and, with a street price of 149 dollars, affordability.

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