8 Under-the-Radar Rack Effects

Anyone can have a simple rack delay, chorus, what have you—but if you’re going to go the extra mile and slap together a towering wall of lights and LCD screens, why get something commonplace? If you’re reading this article, you’re a pedal geek, just like me—in it for the long haul. If so, you likely have a horde or pedals, or aspire to. That said, why waste precious space with a reverb unit or a rack-mounted distortion? Dare to experiment with these outside-the-box rack units.

Ibanez AD230

Ibanez AD230 ad

Those of us that have been in the effects game for decades have beaded witness to an intriguing epoch: the rise and subsequent quelling of the MN3005 arms race. Just a short time ago, this chip was the hottest commodity in effects. However, the dearth of availability coupled with a group of ne'er-do-wells flooding the market with fakes, killed the race in its tracks. For the uninitiated, the MN3005 is a chip used in analog time based effects (most notably analog delay) that is prized for its high headroom. That said, most valuable delay pedals contain one, and some contain two. Well, delay lovers, I have news for you: the Ibanez AD230 contains 18 MN3004 chips. While not all 18 are chained together to create the world's longest analog delay, they are used for the onboard flanger and delay bands, which only means that every application is bathed in analog MN300x tone.

Alesis Akira

In the late ‘90s and early aughts, the calling card of Alesis was the wacky effect. While the company mostly kept these offerings confined to tabletop musicians (and stage musicians, with the optional footswitch), one idea slithered into the rackosphere: the Akira. Essentially, it is the Alesis Ineko in rack form, but with some added options, such as a wet-dry Mix knob. The effects—and there are 99 of them—can be pretty drastic at times, such as “Trash Can,” “Vibrowobl” and “Decimator,” so a Mix control is certainly a welcomed feature. The Akira also features true stereo in and out, as well as a switchable input pad to select between line (synth, drum machine) and instrument (guitar, bass) levels.

Alesis Akira

Ursa Major SST-282 Space Station

Quite possible the rarest and most obscure piece of kit in this article, the Ursa Major Space Station was a very early digital reverb and delay unit, and very groundbreaking for its time. You see, it was released in 1978, back when “digital” meant “a watch without hands.” And much like the genesis of other popular effects, audio engineers knew they wanted this effect, but they didn’t know how to implement it; so the effect was implemented via an absurdly complicated workaround that puts out the richest time-based effects ever. It’s too bad the delay line tops out at 255 milliseconds, but it’s good enough for a juicy slapback.

Ursa Major SST-282 Space Station

Metasonix Pentode Filterbank

Likely the only Metasonix device whose name we can actually print, the Pentode Filterbank hearkens back to a time when Metasonix actually advertised what its products did, in lieu of corny names. At any rate, for those of you not familiar with the brand, Metasonix uses all those weird old TV and radio tubes you’ve seen around but were afraid to ask about. The Filterbank is an all-analog tube-based filter box, as its name implies, but there are four different bandpass filters present within the Filterbank—all can be tuned independently or separate for some truly complex filtering.

Peavey Kosmos V1

Peavey is company hailed neither for its effects, nor its rack gear specifically. However, the Kosmos holds a dirty secret: it’s very, very similar to the ultra-expensive, super-collectable DOD Meat Box, and it won’t set you back nearly as much dough. It’s not exactly the same thing, but it’s actually an expanded version—the Meat Box has knobs for volume, 35Hz, 70Hz and mix, where the Kosmos has all these features plus a dedicated 90Hz subwoofer crossover. What’s more, a V1 Kosmos will set you back about $120, which is downright silly for a 1U rack unit that is fully capable of shaking your house or venue.

Peavey Kosmos V1

Electrix MOFX

Ah Electrix, you were gone too soon. Well, ok, Electrix is back but it's only making MIDI controllers for tabletop guys, and the effects branch has fallen by the wayside. This is unfortunate because Electrix is responsible for some really great—and mostly inexpensive—rack gear. There's the Warp Factory vocoder used by Dandy Warhols and Dan Deacon, and the Repeater—STILL one of the best loopers money can buy. And then there's the MoFX, the Electrix multi-effects unit. On the face, there's a section for Distortion, Tremolo, Flanger and Delay. They all sound great, except for maybe the distortion, and have a plethora of options available. Perhaps the coolest feature is the LFO Sync switch, which automatically forces the time-based effects to the same tempo, no matter where the knobs are positioned. The Mo FX is relatively low-noise and a steal at $150.

Electrix MOFX

Kurzweil Rumour/Mangler

If you don’t know about Ray Kurzweil, you should probably get acquainted, for the man’s life goes far beyond gear and into some really interesting stuff. That said, the Kurzweil name is normally associated with synthesizers and digital pianos. However, Kurzweil released two rack effect units, the Mangler and Rumour, and both units feature wildly different algorithm tables. If you’ve ever played a Kurzweil synthesizer, you’ve likely marveled at the sound quality of the man’s gear. The Mangler and Rumour are no exceptions. Both units have standard fare and more bizarre patches; the Rumour even contains an “Unusual” category with patches like “Acid Trip Room,” “Exponent Booth” and “Feathers McGraw.” The Mangler is more of a general-purpose effects processor while the Rumour is more of a reverb-centric unit, with fifty patches dedicated to it. By contrast, the Mangler only contains 15 reverb patches…but some of them are named things like “Spry Young Boy” and “LazerfazerEchoes.”

Kurzweil Rumour

Roland SVC-350 Vocoder

When Daft Punk recorded the Grammy-winning album Random Access Memories, one piece of gear was featured on nearly every song: the Roland SVC-350 vocoder. I would be remiss to leave out the SVC-350; it’s a classic 11-band vocoder effect that has been used for nearly every robot voice in the last 30 years. Remember the Transformers cartoon theme song? You guessed it—that’s the Roland SVC-350 in action. Aside from making robot noises, the SVC-350 is a great analog signal processor for almost anything; the unit accepts both XLR and quarter-inch jacks for processing any type of signal. Plug a microphone in and hook your (boosted) guitar to the carrier signal input, and you’ve got an instant robot voice that tracks in conjunction with your guitar’s notes. Or, plug a drum machine into the SVC-350 and use a synthesizer to modulate the drums, adding instant dynamics to any mix. Vocoder: not just for robots anymore!

Roland SVC-350 Vocoder
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