Chorus Shootout: MXR Analog Chorus vs. Polytope vs. Sea Machine
I recently took advantage of a birthday and some free shipping deals to give a few chorus pedals a thorough workout. I'm running a "real" pedalboard for the first time after around a decade of gigging with only a Boss ME-50B, and chorus is one of the key effects that I need to replace.
Goal: To find a chorus pedal that can handle typical chorus duties as well as offering some more off-the-wall tones, as this pedal will likely serve as my only serious option for "knob-twiddling" in more ambient parts with my current rock/metal band.
Contestants: Iron Ether Polytope, Earthquaker Devices Sea Machine, MXR Analog Chorus
MXR Analog Chorus I received the MXR as a birthday present, since I asked for it back when I first decided to replace the ME-50B. Unfortunately, by the time I received it I had already made up my mind to seek out a chorus with more tweakability and potential for weirdness. That being said, the MXR still made a great case through sheer quality of sound. This is a great, deep-sounding chorus, and I would rate it highest in terms of overall sound quality for traditional chorus purposes. Of the three, the MXR had the warmest, most natural-sounding chorus, as well as the best bass response (particularly with the settings dialed in). It also nails the Warpaint tone.
Unfortunately, it did not cut through the mix with the full band as well as the others, and it doesn't offer much in the way of "weirdness." Overall, I would still rate this as a great pedal and my top recommendation to anyone wanting a chorus pedal for more standard purpose.
Earthquaker Devices Sea Machine I really wanted the Sea Machine to win, because it is just so "cool" -- between the name, the design, and the features, this is one slick piece of equipment. The ability to dial in reverb/ambience was a big selling point as well, as I love reverb combined with chorus and liked the idea of getting it without a separate reverb pedal. There are a lot of interesting tones on the Sea Machine, and it's definitely a good choice for anyone who likes woozy, wobbly, seasick chorus. I had the most trouble dialing in a great standard chorus tone with this pedal, mostly due to my difficulty in finding a setting I liked on the "Rate" knob (which adjusts the speed of the warbling). I did eventually find a nice base tone similar to the MXR but with more character -- I still preferred the MXR slightly for this type of tone as a matter of personal taste, but it was close. I also had a lot of fun messing with the reverb and other settings to produce weird tones, and I fully expected the Sea Machine to win out based largely on the strength of this ability.
Once I brought it to a band practice, however, it managed to drop from the top spot -- like the MXR, its tones didn't cut through the mix as well as I'd hoped. In summary, this is another great pedal, and it is particularly well suited for use in a more quiet or ambient type of band where effects have more room to shine. I also expect it would have been my choice if I were a guitar player, since I would have less concerns about cutting through and the warbly sounds would sound more natural.
Iron Ether Polytope: The Polytope gets a lot of love around here, for good reason. This is the pedal that first came to mind when I though of finding a box that could do both standard chorus-type functions and more extreme effects. Frankly, I was underwhelmed when it first came in. While I enjoyed the pseudo-chorus effects it can deliver at lighter levels of Detune, it sounds distinctively different from an actual chorus. When A/B'd against the Analog Chorus through headphones, it felt very sterile compared to the depth and warmth of the Analog. I could also tell that there was a lot to experiment with in the more extreme settings, but I had trouble finding any that I thought I would actually use in a band setting.
But then I demo'd it with the full band, and that's when the Polytope simply dominated the competition. For standard chorus applications, the Polytope cut through the band mix far better -- it simply seems to have an inherent high-end character to it, probably owing to the pitch-shifting on the additional voices. While this made for a more artificial sound in the bedroom, it was a virtue in a live setting where the harsher edges were inaudible and the sheer presence was able to come through. As a bonus, the Polytope sounds incredible with fuzz, for likely the same reason -- paired with my Grey Stache, its higher-pitched character sits nicely "on top" of the thick wall of bass-and-fuzz, almost as though I was using an octave-up pedal only much more subtle. I was worried that this element would cause low-end loss, but this was not a problem (particularly with the Filter knob at an appropriate setting).
So, in summary, all three pedals are great options, and I can imagine myself having picked each of them if I were in different playing situations. However, given that I play in a loud rock/metal band, the unique character and presence of the Polytope pushed it ahead of its more conventionally pleasing competitors.
Hope this helps!
- Progressive sludge metal from South Florida
Carvin / MarkBass / BBE / Fuzzrocious / Iron Ether