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The Synthesizer Review MEGATHREAD!

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by JanusZarate, Apr 16, 2007.

  1. JanusZarate

    JanusZarate Low End Avenger Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 21, 2006
    Petaluma, CA, USA
    All right, it's about time!

    Post your definitive synthesizer pedal reviews here!

    Markjazzbassist and I recently traded synthesizer pedals to do some reviews on them. For our reviews, we tested out the three most sought-after synthesizer pedals on TalkBass: the Akai Deep Impact, the Korg G5, and the Electro-Harmonix Bass Micro Synthesizer.

    For anyone else who has done comparisons with ANY synthesizer pedals (including the Boss SYB-3, Boss SYB-5, the Digitech Bass Synth Wah, the Ibanez Bass Synthesizer, etc.)... feel free to add your reviews, too!
  2. JanusZarate

    JanusZarate Low End Avenger Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 21, 2006
    Petaluma, CA, USA
    To start, here are my three reviews. I tested all three pedals using my Schecter Stiletto Elite-4L, loaded with an EMG-35P4 pickup at the neck, an EMG-35CS at the bridge, and D'Addario ProSteels strings. I also used my GK 2001RB and GK Neo 212.

    DI. Akai Deep Impact (Discontinued, $300-400+ on eBay)

    POWER: 9V DC, 2.1mm center-negative – the Boss standard. 180mA current draw.

    : 140mm X 175mm X 61mm

    : 30Hz - 470Hz

    : The clean/synth blend on the Deep Impact is referred to as “balance.” It seems to work well enough. However, it has some minor but noticeable high-end rolloff.

    : It features 9 programmable channels, which is convenient for storing your favorite settings and being able to recall them on the fly. However, accessing them is not so convenient – the available “Program Up” footswitch on the Deep Impact is only for cycling up through the programmed settings. If you want, you can buy a single-button footswitch to plug into the Deep Impact in order to cycle downward (“Program Down”). A digital display labeled “Prog. No.” tells you which channel you're currently using.

    : There are nine total preset sound types – Dark Bubble, Hardcore, Kitaroh Bass, Bright Synth, Brats, Fat Bottom, Majesty, Hot Space, and Hiccups.

    : Single input, with an Input gain adjustment to improve tracking and prevent unwanted distortion. The three colored LEDs (green, yellow, and red) act as your guides to tell you how hot your signal is, so you can adjust the knob accordingly until you don't get a red light anymore.

    : Single output, and an output adjustment knob.

    : A “Parameter” knob controls which of the synthesizer parameters you can adjust, and a second knob by the digital display allows you to adjust the parameter from 1 to 9 (5 being the normal setting). The parameter value shows up in the digital display labeled “Data”. You can adjust The Note On and Note Off levels (the triggering of the notes; “Off” for triggering the end of the effect, and “On” for triggering the start), the Preset sound, the Attack, the effect Decay, the Envelope Depth, the Dynamics (for setting sensitivity), the Cutoff, the Resonance, the Balance (for blending the clean and synth signals), and the Level.
    The two-knob control setup is great for preventing any accidental adjustments, but it's also a pain to use when you are trying to craft your 9 programmed sounds. It's not exactly “user-friendly”...

    : The most important part of any synth pedal is how it sounds, and this is where the Deep Impact disappointed me. A few presets are nice; Hardcore is great for a distorted synth tone, Dark Bubble has a bit of funk to it, and Majesty is a weird, warbly, and ambient tone that reminds me of a few old 80's cult movies. Many synth tones had an “ambient” feel to them, which would have been nice if they had sounded more natural. Overall, all 9 presets seemed “cheesy” to me – they seemed more appropriate for a keyboard than for a bass. The tracking has a lot to do with it...

    : The tracking on the Deep Impact isn't too great compared to the other two synth pedals. It can glitch up when you play fast. It doesn't always like quick transitions from one string to another. Whether the note was high or low, it sometimes didn't track, and it sometimes tracked with warbles and glitches. Some patient and careful tweaking can help, but tracking's still not perfect. I tried the pedal out using standard EADG tuning only.

    : Small profile, pedalboard-friendly. Unfriendly controls for the frequent tweaker, but excellent for preventing accidental adjustments. Mostly cheesy synthesizer sounds. Great keyboard replacement, as long as you don't try anything too fancy in terms of dynamics. I honestly don't think it's worth the price, but the programmability is a plus.


    [​IMG]Korg G5 Synth Bass Processor (Discontinued, $300-400+ on eBay)

    POWER: 9V DC, 2.1mm center-negative – the Boss standard. 400mA current draw.

    SIZE: 280.8mm X 210.4mm X 39mm


    BLEND: It uses a Mix knob to provide the clean/synth blending, and it works really well. The high end rolloff is negligible, IMO.

    PROGRAMMABILITY: Like the Deep Impact, the G5 has 9 programmable channels. However, unlike the Deep Impact, it's a very user-friendly setup. There are four switches total: 1, 2, 3, and Bank. Bank allows you to toggle between the 3 different groups of 3 channels, each represented by a different color LED; when the LED by Bank is green, you're in group 1; when it's red, you're in group 2; when it's yellow, you're in group 3. The channel switches always have red LEDs. When you stomp on one to bypass for the clean signal only, the LED of that channel will flash. Korg's indicator approach is a bit confusing at first, but it's easy to become familiar with it.

    PRESETS: There are 11 preset sounds – Two sawtooth waves (one fast, one slow); two sawtooth waves with square waves one octave below (one fast, one slow); three very different fuzz waves; an envelope filter; and two different vocal filter sounds.

    INPUT: Single input, with an Input gain adjustment to improve tracking and prevent unwanted distortion. A “Peak” LED indicator flashes when the input is too high. I'd recommend adjusting the Input level until the LED seldom comes on.

    OUTPUT: An Output gain adjustment allows you to control the overall output of the G5. There are also four different outputs – a Mix output (use this for your amp), a Synth Output (use this for sending only the synthesizer sound), a Phones output (for headphone use), and a Tuner output (self-explanatory).

    CONTROLS: There are 6 parameter knobs – Waveform, Intensity, Decay, Resonance, Mix (described earlier), and Level. Waveform allows you to select one of the 11 preset sounds. Decay and Resonance are fairly straightforward (same as with the Deep Impact), controlling filter sweep decay and filter resonance strength respectively. Intensity is a bit of an odd control; it allows you to change both the depth and the direction of the filter sweep. The start cutoff frequency is automatically set, but an optional expression pedal can adjust that in real time. I didn't have an expression pedal to test this with, however. The one thing that really bugged me was that when you set the Intensity to “0”, it's an unpleasant sound – it's flat and muffled, no matter what the waveform happens to be; I think it's supposed to be that way, though. All of the other possible settings are much better anyway.

    SOUNDS: The Korg was very impressive in this department. Every preset sound had something to offer me. I was particularly fond of the more bizarre fuzz waves, and the two sawtooth/square wave mixes. Depending on how you set up the controls for the fuzz waves, you could easily use them as standalone fuzz pedal replacements (and you'd be able to blend your clean sound in!). The envelope filter is very good as well – it has a nice, funky sound to it that can be smooth or quacky while still being reasonably easy to manage in terms of volume dynamics. I really didn't care much for the vocal filters, but they're interesting sounds nevertheless. All of the preset sounds offer a great degree of flexibility. The Deep Impact seemed to spend more of its resources on establishing a controllable tone, whereas the Korg doesn't worry about that (see Tracking below).

    TRACKING: When I first tried this at a low volume in my apartment, I thought the tracking wasn't too great. I tried it again with the volume up, and I realized it really doesn't have tracking issues – I had just never heard the waveform sounds the G5 could make. The tracking is really good on this unit; the manual says the G5 should be played only with single notes, but it actually handled chords well. The manual also says it should only be played using standard EADG tuning; I'm not sure how true this is, as I didn't try it with any other tunings, but it performs so well on the other strings that I think it could probably handle a low B.

    SUMMARY: The Korg G5's interface and features are definitely the most stage-friendly of all. It's the largest of the synthesizer pedals I tried, unfortunately, but for what it offers, it's forgivable. The sounds and tracking are very good, and despite being a digital pedal, the various sounds come off as feeling “natural” (except the vocal filters). It'd be interesting to see just how useful the expression pedal would be for the G5. The Korg G5 is definitely the one that I wish would be reissued!


    [​IMG]EHX Bass Micro Synthesizer ($240 - $280 New)

    POWER: 24V AC, positive-tip adapter. It needs its own special adapter to power it, although some others have successfully powered 24V EHX pedals using two jacks set to “ACA” on a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2. There is a Power switch on top for turning the pedal's power source on and off. You need to have this on to use the pedal, or to even let a bypassed signal through. The LED indicator only tells you if this switch is on – it does not tell you if the effect is on. The stomp switch could use an LED indicator, but it doesn't have one.

    SIZE: 8” X 6.75” X 1”, more or less.


    BLEND: There really isn't a true “blend” on this pedal, because of how it's designed. You can mix your original signal with any of the Octaves and the Square Wave, but everything is affected by the Attack Delay and the filter section.

    PROGRAMMABILITY: No programmability (it's a shame!)...

    PRESETS: None – as it is an analog pedal, there are no presets to work with.

    INPUT: Standard input. An input gain pot is mounted on the bottom of the pedal. Insert a small flathead screwdriver in the hole on the bottom of the pedal to adjust the input gain as needed to prevent unwanted distortion and tracking issues. The instruction manual describes a good method to properly set the input gain, which you will most likely have to do if you bought it new and are using an active bass (you probably won't need to for a passive bass).

    OUTPUT: Standard output, nothing extra.

    CONTROLS: There are 10 sliders on the BMS. The first section is for the Trigger (for setting the sensitivity of the filter section). The second section is for the Voicing Filters: Sub Octave (generates a note one octave below the original signal), Guitar (the clean signal, despite its deceptive label), Octave Up (generates a note one octave above the original signal, lightly distorted on purpose), and Square Wave (generates a fuzz tone somewhat similar to the Big Muff sound). You can slide them up and down from 0 to 10, to create a variety of mixed tones.

    The next section is for the Attack Delay. This slider is similar to the “Slow Gear” effect; it creates a violin-like volume swell for your notes. At 0, there's no effect; at 10, the delay and swell are at their longest. This can also be useful for softening your attack a bit.

    The last section is for the Envelope Filter: Resonance (same as the other pedals), Start Frequency (marks the start point of the filter sweep), Stop frequency (marks the end point of the filter sweep), and Rate.

    SOUNDS: You can get some really cool sounds out of this pedal. There's still a learning curve, but the manual is really helpful with its sample settings. The octave section alone is very good; dialing out the clean signal completely allows for a more dramatic synthesizer tone. I personally like to leave a good amount of clean signal in for extra fullness. The Attack Delay is fun to play with, and it's a feature none of the other synth pedals have. The filter section is very flexible, and besides being able to dial in a variety of large and small filter sweeps, you can hone in on a particular frequency for even more bizarre tones. I've been able to create everything from organ-like tones (although not as amazing as those of the EHX POG) to sequencer effects to wild lead synthesizer sweeps. While it doesn't have the range of waveforms found on the Korg G5, the BMS makes up for it with a unique filter section, a “Slow Gear” effect, and great octave functions. It's more of a multi-purpose pedal than a synthesizer pedal, it seems.

    TRACKING: The tracking is very good overall. It's important to set up the Trigger properly so it doesn't “double-track.” For the Sub Octave, it's like most other octave-down pedals; on the lowest E-string notes, it'll sound a bit distorted and warbly sometimes, but even then it stands up to the test. You need to adjust the Trigger and Attack Delay accordingly to suit your playing style, or you'll find yourself wondering why the filter didn't trigger.

    SUMMARY: Excellent tones, and features that you won't find on the other pedals. The interface is fairly user-friendly, and doesn't take long to learn. The bypass is reportedly not too great, but I haven't had any issues with it, and there's enough room inside to easily modify it for true bypass if you really want to. The major drawbacks: needs its own special adapter, and it's NOT programmable! These two issues make it very difficult to incorporate into a live-gig pedalboard, but the crazy ones find a way.


    Of course, everyone's probably wondering, which one would I ideally want to keep for my own use? I'd honestly still stick to my Bass Micro Synthesizer, as the unique features it has are greatly useful for my needs. However, when it comes to live gigs or even amp-free practice sessions, the Korg G5 is a bassist's best friend. Plus, some people who want control over the wave shape will love what the G5 can do for them. The Deep Impact is, in my honest opinion, overrated.
    NewLaw83 and Driven Crane like this.
  3. Akai SB-1 Deep Impact –

    Pros – True Bypass, Size, Build Quality (tough hard shell), built for 6-string range, 9V Power, 9 available savable Presets
    Cons – Digital, Price, Program selection (only up without extra pedal), Tracking Shaky When playing fast

    Tone – Funky/Poppy Tones, Bright sounding, Tones were borderline cheesy and 80's digital sounding. Some tones were a little funky and you good get a decent Stevie Wonder Bass tone (Keyboard Bass).

    Favorite Settings – Preset 3, 5

    **Almost felt the tones were too cheesy, not a lot of really varied tones. The variability seemed pretty limited when adjusting the different variables. The tracking on this pedal was the worst of the 3. Moderate to fast eighth notes often skipped and buzzed out. I was really let down by this pedal. It has such a reputation and it REALLY was Overrated IMO. There really is not much more to say unfortunately. This seems to be a "Cult Classic".

    Korg G5 Synth Bass Processor –

    Pros – 3 footpedals/Bank system with 9 available Presets, Tweakability, Connection options (expression pedal, synth out/mix out/tuner out), 9V Power, Great Tracking
    Cons – Digital, Not True Bypass/Tone Suck, Biggest Size, Build Quality (Plastic/not very tough), built for 4-string range (but 5 strings sound okay to me on it)

    Tone – Dark/Murky sounds and overall tone, funky slurpy sounds are achieveable, voice talkbox emulators are both really cool, most tonal options for presets and tweaking those presets further, the envelope filter was nice as was the octaver. Very flexible tonally. Tones were varied and you had a lot to work with.

    Favorite Settings – Preset 1, A, b, 3

    **Hard to get a brighter (Akai DI like) tone, sounds more analog than the Akai, Very user friendly with the presets and all the tweakability. Some of the sounds were a little to "out there" for me borderline noise and crazy distortion stuff. The interface was easy to learn and it sounds analog. The plastic casing and tone suck were kinda a bummer especially since this pedal rocks, but it really competed well with the EHX BMS. I loved the Voice filter settings, they were VERY funky and cool. I could definately use those live and for fun. It's got a great octaver on it as well and it tracks and sounds great. The envelope filter on this guys sounds good too. You could use this pedal for a multi-effects unit really. Fuzz, Octave, Envelope, and Synth all in one.

    Electro-Harmonix Bass Micro Synth –

    Pros – Analog, A lot of different tonal combinations, tough casing, looks cool and vintage

    Cons – 24V Power, Not True Bypass (Can be made to be though), No Presets, Tracking is equivalent to the Korg, not 5-string compatible (but sounded decent to me)

    Tone – Can do both Korg and Akai Like tones, Warm analog tone, Can get Crazy out of control and insane as well

    **THis pedal is NASTY!!!! Man it can do some outrageous stuff. The layout is easy to learn and I like how you "build" your tone. The tonal options are just are varied as the Korg and you can get all sorts of stuff going. I'm not a big fan of the bowed effect so I kept the decay down most of the time. The lack of presets and 24V power are kinda a bummer, but I'm willing to see past that for the insanity. This things got a great Down Octave too that can be used for an octaver. The more you mess with this pedal the more sounds you can get and the more variation you find. The tracking on this pedal was equivalent to the Korg G5. It sounded just like the G5 in some aspects.


    I really wanted to like the Akai, I tried very hard to give each pedal it’s chance in the limelight. Unfortunately, the Akai never grew on me. The battle for number one was VERY VERY close. I really think the Korg and Electro-Harmonix sound EXTREMELY similar. I could get the same sounds on both and both are very tweakable and contain lots of tones. Honestly, I would recommend the Korg G5 and the Electro-Harmonix Bass Micro Synth both. I don’t think one is better than the other, it’s more of a person/pedal fit type of thing. So

    1 and 2. EHX Bass Micro Synth and Korg G5
    3. Akai Deep Impact

    Seriously I think the EHX and Korg are on the same plane. It just depends what you're looking for. They are a little different from each other. The various Pros for each (presets, power source, size, etc) are really what would sway someone left or right. The EHX and Korg also approach the synth making process differently. The Korg has specific waveforms that are chosen and then further tweaked. The EHX is a kinda "build your own tone" process. That's where the differences lie between the two. If you play both you kinda understand how they sound similar but do it in different ways.

    I'm still debating between the EHX and Korg to this very moment for my board. I'll be selling the Akai Deep Impact (if anyone's interested PM me) and will probably get an EHX so I can make my decision.
    NoiseNinja, NewLaw83 and Driven Crane like this.
  4. JanusZarate

    JanusZarate Low End Avenger Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 21, 2006
    Petaluma, CA, USA
    I'll be adding sound clips when I get time to record them later this week. I'll definitely have to get some made before I send these pedals back to Mark!
  5. Alright I just edited and updated my stuff.

    It was a real pleasure to deal with Peter (MysticBoo) he's a standup guy and we have had no problems with anything. I'm really happy both of us got to do this, I've learned so much about pedals and synths. Hope you all enjoy the review, feel free to add other stuff to.

  6. This was an awesome thread idea, very informative :bassist:
  7. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    +1, and thanks to both of you!
  8. idoru


    Dec 18, 2005
    Brisbane, Australia
    Comparitive reviews only, ja? I was going to pick up an SB-7 from my local pawnbroker, see how it stands up next to the SYB-3. Totally different animals of course :)
  9. Guys, I really like to thank you very much for the reviews.

    You covered all the important topics of each pedal.

    Now, everyone that wants a synth pedal will know exactly what to expect form the device they're buying.
    (and no more "whats the best synth" threads! :D)

    I am proud of being a part of Talkbass, a place when people really help each other; definetly a landmark in bass playing.
  10. moogboy

    moogboy Banned

    Mar 1, 2007
    Moog Artist in Rock/Pop 5th down
    that was incredibly cool. you got me GASing for a G5! the things that you are describing are very much exactly what i want. i wonder how all of those synth pedals would work with a Rickenbacker tracking-wise?
  11. i think it would work fine. it depends less on the bass you play and more where you play on the bass. usually you get the best sounds when playing over the neck pickup, but in the EHX manual they suggest to play some of the sounds over the bridge pickup.
  12. Wait. How DO you power a 24V pedal? I thought the maximum was 18V?
  13. JanusZarate

    JanusZarate Low End Avenger Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 21, 2006
    Petaluma, CA, USA
    Yeah, I'm trying to keep it to comparative reviews because IMO, it's more helpful that someone has tried out more than one synthesizer pedal before they give a solid review on one. Looking forward to your contribution! :)

    There is no "maximum". Many U.S. commercial kitchens demand 240V AC or more for certain equipment :p

    The Bass Micro Synthesizer comes with a special positive-tip 24V AC adapter. In fact, most EHX pedals of the same size use that 24V adapter. It doesn't run on batteries; in fact, none of the three pedals we tried can use batteries. They all require an adapter, but the G5 and Deep Impact can use the same power source any other 9V DC pedal would use.

    The BMS could be powered using a less conventional method, though - I mentioned it in my review. A Voodoo Lab PP2 could use two of the outputs that can deliver power to Boss ACA pedals (12V) to get the 24V. However, I don't know if any other issues might arise from doing it this way (noise, etc.).
  14. BTW, I forgot to ask.

    What does a Synth do? Sounds like an envelope filter to me. :eyebrow:

    *Don't kill me*
  15. anechoic


    Oct 31, 2005
    Shirley, MA
    I think I'd be a bit hesitant to try something like that. I don't know exactly how the Bass Microsynth is set up, but it's not unusual for the sleeve or shell of the power connector to be grounded. If that's the case, you may end up shorting out either the positive or negative 12 V while trying to get a ground referenced 24 V from +/- 12 V.
  16. JanusZarate

    JanusZarate Low End Avenger Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 21, 2006
    Petaluma, CA, USA
    Someone in TB had actually powered a Q-Tron just fine this way. I'd be hesitant myself, but if it's worked with one 24V pedal... it'll probably work with the others, too.

    I'd normally send my little hound named SpankyPants after you, but I'll be nice this time :D

    A synthesizer CAN sound like an envelope filter, but it's far more complicated than that. The easiest way to think of it is this... if you've listened to any pop music, industrial music, 80's arena rock, or progressive rock, chances are you've heard a wide variety of synthesizer tones. Listen to the sound samples here - this is a particularly good keyboard synthesizer.

    Normally, what you hear in those songs is a keyboard using some sort of really expensive synthesizer unit, but with synthesizer pedals, a bass can produce similar sounds.

    For bass, a popular example would be Muse: the bassist, Christ Wolstenholme, uses the Deep Impact for digital synth tones, or a combination of distortion, octave, and envelope filter pedals for synth-like sounds.
  17. EricF

    EricF Habitual User

    Sep 26, 2005
    Pasadena, CA
    To add to what Mr. Boo said...

    An envelope filter is a common component to a synth sound, but not a required one. Particularly with the EHX BMS, you can set the filter section to have no sweep, therefore giving a very different effect than the up or down filter sweep you would typically hear from an envelope filter. A synth can also mix in waveform mutations (square, sawtooth, etc.), octave up, octave down, and/or attack delay. Combining these components at different levels or speeds gives you a wide range of sonic possibilities - a LOT more than just an envelope filter.
  18. EricF

    EricF Habitual User

    Sep 26, 2005
    Pasadena, CA
    Fantastic job MJB and Boo!!

    I would have written my own review of the EHX BMS, but you both covered it much better than I would have.

    Thanks for taking the time - and making the coordinated effort - to do this.

    You guys RAWK!!! :D
  19. HenfieldJ


    Feb 10, 2007
    Thanks for the review of the BMS, it is a pedal that many have raved about, but they typically do not let you know how it actually modifies the sound. Has anyone taken the output of these pedals and further processed them through other pedals, such as the moogerfoogers? I was wondering if the digital pedals (Akai, Korg, Boss, Digitech, Ibanez, etc.)would "warm up" once processed through an analog filter like the MF-101. How about the BMS through the MF-101?
  20. I went bms to digitech bsw to ibanez compressor in the studio with very good results, IMO.

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