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This article was originally published in issue #27
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Visual Sound started out creating pedals in 1988 and has created a legacy of well-known stompboxes that have notably seen popularity amongst musicians on the legendary Nashville session circuit. Now they’re back with the new VS-XO Overdrive and a third edition of their much-loved H2O Liquid Chorus/Echo pedal.
The VS-XO is a dual overdrive pedal, which means it’s essentially like having two pedals in one box; the controls are conveniently laid out as such so it’s easiest to imagine an invisible line running through the center of the pedal to divide the two channels whilst setting them to your preferences. The first channel is on the right and creates a lightly driven sound with Drive, Tone and Volume knobs as you would expect to find on many overdrive pedals, but more interestingly also has a Clean Mix knob and switches marked Clipping and A-B-C.
The Clean Mix is a wet/dry control which when rolled all the way off creates a clean boost, and can be used very effectively in conjunction with the Drive knob to find the perfect sweet spot for emulating a clean tone being driven to the point of breaking up. The Clipping switch selects between three different clipping diode scenarios; when pushed to the left there are no diodes in the signal, when central the switch engages two internal LEDs which clip the guitars signal and create a medium, bright sounding gain, and when pushed to the right the switch engages three signal diodes for a smoother, higher gain sound (although still a relatively low overdrive) with asymmetrical clipping.
The A-B-C switch selects between a bass cut in the ‘A’ position and a bass boost in the ‘C’ position. The ‘B’ position is the most neutral of the three options, but all three could come in handy for compensating for different amps and room sizes.
Overall I found overdrive 1 to be an enjoyable channel, fantastic for creating pushed clean sounds, crunches and low-drive Blues lead tones. The clipping switch is extremely usable and I could imagine the bass boost coming in handy in some scenarios, but the highlight for me came when balancing the Drive knob with the wet/dry Clean Mix control to create convincing pushed-to-breaking point clean sounds.
Overdrive 2 on the left-hand side has the same typical Drive, Tone and Volume knobs as the right-side overdrive, although the Tone now also boosts gain slightly as you increase the treble. Drive 2 also features a Bass knob which essentially works the same as A-B-C bass control for Overdrive 1 but gives more flexibility which allows you to precisely dial in the bass in the sound, ideal for the higher drive settings available on this side of the pedal. This channel is much more of a Rock overdrive, really creating the sounds of '70s rock authentically and pushing up into almost fuzz-like territories as the Gain is maxed-out. Although it was remarkably sensitive to pick dynamics I felt that Overdrive 2 would have benefited from some more clarity in the tone; because the gain increased each time I increased the treble with the Tone control it took a little more time than I would’ve liked to strike a balance.
The pedal also includes separate Ins and Outs for each overdrive so it’s possible to use them as independent channels or to run in one side and out of the other as a single pedal, as well as Visual Sound’s Pure Tone buffer and an optional True-Bypass which is switchable for each channel inside the pedal.
V3 H2O Liquid Chorus & Echo
Chorus and Echo are two effects that pair incredibly well together for a good variety of different guitar tone scenarios, and the Visual Sound H2O is a classic example of dual pedal combining both of these sounds. With the new Version 3 they’ve completely overhauled the pedal with a more durable housing and more controls covering a wide spectrum of options for both effects.
As with the VS-XO, it’s easiest to control the pedal by imagining an invisible line splitting it down the middle. With this in mind the analogue-voiced Echo on the right hand side features controls for Delay (which controls how fast notes are repeated), Repeats (which controls how many times notes are repeated up to infinite repeat) and Level (which controls the volume of the repeated notes). The Short/Long switch splits the Delay range from approximately 10-225ms (short) to 225-450ms (long).
The chorus is on the left-hand side of the pedal and features knobs to control the Speed, Width and Depth of the effect. It also features a high-cut Tone control, an Intensity selector switch to move from Light to Medium and High intensities and a crazy Detune selector that pushes the pedal to crazy noise effects when engaged! The Chorus/Vibrato blend control is essentially a wet/dry which when on full removes the clean signal entirely leaving only the effected signal - a true vibrato effect. Finally, a secondary output on the top of the pedal allows for true stereo output, and the pedal also features the Visual Sound Pure Tone buffer and optional True Bypass switching.
I was impressed with the quality of the effects in this stompbox. The echo was beautifully warm and very easy to control, with the literally infinite variety of repeats opening up a massive amount of different sounds that were all accessible in moments. The short/long selector is a great way of increasing control over delay speed and although it will never match the accuracy of tap-tempo, it is possible to get very specific with the delay timing with minimal hassle. The chorus had a great range of lush tones through to completely off-the-wall madness once the Detune selector was engaged, and again had a rich, warm quality regardless of how it was set.
Overall I felt that both of these pedals impressed, but the H2O just pipped the VS-XO to the post with the quality and consistency of its effects. Solid construction and a massive array of usable tones really helped both of these pedals to stand out from the crowd, plus they’re extremely reasonably priced ensuring maximum bang from your buck. If you’re looking for hugely versatile effects that will cover you in multiple scenarios and are easy to use despite lots of tweaking potential, the Visual Sound line has got to be on the shortlist of potential solutions.
1-Spot Power Adaptor
To power the pedals in this review, Visual Sound sent us the 1 Spot Power Supply. At first glance it appears to be a regular 9V power adaptor but crucially it can power over twenty pedals through a series of daisy-chained cables up to a maximum of 1700mA! The obvious advantage of this in comparison to other power supplies is that it’s running from just one position on your outlet strip/wall outlet and isn’t taking up any space whatsoever on your pedalboard. It can power over 90% of pedals on the market thanks to different adaptors available for the daisy chain cables and will convert international voltage automatically.
Although some readers will doubtless be wondering what all the fuss is about, experienced gigging musicians will know that anything that saves space is always worth a look and, apart from the issue of tangled daisy-chain cables which can be overcome by careful packing, this power supply will save space on your board (which you then may care to use up again with one of the Visual Sound dual pedals reviewed here!)