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This article was originally published in issue #35
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Based in Italy, Nemphasis has been around since 2011. We don't know much about them and the company's website doesn't add a lot beyond 'the usual stuff'. However, they came with the recommendation of a distributor whose judgement we've learned to trust, so when he offered them to us to see if we agreed with his estimation, we said we'd give them a try. It's no exaggeration to say we're glad we did.
In this review we are looking at three Nemphasis pedals: The VT Compressor, The Muff Distortion and Liquid Mind Analogue Chorus. Also on review is the intriguing Oktopus power supply.
Nemphasis VT Compressor
Starting with the things all three of these Nemphasis pedals share in common, this one runs from the ubiquitous 9 volt battery, or a standard power supply. It comes in average stomp box size with a high build quality and features true bypass operation.
The VT Compressor doesn't overwhelm you with a multitude of knobs and switches, featuring just three controls with names that make perfect sense, making operation very intuitive. Thanks to the highest selection of components, Nemphasis claim the VT is the closest device to a studio compressor you will find in a pedal, and say it uses optical circuitry, which is cool, but does it sound good? Well in a nutshell, yes...I have tried/bought many compressor pedals over the years and I'm always surprised how they vary across the board. Some seem to do absolutely nothing, others too much and ruin your initial good tone. The VT, on the other hand, is a very musical and transparent pedal, that doesn’t get in the way of your sound, only enhances it. The controls make perfect sense, add more compression for that tight squished sound that suits funk paying, or more attack to even out your slightly overdriven legato playing. The level control also enables you to use this as a bit of a clean boost, giving you that little extra to cut through the mix. It does everything a good sounding compressor pedal should do. It doesn’t have the blend and mix controls that many others offer now (neither does the current one on my board), but if the quality is there to begin with then the other options are not always necessary. My only quibble being I found I wanted a little more, it didn’t quite squish enough for me when I really wanted it to even turned right up, but that's really just personal taste. There is no denying that this is a very fine compression pedal that sounds great.
Nemphasis The Muff Distortion
The Muff Distortion pedal (shame about that name), like the VT Compressor, is a plug-in and go stomp box, a format which this reviewer likes. So called “Muff” distortion pedals are tricky to get right. The tone the name conjures up can either be a fantastic addition to your sound, or just cause everything to go muddy and get lost in the mix. Looking at the design of the pedal you can tell that they were going for that vintage Pink Floyd-esque nasty, dirty-but-cool sound. As well as the three controls, Tone, Sustain and Level, there is a Fat Mode switch that adds a pronounced response on mid-low frequencies. This is fantastic - making it perfect for big and sustained lead sounds. But wait - this mode is “internally selectable”, which basically means you have to take the thing apart to get to a tiny switch! I'm not quite sure how this was ever considered a good idea. Surely it can’t be too hard to make the switch accessible from the outside? What happens if you wish to change sounds between songs? You are going to have to be pretty handy with a screwdriver in the heat of the moment.
This aspect is a real shame because otherwise this is a very good pedal, delivering the characteristic sound while maintaining touch and dynamic feel for the player.
Liquid Mind Analog Chorus (see above image)
A good chorus pedal is hard to find. Some you don’t notice a difference when they're turned on, while others become all consuming. And that’s just good chorus pedals. Finding a GREAT Chorus pedal is even harder. As with the other two pedals the Nemphasis Liquid Mind follows the same three knob approach, and as with the others, less is definitely more. Using an accurate LF oscillator and a choice of the best electronic components available, Nemphasis says, particular attention has been dedicated to the layout of the circuit, with the aim of fully eliminating the sound of the “click noise” derived from the LFO. The 'color' control is a nice addition, allowing you to tailor your sound and “Color” the tone accordingly. Once again this Nemphasis Chorus pedal is clear, transparent and musical. Subtle chord shimmers through to crazy high speed depth sounds are all available. Again it really was just a matter of plugging in, setting everything to 12 and then tweaking to the sound you desire - simple!
Nemphasis Oktopus power supply
Is it possible to get excited, or even give that much consideration, to your power supply? After all, it doesn’t make any cool sounds. But all the things that do make your cool sounds need a power source and they really do need some thinking about when selecting. To run a pedal board properly you need a robust power source that can easily handle all the pedals you can throw at it. Ever noticed a slight hum or high pitched squeal coming through your amp? This could well be down to the power supply. The Oktopus sets out to be a really professional piece of kit that will do the job perfectly. As a consequence it is pretty big and quite expensive. On the other hand, what you get in return is impressive. It's completely silent, even with pedals placed directly on top of it (this is demonstrated in the video). The noise floor is greatly reduced or even undetectable. This is thanks to the use of the best electronic components and the unique modular design that allows the maker to keep the grounds that feed the individual pedals always isolated from each other, thus eliminating the ground loops (typical of the power supplies in parallel or daisy chain).
Another issue these days is the variety of power needs for certain pedals, ranging from 9 – 12 volts. The Oktopus has 9 outputs with true isolated grounds to avoid ground loops and hum. You can adjust some outputs gradually from 9 – 12 volts, and you can even adjust it to make the pedal sound like it is using a dying 9 volt battery, if you should so wish! All voltage and power needs that are currently on the market are catered for in this unit.
As I say, the Oktopus is big and you would need at least a Pedaltrain 2 sized board to fit it on. At the moment there are no bracket kits for certain boards, so you would have to come up with a way of fixing it yourself. However, there is no doubting that the Oktopus does exactly as it claims, offering a silent, hassle free power supply with a multitude of voltage options, and enough outputs to keep even the most crammed board up and running. If you want the best, it might be worth digging deep to buy one of these.