Nicknamed The Strip, the fourth version of the popular Carl Martin Octa-Switch is one of the most compact yet advanced pedalboard switchers going. Just as with its predecessors, the signal path has an all-analogue design to make sure the original sound of your pedals is retained in full. The Octa-Switch sets players up with eight true-bypass FX loops that can be programmed across an equal number of banks and are backed by impedance-free, gold-plated relays. Nick Jennison reviews.
The loop switcher has become a widely accepted part of the "guitar gear canon", with the kind of technology that was once the sole preserve of unobtainable Bradshaw rigs being readily available in every guitar store in the land.
There are two distinct schools of thought when it comes to these handy devices: one group of uses wants every feature under the sun in their loop switcher, with complex MIDI implementation, parallel signal paths, hi-res displays etc; the other (much, much larger) group craves simplicity and ease of use above all else. While I find myself in the former camp, it's very easy to see where the latter are coming from.
The Carl Martin Octa-Switch "The Strip" is very much a loop switcher for guitar players who crave simplicity, but with some crucial features that many "bare-bones" loop switchers lack, such as MIDI, external switching, selectable outputs and an instant access mode.
Like the previous generations of Octa-Switch, it sports eight presets (which Carl Matin somewhat confusingly referred to as "banks"), with each preset offering instant recall of any combination of the eight true bypass loops. With the touch of a switch, you can go instantly from (for example) an overdrive, phaser and reverb in loops 1, 5 and 8 to a distortion and a delay in loops 3 and 7 - or any other combination that takes your fancy.
While previous Octa-Switches have been programmed using matrixes of 8 dip-switches, meaning pedal combinations couldn't be easily tweaked on the fly, "The Strip" has an instant access mode that allows you to add any of the eight loops to whatever preset you're using at the touch of a switch. If you like the resulting combination, you can hit the store button, and whatever combination of loops you have set up will be saved as a preset. It's super easy to create presets this way, but a slight criticism I have of this method is that you can't "save" a preset using your feet (for example, by pressing and holding the instant access switch) - you have to bend down and press the "store" button. Not exactly a deal-breaker, but an inconvenience nonetheless.
"The Strip" also supports the four-cable method, where some effects are run in front of the amp and others are in the amp's effects loop - a must for players like myself who rely primarily on amp gain for their tone. Loops 6-8 have their own input and output jacks, which makes configuring your rig this way very simple, and the quality of the relays mean you won't lose any tone in the process.
As far as switching goes, there's a very rudimentary MIDI output, sending program changes 1-8 corresponding to the eight presets on the Octa-Switch. You can't change these messages, and the channel is fixed to channel 1, but for most guitar players, this will be more than sufficient. There are also two assignable outputs and four external switches, all of which are assigned using Carl Martin's familiar "dip-switch" matrixes. All of this means that with a single stomp, you can change which pedals are active, switch presets on a MIDI pedal, switch channels on your amp, and even switch which amp you're sending the signal to!
Other features include a switchable 500k Ohm input buffer to prevent signal loss (I'm surprised it's not a 1Meg buffer, but these guys know what they're doing, so I'll trust their judgement here!), a switch for either mute or bypass, and most importantly - horizontally placed jack sockets! That might not seem like much, but vertically aligned jacks on a loop switcher make fitting standard patch cables a nightmare, meaning you either have to spring for expensive "solderless" cables or sacrifice a ton of pedalboard space to make room for straight 1/4" jack plugs. Not so on the Octa-Switch, thankfully!
While it's still very much a "simple" loop switcher, the Octa-Switch "The Strip" offers enough modern functionality to satisfy the needs of almost every guitar player. It's housed in a rugged metal enclosure that will easily withstand the rigours of the road, and operating it is a piece of cake. If you need a loop switcher (and you do trust me), this is one very worthy of your consideration.
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