The revamped and reissued Electro-Harmonix 16 Second Delay now provides over four minutes of loop recording time in its jumbo stompbox case.
Anyone who has ever gotten misty eyed over vintage stompboxes is bound to shed tears of joy over the return of the legendary Electro-Harmonix 16 Second Delay (16SD) looping pedal ($995). The radical real-time sound-shaping controls of the original pedal have made it a performance favorite of pioneering guitarists like Bill Frisell, Nels Cline, and others.
In this limited production reissue, the look and the basic functions of the original have been preserved. Meanwhile, the internal circuitry has been updated, resulting in better specs. Vintage units are rare and highly sought after, and many people may not be familiar with the pedal's unique features.
The 16SD is a large stompbox with a trio of ¼-inch input, output, and footswitch jacks positioned along the angled front edge of the chassis. Three slider switches that select loop mode (Continuous or Single mode), pitch and tempo adjustments, and forward or reverse playback share this angled panel. The unit's 9 VDC wall-wart power transformer also connects here.
The bulk of the top-panel face is taken up by a series of white miniature faders with white position markers screened on a black background. These panel markings, set in increments of 25 percent, allow some degree of repeat programmability. A pair of Delay faders, with marks indicating loop bar lengths, control coarse and fine tempo or pitch adjustment. Two Sweep faders govern pitch modulation speed and depth.
In the central Mix section, five faders control feedback, “clix” (metronome clicks) level, effect-out level, dry-output level, and input gain. Empty slots to the right of the Mix section provide ventilation for the internal digital delay engine.
The lower edge of the top panel has three heavy-duty footswitches to initiate record, play, and bypass functions. LED meters also dot the panel, indicating record and play status, input level, loop-tuning status, and metronome clicks.
One of the major improvements to the 16SD is that it's no longer just 16 seconds! The Electro-Harmonix reissue now provides over four minutes of loop recording time. Though a full description of the unit's varied features and functions exceeds the limits of this review, some of the more impressive features include: 1-octave pitch change up or down (in half-step increments); the ability to change tempo without changing pitch; uninterrupted reverse playback; true hardwired bypass; and retention of the loop data in memory after the pedal is powered down.
In addition to its main role as a looping pedal, the device can also perform standard time-based delay effects such as echo, flanging, and chorus. The reissue includes a MIDI Out port and generates MIDI clock, -start, and -stop commands as a MIDI master only. (It will not slave to an external MIDI clock.) An optional footswitch, which costs $166 and was not included with our review unit, provides the capability to control record, play, and bypass functions remotely.
Several of the 16SD's features are impressive. It's no “one trick” device, and a wealth of switch combinations and looping modes are all explained in tutorial style in the clearly written manual. The half-step pitch modulation of the fine delay slider has numerous musical uses, including quick sample or loop tuning.
For live experimentation, the 16SD is hours of fun, with extreme modulation effects available at your fingertips. The unit's digital processing yielded rich fidelity from an assortment of electric guitars. I detected a mildly darker coloration and noticeable lack of air (above 10 kHz) in the pedal's processed signal, but the loops I created never sounded thin or degraded appreciably over time.
Although there is no need to get nostalgic over the antiquated delay technology of the original 16 Second pedal, one innovation of the reissue — its beats-and-bars-based system — may not be applauded by everyone. The mandatory four-beat count-in before recording is great for studio layering, but may be a hindrance to the spontaneity of live jams.
While the pedal's case is of all-metal construction, the plastic switches and 14-inch jacks are not the sturdiest choice for an onstage pedal with multiple foot-operated switches. In addition, the top slider knobs are plastic, and particularly vulnerable to breakage. As if to illustrate this point, three of the nine sliders broke off when the device took a tumble from my desk onto a carpeted floor.
At $995 list (street prices are significantly lower), the 16 Second Delay reissue is a serious toy that promises a lot of loopy fun. For guitar experimentalists, it's practically a must-have; for studio types, the 16SD's potential for sample manipulation, overdubbed looping, and all manner of sonic wizardry is as unlimited as the imagination.