Despite the popularity of do-everything multi-effects processors, stompboxes have held their ground in the hearts and rigs of many musicians. A patchwork pedalboard of unusual effects is the mark of individuality, and to some players, the more obscure the effect, the better. Enter Robotalk ($280), a filter pedal that combines three effects in one device.
Robotalk gives you a wah-wah, an envelope filter, and a sample-and-hold effect in a hefty bare-metal box. Each pedal is hand-built with U.S.-made parts. Robotalk has two footswitches: a Function switch, which toggles between the envelope filter and sample-and-hold effect, and an Effect On/Off switch, which is not a true bypass switch. An LED indicates when the effect is on.
The Robotalk offers three ¼-inch jacks: an audio input, an output, and an expression-pedal input. You activate the wah-wah effect by plugging a voltage-control expression pedal in to the expression-pedal jack. When an expression pedal is connected to Robotalk, it overrides the Function switch and locks the unit into Wah-Wah mode.
Most standard expression pedals work with Robotalk; I used Roland's EV-5, which the manufacturer recommends. Two 9V batteries power Robotalk, but it has no provision for an AC adapter.
The Envelope, Please
As a standard envelope filter, Robotalk works well and sounds great. The filter characteristics are controlled by two tiny trim pots labeled Range and Freq. Range adjusts the amount of gain required to make the filter kick in, and Freq adjusts the EQ curve. Adjusting the trim pots is tedious and difficult because of their size and lack of markings, and identifying the settings is difficult.
The two other controls, Volume and Rate, are larger and clearly marked. The Volume dial drives the pedal's overall output, and the Rate dial directs the speed of the filter's sample-and-hold portion.
In Sample-and-Hold mode (which is misleadingly termed Arrpegiator [sic] by the manufacturer), the filter setting changes randomly at a speed that's determined by the Rate control. The speed ranges from a couple of seconds per step to a fast warble. At higher speeds, the result is a rhythmic burbling reminiscent of an analog synthesizer. The Range control doesn't function in Sample-and-Hold mode because the filter sweep no longer depends on your input level. You can set the sample-and-hold frequencies using the Freq control.
Robotalk's filter sweeps in Wah-Wah mode are smooth. The wah-wah's range seemed to be wider than that of Dunlop's familiar Crybaby pedal. After using Robotalk for a while, I wished for a way to use all three effects modes at one time without disconnecting the expression pedal.
The Robotalk pedal's only drawbacks are the small trim pots and the boutique-level price tag. Without the sample-and-hold circuit, Robotalk is merely a pricey envelope filter and wah-wah pedal. Still, Robotalk is a solid stompbox that drips with custom-built retro chic. Collectors of unusual stompboxes will want to make a space on their pedalboard for Robotalk.