Studio Electronics has entered the modulation effects market with the Phaser ($349) phase shifter, one of three products in the ModMax line of pedals. The Phaser's “indoctrination sheet” says “Don't fear the ModMax,” which is meant to allay the fears of musicians who are not used to a stompbox with so many controls. In fact, the Phaser has 13 knobs and 6 switches, including rate and depth controls and an LFO Waveform switch that offers triangle, square or random waveforms.
The Studio Electronics ModMax Phaser includes three LFO waveforms and Frequency, Resonance, and dynamics controls.
The Phaser has input and output controls above their respective ¼-inch jacks. Those controls are invaluable, because they change the ways in which the rest of the controls affect the sound. The Mix knob is a standard dry/wet control. The Dynamics control has a center detent with a negative or positive setting, allowing the input dynamics to sweep the mix setting from dry to wet or vice versa. The Drench control overloads the processed signal's output, which can significantly increase the output gain of the unit, making the level controls that much more important.
Located in the next row of knobs is the Frequency control, which sets the center frequency of the sweep, and the Resonance control. Between them is a switch that sets the number of stages — 2, 4, or 6 — for phase sweeping.
The controls in the middle, which slave the unit's functions to input dynamics, include attack and release knobs, with LEDs to show input level. A 3-way switch sets the trigger response: Normal, in which the LFO is continuously running; Trig, in which the input triggers the start of the LFO; and One-shot, in which one cycle of the LFO is triggered. The LFO's triangle waveform starts at zero, and the square wave starts at one.
The Frequency Dynamic knob has a negative-positive switch above it to set the polarity of the filter sweep. The Rate Dynamics knob has a center detent: for negative settings, a dynamic trigger decreases modulation, which decays into the set modulation rate; for positive settings, a trigger produces modulation that slows down as the signal decays. Finally, the Depth Dynamics knob offers positive and negative dynamic control over LFO depth.
There is also a switch that sets the LFO base rate to slow or fast. When using the slow setting, the LFO's duty cycle ranges from roughly 30 seconds to around 10 Hz. When using the fast setting, the LFO gets into audio-rate frequencies and can produce frequency modulation effects.
Set to Stun
I first used the Phaser with my guitar as a standard stompbox phase shifter, keeping the Frequency and Resonance knobs near their centers and playing with the rate and depth controls. The results were sweeping comb-filter effects in the 2-stage setting, with added lushness in the 4- and 6-stage settings. It never became so lush, however, that it could compete with my older MXR and Electro-Harmonix phase shifters. With careful adjustments of those controls, I produced nice tremolo/vibrato effects, similar to the vibrato from a Vox AC30 and the warbly tremolo of a brown-face Fender amplifier. With the Drench switch on, the volume increased dramatically, adding unpleasant distortion and output noise. By adjusting the input and output levels to compensate, I was able to get watery Univibe-like effects. But I was disappointed with the Phaser's performance as a normal phase shifter.
Sensing that this unit might be more interesting on the desktop, I set it up as an auxiliary send on my mixer and sent other kinds of sounds through it. On drums, the dynamic triggering was perfect, and the distortion that the Drench switch provided sounded decent here, resembling bit-degradation effects.
I tried running vocals and other instruments through Phaser. While it produced some interesting sound effects, Phaser's dynamic triggering possibilities seemed best suited to percussive sounds. The Phaser livened up basses with its subtle phase shifting and filter sweeps in a drum & bass environment. A word of caution: the filter's center frequency control has a very wide range. Combined with the resonance control, the low end can get particularly out of control if you aren't careful. Nevertheless, that would be a fun tool to interact with in a live electronic situation.
Color My World
Although the Phaser is fairly idiosyncratic, it doesn't replace traditional stompbox phase shifters, but that may not be its purpose. However, with its many controllable parameters, the Phaser could be a sound experimenter's dream. As a tool for studio technicians and DJs, it may provide just the right color.