Until the day I received the ToadWorks Enveloope pedal ($264.99) for review, I was one of the many guitarists and bassists who didn't really effects loops.
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The ToadWorks Enveloope gives you a dynamically controlled mono effects loop.

Until the day I received the ToadWorks Enveloope pedal ($264.99) for review, I was one of the many guitarists and bassists who didn't really “get” effects loops. I'm partial to old tube amps, which don't have effects loops, so I've always thought of them as superfluous.

After plugging in the Enveloope, my opinion changed dramatically. The pedal provides a mono effects loop, but that's just the beginning. The play on words in its name hints at its main feature: the amount of effect that returns into your signal path can be governed by the envelope of the input signal. In other words, you have dynamic control over the effects return.

Signed, Sealed, and Delivered

The Enveloope has a deceptively simple design featuring just two knobs. The input and output are on standard ¼-inch TS jacks, and the input jack also serves as a switch for the internal 9V battery. On top of the pedal are ¼-inch TS Send and Return jacks for the loop. There's also an input for an external power supply, which is not included but is recommended by ToadWorks for optimal operation.

The Sensitivity knob determines the threshold that the input signal must cross to turn on or off the audio coming into the Return jack. The knob doubles as a switch. When you pull it out, it defeats the dynamic component of the pedal, leaving you with a high-quality, buffered effects loop. It gives you the ability to switch on or off (in true bypass) a whole line of pedals with one very robust 3PDT (triple-pole, double-throw) switch.

The Release knob determines how fast the gate closes; that is, how long the effect stays on after the input signal falls below the threshold. Pulling this switch makes the gate function backward. The effect gets passed through when the input signal is below the threshold, and turns off when the signal gets louder, similar to how a “ducker” works.

Pushing the Enveloope

I played around with this pedal for a few weeks, running bass, guitar, and synths through it into various distortion, delay, harmonizing, and other effects units. My main impression, other than that the Enveloope is a lot of fun to use, is that you need a large amount of control over your instrument, or “touch,” to get maximum benefit from it (see Web Clips 1 and 2). I found it a little tricky to set the Sensitivity and Release knobs just right.

I noticed the Enveloope responded a little too slowly for sources that have fast attack transients, like drums and percussion. The unit has no adjustable attack parameter.

Off the Board

It's also cool to use the Enveloope on studio effects sends and inserts. For that application, you need a reamping tool or some other way to get line-level signals down to instrument level. Otherwise, no matter how high you set the Sensitivity knob, the signal is always above the threshold that triggers the gate. You'll also need a DI or other method of getting that instrument level back up to line level for returning it into your console or audio interface.

Once I had my signal levels properly configured, I had a blast running different tracks through the Enveloope to various effects units. For instance, I bused the vocal into a reverb unit through the Enveloope's effects loop. That gave me an effect where the reverb kicked in only on the loud phrases, a time-honored mixing trick. I ran drums, bass, and horns through the Enveloope into my Tech-21 SansAmp PSA-1, my preferred tool for gritting up a track. The Enveloope's dynamic control of the distortion yielded really interesting results (see Web Clip 3).

You can use the Enveloope just like a key trigger on a gate. Your input signal can control the envelope of a completely different source, with or without being blended in with it (see Web Clip 4).

Do Not Return to Sender

The Enveloope is a unique and useful device. Between its cost and the degree of instrument control you need to exploit all of its functions, it falls into the “boutique pedal” category. But considering its wealth of features, solid build quality (it's handmade in the United States), and two-year warranty, this pedal is actually quite a bargain.

Value (1 through 5): 4