The PH-16 ($339) is a dual eight-stage phase shifter from Germany's Vermona Engineering. Although the device looks modest, you can use the phase shifters in parallel or serially. The PH-16's host of modulation options gives you a surprisingly large palette of filtering and spatial effects.
The first thing you notice about the PH-16 is its array of large silver knobs, which are inviting to those who like to tweak analog gear. The knobs have a nice feel to them, but unfortunately, their shininess makes it difficult to see the notches that indicate the settings.
The 1U front panel is divided into five sections. At the far left is the Input section, which has a Gain knob, a clip indicator, and an unbalanced, high-impedance ¼-inch input. In the next section are independent Phase and Feedback controls for each phaser. Between them is the Mode knob that selects whether the phasers are working in parallel (in 4, 6, or 8 stages) or serially (in 8, 12, or 16 stages). One drawback of the PH-16 is that you hear a pop when you change modes.
The PH-16 has an internal LFO (with triangular wave only) and controls for Speed and Intensity. A flashing red LED shows the LFO speed. With the Destination knob, you can route the LFO in one of four ways: to Phaser 1 only, to Phaser 2 only, to Phaser 1 and Phaser 2 simultaneously, or to Phaser 1 and Phaser 2 simultaneously but with an inverted modulation waveform for Phaser 2.
Similarly, the Destination control in the Control Voltage/Envelope Follower section routes the input at the CV/In jack in six ways: in addition to controlling the phasers as previously mentioned, you can also control the LFO speed (SPD) and intensity (INT). When no CV source is plugged in to the rear-panel CV/In jack, the circuit functions as an envelope follower, which is affected by the signal level at the input. The stronger the input, the higher the voltage level going to the selected destination. The final section, Output, has a Mix control and a Bypass button (with LED indicator) that pops when you press it.
The rear panel has two main audio inputs: Phaser 1 and Phaser 2. When you plug an instrument in to the front-panel input, the two rear-panel inputs are defeated. Phaser 1 is an unbalanced ¼-inch input that sends the signal to both phasers. The Phaser 2 input accepts mono and stereo inputs — when a TRS plug is inserted into this input, the Phaser 1 input is defeated, and the two channels of a stereo signal going into Phaser 2 can be processed independently.
Additionally, each phaser has a dedicated unbalanced ¼-inch output. In Serial mode, the Phaser 2 output gives you the combined signal of both processors. Other rear-panel jacks are a bypass footswitch, a control-voltage/pedal input, and the wall-wart power supply. The PH-16 has no power switch.
Sound in Motion
I used the PH-16 in Serial mode for conventional chores, such as tracking guitar and bass lines. On the guitar, it was easy to get results that ranged from familiar phaser whooshes to rapid watery LFO sounds. I could also make bass tones sound rounder or metallic, depending on the settings.
Drum loops sounded great when processed through the PH-16 in Parallel mode. While varying phaser feedback, changing modes, and relying heavily on my expression pedal, I recorded repeated passes until I got the wild variations I was looking for. You can hit the PH-16's input fairly hard to get a pleasant distortion — nice.
Dual phase shifters working in parallel are perfect for creating weird filtering treatments and swirling spatial effects. The PH-16's handcrafted optocouplers are part of the reason this box works as well as it does. Less expensive analog phase shifters tend to be heavy in the midrange, but the PH-16's wider bandwidth made me feel like I could craft the space around any sound.
The PH-16 sounds a bit brighter than other hardware phase shifters I've used. Its smooth sound, however, makes it superior to any phase-shifter plug-ins I have in my collection.
Although the PH-16 looks simple on the outside, it can process audio in surprisingly complex ways. Consequently, you have to change the settings carefully if you want to get the most out of this device. The modulation can become seemingly unpredictable quickly, and if you turn the knobs too far too fast, you may miss something interesting. The PH-16 is a sturdy processor with a unique sound, and it's definitely a hands-on unit, with plenty of knobs that make it fun to use.