Mar 1, 2013

Strymon is a company that focuses heavily on… getting it right. They use powerful DSP processing to create pedals that echo and sometimes surpass the most fabulous designs of the past, but with a modern spin of course. I reviewed the TimeLine a while back and gave an extremely detailed and long winded review. Needless to say I loved the pedal and its vast feature set. This time I have the TimeLine’s modulation-based counterpart, Mobius, on my bench for review.


Upon unboxing I found a sturdy yet lightweight dark blue anodized aluminum chassis with 3 foot switches and 7 knobs clearly labeled and ready to play. I plugged in the included 9V power supply and fired her up. The LED display reads Mobius for a flash and then proceeds to display the title of the first of 200 presets. I noticed that the unit had stereo in and out, MIDI in and out, an Expression Pedal input, and a routing switch that allows you to convert the pedal from standard stereo I/O to a unit suited to work pre or post your amp’s effects loop (selectable per preset).

The Interface:

When gazing at the unit from the top you see a decent sized LED display, Value knob, Speed knob, Depth knob, Level knob, Param 1 and 2 knobs, Type Knob and the A, B and Tap foot switches. Some of the knobs have push options like the Value knob which allows you to switch from controlling fine adjustment of the LFO when speed is displayed, selecting presets, pressing the knob like a button accesses an additional parameter mode for the selected Mod Machine, and holding the knob for a few ticks accesses Global Mode. The Mod Machine Type knob has the option of either pushing it to toggle between displaying the bank number and the tempo of the patch, or pressing and holding for few ticks to save the preset. Selecting banks of presets is achieved by stomping on the B switch and Tap switch simultaneously for bank up and stomping on switches A and B simultaneously for bank down. You then have the ability to choose between preset A or B per bank or bypassing the pedal.

The Tone:

The pedal has 12 fully tweakable, studio-class Mod Machines. Each machine might have several iterations per category. The Chorus Machine has five different modes including dBucket (bucket brigade analog), Multi (multiple LFOs), Vibrato (pitch modulation), Detune (thick digital) and Digital (clean digital). Each mode shares additional controls apart from what’s on the front panel in the way of Mode, Mix and Tone. This Chorus sounds very rich in dBucket mode. I have owned several analog choruses and I really can’t tell the difference between dBucket and one of my old faves. I really like Multi mode and the sound of the multiple LFOs undulating, it is a rich and unique tone that works great for thick and gooey chorus applications. The shimmering Digital mode as well as the dark and moody Detune mode are great for recreating the guitar and bass sounds of the ’80s.

The Flanger Machine is another heavy duty one. It has six modes including Silver (classic “silver box” flanger), Grey (“grey box” flanger with its unusual LFO shape) and Black Box + and – (most sought after with + and – regeneration), and Zero + and – (tape style flanger). I tried to do some research to see which boxes these colors actually represent but it seems like this is a topic of much debate. I would say that the Silver mode has a nice shimmery vibe that works great in situations where you don’t need a chorus with a lot of color. The Grey box sound is more intense than the Silver mode and its logarithmic LFO has a sweep that lingers at the top of its cycle and can be very intense when cranking the Regeneration parameter. The Black box mode can be intense yet the curve is smooth and wide and creates a signature “swoop” that becomes more evident with higher regeneration settings. You have the option of applying positive or negative regeneration to the effect. Lastly, my favorite mode is the Zero Through with both positive and negative regeneration. This is the mode that imitates the tape flanging of the past. The tone this gets reminds me of songs in the 70’s that have these builds where the entire track gets flanged. Positive and Negative regeneration effects the character of the sound in ways you must experience.  I feel like this is a very natural yet intense flanger effect.

The Rotary Machine is one of those effect machines that make this pedal worth buying by itself. It perfectly recreates the swirling Leslie or similar rotating cabinet intended for, but not limited to, Organ. It has a lot going on under the hood as far as additional parameters go. Horn Level, Preamp Drive, Slow Rotor Speed, Acceleration Time, and Tap Switch all play a role in this effect coming to life. The coolest thing about this machine is being able to turn the Tap switch into a Slow/Fast Toggle switch. By stomping the Tap switch the machine will toggle between the setting set by the Speed knob on the front panel which is the fast mode and slow mode which can be assigned to one of the additional parameter knobs. This effect sounds extremely realistic especially in stereo.

The Vibe machine emulates the classic “Vibe” Chorus/Vibrato pedal of the 60’s. The effect was originally meant to be a rotary cabinet simulator but really didn’t do that sound any justice. However, it was its own thing and holds a place in the modulation hall of fame due to its heavy use in guitar solos of the mid to late 60’s. Things to note are the Variable Waveshape LFO, Low End Contour, Headroom (for adding dirt), and a toggle for Chorus/Vibrato mode. The traditional Vibe sound can be achieved in Chorus mode with a touch of dirt from the Headroom parameter. I found this to be quite accurate.

The Phaser machine is another stand out and is extemely gooey and warm sounding. It has 2,4,6,8,12, and 16 stage modes as well as a Barber (Pole) mode reminiscent of the frequency shifters developed in the 70’s. It has the additional parameters of Regeneration, Waveshape, Headroom, and a special stereo image Spread for adjusting the offset of the left and right channel LFOs. Now, Phaser is one of my all time favorite effects and I am extremely picky about it. I have tried all of the very best analog phasers from Moog to MXR and back. This Phaser sounds really darn good. One of my favorite sounds is the infinitely rising Barber. According to the manual, you set Mode to Barber, Waveshape to Ramp and Depth to maximum. Set the Waveshape to Saw to get the infinitely falling effect.

The Filter machine is an LFO synced filter with three filter types, eight LFO waveshapes, and variable resonance. Envelope triggered filtering, and Wah effects (with an expression pedal) can be achieved. This pedal hasn’t done one thing poorly yet and the filter is no exception. The three types are High Pass, Wah, and Low Pass and the waveshapes are Sine, Triangle, Square, Ramp, Saw, Random, Envelope +, and Envelope –. The Envelope + and – modes are triggered by the dynamics of the player but in opposite directions. Additional controls include Frequency Mid (adjusts midpoint of sweep), Resonance (adjusts feedback level), Dry Level (level of dry signal), and Spread (adjusts L and R LFO offset). This filter sounds very meaty and analog and gets mean when the resonance is turned up. I love that you can connect an expression pedal and assign it to control the Frequency Mid parameter when in Wah mode and it sounds great as a Wah. All in all the Filter section is a monster and is one of the most versatile and flexible machines.

The Formant machine if a special filter that emulates the human vocal tract with selectable LFO waveshapes. You have Vowel I and Vowel II that can be set to any of the five vowel shapes. Normally you set the Vowel I and II shapes and the LFO sweeps between the two but Vowel can also be set to Random which selects a different vowel shape every time the LFO triggers the vowel. The additional parameters include Waveshape (Sine, Square, Ramp, Saw, Random, Envelope and Expression), and Spread (same as in previous machines). I’m usually not one for Formant effects, but this one has just the right amount of parameters to make it interesting. I like the idea of the Random LFO being able to randomize the selection of vowels. I also like the expression pedal option as a waveshape giving you the ability to blend between vowels by foot.

The Vintage Trem machine is dedicated to reproducing three classic tremolo sounds used in combo amps of the 60’s. The modes are Tube (moody sultry trem), Harmonic (thick phasey trem) and Photoresistor (choppy surf/spy trem). Aside from the front panel controls this machine only has one other parameter besides Mode and that is Pan (controls L and R LFO offset in stereo config). These vintage tremolos are very accurate to the originals. I have had the opportunity to experience these different types of tremolo in their original forms and I didn’t find myself thinking they were lacking in the slightest. A basic effect but it’s nice to have these authentic recreations with added mojo.

The Pattern Trem definitely puts more of a modern swing on the tremolo effect. Its a pattern-sequenced trem with user definable patterns. There are up to eight beats that can be sequenced, with one to sixteen trem cycles per beat. By pressing the Tap switch you can restart the pattern to sync it up with specific song cues which I find to be a very cool feature. There are seven Waveshapes (Sine, Triangle, Square, Rectangle, Pulse, Ramp, Saw) that you can choose to modulate the signal’s volume. Each of the eight beats can be programmed to a trem division cycle of 1 to 16. If set to Full, there is no tremolo on that beat. If set to None, there is no sound on that particular beat and it acts essentially as a rest. The only additional parameter is Pan which functions the same as in Vintage Trem. All I can say about this machine is that it is a lot of rhythmic fun and I can think of many other applications besides guitar that I would like to try this on eventually. Its on/off switch nature per step makes it a primitive pattern sequencer of sorts and would be cool on many static and dynamic sound sources alike.

The Autoswell machine is another one of the more impressive effects on this device. I have tried volume pedals, I’ve tried twisting the volume knob on my guitar, and the truth of the matter is that I am just not very coordinated. I have never been happy with my own ability to swell a guitar. This effect works automatically and is triggered by the input level of the signal. It works very well and tracks perfectly even with chords. On the front panel, the speed and depth knobs actually control a chorus effect that can be added to the swelled signal. Additional parameters include Rise Time (.08-4 secs), and Shape (Exponential, Quadratic, Ramp, and Logarithmic). Shape allows you to select what curve determines the swell.

The Destroyer machine is one of my favorite effects of all time and I’m really glad they crammed it in there. It’s essentially a bit crusher which degrades and distorts the signal by incrementally decreasing the bit depth and sample rate. They also included this really cool selection of Filters that are modeled after real acoustic environments that include Portable Vintage Amp, Victrola Phonograph, 70’s Clock Radio, Bullhorn Magaphone, Cheerleader’s Plastic Megaphone, Antique Telephone Earpiece, Cell Phone, and Apartment Intercom. On top of that, they threw in a Vinyl effect that has speed controllable from the front panel. Lastly, there is a Mix parameter for dialing the perfect mix of dry and mangled signal.

The Quadrature machine is a unique choice as well and uses quadrature oscillators to make for AM (amplitude modulation), FM (frequency modulation), and Frequency Shifting (single side band modulation). The Shift parameter sets the modulating frequency of the selected mode and you use this to sort of tune the effect’s frequency center. The Depth parameter sets the intensity by which the LFO modulates the Shift parameter. The selectable Waveshapes include Sine, Triangle, Square, Ramp, Saw, Random, Envelope. AM is also known as a Ring Modulator and is like a tremolo with a really wide speed range. FM is more like a vibrato with a wide speed range. The Frequency Shifter offsets all frequencies by the same amount in a positive or negative direction. I love that they threw this and the Destroyer in there, great additions. This effect is probably the most wild and unwieldy, but cool nonetheless.

The Routing:

On the back of the unit there is a switch for Stereo In/Out and Pre/Post. This switch determines whether or not the unit operates in regular stereo mode or a special mode for creating an effects loop within your own chain of pedals or routing pre or post your amp’s effects loop. When using with your amp’s effects loop you would plug the instrument into the Left In jack and the Left Output would go out to the amp input. The amp’s effects send would go to the Right In and the Right out would get connected to the effects return on the amp. The Pre/Post switch determines where the Mobius is in the chain. A setting of Pre means that the Mobius is placed before the amp and a setting of Post means that the instrument would run straight into the preamp of the amp and would then be sent through the effects chain. The second routing situation would be if you wanted to select whether the Mobius appears before or after your other effects in the chain. It’s great that they thought to do this.

Also to be included in the routing section is the fact that you can connect an Expression pedal to the Exp In and set it up to control any parameter per patch. A momentary footswitch can be connected to have external control over Tap tempo. There are also MIDI I/O ports for connecting MIDI devices and full implementation is included with this device.

The Conclusion:

This pedal is the Swiss Army knife of modulation. Not only does it cover the whole world of modulation and then some, but it does it EXTREMELY well! They thought of every little nuance and detail of every type of modulation effect they set out to emulate and then some. Every machine has several Wow! factors that exceed your expectations. Stand outs for me are the Destroyer, Rotary, Quadrature, Autoswell and Pattern Trem. I would recommend the Mobius for every guitar player. It has something for everyone. –Gus Green

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