Aug 7, 2012

Delay pedals are a dime a dozen these days.  So if you are going to make a delay pedal in 2012 it has to be something special. Strymon, a company that claims to be a unique group of left brained artists who focus on creativity and quality sounds, is giving it a go with the TimeLine. The TimeLine is a digital studio quality delay with a vast feature set.  Its design is based on 12 unique delay types that are all fully tweakable and customizable.  Once satisfied with a patch you have the ability to save it into one of 200 preset locations for later use.  In addition, it sports a routable 30-second looper, stereo ins and outs, as well as full MIDI implementation.  It utilizes an all powerful SHARC DSP processor by Analog Devices Inc. and each algorithm is so powerful that it uses the entire chip. Sounds enticing, right?

The Interface – First and foremost you’ve got your Type knob which selects the currently active delay machine. When pushed, the knob allows you to toggle between the delay time in either milliseconds or beats per minute and the current preset bank. If you hold the knob when pressed it will save the current patch to the selected location.  The Value knob provides fine adjustment of delay time. When pushed, the knob allows access to the additional parameter menu which can be different depending on the type selected. When held, the knob allows access to the global menu.  The Time knob provides coarse adjustment of the delay time. The Repeats knob sets the delay feedback level.  The Mix knob adjusts the mix of the analog dry signal to delay signal ratio.  The Filter knob controls the shape of the repeats filter but also controls several different parameters depending on the mode that you are in. In dTape mode it controls the tape age parameter. In dBucket mode it controls the special dBucket filter.  The Grit knob progressively adds distortion and artifacts to the repeats. In dTape mode it controls the Tape Bias and in dBucket mode it controls the Bucket Loss. The Speed knob controls the speed of the delay modulation LFO as well as controlling the tape crinkle effect in dTape mode. TheDepth mode controls the intensity of the delay modulation and in dTape mode controls the wow & flutter effect. The Footswitch A is a multi-purpose switch that activates preset A of the current bank. When held for a few seconds  it activates infinite repeats (very cool!). When the looper is active Footswitch A activates record if there is no loop present, clears the loop and starts recording if the looper is stopped, and overdubs if the loop is playing.  The Footswitch B switch allows you to engage or bypass preset B of the current bank and can be held for infinite repeats. When the looper is active it starts the loop if stopped or restarts the loop if pressed while the loop is playing.  The Tap knob allows you to tap to set the delay time. When held it allows you to enter and exit the looper.  If you press the A & B foot switches simultaneously it selects one bank lower. If you press B & Tap it selects one bank higher.

The Rear Panel – The I/O consists of a stereo pair of Ins and Outs, and Expression pedal input, MIDI in and out ports, and a 9VDC power input. One unique feature of this delay is its ability to allow the insertion of an external effect to process the delayed wet signal. This is done by way of the feedback loop switch, when engaged you can send the delay tap out of the right output into your favorite effect and then back in through the right input. This could lead to much creative experimentation and adds to the flexibility of this delay.

The Modes:

Digital – is a crystal-clear “voiced” digital delay. Despite being able to dirty up the signal with the filter, grit and mod knobs this is a very clean delay reminiscent of the 80’s. Additional parameters include Smear, High Pass, and Repeat DynamicsSmear softens the attack of the repeats while maintaining full frequency response. This allows for higher mix levels while keeping the delay out of the way of the dry signal. With high repeat levels, the delayed signal gets dreamy and ethereal. The High Pass parameter allows you to filter the low frequencies out of the delayed signal. The Repeat Dynamics effect reduces the repeats exponentially so that the delay tapers off fast even if you set the repeats super high. This allows you to create very dense delay builds without the endless repeats normally associated with high delay feedback settings.

Dual – This delay mode combines two independent delay lines that can be run in series or parallel. The second delay tracks the first at selectable time ratios. This is very useful for creating rhythmic that feed into each other or act independently. Mode specific parameters include Time 2Repeats 2Mix 2High Pass and Configuration which allows you to choose between series or parallel. The Time 2 and Repeats 2 simply control the relative delay ratio and repeat level for the second delay tap. The Time 2parameter is a ratio that stays constant in relation to Delay 1 even if the delay time is changed.  Mix 2 adjusts the mix level of Delay 2. This can be set to TRACK to follow the same setting as Delay 1.

Pattern – A delay with selectable repeat patterns that provide a wide range of sounds. Rhythmic, ambient delays are easily achievable. Special parameters include PatternSmear, and High Pass. Pattern allows you to select between the 16 preset patterns that range from ping-pong to intense rhythmic traces.

Reverse – They claim that this is an improvement on the classic reverse delay effect in that the input signal triggers the delay so the reverse signal is always predictable, musical, and repeatable. Additional parameters include Smear and High Pass.

Ice – A delay that slices up the input signal and plays back the pieces at selectable intervals. The playback interval can be varied from -1 octave to +2 octaves. The slice size can also be varied, changing the size of the audio chunks being played back. Additional parameters include IntervalSliceBlendSmear and High PassInterval selects the interval of the audio slices from an octave down to two octaves up. Slice selects the size of the audio chunks that get sliced and pitched and the slice sizes scale with the delay time. Blend blends between the dry and ice signal on the delay line. Huge sounds can be achieved when keeping this control below half-way and setting the Repeats knob around 3 o’clock. Try adding the Mod effect to add greater dimension.

Duck – A dynamic delay that reacts to your playing with adjustable sensitivity and release time. As the sensitivity is increased, the ducking effect becomes more pronounced. Special parameters include SensitivityRelease TimeDucking Feedback, and High PassSensitivity adjusts the input sensitivity for the ducking feature. Turn to higher settings for more extreme ducking. A low level guitar signal will require higher settings to achieve the same ducking effect as a high level guitar signal. At low settings subtle ducking effects can be achieved. Release sets the release time for the ducking effect. This determines the amount of time it takes the signal to return to full after playing has ceased. A fast Release time with extreme ducking can create a dramatic special effect while slower releases with moderate ducking can be transparent yet effective. Ducking Feedback sets the feedback ducking parameter. When on, the Repeats knob is effectively set to minimum while you are playing, and then quickly returns to the knob setting when you stop playing.

Swell – A variable attack time delay that can swell into notes or chords. This can create atmosphere and ambiance in a subtle stealthy manner. Special parameters include Rise TimeSmear, and High PassRise Time sets the time constant of the ramp input to the delay. The display indicates the ramp time in seconds. If you set the Rise Time to a value similar to the delay time you can hear natural swell effects.

Trem – A delay with synchronized tremolo affecting the repeats. Selectable LFOs are provided for the tremolo wave shape. Unique parameters include LFOSpeedDepth, and High PassLFO (Low Frequency Oscillator) selects from a variety of LFO waveforms to control the trem envelope of the delayed signal. For a choppy trem delay, choose the Square LFO, or for smoother ones try the Sine waveform. A fast LFO speed with the Saw wave can create a mandolin-like plectrum effect. Speed controls the speed of the trem waveform in relationship to the Delay Time. When the delay time changes the trem speed will track to it so that it seems consistent. Depth selects the depth of the tremolo effect.

Filter – A delay with synchronized sweeping filter affecting the repeats. The filter can be placed pre or post the delay. Special parameters include LFOSpeedDepthFilter QLocation, and High PassLFOSpeed and Depth work very similarly to how they effect the Trem delay mode except they affect the filter cutoff rather than the volume level. The Filter Q adjusts the resonance of the sweeping filter. The Location parameter places the LFO-controlled filter either before or after the delay line.

Lo-Fi (My Fave)-Allows creative destruction of your delay signal. Add filtering, vinyl noise, low bit rate distortion, and sample rate aliasing to really add muck and grime to your delay signal. Special controls include Sample RateBit DepthMixVinyl, and Filter ShapeSample Rate selects the sample rate of the delay line. Bit Depth reduces the bit depth from 32 bits down to 4 bits providing for rad distortion. Mix mixes between the lo-fi signal with the full res signal. Vinyl (My Fave) introduces random vinyl dust noise and scratches from a 33 1/3 rpm record. The first half of the control adds vinyl noise that only occurs with the repeats while the 2nd half of the control adds full time vinyl noise for song intros, outros or bridges. Lastly the Filter Shape control allows you to select from a collection of filters inspired by various lofi gadgets. The mixed lofi and full-resolution signal goes through the selected filter. Filters include Portable Vintage Amp, Victrola Phonograph, 70s Clock Radio, Bullhorn Megaphone, Cheerleader’s Plastic Megaphone, Antique Telephone Ear Piece, Cell Phone, and Apartment Intercom. How cool is that?

dTape – An intricate re-creation of a sliding head tape delay system. Special Parameters include Tape SpeedLo End Contour,Tape AgeTape BiasTape Crinkle, and Wow & FlutterTape Speed allows you to choose between the higher fidelity fast speed and normal speed. The Wow & Flutter and Tape Crinkle parameters track the tape speed for a huge variety of tape machine experiences. Lo End Contour allows for shaping the low-end from full low-end to extreme progressive high-passing. Tape Age is controlled by the Filter knob and controls the bandwidth of the tape just as it would change over time in a traditional tape delay machine. As you turn the knob clockwise, the tape gets progressively darker. Tape Bias is controlled by the Grit knob and adjusts the bias from under-biased to over-biased. The bias sets the dynamic range and headroom of the delay signal. Tape Crinkle is controlled by the Speed knob and controls the severity of tape irregularities like friction, creases, splices and contaminants. You can adjust between clean tape to extremely mangled and dirty tape. Wow & Flutter is controlled by the Depth knob and controls the amount of mechanically related tape speed fluctuations.

dBucket – A fully nuanced re-creation of classic analog bucket brigade delay systems. Parameters include RangeFilter, andBucket LossRange varies the amount of bucket brigade circuits that the delayed signal travels through. Single is essentially one 4096 stage bucket brigade “chip” while Double is equivalent to two 4096 bucket brigade “chips” in series. Filter brightens or darkens the repeats based on the 12 o’clock position being the neutral setting. Turning the Filter knob counterclockwise darkens the repeats while turning it clockwise makes them brighter. Bucket Loss is controlled by the Grit control and affects the amount of bucket brigade “chip” loss at each stage in the dBucket algorithm. You can adjust this setting from no loss at all to fully noisy loss.

The Sound – All in all this stomp box sounds amazing! I can’t believe how much detail was included in the design of this pedal and its precious algorithms.  Each one has elements that I’m just in love with. I’ll cover some of the highlights, because this pedal is extremely deep and has way too many variables to cover in their entirety.  I’ll start with the Lo-fi Mode. Love, love, love it. It has the coolest sound if you are into lo-fi sounds like I am. Running the delay through the various filter types and playing with the distortion and bit reduction effects yielded such cool results. So much so that I am going to be running anything that I record through this pedal from now on. I was especially impressed with Vinyl effects. I just couldn’t help but think that they really went for it with this effect. It sounds like real vinyl. I also really love the Pattern Mode. I love being able to play single notes or chords and letting the delay ring out. It’s really innovative. The dTape mode is the most detailed and realistic tape delay I’ve ever heard. I would prefer it over a real one because of its reliability and small foot print. Ice mode is another gem. I love being able to play with the pitch of the slices. Sounds good on other sources besides guitar. This unit makes a great vocal delay. I just have to say that I didn’t find a single thing to be unhappy with sound wise.  The pedal sounds fantastic all around!!!!

The Looper – If you hold the Tap switch for a few seconds the 30-second Looper becomes active. The LED will turn red to indicate that the Looper controls are active. You would then push the A switch to begin your first loop. You could then press the A switch again to overdub. At any time you can re-trigger the loop by hitting the B switch. If you want to stop the loop then you would hit the Tap switch. You can access ReverseHalf SpeedUndo and Redo via MIDI. I am not a fan of that. I wish there was an optional MIDI switch that was designed specifically to extend the Looper features of this pedal. I suppose you could program a third party switch to do this but it would be nice to have a Strymon-made compact one ready to go. That said, these additional Looper features are not crucial to the Looper’s general operation so it may not be a concern for many. Note there are also global controls for theLooper that affect the loop level, looper exit behavior and looper pre or post  controls. It’s fully MIDI operable. All in all a very flexibleLooper with a pretty vast feature set.

Conclusion – The TimeLine studio quality stereo delay and looper pedal is marvelous. They really thought of everything and then some. One thing I didn’t really cover is the Global parameters. So many more flexible options going on under the hood. I can’t think of a delay with more features in stompbox format. When you talk about the MIDI control and Looper it’s almost more like a workstation rather than just a delay. Each of the algorithms has been painstakingly engineered and modeled. So much fun with theTap switch making it so easy to stay in time with the band. As I was saying before I will be running everything I record through this thing. It’s beautiful. – Gus Green

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