IT CAN BE EASILY ARGUED THAT BASS players embrace the high-tech world, whereas guitarists seem to stick to their old tricks. (A dirty stereotype, yes, but c’mon—you know it’s true!) As such, it’s fitting that Daring Audio, a newcomer from the fringes of California’s Silicon Valley, has debuted four new bass pedals this year—the Particle Beam overdrive, the Edge Activator enhancer/exciter, the Phat Beam compressor, and the Laser Cannon distortion/fuzz.
The four enclosures feature a sci-fi-meets-quantum- physics design laser-etched into the matte black powder coating, revealing the aluminum material underneath. The insides are filled with modern PCB design, surface-mount components, and more complicated circuitry than the average pedal. For instance, all the pedals have a voltage-doubling circuit that converts the nine volts from the battery or external power supply to 18 volts for more headroom and fidelity.
The Particle Beam, like every pedal in this review, has five knobs, two toggle switches, and one stomp switch. Three of the knobs— VOLUME, CUT, and DRIVE—are the standard volume, tone, and gain controls found on pretty much every overdrive pedal. The Particle Beam’s BLEND knob helped me mix clean and distorted signals, the first step toward making it a more useful bass overdrive. The control was especially smooth; swept in either direction, the output volume remained constant. The BEAM control is a variable highpass filter that affects only the overdrive section, allowing you to distort just the high frequencies and use the BLEND control to dial in clean (non-distorted) low frequencies. This can provide definition or allow a nice and clanky, Chris Squire-like tone. There is also a switchable 9dB pad for louder sources such as active basses. I found this to be too much attenuation, and would have preferred something like a 3-way switch with fl at, –3dB and –6dB.
The character of the Particle Beam is refined and natural; it only sounded over-the-top when I dimed both the DRIVE and CUT controls at the same time. The pedal’s five knobs offer a wide variety of tones, and there’s also a clipping switch that toggles between symmetrical and asymmetrical settings. Choose symmetrical clipping for a tighter, more focused sound, and asymmetrical clipping for a warmer, looser tone. The results of the clipping switch are most audible at higher gain settings.
The overall feel of this pedal leans toward the vintage side. It can add warmth and squishiness like an old tube head, but if you find that the tone lacks definition, you can rein it in with the BLEND control. This would be a great pedal for a bassist who uses a different backline amp every night and needs to find the right balance of old school and modern tones.
The Edge Activator is an enhancer and exciter pedal that lives unashamedly on the modern side of town. The pedal shares many of the Particle Beam’s features, but it also has a cool EQ knob, which is actually an active mid control offering 12dB of boost or cut.
The Edge Activator really came to life with fingerstyle playing. This pedal worked best for me when I got what I would call an over-hyped setting, turned the MIX control back a bit, and then bumped EDGE up a touch to tame the effect and clean up the low frequencies. The Edge Activator’s GAIN control doesn’t add overdrive, but instead seems to affect how much the enhancer is working; it’s hard to tell if it’s doing anything until it is up too much.
I fancy myself a pretty tech-savvy guy, but I have to admit I was stumped by the Phat Beam compressor when I first plugged it in. There are two mysterious toggle switches, HIGH and VCA. There’s also a SHAPE knob. What does it shape? Defeated, I opened the manual.
It turns out that HIGH toggles between highpass and lowpass filters and that SHAPE sets the filter frequency. You can use the VCA switch to put the filter in the audio signal path or to activate the circuit that triggers compression. If that sounds a bit confusing, allow me to present a real-world example. Say you’re playing a bass with an overly assertive E string. You compress those low notes, only to find that the compressor is also cutting out some of the high frequencies. With the Phat Beam, you can set the filter to affect only the lowest frequencies, thus sending the filter to the trigger circuitry for the compressor. When you play a super low note, it gets through the filter, triggers the compressor, and reduces the output level.
If I’ve lost you, don’t worry—even if you don’t take the time to delve into the Phat Beam’s complexities, it works very well as a regular, standard compressor. The LED changes color when the pedal is compressing, you can use the BLEND knob to mix in uncompressed signal, and as if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a limiter. The compressor sounds neutral and tasteful, but on its own, it might not be worth the price of admission. If you want more flexibility than the average two- or three-knob stompbox compressor can offer, however, the Phat Beam should be on your short list.
I’ve saved my personal favorite for last. The Laser Canon distortion/fuzz has the most obtuse names for the controls: WAVE for gain, ATTACK for tone, and E=PC for the switch that helps you select between germanium or silicon diodes. Like the Edge Activator and the Particle Beam, the Laser Cannon has a switch that engages a –9dB pad, which can be useful for high-output active basses. Etched into the enclosure is a Feynman diagram of an electron and positron annihilating one another, which I find very awesome. Also awesome are the clean BLEND control and the RANGE knob, which cuts low end from the distortion signal.
I got totally wrapped up in this distortion pedal. Naturally, I cranked the gain (sorry, WAVE) right off the bat. After that, I rolled off some top end, blended in some clean, and took out some muddiness with the RANGE control. I played some super heavy riffs, and before I knew it, 15 minutes had gone by. The pedal’s tonal complexity is overwhelming. It doesn’t sound dramatically different from other distortion pedals, but the pedal has a feel and response that I found addictive.
I enjoyed the smoother germanium diodes, but the focused silicon diodes are totally usable, too. I definitely noticed the change in texture between the two diode types. When I turned the gain down, the sounds were less fantastic, but they were still very cool, especially after I blended in more clean tone.
It makes sense that Daring Audio is based just up the road from Silicon Valley and the Stanford Linear Accelerator, as this hi-tech pedal company seems to be highly influenced by both. The company’s high prices mean that for most players, the Laser Canon, Particle Beam, Edge Activator, and Phat Beam might not be an impulse buy. But if you’re looking for sound quality and reliability, these pedals are well worth further research.
Daring Audio PARTICLE BEAM
Pros Warm, tube-like tone; incredibly versatile
Pros Flexible, high fidelity, rugged
Cons A bit complicated
Pros Natural clean sound, huge array of possibilities
Cons Steep learning curve
Pros Tonally complex, great response, very versatile
Made in U.S.A