SoundRoom: Source Audio Soundblox Multiwave Distortion

RELATIVE NEWCOMERS SOURCE AUDIO made an initial splash with its Hot Hand technology, which pairs proprietary “motion controller ring technology” with effects so that hand movements are translated into real-time control over effect parameters. It’s fairly sensational and fun, but certainly of limited use to those of use not inclined to wave our hands around mid bass line. Honestly, I initially thought the Hot Hand represented Source Audio’s main contribution to the effects landscape; a cool idea that definitely was not for me. But after spending some quality time with the Soundblox Multiwave Distortion (in its Pro and abridged incarnations), I’ve happily been reminded of the danger of hasty generalizations.
By BassPlayer ,

RELATIVE NEWCOMERS SOURCE AUDIO made an initial splash with its Hot Hand technology, which pairs proprietary “motion controller ring technology” with effects so that hand movements are translated into real-time control over effect parameters. It’s fairly sensational and fun, but certainly of limited use to those of use not inclined to wave our hands around mid bass line. Honestly, I initially thought the Hot Hand represented Source Audio’s main contribution to the effects landscape; a cool idea that definitely was not for me. But after spending some quality time with the Soundblox Multiwave Distortion (in its Pro and abridged incarnations), I’ve happily been reminded of the danger of hasty generalizations.

The Multiwave Distortion’s primary attractant is its ability to process a bass’s frequency spectrum in discrete chunks that are then recombined at the output. Unlike an analog overdrive, which generally clips a bass’s signal with a diode, the Multiwave converts the signal from analog to digital, divides it into separate frequency bands, applies the effect, and reconverts the signal back into analog. Digital signal processing (DSP) allows for much more powerful processing than analog circuits, although there are those who claim it’s less authentic and natural sounding in some contexts. With a distortion, multi-band processing is particularly relevant. Distortion works by adding new harmonic information to the existing signal. This new harmonic content can be described as harmonic overtones of the input signal, with the particular array of overtones being a product of the circuit’s topology. With a full-bandwidth analog circuit, certain intervals in the input signal lead to harsh and clashing overtones in the distorted signal. This “intermodulation distortion” can be muddy and unpleasant. The Multiwave distortion seeks to clarify bass distortion, without sacrificing its grit and vibe. Its DSP-based processing also has numerous other tricks up its sleeve.

The Pro version and its smaller counterpart have the same signal-processing engine. Most important among the Pro’s added benefits are its EQ and preset programmability. I’ll reserve my comments mostly for the Pro—just assume the smaller Multiwave sounds the same, just without the extra stuff.

The Source Audio pedals come in a unique-looking box that doesn’t really project the utilitarian project-box vibe of many other pedals. They performed perfectly throughout testing, but the plastic case (with metal bottom) and plasticshafted jacks are not the most durable materials considering it’ll be stomped often. Source Audio did an excellent job with the Multiwave Pro’s interface. With so much on tap, it’d be easy for the pedal to get confusing, but the fluidly executed design makes it obvious what’s going on with nary a glance at the manual. Essentially, there are 6 preset locations, with the PRESET BANK button controlling switching between the two. Depressing a switch for a few seconds saves the pedal’s current setting to that location, and the LED above each switch changes color to indicate which bank is selected. The Multiwave even allows for copying a patch from one location to another, a good starting point to exploit an exceptionally cool feature I’ll describe in a bit.

The Multiwave has 23 distinct distortion voices, divided into six groups. The distortion type is selected via a rotary knob, and bright green LEDS indicate the selected type. The first 15 distortion types employ multi-band processing, while the last eight process a full-bandwidth signal. While the chosen type is the biggest determinant of the pedal’s sound, the accompanying parameters, including the DRIVE, EQ AMOUNT, CLEAN MIX, and DISTORTION MIX controls, have a powerful impact on the Multiwave’s tone. One crucial difference between the Pro and the smaller version is the Pro’s graphic EQ. Since distortion operates by substantially altering a signal’s frequency content, EQ has a particularly important role with distortion.

Beyond it’s unusually flexible distortion offerings, the Multiwave Pro has a few other neat features. The EXP IN jack allows for real-time morphing between two presets. As the pedal is rocked, the light above the engaged switch changes from green to red in direct proportion to the pedal’s position. Since the Multiwave is capable of dramatically different sounds, this feature enhances the pedal’s expressive potential significantly. Source Audio’s Hot Hand is also compatible with the Multiwave, although it can only control the amount of drive in the effect as your hand moves. It’s cool, but for me, it’s not a particularly useful feature.

SOUND

Simply put, the Multiwave offers one of the broadest palettes of distortion tones I’ve ever encountered, and it’s exceptionally good at producing unique and compelling sounds I’ve never quite heard before. It’s decent at producing standardissue overdrive in its NORMAL group of voices, but that’s not the pedal’s strength. It doesn’t quite offer the definitive hairiness of analog bass fuzz pedals like the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff p or the outof- control wackiness inherent in analog overdrives like the Z.Vex Wooly Mammoth. One difference the Multiwave does have compared to the analog alternatives is stunning note-to-note clarity and definition. This, however, is not always ideal, as there are occasions for muddy, meansounding distortion. The Multiwave’s SINGLE BAND settings get closer to that vibe, but they’re still a hair polite.

Don’t let the above scare you off, though: the Multiwave is an invaluable tone-sculpting device. Its magic lies in the FOLDBACK voices, with their unusual distortion curves. A typical distortion pedal uniformly clips the signal when it hits a certain voltage threshold, but foldback distortion creates a pulsing wave, with frequency regions that increase and decrease in amplitude as they hit the threshold. This generates a lot of new high-frequency content that’s particularly sensitive to input dynamics. The resulting tones are unusual, intriguing, and musically inspiring. Everything from a gritty auto-wah like quack to chirpy and bizarre synth-y tones lie within the FOLDBACK voices, and altering the DRIVE amount, the EQ, and the DISTORTION MIX adds seemingly infinite nuance and color to the palette. The OCTAVE voices employ a distortion curve with strong second-order harmonics, producing an octave-up sound. Like with the FOLDBACK types, the OCTAVE voices are remarkably sensitive to input dynamics and to the pedal’s other parameters.

The Source Audio Multiwave is a super-cool pedal. While many bass distortion pedals are variation on a theme, the Multiwave offers a unique alternative to the status quo. It’s better to think of it as a broad distortion-based tone-shaping device than a simple bass distortion. It’s most definitely worth checking out.

SOUNDBLOX MULTIWAVE DISTORTION

Street Soundblox Pro, $219; Soundblox, $119
Pros Especially versatile and dynamically sensitive distortion; broad palette of unique distortion tones
Cons Down-and-dirty craziness is not its specialty
Contact www.sourceaudio.net

TECH SPECS

Power 9V DC or battery
Switch True-bypass
Circuit 24-bit DSP
Made in China