REVIEW: Strymon Mobius

mobiusStrymon’s TimeLine delay is a modern classic. It does everything you’d expect a good stereo delay to be able to do, but it also does so much more – and it does it with suitable sonic integrity whether you’re after pristine digital delay or dirty, noisy, funky old-school echo. And the TimeLine is no fluke. Just check out the Lex Rotary or Blue Sky Reverberator for examples of their other work. But a modulation pedal is a somewhat trickier option than any of those dedicated effects. Whether the TimeLine is handling a pitch-shifted ping-pong stereo delay or simulating an old tape echo, it’s all still delay. The Mobius has a lot riding on its blue shoulders and 12 ‘Modulation Machines.’

The Mobius uses a SHARC DSP chip as the heart of its power. The 12 Modulation Machines are Chorus, Flanger, Rotary, Vibe, Phaser, Filter, Formant, Vintage Trem, Pattern Trem, Autoswell, Destroyer and Quadrature, and each has plenty of variables. The five controls on the front panel are Speed, Depth, Level, Param 1 and Param 2, but there are additional controls available within the menu. There’s also a Value control (push it to adjust further parameters), and a the 12-position rotary Type selector for choosing which Modulation Machine you’ll be using. There are stereo inputs and outputs as well as an expression pedal input which you can configure to control any knob or any combination of knobs, saveable per preset – and it’s also configurable as an external Tap Tempo input. There’s a MIDI input and output, and a very, very handy Pre/Post switch. When you select this mode, the two outputs go from being a stereo set to two mono ones which you can toggle between: send one to your amp’s effects loop return and the other to your input or pedal chain, and you can then tell the Mobius where in the signal chain you’d like it to appear. This is perfect for those of us who like, say, sparkly chorus in the effect loop but filthy flanger through the amp’s front end. There are three rugged footswitches for preset selection, effect bypass and Tap Tempo. And it’s powered by a 9VDC supply.

There are way too many sound options to go through here, so here’s a shortlist: The Chorus machine has five modes including dBucket, Multi, Vibrato, Digital and Detune; the Flanger has Silver, Grey and Black modes for vintage stomp flanger tones as well as vintage tape-inspired Zero+ and Zero- modes; the Rotary is pretty straightforward but with variables like Horn Level, Preamp Drive and Acceleration Time; Vibe is similarly flexible and controllable; Phaser offers old-school 2, 4 and 6 stage modes as well as swirly, spacey 8, 12 and 16 stage phasers; Filter gives you Low Pass, Wah and High Pass modes; Formant lets you select various vowel sounds to be imposed upon your signal; Vintage Trem has Harmonic, Tube and Photo tremolo modes; Pattern Trem gives you up to eight beats of trem subdivision for rhythmic patterns; Autoswell offers four types of swell curve with the option of a chorus/vibrato effect; Destroyer combines bit-crushing, sample-rate reduction and lo-fi filtering with variable vinyl scratches and warps; and Quadrature is worthy of its own dedicated pedal: it offers AM (amplitude modulation), FM (frequency modulation), or Frequency Shifting (single side band modulation) with a variety of wave shapes for some truly out-there sounds, from beautiful to just plain ugly (but in a good way).

mobiusSo how’s it sound? Well, that’s the thing: using this pedal is almost disorienting, because no matter what effect you’re using it for, it becomes that effect. The vintage-voiced settings are organic and responsive, and it’s particularly fun to explore the warmth and depth of things like the Harmonic mode in the Vintage Trem machine, or the tape flanging, or the psychedelic swirl of the Vibe effect. But then it becomes a futuristic tone machine when you dip into Quadrature’s pinging, elastic modulations, or the 16-step phaser, or the Nine Inch Nails-via-Game Boy tones of Destroyer.

Downsides? Well, the record scratch sound feels like a bit of a gimmick: it’s fun to mess around with every now and then, but it probably won’t be forming a crucial part of your sound for an entire set. And although it’s great to have extra parameters available to adjust by using the Value control, it’s a little bit fiddly to access them. But these are both issues that you can overcome pretty easily, either by using your personal taste in the case of the former, and familiarising yourself with the manual for the latter.

What it really comes down to is, this isn’t a simple plug-and-play modulation pedal – although it can be if you mentally tune out everything but the Type selector and Speed, Depth and Level controls – it’s really a rack-style unit with all the flexibility and quality that that implies, hiding in a convenient pedal casing. It’s well worth the time getting to know its hidden features and flexible routing and control options, because there are things it can do that simply aren’t possible with other modulation stompers.

Strymon Mobius