EXAR Electronix BD-04 Bass Distortion, OC-04 Octavium and MK-04 Moby Dick Bass Chorus reviews.
All 3 of the EXAR pedals I was submitted for review arrived in the original packaging with 9v batteries installed and operating perfectly. All 3 pedals have an attractive matte-black coating of paint as well as easy to read graphics and lettering.
Honestly, the pictures I had viewed online of the EXAR line led me to believe that the housing would be lightweight plastic – akin to the enclosures that many budget pedals such as ARION use… this is not the case, however! The pedal chassis is surprisingly heavy and sturdy. I have no doubt that the EXAR chassis’ will outlive their owners!
I was less impressed with the footswitch system, however. It is made of aesthetically matching plastic, but feels cheaper to the touch and does not feel securely mounted to the pedal. There is obviously a hinge inside, but it doesn’t rotate on a consistent axis. Instead, it appears that the switch plate floats above a spring-loaded actuator. It wouldn’t surprise me if the switch plate was broken off or otherwise failed under rigorous touring & stage performance conditions. The bottom of each pedal has a great, solid rubber pad that rivals BOSS’ pads.
Each of the ¼” input and output jacks are metal and firmly mounted on the sides of the box. The 9v dc adapter jacks are top-mounted and accept standard ‘BOSS-style’ 9volt negative-tip power in addition to the rear battery compartment. The battery compartment does not require a screwdriver to access, but rather a plastic tension-hinge. In my opinion this type of battery door is faster and easier to access, but also is prone to breakage and loss. The doors do fit well and feel reasonably secure, however.
The knobs on all 3 pedals are push-on plastic with matching colored accents. The turning resistance of all of the pots was firm and smooth- very confidence inspiring. The settings should remain intact during transit with no problem.
Overall, the build quality is exceptional for pedals at this price point!
The three EXAR pedals that I received for review all feature EXAR’s relay-controlled true bypass switching. Relay controlled mechanical switching is the most sophisticated and desirable method of true-bypass. I normally only expect to find it in the more expensive of effects pedals. EXAR’s implementation performed as expected with noiseless, immediate switching and no noticeable change of tone when bypassed (using reasonably short cabling). The pedal footswitch ‘throw’ is also very short and engages immediately upon ‘down’ pressure.
All of the pedals feature a fairly high 1-megaohm input impedance. They played equally well with my passive and active instruments!
EXAR MK-04 Moby Dick Bass Chorus
In all fairness, I should admit that I’m not a big fan of chorus effects in general. It may be an unfair bias on my part, but every time I hear bass or guitar chorus, it immediately invokes images of 80’s hair-band rockers flitting about on stage with fluorescent pointy-headstocked instruments. To many people, there is nothing wrong & everything right about this picture. (I’m not one of those people.) ;-)
Despite my discriminatory stance, I have maintained one or 2 chorus pedals in my arsenal for the occasional situation where chorus is absolutely necessary. I’m always searching for “just the right” tone and performance, so despite my lack of enthusiasm for chorus- I’ve owned a bunch! Recently, I’ve settled on either a chorus patch on my EH POG2 or a more flexible chorus from a T-Rex Sweeper. Neither has been particularly inspiring, but they have gotten the job done. In the past, I've used an ancient Arion Bass Chorus and a great Fulltone Choralflange (the Choralflange was just more chorus than I needed!).
In stepped the EXAR Moby Dick… Wow, this is actually a bass chorus that inspires! (inspiring even to a ‘hater’ like myself) The pedal, foremost, is quiet with no added ‘hiss’ or odd warbling between notes. It’s definitely studio-friendly. The simple and familiar Rate, Depth and Effect Level controls all function as expected. There is plenty of range to the ‘Rate’ and ‘Depth’ controls that make it easy to find typical wide, shimmering sounds and all the way up to crazy wobble-drenched detuned-ness. The ‘Tone’ knob really sets the Moby Dick apart. It seems to be a particularly effective tilt-eq that allows you to dial in a bright & in-your-face chorus shimmer, or a darker & more delightfully-subtle warm sibilance. The EXAR is covering the ‘classic’ liquid chorus tones that a couple of my clients’ music calls for, but it also has a range of other personalities that might just give me reason to call on it as a more creative ingredient.
Color me dumbfounded, but I expect the Moby Dick is going to be my first EXAR pedal purchase!
In the first clip below, hear how the Moby Dick preserves the low-end and fundamental tone of the instrument (first half of clip uneffected, second half with chorus engaged). The second clip demonstrates a more "wet" and melodic chorus with a little reverb added:
From EXAR’s American Distributor, $129.95 including shipping!
EXAR OC-04 Octavium Multi-Octave Divider
Unlike my general lack of regard for ‘chorus’ effects, I’m a rabidly stalwart proponent of octave-down effects for bass! Since getting my first octaver almost 2 decades ago, octave-down has become one of my own “signature” go-to tones. Octave-down (and occasionally, octave-up) isn’t only about helping a bassist fill the mix out in a power trio- there are dozens of ways to use it creatively to sound more ‘synthy’, help support upper-register runs, etc..
Just as a general gauge of my addiction to octavers, consider the fact that I usually own 4-5 different octave effects and always have 2 on my pedalboard at the same time. (I use too many different octave-down textures for me to be happy with just one pedal!) Currently I’m favoring the MXR Bass Octave Deluxe and Aguilar Octamizer on my pedalboard. I also keep an EH POG2 handy as well as the Line6 digital algorithms in various formats (POD X3, Lowdown amp and recording plug-ins). In the past I’ve used & owned the BOSS OC-2, EBS Octabass, EH Micro POG and Ashdown Sub-Octave (probably others as well…).
So, it shouldn’t surprise that I was very excited to try out the EXAR Octavium! The Octavium combines features of the popular BOSS OC-2 and EH POG series. It has classic -1 octave down, -2 octave down and a fuzzed octave up (very similar to an Octavia). Along with these octave-generated sounds, the EXAR lets you blend in the dry bass or guitar signal. Additionally, the -1 and -2 octave sections have a dedicated tone control for each which modifies the generated tone respectively.
First off, it’s important to note that the Octavium is monophonic (with the exception of the +1 setting, details below). It can only reliably track a single note at a time. Playing two or more notes simultaneously causes the pedal to track incorrectly, causing unpleasant warbly sounds or generating incorrect pitches altogether. The documentation doesn’t confirm it, but this leads me to believe the Octavium is all-analog (no digital conversion or pitch detection). I generally prefer the tone of analog octavers, so that’s ok with me!
For bass guitar, -2 octaves really isn’t super useful. Indeed the -2 tone generated by the Octavium is so low & flabby that it isn’t easy to incorporate seamlessly into the music that I play. It could be interesting as a synthy sub-harmonic generator for some styles, but the tone of the generated -2 octaves isn’t particularly strong or resonant despite the tone controls efforts. I found the same to be true running the Octavium through my electric 6-string guitar rig, the -2 sound just wasn’t authoritative.
The -1 octave on the EXAR really does sound cool, however! On bass, it tracks reliably and consistently down to about F# or G on th low ‘E’ string. The tone range makes it possible to dial in thumpy lows or a more growly synth-like tone. The Octavium tracks rather quickly as well & didn’t feel sluggish with higher-register runs. Pretty impressive for a pedal costing less than $150! Honestly, however, I don’t think that it tracks or sounds quite as good as the similarly priced EBS Octabass (priced around $160). Of course, the EBS doesn’t have the -2 octave or cool +1 octave (read on…).
Octave up with fuzz was the classic ‘Octavia’ pedal made legendary by Jimi Hendrix. The EXAR ‘Octavium’ was clearly geared toward mimicking the classic effect & does a remarkable job with just one knob! On bass, the +1 tracks well and the fixed fuzz amount is well,.. pretty perfect! I really liked the +1 setting on electric guitar, too. It sings and has a great overall shape despite just having control only over the mix of the +1 and dry instrument signals. Comparing it the POG series of octave-up’s, I actually like the EXAR’s tone better (of course the POG’s don’t have the added fuzz). I could see my self getting some traction even on bass out of the EXAR’s +1 octave! It should be noted that the +1 Octave setting does track polyphonically (more than one note simultaneously).
I’m an octaver snob. And I’m proud of it! That said, while I’m not “blown away” by the Octavium, I definitely think it’s worthy of auditioning for anyone looking for an analog octaver. There are ‘sexier’ octave-downs on the market, for sure- but the EXAR offers 2 extra effects rarely seen in an analog pedal. Plus, analog octave pedals are really instruments in their own sense- requiring the user to learn how to play it with touch sensitivity, hand technique and attention to the pedals’ limitations (definitely part of the charm of analog octavers!). The Octavium could just be your favorite, if not mine.
A few quick & dirty clips that demonstrate a few things... The first clip is the -1 Octave effect. At the end of this clip I descend dowt to the open 'E' string to show how well it tracks down to about 'G' or even 'F#'. The second clip is the -2 Octave effect and the last clip demonstrates the +1 Octave Fuzz (in this mode the Octavium even tracks chords well without any glitching!):
A definite value in the crowded octaver market at $149.95 direct!
EXAR BD-04 Bass Distortion
When it comes to ‘dirty’ bass, I’m not afraid. In fact, it’s rare that I play or record with a totally clean tone. I like grit. Sometimes I like a lot of grit! I’ve found that a musically overdriven, or even fully distorted bass tone works great in almost any ‘popular’ style. I generally have at least one gain stage clipping whether I’m doing pop, rock or country. Music sensibilities are changing & it’s definitely o.k. to let the bass tone rock these days! I’m actually finishing work on a ‘modern country’ record where I’ve had an overdrive + distortion going on every song. It’s a good time to be a bass player…
I’ve been through a lot of dirt boxes over the years, folks! With most, I found a sound or two that I liked – but just wasn’t always perfect enough to keep for very long. From fuzz to distortion to overdrive - I find uses for all of them. My favorites glued to the pedalboard for well over a year have been an EBS Valve Drive (for light overdrive chores- it’s almost always on) and a Fulltone Mosfet Bass-Drive in the loop of an Exotic X-Blender (the X-Blender turned the Fulltone into a tone monster with a lot more flexibility both live & in the studio!). Along with those as my dirt vanguard I also regularly employ a Fender Sub-Lime Bass Fuzz, Xotic BB Preamp and an old & trusted BOSS ODB-3 (much maligned, but I’ve gotten some great distortion sounds from it!). I’ve also owned and auditioned dozens of others (Big Muff variations and clones, the venerable Mesa V-Twin, Wooly Mammoth, Z-Vex Box of Rock, B:AssMaster, HBE Hematoma, etc, etc, etc… All of this pedal-format goodness get’s pumped into one of my all-tube touring rigs for even more crunchiness. Did I mention I’m not afraid of dirt?
The EXAR Bass Distortion’s controls looked instantly familiar as they closely mimic the BOSS ODB-3. So, I was kind of expecting a similar sound. They turned out to be quite different tonally! The EXAR is definitely rude & aggressive. Its’ grit-texture is a bit closer to ‘fuzz’ in my opinion, but without the frying high-end and glitchiness. Even at low ‘Distortion’ settings, the EXAR still clips easily. At first, I had trouble coaxing lower-gain, dynamic overdrive out of it - but after spending more time with it I managed some decent amp-like mild grind. Still, it just wants to distort! But, let’s not overlook that it’s called a “Distortion"! One nice thing is that it responds to both active & passive sources remarkably consistently.
Honestly, the EXAR BD-04 didn’t really work great for me. That’s not to say it doesn’t kick-butt at what it does though! It distorts quickly and is a little bit ‘sputtery’. The attack of each note can be harsh regardless of eq settings. (It’s actually quite reminiscent of an active bass plugged into a Wooly Mammoth.) The ‘mix’ function is very handy, but does little to tame the mid-forward honk of each note. All of this brashness, however, does help the EXAR stick out well in a mix. It is transistory and brash & makes no apologies. Despite all of this attitude, there is virtually zero noise between notes without sounding ‘gated’! Pretty impressive!
Speaking of noise performance, the EXAR excels at being quiet – no matter what the setting. The treble eq adds no appreciable noise in a studio environment up until the last 5-10% of it’s range. The bass eq is very effective and can boost or cut a broad amount. The eq section is independent of the ‘distortion’ and ‘mix’ function as well, so it acts perfectly as a 2-band cut/boost eq!
Overall, I liken the EXAR Bass Distortion as being a very close cousin to the more widely-available BOSS ODB-3. Where the BOSS is very scooped & fizzy, however, the EXAR is very throaty & mid-boosted. Otherwise, both pedals function nearly the same. If you tried and liked the ODB-3, but found it too scooped and trebly- the EXAR might be a perfect substitute.
It’s not for me, but performs impressively as a mid-forward true distortion. The eq offers more low end than anyone could possibly need and it doubles as an effective 2-band eq.
Two clips, the first demo'ing a lower-gain overdrive, the second showing the more agressive side of the EXAR Bass Distortion:
A worthy alternative to that ubiquitous yellow pedal you see everywhere! Only $129.95 shipped to your door…
Notes about the clips: All clips recorded with a passive Fender American Vintage Reissue '62 Jazz Bass. Signal chain was bass>EXAR pedal>Line6 LowDown amp set to the 'British' model and very clean>xlr from LowDown into MBox2Pro converter>ProTools. No eq or compression was used, only normalization and mp3 conversion on the recorded audio files.