A Trio of New Boss Pedals: MO-2 Multi Overtone, DA-2 Adaptive Distortion, And TE-2 Tera Echo
After decades of reviewing effects pedals and rack signal processors, I’ve finally found a product that presents an almost overwhelming challenge in describing it. Actually, the challenge comes from a trio of products. Boss, who has made a multitude of pedals (100 in all), including some cutting-edge classics like their CE-1 and CE-2 Chorus, DC-2 Dimension C, and Turbo Distortion, has ventured into new territories many times, often setting new standards that consistently balance performance, price, and ruggedness. A whole lot of us have trusted Boss’ consistently solid offerings for just about four decades, and there are some pedals in a lot of our arsenals that are go-to boxes that we use regularly because they are so reliable in their tone and consistency.
The size and shape of the three pedals on test here are the size and shape you associate with Boss pedals: rectangular with two-thirds devoted to the footswitch, emblazoned with clear labels as to what are inputs and what are outputs. Add the single LED on/off indicator, the single-screw battery access under the footswitch paddle, the 9-volt DC input at the top end, and a single row of knobs, and you’re there.
And that’s where the road quickly diverges from other Boss pedals that have come before these. The one with the easiest “wrap your head around this” factor is the Adaptive Distortion, followed by the Multi-Overtone, and, finally, the otherworldly Tera Echo.
MO-2 Multi Overtone
Are you burned out on the whooshy, stereotypical chorus or flanger sound that’s been around since they added color to cave paintings? The Multi Overtone sings a different tune, although it has something that’s sure to grab at something that’s in your DNA. In fact, when you first turn it on, you might be tempted to think it’s just another chorus – until you (a) examine the knobs and (b) put your guitar through it and start tweaking it. This isn’t your dad’s chorus pedal.
The easiest description would be to imagine a slightly resonant bandpass filter, a Leslie rotating speaker, and a chorus all working together. Sorta. It’s a very chorale-type sound, for those who remember big ol’ organs of yesteryear. Unlike your standard chorus/flanger, which gives you speed and depth controls, the MO-2 includes Tone and Detune knobs and a 3-way Mode switch. As you turn Detune clockwise, the detuning increases, the effect thickens, and the resonance becomes more pronounced. The sweep speed also increases a bit, making the detuning ever more wobbly. This is where Tone knob comes in: As you turn it clockwise, the tone becomes brighter and the overtones caused by detuning are emphasized.
Here’s where it gets interesting: Even with Tone and Detune cranked, you can set the Balance knob to favor the straight guitar and dial in just enough of the effect to add flavor, mostly to the highs, so that your main tone isn’t washed out by whatever intriguing settings you use for the effect. There’s a certain chimey texture that’s great on those “between” tones on a Strat (positions 2 and 4), nowhere near the classic Andy Summers chorusy sound, but leaning much more toward Electric Ladyland Jimi Hendrix, with its wobbly, watery, semi-UniVibe-like sound. Mode settings 1 and 2 are bright and airy, but I found Mode 3 pretty dark. Your mileage may vary, depending on what you put in line before this experimenter’s dream box; this third position may tame a distortion with an overabundance of brightness or rasp. Which leads to…
The DA-2 Adaptive Distortion
This copper-colored box has four knobs: Level, Low, High, and A-Dist. Sounds simple enough. Looks can be deceiving. The DA-2 has a processor that hunts for frequencies within your guitar’s sounds and matches overdrive characteristics in different places, rather than washing the whole signal with one treatment. It’s clever and dynamic, and different from just about any distortion pedal I’ve tried.
The Low and High knobs let you dial in a balance that works well with the distortion. Cranking both up fairly high provides a classic “thump” of a scooped-out tone while keeping the highs bright without sounding hissy or spitty. Even with low A-Dist settings, you can get a good bottomy oomph that supports even thinner tones, just by dialing in a touch of the Low knob. And while you can dial up the High knob and get everything pretty bright, it’s never at the expense of the lows. As an overdrive, it’s excellent, in that it has more of a breaking-up amp sound than you’d expect from a small box. As a distortion, I’ve heard fuzzier, although the one thing to always keep in mind about a distortion – any of the hundreds out there in the market – is that you should let your ear, your style, and your taste guide you. I recommend trying this box with your guitar.
If I have any complaint about the Adaptive Distortion, it’s this: Its output is a bit too hot. It’s extremely difficult to turn the A-Dist knob to a high setting and at the same time set the Level low enough so that when you kick the pedal out of your signal path, your volume doesn’t drop off a cliff. This may be a self-solving problem/challenge if you leave the DA-2 on all the time, and you just might, if you find an overdrive texture that suits most of your music.
TE-2 Tera Echo
Here’s an effect that’s strange, compelling, and challenging – all at the same time. Think of it as an intertwined echo and reverb with some filtering. To start, I turned down all the knobs except for Level, which I left at its midpoint (half dry, half effect). The result is a dark single slap with a bit of roomy resonance. Bringing up the tone, it’s still slappy, but it takes on a sort of envelope-filter effect in the high end. Play a staccato chord, and you get a tightly wound reverb with a very short decay and a sort of “wowww” in the high end, as if a lowpass filter were snapping down. Increasing the Feedback extends the reverb decay time while introducing a bit of flutter, which gets more pronounced as you turn the knob further clockwise. Caution: Never, ever turn that Feedback knob up all the way if you value your speakers and your ears. It runs away if you turn it past 3 o’clock or so, depending on the amount of brightness you introduce through tweaking Tone. (With Tone set very low, you can turn Feedback up to about 4 o’clock, but keep your hand ready to dial it back down – or your foot ready to stomp the bypass switch – in a hurry if things get out of control.)
Now it’s time for knob number 4, labeled S-Time. This knob takes you into some peculiar places that you might never find with any other single pedal (and maybe not with multiple pedals, either). Setting Tone to 3 o’clock, Feedback to 10 o’clock, and S-Time to 3 o’clock, a quick strum becomes a stretched-out, reverby set of overtones that have even higher, flanging-flavored overtones mixed in, plus a repeating delay that starts with fast echoes, and then the echoes gradually slow down. Think of a roulette wheel or bicycle wheel running out of momentum: Ticketa ticketa ticketa tick eta tick eta tickkkkk. With a single chop of the guitar, it’s interesting. When you do some real, live playing, it gets a whole new ambience and a crop of ever-changing rhythmic echoes going. Here’s where the E. Level control can bring the balance back in favor of your straight guitar (if that’s what you want), so the effect can be less “in your face.”
Back down on Tone, and you find that with the S-Time and Feedback controls left fairly high, you get an undulating, darkly textured soft echo that sounds a lot like an old analog delay with its treble rolled off. Brighten it up and extend the S-Time, and then start playing a rhythm on your guitar. The slowing echo rates, flangy-ness, and building reverb get fat and introduce a whole lot of perplexing polythrythms into your style.
All Said And Done
These three pedals aren’t your garden-variety tone shapers or time adjusters. The Boss folks obviously were aiming for something different, and they hit the bull’s-eye. While the Adaptive Distortion has some sonic characteristics that stand out, it is part of today’s crowded field of overdrives and distortion pedals and may be the closest to an “average” pedal, depending on your taste. Ah, but the other two, the Multi Overtone and Tera Echo. These are not easily pigeonholed, although you could lump them into “ambience enhancers.” And that wouldn’t be a broad enough description. As I said earlier, these do indeed tread new ground and are great for experimenting. Use either one, and you’ll find a wide range of ways to work it into your sound. And if you use both, then you have a palette of options that you probably couldn’t duplicate with three times as many pedals and a lot more investment in time.
List prices: Multi Overtone ($259.50), Tera Echo ($291.50), Adaptive Distortion ($210.50).
If you’re looking for more information on these pedals, check out the Roland/Boss site:
Multi Overtone (http://www.rolandus.com/products/details/1272/516);
Tera Echo (http://www.rolandus.com/products/details/1273/509);
Adaptive Distortion (http://www.rolandus.com/products/details/1271/508).