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Gear Reviews – Looper – Multi-Effect – Phrase Sampler – Vox VDL-1 Dynamic Looper – August 21, 2012 – 0 Comments
Vox VDL1 Dynamic Looper
Vox’s unique entry into the world of looping takes two independent loopers and cleverly integrates them with separate pre- and post-loop effects processors that can be controlled via an assignable expression pedal.
Breaking down the basic looping duties on the VDL1, you’ll find a user-friendly interface comprised of four large multi-function foot switches which tackle the traditional Record/Play/Overdub, Stop, Trigger and Undo switching functions.
To begin looping on Loop One, simply step on the lower left switch to start recording and then step on it again to close the loop for continued playback. Pressing the same switch again puts you immediately into overdub mode. I’m sad to report that there isn’t a seamless way to go straight into overdub mode from recording – this is one must-have requirement that many seasoned loopers might consider a deal-breaker.
Endless overdubs are possible, but the sound quality starts suffering after 15-20 passes. I know Vox claims there is no loss in fidelity, but things do get a bit hazy as additional overdubs are piled on. I actually didn’t mind the added analog-esque haziness after multiple passes, but some hi-fi sticklers might object to the added noise.
The Undo switch can either mute your last overdub or bring it back into the mix – effectively making this a Redo switch as well. Holding the pedal for a few seconds engages the Undo/Redo feature. This can make it a bit tricky, especially if you are working with a set tempo or a rhythmic-based loop. That said, with a bit of practice you can make it work, although it’s far from ideal. I would have rather seen this function activated by a single tap (which is currently reserved for the Program Up function) instead of having to hold the pedal. Either way, you can use the Undo/Redo to pull phrases in and out of the mix for building or deconstructing complex arrangements.
Undo only works on the last recorded overdub so previous overdubs, if left in the loop, are committed to “tape” or memory. To stop the loop, you tap the upper left “Stop” foot switch and restart it again via the Record/Play/Overdub switch. Triggering a loop from its beginning point is possible via the – you guessed it – Trigger/Tap switch. This is a great feature that allows for interesting stuttering and DJ-esque effects, or for bringing a loop back into sync in a live band setting. To access the VDL1′s second loop, both the Stop and Program Up switches must be pressed simultaneously. This can be a bit tricky depending on your choice of footwear but for experienced pedal-dancers – or even the mildly coordinated – this is no big deal. Once both of those pedals are tapped, the status of the second loop lights up red and the looping functions detailed above remain the same for Loop Two. After logging a little time on the VDL1, toggling between the two loops becomes almost second nature.
As expected, there are some limitations in terms of overall recording time. If you stick to recording only on Loop One, you’ll have a total of 80 seconds to play with. Bring in Loop Two and you are limited to a combined total of 90 seconds for both loops. For most users and applications, this kind of recording time should fall within a workable range, but I can see many drone and ambient enthusiasts craving more overall time. With memory limitations falling into a cost effective range these days, there is really no reason why Vox shouldn’t have doubled or tripled the time here.
There are a few neat sync options when it comes to locking both loops together. Based on the length of Loop One, Loop Two can be the same length as Loop One or multiples of it when using the Overdub pedal to close loops. This keeps your loops sync’d up nicely for more traditional arrangements and predictable rhythms.
The other option is to tap the Trigger foot switch to close the loop; this closes the loop at any point of choosing and frees you from sticking to the predetermined length of Loop One. This allows for some cool, polyrhythmic shifts or long ambient loops that slowly drift, shift and evolve. Other sync options include tap tempo which will determine the BPM before recording a loop. You can engage this silently for live performance by tapping in your tempo with the Trigger/Tap button before recording your loop or enable the audible metronome for working out phrases in the studio. Either way, a vivid red tempo light is there for reference and guidance.
Turning a gear review into a how-to instructional manual is not the intent here, but breaking down the looping workflow of the VDL1 is important since live-loopers are a notoriously picky bunch. Looping devices become instruments in and of themselves and can directly affect how your music and live performance will take shape.
As with all new gadgets of this complexity, there are some welcome additions along with a few disappointing omissions. Thoughtful additions include multiple options for ending loops (End, delay or fade) and a handy auto-record which waits for you to start playing to begin recording your loop. Both of these seem heavily geared toward live performance and work remarkably well.
A few omissions are the capability to adjust the recorded loop levels as well as a way to control the feedback (aka decay) of loops – both of which are must-haves to most loop-based music. This is disappointing since browsing any of the major looping forums could have given Vox a complete feature set based on user “wish lists.”
As a dedicated looper, I must say that the VDL1 certainly stands on its own though. Despite the aforementioned gripes, Vox has built a box that is really a blast to play. They could have stopped with making a dedicated looper, but wisely chose to include 11 types of pre-effects that can be applied to the loop, as well as another 11 post-effects that can be added to loops you’ve already recorded.
The treadle is assigned to set parameters within these effects and all the settings can be assigned to any one of 50 user patches. There are also another 50 presets that serve as idea springboards that can be saved and tweaked to your user patches.
Pre-effects include volume, compression, various overdrives (Klon and TS-9 models), distortion, modulation, bass sims (which include a few amazing Moog-like synth sims), acoustic sims, pitch shifting, stutter, equalizer, filters, delay models, reverb, sci-fi and synth models.
The individual settings are somewhat limited and the treadle can only be assigned to one parameter, but the effects are voiced well and sounded great through our various single coil and humbucker-equipped guitars. Patches can only store one pre- and one post-effect, but you can always reach down and switch modules on the fly if need be. I doubt all but the craziest of the VDL1′s effects will edge out your standard stompboxes, but they are certainly nice to have onboard. It would have been wonderful to have deeper access to more parameters but the stock fx settings are pretty satisfying. While everyone will gravitate to their own pet effects, we found the combination of volume swells, octave-up, bass and delay perfect for creating lush overdubbed layers.
We had a load of fun with the Pre-Effects, but the Post-Effects section – along with the Re-Sampling – is where most of the Vox’s “Dynamic Looper” magic really happens. Post-Effects include volume (which can be assigned to the currently selected loop, both loops or the input sound plus both loops), x-fade (which fades between the input sound and the loop or between loop one and loop two), reverse, loop-in-loop, pitch, speed, scrub, stutter, modulation, filter and delay.
Resampling allows you to change the length of a previously recorded loop and/or use an effect or the treadle to modify an existing phrase. Lots of surprising, unexpected results take place in the resampling mode and this is where the VDL1 takes a welcomed departure from almost all the other loopers on the market. All the Post-Effects can be put to good use, but we found the reverse, loop-in-loop and scrub to be the most interesting. Manipulation of these effects – along with the resampling – is dependent on the use of the treadle to stage or queue resampling for recording. I think most users will lose themselves for hours on end in this mode.
While we are on the topic of the treadle, there is a bit of a downside to Vox using a single expression pedal to control both the Pre- and Post-Effects, at least within the same patch. Switching between Pre- and Post-Effects is accomplished just as you would on most wahs; on the toe side of the pedal’s throw. This causes some unwanted changes that lock most effects at their most extreme settings. For instance, if your Pre-Effect is set for a delay, switching over to your Post Effect will result in a 100% wet delay setting as you switch from Pre to Post, and vice-versa. The best way around this design flaw is to toggle between two patches: one set up with only a Pre-Effect engaged and another with only a Post-Effect engaged. It’s not perfect solution but it works rather well.
Program changes led us to another dual-function use of the foot switches. Moving up through the patches is done with a simple tap of the upper-right Program Up/Undo switch, while moving down requires pressing and holding the Program Up/Undo while tapping the lower left Trigger/Tap pedal. Once again, it takes a little practice but, once you have it down, it works quite well.
Construction-wise, Vox has put together a solid, road-worthy device. The housing is all metal, as is the familiar treadle pulled from their Vox Wah line. The treadle’s powder-coated in a vivid red for easy viewing on dark stages. It’s definitely a stylish box that’s topped off with chicken-head knobs, soft-touch buttons, well-placed status LEDs and easy-to-use tactile foot switches. The foot switches are ultra-responsive and really make for a seamless looping experience. For picky players that need even more response and less travel time, we’ve heard of users pulling the inner return springs from under the upper switch. This actually gives the VDL1 a feel that closely mimics the Boomerang loopers – although I’m not sure how this affects the click lifespan of the actual switch inside the unit.
I’ll admit that my first few minutes with the VDL1 had me scratching my head, wondering how on earth I could work this pedal into my live-looping setup. Well, after a few hours with my head buried deep in the well-written manual (as well as teaching my feet some new toe-tapping moves), the mysteries of the VDL1 slowly unlocked themselves. Sure, like most loopers, it’s not without its quirks, but with a little patience and a moderate amount of determination, I really fell in love with the VDL1s workflow – and more importantly – the amazing loops I was able to coax out of this cool device.