April 15, 2020

Current pedal obsession: Mr. Black Ambience Echoverb.

Small pedal, ambience bigger than your head.

Don’t overlook this pedal as just another delay with a reverb slapped on. There’s nothing typical about the Mr. Black Ambience Echoverb. It may be the best pedal out there for blurring the lines between delay, reverb and chorus with a metalic wash (not a cotton candy wash that we get so much of today). Despite only three knobs (and no annoying alt functions), this well-oiled machine creates a massive, chorused ambience from two syncopated delays cross-fed into a pad-like reverb.

How does the modulation magic of the Ambience Echoverb work?

This pedal creates a lush, galloping soup by mixing four signals:

  1. Dry
  2. A modulated 5/8 delay
  3. A separately-modulated 8/8 delay
  4. A separately-modulated ambient reverb

The three modulations can mix to sound random. Note: There’s no modulation control. The pitch modulation on the delays will always sound slow, but with a perceived fast tremolo effect from repeats when the delay span is tight. At shorter spans and higher decay, the more modulation depth you’ll hear, which can get crazy and self-oscillate.

The delays, reverb and chorus are all extremely co-dependent. It’s hard to talk about them separately since changes to one will fundamentally change the others.

The delays.

Think of Ambience primarily as a delay pedal and you’ll find it extremely useful. Whether they have repeats of not, both delays are always present in the effects mix. You get a nice fade of the echo with Decay at noon and the Level knob about 2p. The Span knob controls the length of both delays, but it feels more like a speed control for the rhythm since the beat is so pronounced.

I’m sure Jack DeVille (alias Mr. Black) probably got requests to build in other rhythm settings, but to be honest, you’d probably never use them, since this one is so contagious with the second delay getting a touch hotter than the first when you crank the Decay knob. You can play in companion or contrast to this one in fascinating ways. While we always have a tendency to think single delay pedals would be great if they could only stretch out a bit longer, a two-tap delay like Ambience would loose the feel of the rhythm. The delays here max out at about 500ms and 800ms, which sounds downright poetic.

The Ambience Echoverb is a great cheat for nailing rhythmic playing with this pedal doing the hard work for you. Most players probably set the Span knob to 11a or later and gravitate to a galloping rhythm that sounds like the Edge presenting at a shoegaze convention.

Those early morning delay settings.

Ambience takes on a different personality before 11a on the Span knob. Here, the tandem delays are so close they can sound random and smear with the reverb to create phat versions of more conventional small-space effects. These include oil can delay at 10a, slapback and small room reverb at 9a, doubling (er, tripling) at 8a and a sultry, old-school chorus at 7a. Ambience seriously phattens your sound, no matter how early you set the Span knob. You can also get rollercoaster self-oscillation with the Span knob at 7a and Decay cranked. When the effects are this is short, fine tuning of all knobs will give you vastly different-sounding spaces.

That quirky reverb.

Let’s start out by saying this is not your normal reverb. It’s designed to work with the delays, so it’s always ambient and has a tail that can sound almost like amp feedback. The reverb has no separate controls of its own, but is affected by all three knobs. The Decay knob increases both reverb volume as well as delay repeats. It can boost reverb volume to the point that it can almost bury the delay into a hovering, modulated sustain after 3p. Since the delay feeds into the reverb, the longer delay times and more repeats effectively create a longer reverb decay. The Span knob also makes the overall modulation more obvious. When Span is at 7a the vibrato is most noticeable, with the reverb moving like a woozy tide—an absolute hangover. The Level control also plays into this picture. While it completely controls the level of the delay, it’s somewhat of a submix for the reverb when the Decay knob is up, letting you bring the volume of the delay down.

That massive chorus.

I almost think Jack should have named this pedal the Echosorus since the huge chorussy-flangey modulation is such a big part of the sound. The modulation from three, separate LFOs slowly moving the delays and reverb at different speeds from the dry—puts all four signals slightly off pitch from each other. Since the two delays are always on, a chorus-like effect is always on as well, with no control for the LFO speeds. But they’re fixed to work dreamily together.

All three knobs on the Ambience play a role in controlling the modulation. With both the Decay and the Span knob at 7a and the Level knob at 2p, you’ll get a straight and slow old-school chorus with no delay or reverb. Ambience’s two delays create a chorus effect on their own behind the dry. So with the Span and Decay knobs at 7a, the Level knob can acts as a blend control for the chorus effect.

Modulation that gets out of hand.

If Ambience has a fault, it’s that the overall slow vibrato can be woozily overwhelming. It’s most influenced by the Decay knob, but much stronger at shorter settings on the Span knob. But with careful adjustment of all three knobs you can find a happy medium where its presence is down to a manageable point. While Ambience can be big and powerfully washy, the delays and reverb can work together well for an exceptional, always-on reverb by fine tuning the Springy recipe below. The short, syncopated delay repeats blur into a spring sound while the ambient reverb dwells into a distant extended plate. So you can get relatively normal ambience, but over time guitarists have developed a craving for stronger modulation. Sometimes the slow rock of the boat can be so captivating, you’ll want to emphasize the seasickness a little more.

A few recipes.

These are ordered by the settings on the Span knob and give you a little perspective on the diverse sounds you can get from the Ambience. Note that even small movements of the knobs can have a big effect on the sound, so tweaking these recipes is encouraged.

Effect Level Decay Span
Phat Chorus 12n 7a 7a
Reverberated Chorus 11a 9a 7a
Funhouse Mirrors 12n 4p 7a
Big+ 9a 7a 9a
Springy 9a 12a 9a
Uncanny Oil 10a 10a 10a
Slapback 10a 8a 10a
Edgy 12n 12n 12n
Sustainance 9a 3p 12n
Horses Waltzing 12n 12n 5p
Heavenly Herd 12n 5p 5p

My take.

This is a very different ambience than you hear in other pedals in the category. The sound is definitely bold and greater than the hum of its parts: generating a galloping rhythm within a hover of chorused tones to create a musical soup. The Ambience really lives up to its name, creating a convincing illusion of a room that gets bigger with each repeat. You’re likely to find that it performs best with just your basic tone going in (compressors, drive) and nothing coming out. Adding more pitch modulation effects (vibrato, chorus, phaser, flanger) can drain the life and presence out of this massive effect. And don’t count this one out for electro-acoustic: You may find with the bold combo of dual delay, reverb, doubling and chorussy modulation that it may be the only pedal you need.

Lock yourself in a room and you’ll love it for practicing solo. I record a lot of soundtracks for short video clips and find this pedal is an inspiring device, all by itself: no looping required. Though there are only three knobs, they’re deeply interactive. Minor adjustments of any knob can have a big effect on the overall sound and ambience. The moment you hit an ambience you really like, turn a knob slightly and you may find something even more amazing. Just realize that balance is achieved by tweaking all three knobs.

With the syncopation you can play more sparsely and let the rhythm of the delays do all the lifting. Or crank the knobs and embed them deep in the ambience. Or tighten the delays way up so they become part of the room to create a spring-like, always on reverb. After you try Ambience, all those great regimented, single delays out there—well, they’ll just sound so ordinary. As a matter of fact, when Ambience is on my board, other delays just seem like they’re taking up real estate.

Note: Ambience has officially been discontinued. According to Tobias Grave (lead singer of Soft Kill), the limited edition Soft Kill Ambience Echoverb, also made by Mr. Black, has the same circuitry as the original.

Check out all the pedals I’ve been obsessed with.

This article contains my honest opinion of the pedal that I’m currently obsessed with. I buy the pedals myself. Makers don’t pay me to do glowing reviews and demos. And I don’t try to sell the pedals to you through affiliate links. That’s why buying me a coffee below helps to keep these reviews coming.

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