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. Despite only three knobs, this well-oiled machine creates a massive, chorused ambience from two delays, a reverb and all three modulated separately.

How does 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 modulated 8/8 delay
  4. A modulated reverb

It accomplishes everything it does with only three knobs and no annoying alternate functions.

The delays.

Think of Ambience primarily as a delay pedal and you’ll find it extremely useful. The delays are always present. The dry signal never goes away, but unity is about 2p on the Level knob, so you can get the delays notably hotter than your input. 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. The two delays max out at about 500ms and 800ms, which sounds downright poetic.

Ambience is a great cheat for nailing rhythmic playing with this pedal doing the hard work for you. While you can’t change the rhythm of the two delays, a higher setting on the Decay knob will change their personality drastically (with repeats multiplying from their staggered structure.) Most players probably set the Span knob to 11a or later and gravitate to a galloping rhythm that sounds like 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 delays are so close they can sound like one 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.

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 sounds like amp feedback. The reverb has no controls of its own, but is affected by both the Decay and the Span knobs. In addition to determining how many repeats the delay gets, the Decay knob turns up the level of the reverb, which can almost bury even longer delays into a hovering sustain after 3p. In addition to controlling the delay lengths, the Span knob controls the depth of the reverb modulation. When Span is at 7a the vibrato is most noticeable, with the reverb beyond washy: It’s woozy—an absolute hangover.

If Ambience has a fault, it that the overall vibrato can be overwhelming, probably driving players with perfect pitch crazy. But with careful adjustment of all three knobs you can tone its presence down to a manageable point. The closest this pedal comes to a normal-sounding reverb is with the all knobs set to 9a: tweaking required.

That massive chorus.

I almost think Jack should have named this pedal the Echosorus since the huge chorus 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. The repeats are also off-pitch from the delay, adding more complexity and melting the effect of the Ambience into an ever-thickening stew of multi-layed chorus. 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 chorus. With both the Decay and the Span knob at 7a, you’ll get a straight and slow old-school chorus with no delay or reverb. Unlike other old-school choruses that rely on a mix of the dry and wet signal to create the chorus effect, Ambience’s two delays create a chorus effect on their own. So with the Span and Decay knobs at 7a, the Level knob then acts as a blend control for the chorus effect, something the legendary choruses lack.

A few recipes.

These are ordered by the Span setting 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 11a 9a
Uncanny Oil 10a 10a 10a
Slapback 10a 8a 10a
Edgy 12n 12n 12n
Sustaince 9a 3p 12n
Horses Waltzing 12n 12n 5p
Heavenly Herd 12n 5p 5p

My take.

The Mr. Black Ambience has a very distinct and complete sound. 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 out of this massive effect. And don’t count this one out for electro-acoustic: You may find it’s the only pedal you need.

This is a very phat musical box with a catchy rhythm blooming into a thick chorus of ambience to accompany your playing. 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. After using Ambience, all those great regimented delays out there, well, they’ll just sound so ordinary.

Quick note: Ambience has officially been discontinued. According to Tobias Grave, 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 I don’t try to sell gear to you through affiliate links. That’s why buying me a coffee below helps to keep these reviews coming.

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