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 and reverb without getting into a foggy washiness. Despite only three knobs, this well-oiled machine creates a massive, chorused ambience from two syncopated delays cross-fed with ambient 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 modulation on the reverb is locked slow. The modulation on the delays gets faster as the span of the delays gets shorter. The three separate modulations can sound random. The Echoverb accomplishes all its magic 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. Whether they have repeats of not, both delays are always present. 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 a touch hotter than the first. The two delays 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. 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 into a staggered structure you can play your dry signal against.) 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 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 beyond washy: It’s a woozy wind—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.

If Ambience has a fault, it that when emphasizing reverb by cranking the Decay knob and shortening the delays, the overall vibrato can be overwhelming. It probably drives players with perfect pitch crazy. But with careful adjustment of all three knobs you can find a happy medium where its presence is down to a manageable point.

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. 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. The combination of the delay and reverb is so well blended, the delays can seem like pre-delay for the reverb at short spans and the reverb can mask the twinkling fade of the delays at long spans.

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. 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 behind the dry. So with the Span and Decay knobs at 7a, the Level knob can acts as a blend control for the fast 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
Sustainance 9a 3p 12n
Horses Waltzing 12n 12n 5p
Heavenly Herd 12n 5p 5p

My take.

The Mr. Black Ambience has a distinct, thick, chorusy sound with the reverb and two delays separately modulated against the dry. 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 combo of dual delay and reverb, it’s the only pedal you need.

This is a very different ambience than you hear in other pedals in the category. The sound is definitely greater than the hum of its parts: generating complicated rhythms within a hover of flanged tones. 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, 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 rule. Or really dig in to create some powerfully complicated rhythms. Or tighten the delays way up so you can’t tell them from reflections in the reverb. Try playing around After using Ambience, all those great regimented, single delays out there—well, they’ll just sound so ordinary.

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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