January 18, 2024

Hologram Chroma Console: Why would I buy this pedal?

A realistic view.

I too love the pedal demos where you witness exactly what a box can do in the hands of a paid pro. But what about you and me? We buy pedals based on those demos, but are often disappointed when we can’t get that box to sound anything close to what we saw in the video. Or we discover what looked like simple-to-use ain’t so simple. Chroma Console is definitely one of those pedals. Since I bought the Chroma Console and am not being paid by Hologram, hopefully I’ll present it here in a realistic light to help you determine if it’s for you or not.

What is Chroma Console?

The Hologram Chroma Console is a multi-effects unit with 20 useful (mostly vintage by today’s standards) effects in four modules that run in series. As with any multi-effects unit it’s self-contained, so it has its limitations. It’s not a Microcosm Lite, but instead designed to sit next to Microcosm or similar granular pedal on your board and not duplicate effects.

What’s comparable to Chroma Console?

It’s similar to most multi-effects boxes in the effects array it offers. It’s easy-to-configure, but has no cabinet sims. It’s also digital, so it can be finessed to be very clean.

What are the dealbreakers for Chroma Console?

At $400, it’s an investment. Here are the reasons you might pass on it:

  • You already have these pedals. If you already have an extensive pedalboard you likely have most of the effects in Chroma Console and they’re likely preferred versions you’ve arrived at after trying numerous pedals in those categories. Would you really want to trade those pedals for versions on the Chroma Console that may not be as well to your liking? Chroma Console is not a replacement for your core pedals. What it can do is replace all those pedals you use for that one song and add capabilities you don’t currently have room for.
  • It’s a self-contained multi-effects box with all the limitations of any multi-effects box. You get your choice of one-of-five effects for each of the four modules. So you can’t use distortion and swell at the same time. You can’t use delay and reverb at the same time. You can change the order of the modules, but you can’t add your own effect pedals between the modules. So if you like Chroma Console’s reverb, it’ll likely logically fall in your chain before your fave delay pedal. If you want Chroma Console’s texture effects and want them at the end of your chain, after your fave delay, many of Chroma Console’s effects like distortion and modulation may fall too late in your chain to be that useful. If you’re going to depend heavily on Chroma Console, say for a fly rig, you’ll still likely want your tone-establishing pedals (compression, drive) going in and ambience (delay and reverb) coming out at the minimum.
  • It’s not plug and play. It requires calibration per instrument, since many of Chroma Console’s effects depend on volume triggers and correct levels to function optimally. You auto-calibrate by pressing both footswitches and playing a bit at normal volume or choosing one of the four buttons manually. Kind of a pain for those of us regularly running drastically different instruments through it. But this can be conquered with presets.
  • Many parameters lack controls. I’m sure this was done for the sake of simplicity. If calibrated, the effects are all well tuned, but some players will miss super deep control over parameters. For example Space (reverb) has no pre-delay control.
  • Capture is not a looper. Differing from Microcosm, Chroma Console’s Capture function only records one pass up to 30 seconds and can’t layer. The left footswitch is really a freeze function or phrase recorder. Just hold it to capture and release to play. It can be a really useful function, but is not a full-function looper.
  • It’s easy to overdrive the modules. Since Chroma Console works as a serial mixer of effects and dry you’ll need to work with the effect volume of the four modules, the mix and output level to achieve unity gain and control unwanted distortion. While a pain, magic can happen along the way and these can be locked up with a preset.
  • There’s a learning curve if you want to get the most out of Chroma Console. Learning tricks like rearranging the modules and recording gestures make reading the manual well worth your time.

If those evaluations seem harsh, it’s so those with spec sensitivities can move on and the rest of us can get on with what this powerful box really does.

Who is Chroma Console for?

I don’t see roots players gravitating to this pedal, but it does do competent versions of all the basic effects. If you’re playing covers, you can set up very specific presets for individual songs. Synth players will find it really useful. In a home studio, it can save you wading through the plugins or patching rack units. Ambience players may find it sounding a bit popish, but the currently-popular lo-fi sounds that you look to pedals like the Chase Bliss Generation Loss for are all solid, but with minimal parameter control.

Chroma Console tricks.

They can’t be all covered here. As with any deep pedal, the manual is extremely helpful.

  • Use presets. Even if you’re not a preset-kind-of-player, these can be big timesavers. You can configure the 80 presets in four categories, so keeping a handwritten list will be helpful in finding combinations quickly.
  • Use Gestures Automating knob movement opens up possibilities that would normally require multiple LFOs. So you can warp a delay and vary tremolo speed in the same preset.
  • Filter has three filters on one knob so it’s not right is more. High pass is from about 2p-5p, Low pass is about 7a-10a and bandpass is between the two. Carefully recording gestures for bandpass makes it an effect in its own right.
  • Add Drift This is a secondary function of the Rate knob that controls the randomness of waveshape for the Movement and Diffusion module. At 7a, the LFO is a sine wave for the Movement module and pitch for Diffusion is stable. As you turn the knob, more randomness is added. Drift can keep things fresh and organic.
  • Reorder the modules. The effect modules run in series, just like a pedalpoard and you can reorder them. For example, switching distortion to last in the order will give you a very different sound than in the default first position. Hold buttons Aand D to enter the re-order mode, then tap the four buttons in the order you’d like. To go back to default, hold A and D and tap A, B, C, D.
  • Work with Sensitivity This is a secondary function that adjusts fidelity, headroom and breakup point for the Character module. 7a is the highest fidelity and lower settings will be best for maintaining clarity and tone of dirt or drive pedals coming in. The higher you turn up sensitivity, the less input volume required for breakup of Chroma Console’s distortion effects.
  • Use Capture It’s great for an accompaniment loop and an excellent freeze effect. If freezing, create a preset with Capture first in the module order so you can add effects to give it some movement. As with any freeze pedal, freezing on the sustain a second after the attack will give you a smoother effect. Capture is recorded at unity dry volume by default.
  • Get the volume right It may not be obvious, but Chroma Console is also a mixer for the four effects and the overall pedal. It’s easy to find yourself with sounds louder than unity and with unwanted distortion. Tame it, so when you put Chroma Console in bypass, you don’t have a massive volume drop. That’s well worth factoring into your presets.
  • Use Chroma Console for signal processing. Underrated among the effects are compression and filters. Sweeten, Squash, Tilt and Filter are useful for sculpting clean and acoustic as well as overall tones.
  • Tap longer delays Both the Cascade ands Reels delays can be extended by tapping out longer tempos. Note that tap sets a range for the Time knob, so the delays can get longer than your tap if you turn the knob up.
  • Use Dual Bypass mode for always-on effects. This lets you use an effect like Sweeten even when the pedal is bypassed. Configuration is in the manual

A few ideas.

Here are some starter thoughts:

  • String effects You can do string effects with either Swell or Reverse. Swell gives you the option to add a diffusion effect like Collage. Reverse gives you the option to add some fuzz and pitch shift down for cello.
  • Reverse Strings Swell > Vibrato > Reverse.
  • Use Swell as a gate. You can reorder the modules and put the reverb before Swell to create a gated reverb. Mute a note or chord on guitar when you want the reverb to stop.
  • Mo Betta Repeats Cascade or Reels > Swell > Squash.
  • Harmonic Trem Gestured Filter between 7a-10a. You can use Tap Tempo to speed up the cycle.
  • Artifacting Delay In Cascade, Reels or Collage, record gestures of movements to the Time knob for morphing pitch artifacts.

Will Chroma Console stay on my board?

If you want to add capability and don’t currently have the room, or want to get rid of those pedals you need, but only use infrequently, Chroma Console will probably be your friend. But its dirt and ambience will not be a permanent replacement for those current pedals you’ve so painstakingly selected for your board. If you incorporate it correctly into your pedalchain, it can create some excellent additions to your effects arsenal.

My take.

Chroma Console does a lot and frees up space for some more unique effects on my small pedalboard. It was revealed with only a short video from harpist Emily Hopkins. I think that’s a pretty good sign that this pedal is intended for every kind of instrument, not just guitars. And as a multi-effect pedal it’s an excellent choice if planning on putting more through it than just guitar.

By today’s standards I feel only the Collage effect can be considered non-conventional. If you’re like me and not a Micrcosm owner, you might consider a powerful granular pedal like Drolo Strands or Pladask Baklengs before it in the chain to shake things up.

One final note: It’s best to use Chroma Console with the power supply that comes with it. I tried to daisy chain it with one other pedal on a 1 Spot and got a high-pitched whine in the background. It went away when I put Chroma Console on its provided power supply.

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