Arion SOD-1 Stereo Overdrive

Arion SOD-1 Stereo Overdrive
Many Arion pedals, despite their budget background, have quite a good reputation; I'm thinking of the SCH-1 Stereo Chorus and SAD-1 Analog(ue) Delay pedals in particular, but there are others too – such as the SPH-1 Stereo Phaser which I really liked, despite not being much of a phaser fan.

The SOD-1 is another which is quite well thought of by some.

If you were to read the Harmony Central User Reviews (sometimes informative) and take them at face value (often unwise!), you could easily get the idea that this is a must-have overdrive – more than one of the reviewers claims this sounds like a Dumble!

I'm afraid I'm going to have to completely disagree with such statements as this overdrive pedal does absolutely nothing for me.

With a clean amp I think it sounds completely fake – particularly with chords – and uninspiring... That’s about it really; I couldn’t get a sound out of it that made me want to play. Which is a real shame - I wanted to like the SOD-1, but couldn’t bring myself to do so.

Stereo World

The stereo-equipped Arion pedals typically offer a choice of a direct (clean) signal or a variation on the effect at the second output.

In the case of the SOD-1 (and the other dirt pedals in the range), the second option is described as ‘Soft’. The SOD-1's ‘Soft’ overdrive is a kind of muffled, hollow overdrive which I think sounds a bit weird on its own but, in stereo, when layered with the ordinary overdrive sound, it can add a little extra texture.

Unfortunately, other than being a perfectly usable lead boost (with the drive kept low) and having potentially useful dual output options, I found very little to like about the SOD-1.

Perhaps the good reputations enjoyed by budget pedals such as the SOD-1 are partly, or largely, due to the Value For Money factor and lower expectations.
Great Expectations

While I personally don't (consciously) base my expectations of pedals (or other products in general) on price alone, I often read reviews or hear people say things along the lines of "it's great for the price"...

I admit that - like probably everyone else - I have been guilty of this myself, but it is something I don't really understand; either something is good or it isn't...

Having read many Harmony Central User Reviews of budget pedals where the reviewer has stated that the effect is great for the price, then given it a 9/10 or 10/10 rating, I find this absurd...

It raises the question - for me anyway, that, if the pedal was more expensive, would the rating be lower? Even though the sound is the same?

Conversely, if you spend £200 on an overdrive/fuzz/whatever, and then only rate it at 6 or 7 out of 10 for sound, would it suddenly become 'better' and worthy of a higher rating if it only cost £20?

By all means say a budget/mid-priced/expensive/boutique pedal is great but leave it at that: Price is irrelevant in terms of whether an effect sounds good or not.

Sacred Arias

Aria CH-5 Chorus
The CH-5 Chorus comes from the original Pro II Series of pedals which were first available around 1986, and shouldn’t be confused with – or even associated with – the more recent, re-hashed Pro-II Series which are far more commonly seen on eBay (in the UK). The earlier pedals feature a rugged, metal construction whereas the later pedals are plastic and were definitely built to a budget.

The CH-5 is a stereo chorus pedal, with controls for Rate, Depth and Intensity (delay time).

It is immediately evident when you turn it on that it is unlike most other chorus pedals – particularly other 80s chorus pedals – which tend to sound bright and shimmery. The CH-5 is noticeably dark in character.

This trait will likely endear it to those out there who find the trademark bright, swirly, 80s chorus sound to be grating. The darker effect generally comes across as being more subtle; sitting behind the direct signal and adding depth rather than immediately overpowering it. I also find darker voiced chorus effects sound better with distortion (although this is purely my own opinion), as the effect adds thickness and movement without the watery, processed, sometimes-metallic character that brighter chorusing can impart.

The Rate and Depth controls offer a fairly wide range without really going far enough for extreme/weird sounds; it’s hard to find a setting that doesn’t sound musical. Using the Intensity control, it is possible to go from subtle chorus to very wobbly, almost-vibrato-like effects*; small adjustments can make a big difference.
* Putting a dummy jack in the second output turns this pedal into a true vibrato pedal if you so wish.

To sum up, the Aria CH-5 delivers the goods with a distinctive character and richness, and would be particularly well suited to someone using lots of distortion, or someone not wanting their modulation effects to totally mask the guitar signal.

See also:

Aria CH-10 Dual Stage Chorus (Discofreq’s Effects Database page.)

Same as the CH-5 but has a 'Dual Stage' footswitch; press the switch normally (first click) to engage the first setting, press the switch firmly (second click) to engage the second setting.

This function allows the user to switch between two user-defined chorus/vibrato rates. However, I didn't find this function that useful as when changing the speed of a chorus effect, I'd usually want to adjust the depth too. It is a nice idea though.

Absolutely FABulous

Danelectro D-4 FAB Echo
FAB Echo Despite having always heard good things about the Danelectro FAB Echo and Chorus pedals, I had never really paid much attention - perhaps I was put off by my preconceptions of their build quality. When I found the Echo on sale for under £10 I thought it would be worth trying - for that sort of money it’s hardly a gamble.

First impressions?

As with Danelectro’s current Cool Cat range of pedals, (I think) the FAB Echo looks much better in person than the pictures suggest; it looks far less toy-like than I thought it would. It appears to be pretty rugged - despite the top part of the casing being made of plastic - and should survive many years of normal use... I wouldn’t make a habit of intentionally abusing it and throwing it around to test this theory though, but then I wouldn’t do that with any of my pedals!

It’s a very simple device; unusually for a delay/echo pedal, it only has two controls: Mix and Repeats. There is no delay time control, but for the retro, slapback echoes this pedal is designed to produce, it isn’t needed.

OK, so it looks better than expected, the build quality is better than expected, but what about the sound?

You’ve guessed it: better than expected!

It is perfect for use as a slapback delay for thickening riffs and solos, or for surf styles, but where it really shines for me is when used for ambience: set the mix control just before the point where the echoes are too obvious and distinct, set the number of repeats to taste, and this is the kind of pedal you could leave on all the time... you could even use it as an alternative to reverb.

I own or have previously owned lots of great delays - both analogue and digital, some of which cost 10-20 times as much as the FAB Echo, but the FAB is a more than worthy addition to the collection. It has a charm and an immediacy that some 'better' pedals lack. I like it. A lot.