Malekko's Minuscule Omicron Series Reverb Pedal Gets Some Big Improvements
$139.99 MSRP, $139.99 "Street"
By Phil O'Keefe
Malekko has been building their Omicron series of diminutive pedals for a while now, and overall, the line has been very well received by players. However, the folks at Malekko can't always leave things alone. They have previously released two popular reverb pedals, the original was the somewhat larger Spring Chicken, which was replaced in the lineup by the Chicklet; an Omicron series pedal. Both were well regarded by players, but there were nagging details that the folks at Malekko thought they could improve upon, and thus the new Omicron Spring was born.
Figure 1: The Malekko Spring (Click on images to enlarge)
The Spring is a pretty simple pedal in both its scope and features. Its designed to emulate a spring reverb such as the type commonly found in amplifiers, outboard units and some rackmount modules. There are no halls, plates, rooms or other reverb types - the attention is given entirely to spring reverb emulation, so if you need those other types, you'll want to look elsewhere. However, since spring reverb is so closely associated with guitar, and with such styles as Surf music, it's a natural fit; it's the sound that many guitarists think of when you ask if they want some reverb.
If you're familiar with the Malekko Chicklet, right off the bat, you'll notice some cosmetic changes. The case color remains proudly pink and gloriously sparkly, although it's a slightly different shade. The color of the lettering and knobs has changed from white to black. According to Malekko, all the current production Omicrons have either white (analog) or black (digital) labeling and knobs; while it doesn't always apply to earlier pedals, it does let you know at a glance what is at the heart of the circuitry in each of the pedals in the current lineup. At the heart of the Spring is three Princeton Technology PT2399S echo processor IC chips (Figure 2) - these are very low noise and low distortion CMOS ICs. As the "gutshot" shows, unlike some of the other Omicron series pedals, there are no internal switches or trim pots or other hidden controls inside the Spring, and obviously no room for a battery; the Spring requires an external adapter for power.
Figure 2: The interior of the Spring, showing the ICs and SMD construction
While the Spring still uses a standard 9V "Boss style" 5.5mm x 2.1mm center negative regulated DC power supply (not included), Malekko has increased the size of the power adapter hole, and better centered the receptacle within the hole, making it easier to use AC adapters with a variety of external plug shapes. (Figure 3)
Figure 3: The side adapter hole has been enlarged and the jack better centered
The controls are simple and straightforward. The Mix knob adjusts the dry / wet balance, or "how much" reverb. The Dwell control sets the reverb's "wetness" as well as what engineers call the RT60 time - the overall length of the reverb "tail" and how long it "rings out." The Dwell knob's effectiveness has been improved over the earlier (and now discontinued) Omicron Chicklet. There is a much more noticeable amount of variation available, which makes it easy to dial up a shorter reverb tail to help keep things less cluttered for faster and busier musical passages, or a long tailed reverb for those washed out surf and shoegaze excursions.
There have also been some improvements made to the feel of the controls themselves. While the knobs on the Chicklet generally worked fine, the amount of "wobble" in the controls made some users a little nervous. New control pots have been sourced for the Spring. They now feature bushings, so there's less "wobble" to them than previously. They feel more solid, but just as smooth as before. I did notice some very slight scratchiness when I dimed the amp and adjusted the Mix control, although the Dwell control remained dead silent under similar test conditions.
The sound quality has also been improved compared to the earlier Malekko reverb pedals. The overall reverb bandwidth has been increased; with extended highs and lows, giving it an even more realistic and believable sound that can be eerily similar to a good amp spring reverb. The sound also seems warmer and somewhat denser overall than with the Chicklet, and the noise level has also been decreased. It's a very quiet pedal. The Spring also features improved switching. It still uses a high quality buffered output, but the annoying click that occasionally plagued the Chicklet when it was engaged has been eliminated. While some of the improvements made to the sound quality are individually somewhat subtle, they add up to very noticeable improvements overall. This is a very authentic sounding spring emulation, and if you tucked one inside an empty Fender reverb unit's shell, you'd probably fool more than a few members of your audience into thinking that they were listening to reverb that was being generated by the vintage electromechanical unit.
PUT A SPRING IN YOUR STEP?
So, should you run out and buy a Spring? If you already have a Spring Chicken or Chicklet, it will largely depend on how happy you've been with those previous pedals. If you're the type of player who never turns your reverb pedal off, then the switch click issue of the Chicklet is probably a non-issue for you. However, there are still the other sound quality upgrades to consider, and the improvements are definitely noticeable. The increased range and improved feel of the controls will be another tipping point for many players. In short, Malekko has taken a pedal that was already quite good overall and made it significantly better through not only a redesign of the circuit, but several other refinements and improvements. If you're looking for a little - or a lot of reverb in a minuscule but big sounding pedal, you definitely should check out the Spring. In this reviewer's opinion, it's the best sounding Malekko reverb pedal yet - and that's saying a lot.
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Associate Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.