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Totally Wycked Audio HS-02 Hot Saké Overdrive/Distortion
I'll have what they're drinking please…


by Phil O'Keefe




Saké. If you're a Westerner and have never been exposed to this fermented rice concoction from Japan, be careful - it can sneak up on you - fast. Unlike many Western potations, Saké is often served warm, or even hot, and sometimes it is served chilled. Apparently the folks at Totally Wycked Audio have a preference for Hot Saké, and they're serving it up to guitarists everywhere in the form of their latest Overdrive/Distortion pedal. The Hot Saké is part of TWA's American-made, hand-built pedal series. Let's have a nip or two and see if it's as intoxicating as they say it is.





What You Need To Know

  • Despite what the name and graphics might lead you to think, the Totally Wycked Audio Hot Saké overdrive / distortion pedal is made by hand in America, not in Japan.

  • The Hot Saké is a relatively small pedal housed in a metal enclosure that measures 4.375" L x 2.375" W x 1.875" H. It is painted a dark grey-black color with tons of metal flake in it that reflects a rainbow of different colors back at you, depending on the angle you view it at. On the top is a matte Lexan sheet with the Japanese inspired graphics and the control labels.



  • The input and output jacks are side-mounted on the right and left sides of the pedal, respectively. Input impedance is 1 Meg Ohm, and the output impedance is 500 Ohm.



  • The Hot Saké has two larger sized control knobs - one for Drive and one for Level. Above about noon the Drive control lays it on pretty thick, with lots of distortion. Lower settings are more overdrive-like, with the type of touch sensitivity you expect from a good overdrive. The Hot Saké also has the ability to control the amount of dirt by manipulating your guitar's volume control. It's much more like an overdrive in that respect than a distortion.

  • The Level control has plenty of oomph and can boost the output volume considerably if you want - maximum gain is up to 36 dB @ 1 kHz.

  • The Hot Saké has a somewhat more comprehensive EQ section than many overdrive and distortion pedals do. Instead of a single knob, you get two - one labeled Tone, and the other one labeled Mids. These both use smaller-sized mini knobs that sit directly below the larger Drive and Level controls.

  • The Tone control actually isn't the simple treble roll-off I was expecting. Instead, it functions as a low boost / high boost control with a fairly broad bell-curve (6 dB / Oct.), that can boost bass or treble, depending on which way you turn it, with 12 o'clock being the neutral position. Turning it counterclockwise from there gives you increased lows, and turning it clockwise gives you brighter timbres.

  • The Mids knob is completely independent of the Tone control and provides a user-variable midrange boost. Since the basic tone of the pedal is relatively flat, this allows you to add in some midrange boost to help your guitar cut through a busy mix more readily.

  • The Hot Saké also has a Low Boost switch which switches between the standard setting and one with increased response in the low frequencies. Instant Big Bottom - Nigel Tufnel would love it, and so will anyone who's looking for big, powerful lows from their distortion pedal.  

  • Finally, there is one more switch, labeled L1 / L2, that is accessible through an opening in the front panel. This provides you with two different filter capacitor alternatives for the Low Boost circuit. In the L1 position the boost is in the 100 Hz region, while flipping over to the L2 position brings a different capacitor in that changes the boost frequency to the 60 Hz region.    



  • The Hot Saké's switching is true bypass, and uses TWA's S3 Shortest Send Switching system. This uses a relay to route the audio through a very short path to the output jack when the pedal is bypassed. It also will revert to bypassed mode in the event of power loss instead of cutting the signal off completely.

  • A red LED illuminates when the pedal is active.

  • Power for the Hot Saké can be supplied with a 9V battery, or with the usual 2.1 mm center negative 9V power adapter. Current draw is 31 mA when the effect is engaged, and 11 mA when it is bypassed but plugged in.

  • The battery compartment is accessed by removing four screws and the pedal's bottom plate. The bottom plate has four large rubber feet pre-attached.
  • The heart of the Hot Saké is a TL072 JFET opamp. Other than the battery clip, there isn't a lot to see inside the pedal - there are no user adjustable controls or switches hidden inside.



  • The Hot Saké has a three year parts and labor warranty instead of the far more common one year warranty, which speaks well for the reliability that TWA expects the pedal to have.

  • The Hot Saké comes with a pretty amusing TWA airline style "tone ticket and baggage claim" flyer with info on all of the other TWA pedals that are currently available, a well-written and detailed manual, and a velvet storage bag in the box along with the pedal itself.



Limitations

  • The placement of the power receptacle isn't ideal - where it is located at puts the power plug kind of in your way a bit. I'd prefer it to be on the side but behind the input plug instead of in front of it, or even better still, at the top end of the pedal.



  • The somewhat over the top artwork may not be to everyone's taste.

  • The way you have the mini knobs (used for the EQ section) positioned will be easier to see if you add a touch of white paint to the recessed pointer / indicators on them.



Conclusions

The Hot Saké really does a good job of straddling the line between the crunch of an overdrive and the flat-out roar of a distortion pedal. It is one of the heaviest pedals I've ever tried that still retains the ability to clean up well with an adjustment of the guitar's volume control. The overall tone tends to be fairly crisp and detailed, but lacking any appreciable midrange hump - unless you dial one in with the useful Mid knob. There's quite a bit of flexibility here, both in terms of the amount of dirt you can dial up, as well as the ways you can sculpt the sound of the pedal with the various EQ controls.

I tend to like overdrive pedals more than distortion pedals because they let a bit more of your guitar's character and your personal playing dynamics come through. Maybe that explains why this is one of my favorite distortion-type pedals - it has some of those same characteristics to it. If you like big, beefy dirt with great tonal flexibility and the ability to dial up lots of bottom, the Totally Wycked Audio Hot Saké would be an excellent pedal for you to try out. And best of all, unlike most saké, there's no need to enjoy it in moderation! -HC-

 

If you have questions or comments about this review or the TWA Hot Saké, please head over to this thread in the Harmony Central Effects Forum and join the discussion!



Resources

Totally Wycked Audio HS-02 Hot Saké Overdrive / Distortion pedal ($189.00 "street")

TWA's product web page    


You can purchase the TWA Hot Saké from:

Godlyke Distributing        

Amazon    












__________________________________________________

 




Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior 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.  

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