It’s 19 degrees Fahrenheit outside, so it seems appropriate to review Electro-Harmonix’s Freeze pedal. In a nutshell, you play through it and when you hit the footswitch, the sound holds holds holds holds holds holds holds holds holds holds holds holds holds until you release the footswitch. However, if that’s all it did, we could wrap up the review right now and hit the slopes – but there’s more to this deceptively simple effect than meets the ear.
BREAKING THE ICE
Freeze is one of E-H’s Nano series pedals, so it’s small – about 2-1/4” wide by 4-3/8” deep by 1-3/16” (not including the protruding knob, switch, and footswitch, or the rubber feet on the bottom). It comes with a 9.6V negative-tip DC adapter, like the ones used with Boss and Ibanez effects, that delivers about 140mA. (Click on the main image to enlarge it.)
I/O is just that: input and output, both with standard 1/4” jacks. The input has an impedance of 2.2 megohms, so it won’t load down stock passive pickups and of course, you can feed in the output from an effect like distortion, wah, etc. The output impedance is 470 ohms, which can drive guitar amps or line-level inputs (e.g., mixers, audio interfaces, etc.). You can also use synthesizers and other instruments with relatively high output levels, although you may need to turn down the instrument’s master volume if needed.
Controls are minimal: an Effect Level knob, Mode switch for latch/fast/slow response (more on this later), in/out footswitch, and status LED. The Effect Level knob mixes the amount of frozen, sustained sound with the input signal, which is always present at the output (there’s unity gain for the dry signal through Freeze). Note that there’s no way to split off the frozen sound separately from the dry sound without modifying the pedal.
LET’S PLAY TSA!
We don’t have full-body scanners here at the Harmony Central product testing labs, but we do have a Philips head screwdriver, which is all we needed to expose Freeze’s private parts. Electro-Harmonix has sure come a long way since the days of transistors soldered on to single-layer circuit boards; we’re talking surface-mount technology, quality components, and something that if dropped, probably would survive just fine.
Freeze's insides (click to enlarge)
The heavy DSP lifting is done by Freescale Semiconductor’s DSPB56374AE, a 24-bit DSP chip that runs at a 150MHz clock speed. An LM317 three-terminal regulator provides a stable supply voltage regardless of what’s happening at the AC adapter’s out, while the task of audio conversion falls to Burr-Brown’s PCM3052A, a 24-bit, 96kHz codec (analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converter) that also includes a mic preamp. The AD section uses delta-sigma modulation, and both the A/D and D/A sections use oversampling.
Freeze uses a Freescale chip for onboard DSP (click to enlarge).
Now that my inner geek has been satisfied, let’s get into how you’d actually use Freeze.
ICE À LA MODE
The Mode switch determines how the frozen sound responds. In the Fast position, pushing the footswitch immediately freezes the sound, and releasing the footswitch ends the sustain. With Slow, the frozen sound fades in and fades out when the footswitch is pressed on or off, respectively.
The Latch mode is something else altogether, and my favorite mode. It works similarly to Fast mode, but with a major difference: When you release the footswitch, the frozen sound continues to sustain. When you push the footswitch again, Freeze immediately seizes the current input signal, and freezes it. It takes some practice to get the most out of this mode, but it can do some great effects.
Also note that you have three different fade in/out options for Slow: 200ms in/400ms out, 200ms in/1.0 second out, and 800ms in/3.2 seconds out. However, the procedure for choosing one of these settings is not obvious. You hold down the footswitch with the power off, apply power, move the mode switch to select the desired fade time pair, then release the footswitch. I suggest writing down the Slow Speed Initialization table (shown in the instructions) on a label, and affixing it to the bottom of the unit.
NOW HEAR THIS
So at this point, you probably want to hear what it sounds like – so check out the audio examples.
The first example uses latch mode. It starts with a dry chord, then when the guitar changes to a new chord, I hit the footswitch at the same time to latch that.
The second example grabs the first chord, then sustains it while other chords play against it. The third example does the same kind of effect, but with a more acoustic-type sound.
The fourth audio examples uses bass. Talk about pedal point!
The fifth and final example uses a drum machine as the sound source. You can hear what happens when you hit the footswitch to “grab” particular sounds at particular times. The first grab is the kick drum, then the snare, then kick again, then the hi-hat.
The fact that Freeze works with just about anything is a standout feature. For live performance you can sustain a chord and solo over it, not unlike a looper but Freeze works on a more granular level – it sounds like the same kind of process you’d use to create a perfect crossfade loop.
It takes some practice to find the “sweet spot” for grabbing a sound. For example, with guitar, grabbing closer to the attack creates more variations in the sound, presumably because Freeze is grabbing a certain “window” that’s long enough freeze the variations that happen during the attack. Grab during a chord’s sustain, and you get a more smooth, even sound. And as you heard with drums, the more there is going on with the sound, the more important the place where you grab it.
Freeze is really one of the more creative effects I’ve heard in a long time. It’s not for everyone, and realistically, it does only one thing. But it does that one thing really well, and really cleverly. What’s more, it’s the kind of box that encourages experimentation – for example, it may end up being the ultimate tool of all time for creating synth pads. No matter how you use it, though, there’s no denying that Freeze is unique and very, uh, “cool.”
Craig Anderton is Editor in Chief of Harmony Central and Executive Editor of Electronic Musician magazine. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.