DigiTech Obscura Altered Delay
By Phil O'Keefe |
Digital delay that's analog flavored, colored in character, and altered in attitude
DigiTech obviously needs no introduction to anyone reading this review. They've been one of the biggest players in the effects world for decades now, and they make some of the most successful and popular pedals around. Regardless of what your needs and tonal preferences are, DigiTech probably has you covered. One classic example is the pedal under consideration here. Far from your normal run of the mill digital delay, the Obscura is "altered", and includes some features that are not readily apparent, and that are definitely a bit out of the ordinary. In what ways? Read on for the details.
What You Need To Know
- The Obscura is an analog-voiced digital delay pedal with up to two seconds of delay time available. While it can create very "nice" sounding analog delay and tape echo effects, it has the ability to warp, twist and degrade the sound, and it will appeal to players with more anarchistic sonic tendencies.
- The Obscura is housed in a compact metal case that measures 4.4" L x 2.65" W x 2.0" H. It has rather interesting looking graphics; they may seem a bit much to you or very cool, depending on your perspective, but the busy nature of the graphics and color scheme occasionally makes knob positions and control labels a little tricky to see.
- One thing you're bound to notice right away are the dual input and output jacks located on the sides of the pedal. The Obscura is a true stereo delay, and doesn't sum the signal from the two jacks together, but processes them individually. Since it has true stereo I/O, placing it at the end of your chain means you can feed it a stereo output from a modulation pedal instead of a mono signal, and still retain the stereo modulation.
- A 9V DC 2.1mm center-negative power receptacle is located at the top of the pedal. Current draw is 75mA.
- The Obscura offers four different delay types, selected with the Delay Type selector knob. This continually variable knob has indentations for the four settings:
- Analog - Bucket brigade analog delay simulation.
- Tape - Tube tape echo emulation.
- Lo-Fi - Simulates the low-resolution, limited bandwidth and low sample rate of an early 8-bit digital delay.
- Reverse - The delay repeats are what you played, only they're played backwards, with no "dry" guitar signal present.
- A Level control adjusts the level of the delays from fully dry to fully wet. When the Reverse delay mode is selected and this knob turned down all the way, no signal will be heard.
- The other two controls are actually stacked, dual-concentric types, giving you four knobs in the space of two. On the left is the Time and Repeats pair. The upper (Time) knob sets the delay time, while the lower (Repeats) knob sets the number of delay repeats. Higher settings (3 o'clock and above) on the Repeats control (indicated by a hard to see curved screened line next to the knob) kick in the Obscura's Repeat Hold function, which can be thought of as infinite repeats or self-oscillation. The Time knob also adjusts the Tap Tempo tap multiplier value when the Obscura is in tap tempo mode, with eighth note, quarter note and dotted eighth / quarter note triplet values available. Entering and exiting Tap Tempo mode is accomplished by depressing and holding the footswitch for three seconds.
- The final two knobs are the stacked Tone and Degrade controls, and they are a big part of what the Obscura is all about. The Tone knob does what you probably expect; it adjusts the tone of the delay repeats, making them either darker and warmer sounding or brighter and more defined.
- The Degrade control is a bit more complex, and its behavior changes depending on which of the four delay modes you have dialed up. In Analog mode, turning up the Degrade knob increases aliasing and overall grittiness. In Tape mode, the Degrade knob acts like a modulation control of sorts as it increases the amount of Wow & Flutter the further it's turned up. In Lo-Fi mode, turning up Degrade increases the input channel overdrive, leading to increasingly distorted echoes.
- The Obscura Altered Delay includes a soft-click, vacuum-style footswitch and multi-colored LED. The LED illuminates red when the effect is active. In Tap Tempo mode the LED will flash at the rate of the delay time, and will change color depending on the position of the time knob to indicate the Delay Time Multiplier setting - Green for eighth notes, yellow for dotted eighth / quarter note triplets and red for standard quarter notes.
- At the top of the pedal is a useful "Tails" switch. This allows you to select the pedal's bypass method; the Obscura features true bypass switching, but this isn't always ideal for a delay since it cuts off any ringing echoes instantly the moment you hit the bypass switch. By selecting the Tails On switch position, you kick in a buffer that allows the tails that are currently ringing out to finish their decay naturally instead of cutting off abruptly. Using the Tails switch is also the key to getting Repeat Hold to continue to repeat sounds indefinitely - even when you bypass the pedal so you can "play over" the resulting ambient soundscape. It's great that DigiTech gives users the choice in the way the pedal's bypass works!
- DigiTech also includes a couple of accessories in the form of a pre-cut hook and loop pedalboard pad for the bottom of the pedal, as well as one of their clever StompLock units, which is a rubber block with holes cut into it that fits over the pedal's control knobs and prevents any unintended adjustments to their settings. It's easy to attach and remove as needed, and it allows you to see your knob settings even when it's in place.
- There's no manual included in the box. You'll need to go to DigiTech's website (or click right here) if you want to check out the Obscura's manual, and you really should - it's well-written and informative, and unless you read it, you will probably miss out on some of the cool things the Obscura can do.
- When used with a mono input and two outputs, the dry and delayed signals come out of both output jacks, and there's no way to change it to one wet and one dry output.
- Battery power is not an option with this pedal - it's DC powered only.
- Want to have a look inside? So did I, but apparently DigiTech doesn't want people mucking around in there. I have a bunch of different sized and shaped driver bits, and was unable to find one in my collection that would work with the screws holding the Obscura together.
Digital delays have come a long way in a relatively short time. Gone are the 8-bit days of low-resolution, with grungy sound and limited bandwidth - unless you want that of course, which the Obscura Altered Delay will easily do, courtesy of its Lo-Fi delay type setting - along with very credible tape, analog and reverse delay effects too. This is a big advantage that modern digital delays have over true analog circuits - the ability to give you multiple delay effects types, and as the Obscura proves, the quality of modern-day digital emulations has become very good indeed. But while the Obscura can generate very pretty and authentic sounding effects, it's at its best when it comes to mucking things up, and it provides the user with a very useful set of tools to do exactly that to the sound of their delay effects.
I was pleasantly surprised by the number of features the Obscura has - not only cool things that are fairly obvious just from looking at it, such as the true stereo I/O and true / buffered bypass "Tails" switch, but some less obvious things too. Unfortunately there isn't any modulation beyond the Degrade knob's adjustment of Wow & Flutter when the Obscura is running in Tape mode, but you do get Tap Tempo with Time Multiplier as well as the Repeat Hold feature; both are fairly uncommon in a compact pedal like this.
Whether you like to play with your delay like an instrument or play over your endlessly repeating delay, the Obscura has you covered. If going from pretty and lush sounding echoes straight into self-oscillation, distortion, and Lo-Fi degradation sounds like your idea of a good time, then the Obscura Altered Delay will be right up your alley. It's an uncommonly well-featured and very powerful compact delay pedal.
DigiTech Obscura Altered Delay ($229.95 MSRP, $149.95 "street")
DigiTech Obscura Altered Delay product web page
Obscura manual (PDF file download)
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.