MXR Vintage Bass Octave
By Chris Loeffler |
MXR Vintage Bass Octave
Think your bass goes low? How about dropping it an octave? How about two?!?
by Chris Loeffler
The bass was always meant to go low, but players like Pino Palladino and Tony Levin felt that wasn’t low enough, latching on to sub-octave generating effects originally made for guitar players to get even deeper. Effects companies became savvy to this and started tuning those circuits to better track and play with the attack and range of the bass guitar. MXR was one of those companies, and given their recent spate of “new vintage” releases, it was only a matter of time until they revisited the MXR Bass Octave.
The newly released MXR Vintage Bass Octave cleans up the original with more headroom, output, and significantly faster tracking. The pedal features knobs for Dry, Oct 1, and Oct 2, a MID button, true bypass switching, and is powered by a standard 9v power supply.
What You Need to Know
First thing first… the MXR Vintage Bass Octave is TINY. I’m used to MXR enclosures being the standard for a small footprint, but the VBO is half the size of those enclosures. The knobs for Dry, Oct 1, and Oct 2 are stacked in a pyramid formation and are standard sized, with easy but firm travel, which mitigated my initial concern of trouncing them out of place with an over-reaching stomp. The MID knob is a soft switch with a dedicated LED.
Opening the enclosure reveals a trim-pot to set the amount of boost the MID knob provides, from zero to +13dB. There’s an additional switch, not called out in the manual, that selects between two mid frequencies, 400Hz or 800Hz, but as it isn’t mentioned in the instructions I assume MXR intends most users to use it as tuned in the factory.
The Dry signal, to my ears, is completely uncolored on its own. I was able to coax a decent boost out of it with all other controls rolled off, which was a fun hidden feature. The MID switch (which I will get to in a minute) doesn’t impact the Dry channel, which makes sense but could have made for a ballsy dirty boost.
The two Octave channels, representing one and two octave signals below the original note, both sounded incredibly clean and natural. I dialed each up on their own to hear them independently, and other than the inevitable few millisecond delay they could have easily passed as the original note from the instrument. The attack and decay were dead on, and only when the notes bled over each other did the octave fart out or sputter. I couldn’t play fast enough to throw off tracking; you’d probably need Victor Wooten for that.
Speaking of tracking, it was lighting fast; less than a slapback effect, more like the barely-there latency when recording into a DAW with a mid-level recording setup. I’m not sure what magic they’ve done to tighten it up so much, but there’s none of the laziness nor looseness in attack that I’ve experienced in true vintage bass octaves.
Starting with all the controls at 12 o’clock, the pedal was essentially at unity gain with the bypassed signal, although the lower frequencies of the two suboctaves gave some of the people who demoed it with me the impression they were slightly quieter. Blending in the right amount of Oct 1 brings in something close to the classic OC2 sound, and the Oct 2 channel is so deep it serves more as a “body” or “fullness” enhancer at lower settings to beef up the tone.
The MID knob introduces a preset amount of midrange boost to the Oct channels, which thickens up the total sound and adds growl when fed into an overdriven amp or pedal. The added focus slightly (to my ears) pushed the lowest frequencies down a bit but was perfect for making the bass jump out for solo parts.
Vintage and analog means monophonic. Things get funky and glitchy when two notes are being played at the same time, especially as the second note extends further away from the pentatonic of the root note.
No batteries allowed with such a tiny housing (the pedal itself is barely larger than a 9v battery).
The MXE M280 Vintage Bass Octave is a hoot to play. It’s deep, thick, tracks well, and is a surprisingly organic enhancement to a bass rig (especially one with speakers to support the lowest subs). The micro-enclosure means it takes up minimal floor space, and it played especially well with active and passive pickups. I expected something a bit nastier, but this little blue box can get surprisingly subtle (if that’s your thing) or throw a bass fuzz into new levels of stoner rock lows.- HC -
Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.