Seymour Duncan Vapor Trail
By Phil O'Keefe |
Analog delay with modulation
By Phil O'Keefe
After dirt (overdrive, distortion and fuzz), one of the most popular effects categories has got to be delay. Guitarists have a lot of options these days when it comes to delay, from rack processors to plug-ins. Of course, delay pedals also remain very popular, and while there are many cool digital delay pedals on the market today, including some that mimic the sonic characteristics of analog delays, true analog delay pedals are still preferred by many players. Seymour Duncan has recently released a new analog delay called the Vapor Trail. Does it have what it takes to win those players over? Let's find out.
What You Need To Know
- The Vapor Trail is made in the USA and is a true analog delay pedal. While neither the manual or Seymour Duncan's website mention the specifics on the BBD chips used, the manual does say that the circuit uses "analog bucket brigade devices supported by modern low-noise analog electronics. No microprocessors or digital signal processors."
- While the paint job on the Vapor Trail isn't overly flashy; it's still pretty cool looking, with a sparkly silver metallic base accented by blue graphics and control labels. Contrast is good, so the label legibility is fine, even in low-light conditions. The case is all-metal, and measures a compact 2.61" W x 4.90" L x 1.45" H, making it well-suited for crowded or compact pedalboards.
- Seymour Duncan toss in a pad for the bottom of the pedal (which is designed to still allow you to remove the bottom plate screws) and they even include a couple of pieces of hook and loop fasteners for pedalboard mounting. The manual is also well written, with lots of details and several sample settings to get you started.
- The 1/4" input and main output jacks are located at the top of the pedal. Unplugging from the input jack disconnects the internal battery.
- A third jack labeled "Wet Insert" is mounted on the left side of the pedal and serves three different functions. It can be used with a standard 1/4" TS guitar cable as a second output when running in stereo. In this mode, it provides a 100% wet signal (delay only) while the main output provides the dry output, and the pedal's Mix knob has no effect. When used with a 1/4" TRS Y cable (tip=send, ring=return), you can patch other effects into the delay path, allowing you to do cool things like add fuzz or flanging to just the delays. And finally, you can also use this jack with a volume or expression pedal to control the delay Mix (level) with your foot.
- The Vapor Trail gives you a few different powering options. It happily accepts anything from 9V-18V regulated DC at its top-mounted, industry standard 2.1mm center negative power receptacle. On the bottom of the pedal is the 9V battery compartment. You access it via a flush mounted and hinged "easy access battery door", and it really is easy - no tools required, and the sturdy looking door is less likely to get lost since it remains attached to the pedal.
- Whatever method you choose, you'll need to supply your own power, since no battery or power supply is included with the Vapor Trail.
- The internal construction is SMD based, and seems clean enough, with dual PCBs mounted one above the other. There are no user-accessible trim pots or switches inside, and with the separate battery compartment, no need to remove the back plate under most circumstances.
- Switching is true bypass, and a bright blue LED illuminates when the pedal is active.
- The Vapor Trail uses a five knob control layout, with three larger knobs for the main delay controls and two mini knobs for the modulation controls.
- The Mix control allows you to dial up the amount of delay you'll hear; from imperceptible to +3dB louder than the source sound. This means that if you want to have your delayed signal up to 50% louder than the dry signal you can do it, or you can set the first delay to be at unity gain compared to the source, or any lower ratio that you desire.
- The Repeats knob sets the number of delays, from a single repeat on the lowest setting, all the way up to infinite repeats and self-oscillation when cranked way up.
- The clear Delay knob with the cool blue LED inside it sets the delay time. It covers a wide range; from 15-600ms, and the knob's internal LED flashes at the same rate as the delay time, giving you a visual indication of how it's set. This feature remains active, even when the pedal is bypassed, which is a nice bonus, since it makes changing settings on the fly much easier.
- The modulation is controlled by the smaller sized Rate and Depth knobs, with Rate setting the LFO speed (0.2Hz to 4Hz) and Depth (zero to "over the top") controlling the audibility of the modulation effect. Modulation is only present on the delayed signal, and does not affect the clean / dry signal whatsoever. The modulation seems to be somewhat tied to the delay time, with different modulation effects being available with different Delay settings. It's quite sweet sounding, and adds considerably to the amount and types of sounds and effects you can coax from the Vapor Trail.
- Even with three full-sized knobs and two smaller ones, I had no difficulty in accessing any of the controls due to the way they're positioned - there's plenty of space, and the layout makes it easy to adjust the individual controls.
- There is no limiter on the regeneration, so like most analog delay pedals, the Vapor Trail is capable of runaway repeats that get progressively louder. If you're not careful, things can get out of hand very quickly (and loud enough to break things and hurt your ears) if you use high settings on the Repeats and Mix knobs. This generally only occurs in the last quarter of the Repeats knob's throw. For lovers of infinite repeats, sci-fi effects, and musicians who like to "play" their delay pedal, the good news is that you'll find the Vapor Trail a capable and easily controllable tool that sounds terrific in those applications.
- Because the switching is true bypass, any sustaining delay "tails" will be instantly cut off once you hit the bypass footswitch.
- There is no tap tempo function, but asking for that at this price point, and with the wealth of other features that this pedal offers seems unreasonable to me.
This is a really well thought out and well-built pedal with loads of cool features. But cool features alone are not going to sway tone-conscious analog delay-loving guitarists; Seymour Duncan is relying on the sound of the Vapor Trail to do that, and this pedal delivers with its rich, classic analog delay characteristics and low noise. It's very well voiced, being neither too dark and murky or overly bright. Long repeats get progressively grungier; you'll recognize the classic BBD sound immediately, but it retains more definition and detail than some of its competitors. While it can "run away" on you if you push it, the easily controlled way in which it does so is bound to make it a popular choice for those who want to use the Vapor Trail more experimentally or for sci-fi sound effects. There's plenty of delay time on tap for most purposes, and the modulation, while somewhat tied to the delay time in terms of the range of the rate, is quite sweet sounding, and capable of adding anything from subtle chorusing to seasick pitch sweeps to the delays. Further creative processing of the delayed signal is possible by using a 1/4" TRS Y adapter with the multipurpose wet / insert jack, which can also be used for stereo setups or even as an expression pedal jack for controlling the Mix, making it extremely versatile.
About the only thing this pedal is lacking is a tap tempo function, but considering the price point, small size, and wealth of other features, expecting tap tempo would be unreasonable. If you can live without it (and the LED equipped Delay knob does make that somewhat easier), you'll find the Vapor Trail to be an exceptional analog delay pedal, with classic sound and useful features wrapped up in a small, compact pedal that is very easy to operate, and that is priced quite reasonably - all of which makes this a very capable and impressive pedal that even analog delay purists are bound to love - well done Seymour Duncan!
Musician's Friend Seymour Duncan Vapor Trail analog delay online catalog page ($214.00 MSRP, $149.95 "street")
Seymour Duncan's Vapor Trail analog delay product web page, which includes full specifications, the manual, and sample settings
Seymour Duncan Vapor Trail demo video:
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.