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Fairfield Circuitry Shallow Water Analog Modulation

Sometimes...you just need to wade in the water...

 

by Chris Loeffler

 

Modulation effects are used to add dimension, thickness, and/or movement to an electric instrument, and typically rely on some form of low-frequency oscillation to adjust delay time, filter frequency, or regeneration. The caveat to this standard approach is it creates a continuous pattern that can overtake your sound or, at the very least, begin to wear thin after the 100th symmetrically identical wave. The good folk at Fairfield Circuitry decided to take modulation in a very different direction with their Fairfield Circuits Shallow Water.

 

The Fairfield Circuits Shallow Water is an analog modulation device in the spirit of vibrato, chorus, and flanging that features their proprietary K-Field modulator for simulated, mathematics driven modulation shifts based on chance, not pattern. The Shallow Water features Rate, Damp, Depth, LPG, Mix, and Volume controls, is true-bypass, and runs on a standard center-negative 9v power supply.

 

What You Need to Know

 

The Fairfield Circuitry Shallow Water is a different kind of modulation in two key ways; the modulation waveform is randomized and the LPG responds to your playing dynamics to create a living, breathing response to what the Shallow Water is processing. The Shallow Water accomplishes this by creating a variable several-dozen millisecond delay around the original signal to create pitch shifts like a standard chorusing or vibrato effect, depending how much of the wet signal is in the mix. Rather than a symmetrical waveform that creates consistent patterns for the pitch to follow, a microcontroller creates random “steps” in the modulation range with the time of each interval set by the Rate control and the amount of modulation set by the Depth control. The result is a vinyl-style warp that sounds more like a turntable getting occasionally jostled than it does a warped record with asymmetrical play.

 

The result of random modulation cycles is an effect that doesn’t necessarily demand attention as its adjustments to playing are less sonically fatiguing.

 

The Damp control sets the smoothness of the transition between the steps set by the Rate control, going from glitchy stutters to watery transitions that glide in a seemingly endless path forward.

 

The Fairfield Circuitry Shallow Water is a subtle effect. Significant tweaking can get you close to more traditional, effected modulation and chorus tones, but that’s not really what the Shallow Water is about. The subtler shades of the Shallow Water are sometimes more felt than heard (something I can’t say about most modulation effects) and there were times that I forgot it was on until I turned it off and noticed my tone was less sweet.

 

The LPG control is the other part of the magic equation and introduces a gated low-pass filter to alter the darkness and sustain of the effect based on the dynamics it receives from your playing. At lower settings, the LPG strangles soft notes and adds a gooey smear of darkness while attenuating the highs, while the other end of the knob increases clarity and sustain along with some lo-fi BBD while noise. By all accounts, there is nothing shiny nor shimmery about the LPG; it is about adding warmth and character to the wet signal.

 

The sonic signature of the Shallow Water ranges from dark, muted colors that seem to blanket your tone (it wouldn’t be out of place on Kid A) to a crisp, CE-2 style warmth with clarity. There are sonic gremlins running around that pop their heads out at certain extreme settings, but I never found them to be without use nor unmusical. There’s a quiver to the bends and swirls of the Shallow Water that creates a natural aural tension, and the experience becomes even more heightened when placed in front of a delay so the varying pitch shifts crash over each other.

 

When preceded by an overdrive or fuzz, a flanger-like regenerative halo without the over-the-top jet swoosh is heard and the LPG becomes even more lively and something I found myself playing off, which was both surprising and inspiring.

 

Inside the Fairfield Circuits Shallow Water there are three additional controls; Boost, Pad, and LPG Adjust. Shipped from Fairfield Circuits, the Shallow Water is set with the Boost to “on” and the Pad is “off”. The Boost introduces a healthy 6 dB gain increase to ensure the Shallow Water isn’t perceived to drop from the mix when activated in darker settings, accommodating the typical high impedance, low output signal of passive guitar pickups, but the control can be set to off if the circuit is producing too much distortion, which I only found to happen when using cranked active humbuckers.

 

The Pad control drops the gain another 6 dB and knocks down the input impedance by 10x to accommodate keyboards and other electronic instruments.

 

The internal LPG trim pot adjusts the lowest frequency of the low-pass filter, which impacts sensitivity and how the envelope is triggered. After playing with it a bit for the sake of this review, I returned it to essentially the same point it was at when it left the factory. I’d consider this a power-user control, as small tweaks make big differences (not all of them pleasant) and I truly found the initial setting to be ideal for any guitar or keyboard application I ran the Shallow Waters.

 

Aesthetics have nothing to do with sound, but I dug the raw, unfinished enclosure with the hand-stamped control labels; it has a vibe that shouts, “step on me, it’s OK!” that I sometimes miss in the world of pretty paintjobs and detailed graphics, building on the mystery of what exactly is happening under the hood.

 

Limitations

 

The LPG control creates some very dark sounds at the low end of the dial and using a shared, non-isolated power supply introduced a touch of clock noise and analog hiss when it is cranked to the brightest setting.

 

The random nature of the K-field modulator makes it hard to exactly replicate its magic each time; peaks and plummets will happen when they do and sometimes coincide with arpeggios in a way that is euphoric, and it’s not possible to capture that lightning in a bottle unless you are recording.

 

Conclusion

 

The Fairfield Circuits Shallow Water is something rare in the effects world… a truly new effect. On paper, it reads like the Chase Bliss Warped Vinyl or even the Cooper FX Generation Loss, but between the truly random modulation flow and reactive LPG it is entirely its own beast. I found it to be the rare modulation effect that I could imagine always leaving on, but that would of course lessen the magic of having it stand out when it is used. If you are looking for warm, analog lo-fi vibe to add to your sound, or even just a different type of tone thickening, the Fairfield Circuits Shallow Water is a top contender to get you there. - HC -

 

Resources

 

Fairfield Circuitry Shallow Waters K-Field Modulator ($325.00 CAD)

 

 

____________________________________________ 

 

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. 

 

 

 

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