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Earthquaker Devices Fight Club!

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Welcome to the "Earthquaker Fight Club" Pro Review!

 

We wanted to review the Earthquaker pedals, so I innocently asked Phil O'Keefe and Chris Loeffler who wanted to do the review. However, they both did...so I thought Phil could do a couple, and Chris could do a couple. Problem solved, right?

 

Nope. Neither was willing to concede reviewing the pedals to the other. It was starting to get tense, so I said "Okay, you can both review the pedals, but I know you guys have really strong opinions about pedals. So fight it out, no holds barred, and may the most honest, accurate, and useful review win. In fact, we'll make this a variation on a Pro Review so it's interactive and people can cheer on whoever's reviews they like better. Plug in, check the battery voltages, warm up your amps...and let the fight begin." -- Craig Anderton, Editorial Director (and Occasional Troublemaker)

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Well to get the party (or fight wink.png ) started, we initially couldn't agree on which pedals to review... there were some that I had covered previously, and Chris was also familiar with some of the cool pedals EarthQuaker Devices makes, so we decided to stick to newer pedals that neither of us had a lot of experience with. Finally, after a lot of discussion (and a few arm wrestling matches, which I lost... redface.png) we decided on three pedals to focus our attention on for this combined Pro Review:

 

Palisades ($249.95 MSRP), a TS-based OD:

 

http://earthquakerdevices.com/shop/Palisades/cat/13099

big_Palisades.jpg

 

 

 

Levitation Reverb ($185.00 MSRP), a psychedelic rock inspired reverb pedal:

 

http://earthquakerdevices.com/shop/L...verb/cat/13093

big_Levitation%20Final%20Photo.jpg

 

 

 

The Warden ($195.00 MSRP), an optical compressor:

 

http://earthquakerdevices.com/shop/T...rden/cat/13095

big_TheWarden.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

So we've got overdrive, reverb and compression that we'll be checking out in this review - a little something for everyone. smile.png The question is, which of the three will be our favorite, and will we be able to come to some agreement on that?

 

Stay tuned to find out! snax.gif

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I got lost in Earthquaker world. I pulled everything off my board and am just running these three for now. Played with the order a bit, and while I typically prefer guitar compressors to go before OD because of the darkness they add, I've got to say I could flip a coin as to whether the Palisades or Warden should be first in the chain because the Warden is so transparent... before, it adds sustain and beef to the Palisades (not that my initial time with the Palisades suggests it needs it); after, it rounds out a bit of the hair off and adds some focus.

 

I settled on running it post... for today. ;-)

 

Phil's shaved head makes him intimidating, but I suspect a Verellen Meatsmoke preamp running into 100 watts of 5881 power section will crush his Marshall Class 5. Don't worry Phil... I'll let you know how the bottom end sounds! lol.gif

 

Where do you want to start?

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Originally posted by Chris Loeffler

And yes... Phil's shaved head makes him intimidating, but I suspect a Verellen Meatsmoke preamp running into 100 watts of 5881 power section will crush his Marshall Class 5. Don't worry Phil... I'll let you know how the bottom end sounds! lol.gif

 

 

 

That's okay... you don't need a 4x12 to get sufficient bottom end - not if you know what you're doing anyway. wink.png

 

Where do you want to start?

 

 

Take your pick. smile.png

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The ol' "it's how you use it" counter, eh? ;-)

 

Actually, I'm most excited to try the Palisades in front of my VS Workhorse Pony and Vox AC-15... The Vox never seems to do well with TS-style circuits given it already has a pretty exaggerated Mid presence, so it'll be interesting to see the bandwidth control can make the Palisades gel with that amp, and the VS Workhorse, for an amp that is meant to be pedal friendly, has a really weird voice (I was able to somewhat neutralize with Mullard EL34 and a creamback) that acts awkward when pushed at certain frequencies. We all know the TS circuit is great as a blunt weapon of focused, compressed midrange, but this might just have the flexibility to address traditionally "non-TS" amps and applications.

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So far, I've only tried it with my Princeton, which loves it. I have an AC15cc1 (with a AlNiCo Weber Blue Dog), so I can try it with a Vox too, and we can compare notes. smile.png

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Hmmm... a couple of hours with the Palisades certainly lends credence to the claim it is the end-all of TS mods. While I don't have all at my disposal to compare currently, I've played through my share of TS-style pedals and mods (we were all new once!) and have to say this is pretty much the switchblade of TS-style. The different clipping modes definitely nail the vibe and feel of various mods I've played. I think, if anything, the biggest naysayers to the Palisades will focus on how it doesn't nail the final 1% of the "one" tone they want, as opposed to focusing on its dozens of flavors of the TS-theme that can be tailored to guitar/amp in ways a single mod never could.

 

The clipping sections have some pretty drastic volume differences, and the way they break up tends to demand adjustments to Gain and even Tone settings. I found it interesting that several other reviewers around the web claim the Asymmetric clipping is the closest to a stock TS-808 sound. To my ears, the harmonic content and feel of the Asymmetric setting is much closer to the SD-1 (which would make sense, since the SD-1 uses Asymmetric clipping as compared to the symmetrical clipping of the TS-808/TS-9), so I'm not sure if my ear is shot (I'm comparing it to a Boss SD-1W) or they just preferred the tone. The Symmetrical setting is more focused and tight and lends itself to leads, whereas the Asymmetric setting is a bit richer and nuanced, especially at low-to-mid gain settings.

 

Ironically (and we should always listen with our ears, not our eyes), the one thing I don't see in the Palisades that one does in a typical TS-style pedal/mod is the legendarily mojo-slathered jrc4558D. The opamp in the Palisade is a LM833N, which is a low noise IC that isn't uncommon in TS-styles (certainly better than the 90's production TS-9s' TL072).

 

I'm still playing around with Voices 1,2,3, and 6 with various guitars. Voice 1 is certainly the most raw and in your face, but I'm finding it a bit rude sounding, for lack of a better term. Voice 6 is the buzziest, but it feels less upfront, somehow. Voice 3 is a bit more touch sensitive at lower gain settings, so it feels the most "amp like" in response, but the subtle differences seems to disappear in the last third of Gain A's gain sweep.

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Hold on buddy - I think we might be getting ahead of ourselves by jumping right into the fun part… let's get some of the business of the details out of the way so we can get the readers who are unfamiliar with the pedals up to speed.

 

I guess we're starting with the Palisades. smile.png As it says on the EQD site, this is a pedal that they said they'd never do - a TS808-based "tubes creamer" (lol lol.gif ) overdrive. Apparently they received lots of requests for exactly that, so they relented, but as you can easily see, it's got a lot more stuff on it than the classic three-knob TS.

 

big_Palisades.jpg

 

As you'd imagine, the usual Drive, Tone and Level controls you'd expect to find on a TS derivative are all here and function in basically the same way, but they're named Volume (Level), Tone and… what's this? Two Gain controls? Yup - there are two gain (Drive) knobs - Gain A and Gain B. These can be set independently, so it's very easy to set the Palisades up to provide a cleaner sounding boost as well as a more heavily driven lead sound, or a slightly dirty rhythm tone and a more heavily saturated sound for solos.

 

The impression you might get from the manual (and website, which contains basically the same information) is that Gain B offers a higher gain level range than Gain A does, but I'm not really getting that impression - they seem to have similar ranges, although you can certainly set them drastically different if you wish.

 

There are three footswitches on The Palisades - or should that just be "Palisades"? Anyway, at the far right is the Activate button. You've got to love the way they named this; it's original but still perfectly descriptive, unlike some of the more cryptic and overly clever names you occasionally see on pedal controls. Switching is true bypass, and a nice bright white LED illuminates when the pedal is active.

 

In the center is the Gain B footswitch, which activates Gain B. As with the Activate switch, an LED illuminates when this is selected; this time, it's blue. You can change the setting on this footswitch even when the main Activate pedal is off and the unit is bypassed.

 

Now if that's all they gave you in terms of control, you'd already have a pretty versatile TS-style pedal, but we're not done yet! You'll notice a third footswitch, which is labeled Boost. It also has a LED indicator (green) to let you know when it's active, and it kicks in the pedal's Boost knob, which is a post-gain output level boost. So not only can you set up two different levels of distortion, you can also set up an additional boost level for solos. Boost can be used with either of the two Gain settings, and as with the Gain B footswitch, can be turned on or off regardless of whether the main Activate switch is on or not, although you'll only hear the boost when that switch is on and the pedal is active.

 

It should be noted that the three LEDs are all different colors, which is a big help on a dark stage. Also, while it's a small detail that probably doesn't matter much to young whippersnappers like Chris who still have sharp eyes, but the knobs and labels are all high-contrast compared to the background and very easy to read, even by an old guy in a dimly-lit recording studio.

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But wait - we're still not finished! smile.png

 

fetch?filedataid=114755

 

 

 

Palisades has two small toggle switches. The first is a Normal / Bright switch. This does what you'd expect, and gives the pedal a "warm full tone" in the Normal setting, or a brighter sound that is "livelier, with more chime" in the Bright setting. I'd say those are fairly accurate descriptions.

 

The second toggle switch is an on / off switch for the built-in buffer. This operates a bit differently than you might expect; it's not a typical buffered output alternative to true bypass switching, but rather an input buffer that is part of the Drive / Gain circuit. It is only active when the pedal is active, and has no effect on the bypassed signal, which remains true bypass at all times. When On, this buffer gives the pedal a "tighter and brighter" tone, while the Off setting gives you a looser and warmer sound with more sag.

 

As you can see, there's lots of opportunity for the user to dial things up just the way they want them, but we still haven't hit what I think is probably the number one feature of Palisades - and it's the versatility that comes from the two remaining controls - Bandwidth and Voice.

 

Both of these controls use multi-position rotary switches. The Bandwidth knob is a five-position switch that sets the gain structure and tone of the pedal. The thinnest sounding setting is at the "1" end of the dial, and progressively fuller and heavier / more distorted sounds are available as you move up from there.

 

The Voice switch has six positions, with each one providing a different clipping option.

 

According to the manual, the options are:

  • 1. No diodes - the cleanest setting, with the least amount of overdrive
  • 2. LED clipping - light clipping and lots of volume
  • 3. Mosfet clipping - a light gain overdrive with great harmonics
  • 4. Asymmetrical Silicon clipping - tighter light gain OD; closest to stock 808
  • 5. Symmetrical Silicon clipping - tighter distorted tone
  • 6. Schottky Diode clipping - looser fuzzy tone

 

Between the Voice and Bandwidth knobs you get a ton of variety that is simply not available from a standard three-knob TS-style pedal. It's almost like being able to mod the pedal on the fly, but without the burnt fingers and voided warranty.

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Construction is typical of the other Earthquaker Devices I've seen... which is to say, excellent. The interior is well laid out, clean, and uses good quality parts and through-hole construction. There are no internal trim pots or switches, and no internal battery clip, so no reason to open the pedal up beyond curiosity, which I'll satisfy for everyone with this gutshot.

 

[ATTACH=CONFIG]n31687471[/ATTACH]

 

 

Powering is handled with a industry-standard 2.1mm center-negative 9V DC power jack, which is located at the top of the pedal. No adapter is included. The I/O is also top-mounted, so while Palisades is a larger pedal (measuring 5.5″ x 4.5″ x 2.5″ with knobs), you don't need extra space to the sides of it on your pedalboard to accommodate plugs and cables.

 

[ATTACH=CONFIG]n31687472[/ATTACH]

 

 

 

I could go measure it myself, but it might be nice to take this opportunity to say hello to the good folks at EQD in sunny Akron (where it's currently sunnier than it is here in cloudy California wave.gif ) and invite them to join in the discussion by telling us - what's the current draw for Palisades? And while we're at it, Chris and I were both wondering - what's the story behind the name?

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Finishing up on the details of the Palisades, the white paint has a cool sparkly finish to it; it's difficult to catch in photos, but if you look close you can see it.

 

fetch?filedataid=114758

 

fetch?filedataid=114759

 

fetch?filedataid=114760

 

 

You also get a EQD sticker, a single page manual, EQD product catalog, and a nice cloth storage bag for the pedal inside the colorful EQD box.

fetch?filedataid=114761

 

fetch?filedataid=114762

 

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It's probably worth pointing out that the first run of Palisades were labeled 9-18v, but EQD has since advised not to run it at such a high voltage as there were some issues popping up. They claim it sounds better with 9v anyway...

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what's the current draw for Palisades?

 

You've given me an idea for an article - how to measure the current consumption of effects using a dumb-ass Radio Shack volt-ohmmeter. My personal opinion is if something draws over 10 mA, forget using batteries!

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The one thing I don't see in the Palisades that one does in a typical TS-style pedal/mod is the legendarily mojo-slathered jrc4558D. The opamp in the Palisade is a LM833N, which is a low noise IC that isn't uncommon in TS-styles (certainly better than the 90's production TS-9s' TL072).

 

The 833N not only has half the noise of a good 4558, but also the slew rate (response to transients) is a whole lot better. I think a lot of the alleged mojo in a 4558 is the extra noise and slightly duller sound...

Edited by Anderton

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You've given me an idea for an article - how to measure the current consumption of effects using a dumb-ass Radio Shack volt-ohmmeter. My personal opinion is if something draws over 10 mA, forget using batteries!

 

That would be a good article. I know how to measure it, but it's trickier to do on a pedal with no battery clip.

 

I'm not sure if the Palisades draws more than 10mA or not, but I prefer using power supplies over batteries whenever possible anyway. I know many people prefer batteries with some fuzz pedals, but I just don't like having to deal with them. Plus they're a landfill / disposal / environmental nuisance.

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Hmmm... a couple of hours with the Palisades certainly lends credence to the claim it is the end-all of TS mods. While I don't have all at my disposal to compare currently, I've played through my share of TS-style pedals and mods (we were all new once!) and have to say this is pretty much the switchblade of TS-style. The different clipping modes definitely nail the vibe and feel of various mods I've played. I think, if anything, the biggest naysayers to the Palisades will focus on how it doesn't nail the final 1% of the "one" tone they want, as opposed to focusing on its dozens of flavors of the TS-theme that can be tailored to guitar/amp in ways a single mod never could.

 

 

I couldn't agree more about the versatility, although I'd say as an analogy a Swiss Army knife is closer to the truth than a switchblade is. tongue.pngwink.png

 

For those who don't know which TS-style pedal or mods they'd like best, this would be a good pedal since it gives them so many of them and you can compare them instantly and directly. I also think it's a good choice for guys like me who want / need a wide variety of tonal options. I also think having that many options makes Palisades easier to match up, configure and optimize for various amps.

 

For the record, I have a EHX East River Drive, a HBE Power Screamer (with Fat Boost), an Ibanez TS-9 and probably a couple of other TS-style pedals sitting around here that I can use for comparisons. I know it's unfashionable to say so in some circles, but I've always liked the TS-style overdrives, midrange hump and all. smile.png And there's no question that Palisades offers far more versatility than any of the other TS-style pedals I have here.

 

 

 

The clipping sections have some pretty drastic volume differences, and the way they break up tends to demand adjustments to Gain and even Tone settings.

 

 

I've noticed that as well. If you adjust the Voice knob after everything else is set, you'll probably just have to re-adjust those settings anyway. I think it makes more sense to select the type of clipping with the Voice knob, then set the Bandwidth, then adjust the Gain and Tone after that, although I've also been experimenting with a slightly different order where I select the Voice first, then set the Gain, Bandwidth and finish up by adjusting the Tone. While Palisades is much more complex than the average "Tubes Creamer", it's not really hard at all to dial up good tones with it.

 

 

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I couldn't agree more about the versatility, although I'd say as an analogy a Swiss Army knife is closer to the truth than a switchblade is. tongue.pngwink.png

 

 

 

Try winning this fight with a Swiss Army Knife biggrin.gif

Edited by Chris Loeffler

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I've also been experimenting with a slightly different order where I select the Voice first, then set the Gain, Bandwidth and finish up by adjusting the Tone. While Palisades is much more complex than the average "Tubes Creamer", it's not really hard at all to dial up good tones with it.

 

I've found the same order of settings to be the most effective... the Voice is the foundation for everything that follows.

 

I absolutely agree that this thing is about as easy as could be to dial in great tones... it's just a matter of spending some time learning the unique characteristics of the Voice and Bandwidth settings to quickly jump between disparate settings on the fly. As for experimentation... heck, I've got hours to kill!

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Well the Warden has confiscated all of our weapons, so we're going to have to continue on with verbal-only combat... wink.png

 

What do you think we should I hit next Chris - The Warden compressor or the Levitation Reverb?

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Okay, let's talk about The Warden a bit. The Warden is a optical compressor that features considerably more control than your typical compressor pedal, but that is still housed in a small enclosure that measures 4 5/8″ x 2 1/2″ x 2.25″ with knobs. This time it's painted blue and has black lettering, making it a bit harder to read things in low-light situations.

 

[ATTACH=CONFIG]n31687526[/ATTACH]

 

 

 

Power is handled by an industry-standard 9VDC 2.1mm center-negative jack, which is located at the top of the pedal. Current draw is 20 mA. No power adapter is included, and since battery powering isn't an option with The Warden you'll need to provide your own. While you can't use higher voltage power supplies with the pedal, it isn't necessary since EarthQuaker Devices have equipped The Warden with an internal voltage multiplier that gooses the internal operating voltage up to 18V, which helps with headroom.

 

 

The I/O is also located at the top of the pedal, meaning it's very easy to set it directly adjacent to other pedals without having to leave space for the wiring, making for more compact and neater pedalboard layouts.

 

[ATTACH=CONFIG]n31687525[/ATTACH]

 

 

Switching is true bypass. A very bright white LED illuminates when the pedal is active.

 

 

Here's the obligatory gut shot. As expected, the parts are high-quality, and the workmanship is flawless.

 

[ATTACH=CONFIG]n31687527[/ATTACH]

 

 

I got a chuckle out of the comment on the PCB - it's on the lower right hand side of the circuit board.

 

 

EarthQuaker Devices recommends running The Warden first in your chain for best results, and that's fairly typical for compressor pedals… but what about those of us who run fuzz pedals as an important part of our rigs? Some fuzz pedals are notoriously troublesome when placed after anything else, so this is something we definitely will want to check as part of this Pro Review. Of course, if your fuzz has true bypass switching, it shouldn't cause any issues for The Warden as long as the fuzz is switched off.

 

 

Maybe the fuzz compatibility is something you can look into a bit while I'm at NAMM Chris. I'll also experiment with it when I get back home.

 

 

As with Palisades, you get a single sheet manual, a EQD sticker and product catalog booklet, as well as a cloth draw string storage bag in the box along with The Warden.

 

[ATTACH=CONFIG]n31687528[/ATTACH]

 

 

I don't know for certain, but I suspect the folks in pedal-friendly Akron Ohio decided to name this pedal The Warden for one of two reasons: either because it's good at locking your levels into a more confined dynamic range, or because wardens have the reputation of being control freaks, and this Warden has got a ton of them by pedal standards.

 

 

Tone - Allows you to adjust the overall tonal coloration of the pedal. Treble cut is counter-clockwise, and turning the knob clockwise gives you a treble boost. The flattest setting is at around the 11 o'clock position.

 

Attack - This adjusts how quickly the compressor responds to signals that exceed the threshold and trigger the compressor. Faster settings cut off more of the initial part of the note, while turning the knob further clockwise results in a slower attack that lets more of the initial note transient through before the compressor clamps down on the signal.

 

Release - This determines how quickly (or slowly) your signal returns to the level determined by the Sustain and Ratio settings, Counter-clockwise is a faster release, while turning it clockwise gives you slower release rates.

 

Level - This sets the overall output level of The Warden. The Sustain and Ratio settings will also affect output level, so this should be fine-tuned after you get those other controls dialed in first.

 

Sustain - EQD calls this control the "heart of The Warden" and it's easy to understand why once you use the pedal for a while since it has such a large effect on the sound of the pedal and the way the other controls respond. The Warden uses a feedback style compressor, which means the hotter the signal, the more compression occurs. Setting this knob low results in little compression and less responsiveness from the Attack and Release knobs, while higher settings will provide you with more.

 

Ratio - According to EQD this knob sets "how much the gain reduction affects the signal. All the way up is full compression and the compression is reduced as you turn this counter clockwise which allows more of the boosted, less compressed signal to come through. There are no defined ratios here."

 

Now some of you may be wondering "what exactly is an optical compressor, and how is it different that other types of compression? We'll have to leave that question open for now… maybe Chris can explain it a bit, or maybe the folks at EarthQuaker will find a moment and chime in, but they're probably in the same boat I'm in at the moment… trying to get everything ready for NAMM. If no one else gets to this before then, I'll be back after NAMM to go into the details…

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OK... let's talk types of compression. I think in the guitar world the most recognizable compression style used to create a pronounced effect is the OTA (Operational Transconductance Amplifier) style... think Ross and DynaComp. It is similar to a VCA-style (more on that in a paragraph), but the output is variable currant as opposed to voltage. Typically built around a CA3080 or LM13700, this type of circuit has an unique envelope that melds well with the attack of guitar. It pumps and clamps in an exaggerated fashion, but it is pretty much one of the most accepted "over-the-top" approaches to compression, and the style you're most likely to find in a boutique compressor.

 

While most compressor circuits can technically be considered VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier) style, the term VCA compression refers specifically to the circuit's reliance on an IC chip to assess the incoming signal and regulate output peaks, resulting in a more responsive and transparent compression. Boss, Maxon, and entry-level rack compressors rely on this approach for their compression effects.

 

While technically just a subset of VCA compression, FET (Field Effect Transistor) compression is marketed as a separate approach to compression for guitar players likely due to the associate of FET with tube emulation. As such, you can expect an FET compressor will be a bit more aggressive in its tone transformation and have a noticeable EQ effect (although that is more by design than technical requirement).

 

Optical compression translates the input signal into a a light source that brightens or dims based on the level of volume received, which is read by a light-sensitive resistor that dictates the opening and closing of the compression envelope. The result is typically described as natural, organic, and smooth, although they can get at squishy as anything depending on their design. More than anything, they are prized for their ability to refine the attack of a guitar without completely overtaking it (although that's possible to.

 

This is the technology the Warden builds upon

 

Obviously, there are variations on a theme: tube compressors, for example, tend to be optical compressors with some variant of 12AX7-style tube added as a gain stage at the end of the compression circuit while Dan Armstong's amazing Orange Compressor is its own glorious, utterly colored one-trick pony.

 

That said, I'll focus on the Warden and not fall down the rabbit-hole of one-offs and edge cases. :-)

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With NAMM over, I suspect Phil is going to be rejoining the fray shortly, so I'll spend the day playing with the order of compressor/gain and report back to compare notes :-)

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