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|VOX Time Machine Delay Pedal
Pros: Absolutely quiet, with no line noise at all. It is so easy to dial in great delay sounds with the Time Machine, it’s almost scary. I like the fact that it has more features than a basic delay pedal, but not so many that you spend all your time tweaking. Oh yeah… It sounds absolutely fantastic!
Price: $199 street
Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ This pedal has ended my search for a delay. It really is as good as it’s advertised.
I tend to be a little wary of “signature” pedals because I’m really not one who wants to sound like someone else; besides, I’m not nearly as capable on the guitar as said artists. But now and then, I come across signature gear that forces me to take a good, long look: Not just because of the name behind it, but simply because it’s just a great piece of gear! Such was the case with the VOX Time Machine. When it first came to market, I have to admit that I was excited because I know that Joe Satriani is a real tone freak, and I figured that any kind of gear in which he has design input is bound to be pretty good. But the flip side of that is that I’ve had experience with other signature pedals that were really geared towards the artist and their playing style specifically, and frankly, that stuff has left me frowning. Not so with the Time Machine, which took me completely by surprise!
I’ve been in the market for a delay for almost a couple of years, when I gave away my crappy Boss DD-5 that had such perfect and precise delay that it just felt processed. It was nothing like my former DD-3 that actually sounded pretty good, but I lost that pedal after playing in an orchestra for a musical theatre gig (I didn’t have a board at the time, and only carried a couple of pedals). Needless to say, during that time, I’ve evaluated several delays, but none have really caught my fancy. They were either too dark sounding, as in the case of most analog delays, or they sucked tone, as in the case of many digital delays I’ve tried. My surprise with the Time Machine is that in either mode, modern or vintage, my basic tone was retained! But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.
In my search, I came up with some criteria that had to be fufilled 100% before I’d even consider buying one. Here they are:
- First, I wanted Tap Tempo. I’ve always hated having to bend over to tweak knobs; but moreover, I wanted to be able to match tempos with my drummer on the fly.
- Secondly – and I know this is purely subjective – I wanted a good balance between tweakable settings and ease-of use. In other words, I wanted to have the flexibility to dial in a number of delay settings but not have so many that I’d be spending all my time tweaking knobs.
- Thirdly, I didn’t want to ever have to refer to a reference manual to make sure I was using the pedal correctly. The “don’t make me think” rule had to apply. I should be able to dial in great tones in a matter of a few minutes, if not earlier.
- Finally, and most importantly, the pedal could not suck tone, and had to be reasonably transparent. In most cases, I don’t mind a pedal putting an emphasis on a particular EQ range (like my Kasha overdrive does), but it should never remove a range or “feel” like it narrows the bandwidth of the signal.
There are lots of delay pedals I’ve evaluated that were particularly good in most areas, but none until I played the Time Machine ever fulfilled all four criteria. That’s how great this pedal is!
It’s Mean When It’s Green
I love the shiny, green apple finish of the Time Machine. Of course, the paint job doesn’t make the pedal. But the Time Machine is built like a tank, and is certainly gig-worthy. I imagine that JS had that in mind when providing his design input. The chicken head knobs give the pedal a cool vintage vibe, but not only that make it very easy to see where you’re at with your settings. The stomp switches are nice and smooth, and the pedal engages without producing any noise.
How I Did My Evaluation
I didn’t just test the Time Machine in isolation. I’ve learned that one of the best ways to evaluate pedals is to do A/B tests against other pedals of like kind to make a comparison. So I compared the Time Machine against a Way Huge Aqua Puss and a TC Electronic Nova Repeater at my favorite shop, Gelb Music in Redwood City, CA. My thought was to compare it against an analog and another digital delay. Sorry, but no clips because I was in a shop.
All my tests in the shop were done with a Fender Custom Shop Tele, plugged into the pedals (hooked together so I could quickly make a comparison without swapping), and into an absolutely superb-sounding and -looking Dr. Z Maz 38 with draped in blonde tolex. Mm mm good. 🙂 I chose a midrange wattage amp because I wasn’t interested in creating grind. I’ve never been one to use delay with overdrive – maybe a little. But in this case, I wanted to have an ample amount of clean headroom to work with, and the Maz 38 worked perfectly for that (for the record I REALLY want a Dr. Z Remedy).
Aqua Puss and Nova Repeater
I will most likely have reviews on the Way Huge Aqua Puss and TC Electronic Nova Repeater in the near future, but I’ll give you a quick run-down of the pedals. If you’re looking for a dark, swampy, blues delay. The Aqua Puss delivers that in spades. It has this certain ethereal quality that made me think of drifting on a boat in the middle of the Everglades. I actually really liked the pedal, but I was after something else entirely with my delay search – much more versatility – and the Aqua Puss was a one-trick pony. It does what it does exceptionally well, but don’t ask for much in terms of usability in a variety of styles.
I was very sadly disappointed with the Nova Repeater. It packs a TON of features in its box, but for me, I was a little concerned that were just too many features. But despite that, it was easy to get a usable delay tone almost right away. The folks at TC Group certainly know how to pack in features, but they make them readily accessible, and very easy to understand. I actually had my heart set on getting this pedal after reading many reviews and listening to clips and watching video; and I almost purchased it a couple weeks ago. But I’m glad I compared it head-to-head with the Time Machine.
The Time Machine may not have all the features as the Nova Repeater, but out of the box, it wins hands-down in the tone department. The Nova Repeater sounded bland and dry – processed – when played in an A/B test between it and the Time Machine. And I detected a distinct loss in both highs and lows; in other words, bandwidth narrowing. That was not at all pleasing. That said though, the Repeater is still a great pedal, and apparently there’s an internal pot to calibrate the tone to your rig, so that’s a plus. But frankly, I’m not one to tweak that deeply. I probably would’ve still bought it if I didn’t do the A/B test. The tone is usable and really not as bad as I may have painted it, but it’s not as good as the Time Machine’s tone in my opinion.
If it’s any area where the Time Machine simply shined above the other pedals was how absolutely responsive it was to picking dynamics. Play lightly, and the delay is super-subtle; you almost feel as if it’s not there. Dig in a bit, and the pedal responds. I did a few lead lines to experiment with this, and was totally blown away. I set the Level control so I’d really have to dig in to get the delay effect, but for most runs, picked or legato, what I got was a more ambient effect – almost like reverb. Wow! That kind of pick response is probably what sold me the most.
In addition to dynamics, I just loved how easy it was to dial in various settings. The knobs are very nicely NOT over-sensitive, so moving a knob doesn’t result in dramatic changes in the effect. The net result is that you can get into a general area on the sweep of a particular knob, and make a couple of slight changes to zero in. How many pedals have we played where just turning a knob ever-so-slightly drastically changed the effect? It’s probably why I’ve liked my Boss CE-5 chorus for so long, and even though I’m currently bidding on a CE-2 on EBay, if I don’t win the auction, all won’t be lost because the CE-5 has a nice, consistent sweep on its knobs.
How It Sounds
Like I mentioned, the Time Machine is simply transparent. The Modern mode is truly transparent – at least to my ears – while the Vintage mode darkens the tone ever so slightly and adds some subtle modulation (it’s chorus-like) like you’d expect with an analog delay. But unlike many analog delays that I’ve played, the darkening with the Time Machine does more of a lower-mids EQ emphasis, whereas I’ve felt that analog delays cut highs. The Aqua Puss certainly felt like it was cutting highs, though it definitely compensated for it with some overall great tone. Back to the Time Machine, the net result is that in vintage mode, the tone becomes slightly more rich and lush.
I liked both modes equally well, though I’d probably tend to use the Vintage mode when playing absolutely clean, as it also adds a tiny bit of hair to the signal. It’s almost imperceptible, but it’s there. I loved doing some simple chord comps up on the neck in Vintage mode.
Modern mode, on the other hand, is like the Swiss Army Knife of the Time Machine, making it capable of fitting into any style of playing, from syncopated rhythms ala The Edge, to heavy chunk where you want to have a bit of slap-back.
The Time Machine also has a toggle switch for Lo-Fi and Hi-Fi modes, in addition to the Modern and Vintage modes. Hi-Fi apparently maintains tonal transparency, whereas Lo-Fi includes High- and Lo-cut filters. The difference between the two fidelity modes was subtle at best. I didn’t detect much of a cut in either highs or lows when engaging Lo-Fi; the EQ changes ever so slightly, but the bandwidth didn’t change at all. Again, I feel like it’s more of an EQ emphasis rather than a removal of portions.
I’m glad I took so much time to find a new delay pedal. As you can tell from my review, I love the Time Machine. It fulfilled all my criteria for what I wanted in a delay pedal. To me, it has enough adjustable settings to keep any tweaker happy, but it’s also super-easy to quickly dial in the right amount of effect. But not only that, it just sounds damn good!