Hands-on review: Boomerang E-155 Chorus*Delay
(Brian Johnston | Posted 2011-10-25)
Combination pedals are hit or miss state of affairs. The larger multi-effects units are good choices for the average and beginner/intermediate guitar player, offering plenty of choice for a reasonable price, but as a person hones his or her skills, the quality of the tone necessitates well-chosen and individual effects units to better suit the taste of the player. It’s difficult enough to create one good effects pedal that will stand the test of time, but to integrate a second effect and still keep up the standards is more challenging. This is true since one aspect has to support, enhance or fuse harmoniously with the other or others.
Some of the better combination pedals I have used involved some facet of overdrive, distortion or fuzz, likely the easiest route to proceed for gear manufacturers since they do share similar characteristics or are derivatives of one another. Boomerang took this idea into its own unique territory by integrating a chorus with a delay in its E-155 Chorus*Delay. Some musicians may question what one has to do with the other, but when you think about it, combining a chorus with a delay is logical. Chorus doubles up the sound to create thickness or depth, and delay likewise adds thickness or depth by repeating a sound. Let’s look a little closer, in brief, at the concepts of chorus and delay to clarify the E-155 Chorus*Delay concept.
Chorus results when individual sounds with similar timbres and ‘nearly’ the same pitch unite and is perceived as one unit. The sound is not ‘out of tune,’ but a sound that has a shimmering quality as though two or more groups of notes are reverberating against one another. In short, chorus technology merely takes an audio signal and mixes it with one or more delayed, pitch-modulated copies of itself. If the sound is in stereo, then the effect varies between the left and right channels by offsetting the delay or phase of the notes. Thus, if a chorus effect involves an element of delay, then, as stated, it seems rational that it can be combined with a delay/echo effect.
Chorus is achieved in varying capacities, as with an orchestra (e.g., violins playing with violas), with singers in a choir, and is part of the charm of paired stringed instruments, including 12-string guitars and mandolins. In modern/rock music a chorus effect is done primarily with a chorus effect/pedal, used among keyboardists and guitarists, but also more regularly with vocalists.
A delay is simpler in nature in that it merely plays back a signal after a certain period, whether 10 ms or several seconds, and then it repeats that signal one or more times. The first delays were based on reel-to-reel magnetic recordings, and this eventually made way for delay processors that used magnetic tape as a recording and playback medium. Early models that helped changed the music industry included the Echosonic (1952), the Echoplex (1959), and the Roland Space Echo. By the 1970s the digital world changed everything for musicians, and by 1984 the first digital ‘delay in a pedal’ was born.
Enter the E-155
Fast forward another 20+ years and we have the Boomerang E-155 Chorus*Delay, a pedal that is designed and sounds different from the usual charms in your local music store showcase. Encased in an angled steel chassis (tilted upward for clearer viewing), with push selector knobs protected by thick rubber pads and a ‘clip/overload’ indicator, this device appears simple at first (perhaps lacking the diversity of some of its competitors for some musicians), but what it offers is magnificent! To clarify, I have used other delay pedals that offer upward of 10 different delays along with modulation, tone control, voicing and pattern customization – whereas the Boomerang offers but three types of delay (clean, tape and reverse). However, as much as I like to experiment with effects, I have always used the same few delays on that other pedal, and never found all the other features that useful. Moreover, that other pedal created too much mushiness in the resultant tone, washing out and muddying the notes. My objective was to find a delay pedal that offered extremely clean and clear echoing without coloring my guitar tone, and the Boomerang E-155 certainly delivers.
The ‘clean’ setting is for that classic digital delay effect and it sounds so smooth and spacey – a soft echo without too much edge. The tape delay has a very nice punch and clear cut tone that is reminiscent of the more expensive vintage analog tape delays, from which only the most discerning ears could tell the difference. The reverse delay is a pleasant surprise, in that other ‘reverse’ delays I have heard were a bit too much garbled or incoherent for my tastes and I never used it, whereas the Boomerang’s reverse delay sounds eerie, natural and, as a result, useful for those backward lead effects.
The delay section of the pedal offers the usual adjustment of Time (when the delay begins), the Repeats (how many echoes you hear, from a simple repeat to long cascades), and Level (how obvious the echo is in the mix). How all three aspects are controlled is the fun part of this pedal, and I’ll get to that a bit later since the Chorus effect uses the same mix methodology.
The Chorus is one of the best sounding I have heard as it enhances the tone without altering or reshaping it. Other chorus effects I have used have a slightly thin and artificial sound – a sound that almost cheapens the original tone. As a result, I rarely used chorus in my song compositions or jamming. I never found a place for it. With the Boomerang’s chorus you can adjust its mix with the delay – the extent of chorus you hear relative to the delay side of the pedal. This means adding some nice natural sounding, yet subtle pizzazz in the mix (and certainly you can crank up the feature to get some wonderfully exaggerated chorus effects that still maintains a natural ambiance).
There are three types of chorus on this pedal, which are the most useful to any guitar player: Classic, Shimmer and Lush. The latter two sound like their names, whereas the classic is a very nice doubling effect that fattens the sound without transient artifacts getting in the mix. You can adjust any of these three in terms of ‘speed’ (rate of modulation sweep), ‘depth’ (from a subtle to deep effect) and, as stated, how much chorus is in the mix with the delay (with ‘classic’ it controls the chorus delay time, whereas with ‘shimmer’ and ‘lush’ it controls the amount of affected signal blended with the dry signal).
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts
Now to the main mixing section of the pedal, designed like a clock, with 11 LED lights in a circle. As you adjust the various knobs (the delay’s time, repeats and level... and the chorus’ speed, depth and mix) you see the LEDs moving from position 1 to 11 in a clockwise fashion, with 1 being an obvious low adjustment and 11 being a maximum adjustment. Another way to think about this is that a knob associated with the delay (Time, for example) is mirrored by the circle of LED lights to the right side of the pedal – the more you turn the knob clockwise, the more the light moves into a clockwise position, and vice versa. This gives a great visual representation of just where, exactly, the tweaking or parameter is.
OK, so far I spoke about how great the echo and chorus effects are and what adjustment parameters are available at your disposal. Next, I want to summarize some of the special features on this pedal that make it extremely diverse and useful, and likely a little unique and a must-have.
Those 11 LED lights also serve as 11 presets, so that when you dial into that perfect echo, perfect chorus, or perfect chorus+echo you can save it accordingly. The pedal does come with 11 factory presets that you then can alter any way you like (and save them or not). The nice thing about this saving feature is that you can save a patch with any measure of effect, but also with NO effect. Then when you recall a preset you can shift from no-effect to an effect. (To cover all bases, there are on/off switches for both chorus and delay.) And so, whether you want a little, a lot or none of either chorus or delay (as well as the type of chorus or delay), you can create presets for rhythm, lead or various songs and recall those presets in seconds. Moreover, the Boomerang E-155 is so well engineered that there is a super smooth morphing that occurs from one preset to another, and even when an effect is turned off there is a very natural tail fade of the delay... it does not cut abruptly.
There is the usual Tap Tempo, which any good delay pedal should have, but what makes this pedal very unique is that it has an output for an expression pedal! Imagine controlling how much echo you have, or how long it lasts, or the depth of the echo. Imagine controlling how much chorus you have, from a subtle shimmer to a Leslie rotary speaker, or how much chorus and delay is in the mix. Imagine morphing from a chorus to a delay in one fell swoop! The only problem is how fast the hours on the clock go by as you tinker around with this feature.
Again, as with any good delay-based pedal, the E-155 offers stereo output for that true Pink Floyd atmosphere, but Boomerang went one step further with its AirMix Output. This allows for a dry signal to come out of one amp and the affected signal to come out another amp (yes, you need two amps for this to work, but what a difference!) – which means the two signals then ‘blend in the air’ to create a more organic and rich sound than what typically is possible with other delay pedals. In essence, this allows you to determine how much space your sound takes up in a room. Fortunately I do have a few amps to try this out and the effect is both unique and ear-catching – and when combined with an expression pedal you can create textures that will captivate your listeners.
Another unique feature - and you can tell Boomerang is projecting its technology into the future -is that it offers a Pedal Link System, so that when you have two or more Boomerang pedals in your chain you can store or recall a preset that will store or recall ALL settings from ALL the pedals. This is like having a multi-effects unit but while integrating higher-end boutique pedal quality!
This pedal may have fewer chorus and delay options when compared to other more diverse single unit pedals, but they are the tried and true versions that guitarists regularly use or return to. No gimmicks or added frills, I can’t imagine using other types of choruses or delays in any case (been there and done that with ‘dazzle them with BS, everything under the Sun’ multi-effects units) and the E-155 offers more than enough and just the right ingredients. The only other potential negative point is that it is twice as large and nearly twice as expensive as other typical pedals (that offer one solution)... then again, there are two pedals in this one unit that take up the same amount of space on your pedal board as individual chorus and delay effects. (And with the added options like the AirMix and Pedal Link, you are getting more for your money than just two pedals!)
On a more positive note, I’ve played around with enough gear over the years to emphatically state that this is one of the best delay pedals I have heard, literally transparent in that it does not seem to affect the original tone. I have used other delays from reputable manufacturers and there is some degree of coloration that exists, with the end result being a more processed sound, mid-humps, etc. – not muddy, per se, but artificial sounding and slightly washed out when compared to the original tone... and this tends to magnify when using a drive, distortion or fuzz pedal. The Boomerang E-155 Chorus*Delay produces a true echo... a super-clear response that does not garble the notes. The Chorus effect has a similar response, it that it sounds very natural and not over-digitized as it meshes extremely well with the delay. Texans are known for doing things big, and Boomerang certainly went all out in its design and engineering.
PLUSES: An incredibly natural sound effects unit that does not over-process your tone; includes power supply; easy to use ‘dial in’ functions with a guitarist-friendly design and manual.
MINUSES: Don’t buy if you’re looking for extremely diverse settings, such as more than three types of echo or odd patterning/shaping effects (I never used them even when I had them, but to each his or her own).
NOTE: Since my review of this pedal, the latest software has allowed three additional features:
1. Another mode for preset selection; tap Recall to advance one preset and recall; tap Select to retreat one preset and recall; one can easily switch between this behavior and the original.
2. A moderate ping-pong effect has been added to the Clean delay; of course it's not noticeable in mono, and so a stereo rig is required; and
3. The range of the Repeats (Feedback) parameter has been increased so that it's possible to get runaway oscillation like the old tape units.
MSRP for the E-155 is $489 USD, with street prices hovering around $400.