Legendary Tones, 2004

MAXON AD-9 VS. IBANEZ AD-9 SHOOTOUT by David Szabados

Number 9…Number 9…Number 9…
AD-9 Analog Delay Reissues from Ibanez and Maxon go Head to Head!

Maxon AD-9 SRP: $400.00, Street: $300.00
Ibanez AD-9 SRP: $233.32, Street: $139.99

This past January, Ibanez unveiled its plans to reissue its AD-9 analog delay while at the NAMM show. Maxon also released its AD-9 last year. The AD-9 was always one of my personal favorite delays. It’s darker, lower-fidelity repeats always sounded more musical and natural than what my digital delays produced. I still have and use a digital delay for some applications, but the character of a good analog delay is thoroughly enjoyable and difficult to capture from anything other than a genuine analog delay.

They’re also super easy to use. I like my Boss DD-6 digital delay unit and all that it does, but the simplicity and “just play damnit!” feel of the AD-9 is really desirable at many times. The AD-9 has basic controls for Delay Time, Feedback, and Delay Level. Two outputs allow stereo operation for very cool doubling-guitar effects or echo-room bounce back effects as one output is dry only, the other effect only. The AD-9 is powered by a single 9v battery or 9v DC standard regulated power source (recommended).

Interest and prices on used vintage analog delays continues to grow. Clean examples of original AD-9s commonly sell for $200 on the used market as do Boss DM-2 and DM-3 units which also remain popular.

Maxon released its AD-9 as part of its nine-series in January 2003 and was also the OEM manufacturer for the original Ibanez-branded AD-9. The new Ibanez AD-9 is now manufactured by Ibanez along with its TS-9 Tube Screamer, which Ibanez begun production on when contract agreements ended over two years ago between Maxon and Ibanez.

So that begs the question, “Which is the more accurate AD-9 to the original? The Ibanez reissue or the Maxon?” The answer it turns out isn’t clear-cut.

Both reissue units incorporate improvements over the original in some areas. Beginning with the Ibanez reissue AD-9, it sports a new design compander circuit for lower-noise over the original unit. Other than that, it is wired up in the same fashion and cosmetically looks identical to the original Maxon-built unit. One significant change however in the Ibanez is its use of new-production BBD and clock IC chips made in China by Shanghai Belling. Will this affect the overall tone and signal quality? We were certainly curious to hear for ourselves.

The Maxon AD-9 also is cosmetically the same as its Ibanez counterpart. Inside, is a different story. The board components are laid out a bit differently (and are quite neatly done in fact) to accommodate Maxon’s own version of the compander circuitry in addition changes made due to the use of a true-bypass switching system. The potentiometers are mounted on a separate PC-board with a series of wires then neatly being tied into the main board. The Maxon AD-9 – at least in this form – will be limited in production because it uses the original Panasonic MN3205 BBD and MN3101 Clock Driver IC’s that are no longer being produced (these were the same chips as used in the vintage Boss, Ibanez, Maxon, and EH designs from the late 70’s on). According to Maxon, the company also initially looked into using the Shanghais Belling chips, but decided they were not suitable enough in quality for their requirements for the AD-9 design.

Plugging into the Maxon AD-9 first, we ran through a range of short slap delays with the delay volume set high like those you’d hear in rockabilly or surf-type sounds and were pleased with the response. The fact that the repeat is slightly darker and a bit more compressed compared to the original signal helps warm up the sound. Plugging the Ibanez AD-9 reissue in, the compression was similar, but the tone reaction was a little bit more “grainy” – like the signal itself was slightly more decayed or broken up even from the initial echo repeat than when compared with the Maxon’s.

Long delays with extended repeats were next. The Maxon running first at its maximum 300 ms delay setting with high repeats gave me great Floyd-esque tones. As the repeats on most analog delays continue when using high delay times, the signal degrades by changing a bit in tone shift as well as distortion/breakup. The Maxon was no exception to this, and reacted exactly as my older original delays do. The move to degradation and tone shifting was smooth and gradual – and again to me highlights what is most cool about analog delays. It’s a real echo pattern and any real echo sound would degrade over regular repeats and this provides a very natural effect.

The Ibanez reacted differently. Its degradation was more immediate when setting up longer delay times and was more dramatic. Indeed, playing high register notes on the guitar with long delays of 300 ms quickly turned the note into a sound that was dominant as an old-fashioned computer “blip” or “bleep” tone.

Some old analog delay “tricks” involved opening up the units to extend the delay times or repeat levels beyond where they were originally set with the adjustable potentiometers. I’ve done this myself and gotten workable delay times beyond 500 ms. Also, delays that are pre-set from the factory without infinite-repeat/feedback capability can be dialed in for this effect. Discussing these tricks with Maxon, they advise against playing with the internal potentiometers of any units because the potentiometers also work to align the circuitry itself and not simply extend the delay times or adjust the repeats.

That said, I carefully noted the original positions of the delays and went about adjusting the delay times and repeats anyhow. The basic conclusion I discovered is that the Maxon can be adjusted for additional delay before severe degradation and the Ibanez really can’t. Clock noise and thumping sounds set in almost immediately with the Ibanez AD-9 in addition to severe degradation on even the very first delay repeats.

One area that I was able to adjust for without noticeable problems with the Ibanez is to set it for infinite-repeat “self oscillation” by turning the appropriate potentiometer control (I needed to have the unit plugged in while I was playing with it to know which potentiometer controlled which particular function). Stock from the factory, the Ibanez AD-9 is set to decay after a given number of repeats – even with the feedback control set to maximum. The Maxon is already setup for self-oscillation. Those not familiar with that effect need only set their delays for maximum repeat and delay time, play a chord or note, then slowly move the delay time back toward a shorter delay as the sound is still cycling. The pitch of the signal will rise upward until the transition to delay oscillation feedback is generated. Then play with the delay time some more for other interesting spaceship and ray gun-like effects.

The AD-9 review wouldn’t be complete without us getting our hands on an original and we did so. One thing noted with the vintage Ibanez we obtained is that its internal trim pots had been tweaked already. According to Maxon, the proper alignment of a delay for optimal tone must be done on special equipment. Presuming this is the case, this may be a concern for those shopping for vintage units as signal quality may vary if prying hands get into the units.

That said, we reset our vintage AD-9 by ear for the same maximum delay time and infinite repeat setting as the Maxon’s in stock form. The Maxon AD-9 and vintage Ibanez AD-9 units indeed sounded and felt virtually identically even with our “non-precision” style alignment of the original unit. And even though the Maxon has the compander circuit while the original AD-9 does not, I was impressed at the relative quiet operation of the original. It had background hiss at higher delays that was essentially so minimal, I considered not even mentioning it. Noise simply wasn’t an issue with any of these three units. That said, the Maxon is the quietest.

The Ibanez AD-9 reissue has the basic analog character down – especially at shorter delay settings, but its repeats and decay tones are noticeably different at higher delay time settings. For those looking to recreate and obtain the original analog delay tones they grew up hearing, with the added benefits of true bypass and compander circuitry, the Maxon AD-9, though higher in price, gets the job done right. Those with less concern over analog delay tone accuracy compared with the originals, or may be wanting more short-delay slapback tones, and/or are simply in need of a more affordable unit could do well with the Ibanez AD-9 reissue. Its street price of $139.99 is quite compelling for this made-in-Japan unit.

However, most analog guys are very particular about their tones, so whether or not the Ibanez AD-9 passes the grade with them remains to be seen. Or perhaps its added lower-fidelity signal may mark new demand for it with its own particular sound – different from the original, but may become something desirable still? We’ll need to wait and see perhaps what the future holds.

And if your analog-delay needs must go further still into added refinement or just additional custom options, both Analogman Mike Piera (www.analogman.com) and Robert Keeley Electronics (www.robertkeeley.com) offer additional modification services to these units. Check out their sites and work respectively as it may be of interest.

Now for our pick: For its recognition and choice of using premium N.O.S. Panasonic chips that clearly demonstrated better signal quality and best tone, with no annoying clock-noise, a clean circuit design layout, and finally because of it adding additional features that were stemmed by listening to and fulfilling the demands of its customers, Maxon is our winner with its AD-9 in our AD-9 “Head-to-Head” battle. It’s the real deal in performance and tone staying true to the original, while adding refinements for today’s players. For those concerned about the money of the unit – just think: sometimes it’s best to pay a little bit of extra money and just buy it right the first time and be happy.

Look for a feature soon where we look at a couple of long-delay units again based on analog technology. Stay tuned and enjoy!
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