LEGENDARY TONES - 2006

Analog Chorus Roundup - Maxon CS-9 Pro Chorus
by David Szabados

I had recently picked up a chorus unit as I was interested in adding some thickened multi-guitar sounds to my rig. It had been years since I had played with chorus units, seeing as I had largely overdone the effect in the ‘80s as many other players did. I thought however that now would be a good time since I have more taste now to be able to use the effect more sparingly.

Going to an online dealer, I quickly scrolled through the selection and picked up a standard digital unit, the brand of which will remain anonymous at this time. As a shopper I should have known better. I normally do my research prior to making any purchase, but I figured a chorus unit just wasn’t like shopping for a guitar, or amp, or even an overdrive box.

After receiving the chorus box and then plugging it in, I immediately realized my mistake in the purchase. The resulting tone was tinny-sounding and artificial. The onboard tone control did little to reduce the highs while retaining warmth. There just wasn’t any warmth to be found. Look, I’m not THAT picky (well, I suppose I can be), but I do expect the sound of a chorus to not have any ice-pick artifacts…

It was a short while later that I was reminded of a simple fact that I had forgotten. Chorus units that are analog always tend to sound more natural and lush than the digital units. According to Jacques Stompboxes, “The reasons why analog chorus, or any analog time based effect, sounds better than digital are numerous, but the main one to me is that the detuned tone produced to be mixed with the original, is not exactly the same as the original.

“Chorus was invented to make believe you are not alone. It mimes two musicians playing the same thing at the same time, thus enriching tone like in a choir. Most digital chorus tends, in this process, to kill punch and dynamics, an even more obvious defect with electric guitar. The model processors are plagued with this same problem, because of the same difficulty for digital encoding to transmit the dynamics of your playing in real time.”

That prompted my interest in checking out various analog chorus units out in the market today to listen to them and hear their own differences. This is not an analog versus digital chorus feature – in that the digital units have already “lost” as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure there are good digital units out there, but analog will be just fine, thank you very much. As a result this is a roundup of just some of the various current production analog-only chorus units.

All of the units featured here use analog Bucket Brigade Device (BBD) chips which are also no longer in production. That means that each manufacturer needs to find sources of these chips as N.O.S. (New Old Stock) on the open chip market and that overall production is limited to the chip availability themselves. If chorus pedals were produced in numbers comparable to televisions or computers, then there would be little doubt that some manufacturer would go back to building the necessary analog chips. However, guitar effects units are a small business when compared to other mass market items where chip makers can make more units and more profit. And besides, only musicians seem to remain interested in living in an analog, rather than digital world. This fact must baffle engineers!

Chorus units are time-delay based effects that provide a range of tones when mixed together with a dry guitar signal. These chorus units presented here offer a range of tones from subtle doubling and pseudo-12 string effects, to pitch bending and dramatic detuned vibrato Leslie effects, to lush sweeping that borders on flanging cycle effects.

Similar to our recent Fuzz Feast article, there is a great deal of variety in tones generated from these units – even though they are all built around the same BBD technology. As a result, this isn’t going to be a comparison article in the sense that A unit is better than B-unit. However, we can provide a general overview of the features and tones so that you the reader can be better informed when making your own chorus purchase.

Maxon CS-9 Pro Chorus SRP $299

As the manufacturer of Ibanez pedals until only a few years ago, Maxon’s CS-9 is an updated version of its own earlier chorus unit, which it also built under the Ibanez name. While the earlier Maxon/Ibanez chorus only featured Rate and Depth controls, the CS-9 Pro Chorus adds a new Blend control, in addition to a Delay Time, stereo outputs and true bypass switching.

Compact and feature-rich, the CS-9, though based on the same analog chip technology, is tuned for a high-fidelity sound and has a bit more upper-frequency emphasis than the other boxes in this roundup. The blend control is very effective if you are looking for a very subtle mix of chorus rather than an exaggerated wash of color and sound.

The Delay Time control can create some quite dramatic detuned vibrato effects when used with the Depth control set high. About half way up on Delay time and you get a nice chorus effect; go beyond that with depth control set high and now those dramatic time-delay detune effects are at your disposal. This is definitely a unique area to explore within the Maxon unit.

For standard chorus sounds however, and for those that may favor and prefer a crystalline and airy chorus sound which is still pleasing to the ears rather than being a digital ice-pick, the Maxon CS-9 Pro is a good pick. For more information about Maxon's CS-9 Stereo Chorus, visit the CS-9 page.
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