EHX Deluxe Memory Boy Delay Pedal Review
Standard Retail Price: $199.99
Typical Used Price: $115 to $175
Controls: On/Bypass footswitch; Tap Tempo footswitch; Blend, Gain, Rate, Depth, Feedback and Delay knobs; Tap Divide and Exp. Mode buttons.
Power: 9-volt adapter (will accept any Boss-style adapter)
Additional Features: Stereo inputs and outputs; input that allows for connection to optional expression pedal
Further Information: The Official EHX Website
The anticipation was killing me: I'd just purchased a used Deluxe Memory Boy (referred to henceforth as the DMM) by Electro-Harmonix (referred to henceforth as EHX). However, the store had to hold it until local law said it had not been reported as missing to the police. I got a great deal on the pedal, and couldn't wait to see what an analog echo unit with a tap tempo feature would do for me.
It turned out to be worthwhile. The DMM's brushed-steel casing was bigger than most compact single effect pedals, but smaller than most digital modeling units or even other analog delays. I'm always impressed when a pedal's construction is sturdy enough to use for defense in a home invasion scenario, but light enough that a toddler with a good arm could chuck it across a room.
I wasn't concerned about the lack of a battery port as I always run my pedals daisy-chained to a power supply anyway, but realize that this could be an issue for some players who prefer the independence conferred by a 9-volt rectangle. Still, I powered up the pedal and dove right in, and was immediately impressed by the DMM's rich, lush sounds. As an experienced user of echo pedals, it didn't take me long at all to figure out what was going on with EHX's latest entry into the market. Soon, I was conjuring everything from U2-esque triplet-accented arpeggios to blurry, My Bloody Valentine-ish swathes of color trailing strummed chords.
Ease of Use
Connecting the DMM was as easy as you'd expect, and as noted, the lack of a battery option didn't phase me in the least. EHX clearly took a lot of things from other successful pedal designs when they dreamed up this analog bundle of joy--in terms of layout, features and build, it reminds me a lot of the Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai they dropped several years ago.
The obvious talking points are as follows:
- The "Blend" knob allows you to decide how much of the processed signal you want in the mix, versus how much dry signal is present. Turn this knob all the way to the left and there's no delayed signal, just your original guitar; turn it all the way right and there is no dry guitar signal, only the echoes.
- The "Gain" knob is a really interesting feature. In a way, it adds volume and bite to the echoed signal. It's related to the function of the "Blend" knob but is different, and takes a little getting used to. I personally found that the sweet spot was right at noon, so that when the DMM is off, the volume of the uneffected signal matches the volume of the effected signal perfectly. But if you want a little boost when you kick the DMM on, turn this knob up past 12 o'clock.
- The "Rate" knob controls the rate at which the echoes will wobble or flutter--it's akin to the rate control on a chorus pedal. Turn it to the left for a slow dynamic sweeping effect that adds a subtle coloration to your sound; turn it to the right to achieve alien-like wiggling sounds not unlike those found on Public Image Ltd.'s "Memories" (from the Metal Box album).
- The "Depth" knob is really more of a sound-sculpting tool. Leaving it at 12 o'clock keeps the echoes pretty straightforward-sounding (as analog delays go). Turning it to the left introduces a chorus-like effect which, when coupled with a slower setting on the Rate knob, generates a tone not unlike that of the Police's Andy Summers. Turning this control to the right adds what I can only describe as a smoother but more extreme chorus sound to the repeats.
- The "Feedback" knob allows you to decide how many echoes you want to follow your original played note. At the lowest setting, you'll only hear one repeat; as you turn it to the right, you add more and more, which can be used as a layering effect. Turning this knob all the way to the right will result in some gnarly self-oscillation.
- The "Delay" knob is essentially the same as the "Time" control found on other echo units. Turn it to lenghten or shorten the time interval between repeats. Note that stepping on the Tap Tempo switch will disable this control until the knob is turned again.
- The "Tap Divide" button allows the user to select a subdivision or rhythmic pattern for their echoes. Use this in conjunction with the Delay knob or Tap Tempo switch to keep your patterns consistent, regardless of how fast or slow you're playing.
- The "Exp. Mode" button lets a player assign a function to the optional expression pedal that can be plugged into the DMM. This allows one to sweep different paramters on the fly while playing for a lot of weird, wild effects!
- Stepping on the "Tap Tempo" button in time with your playing assigns the specified time interval to your echoes.
- Stepping on the "Bypass" switch turns the pedal's effect on or off.
An interesting additional feature is the inclusion of an effects loop that allows you to link up other pedals and use them to color just the delay sound. I haven't played with this feature extensively, but using an octave pedal on just your echoes and not on your straight guitar signal is pretty cool! This is sure to be underutilized by a lot of players who pick up a DMM just looking for a delay effect, but I highly encourage you to give this feature a shot. It's very cool, and easy to use.
As always, when reviewing a pedal, I like to evaluate and consider it in every context in which it will be used. To that end, I'd like to start by discussing how the EHX Deluxe Memory Boy performs when playing without accompaniment.
The DMM's analog sound is big, big big: it adds so much girth to a guitar signal that, if used properly, sounding like 2 or even 3 guitarists is possible. The multitude of features basically begs the user to dig in and explore, and the variety of patterns and textures available lend themselves well to the creation of new guitar parts or even of full songs/instrumental pieces. Run in stereo, the DMM is even more formidable.
In a studio situation, the DMM is an ideal peformer. Its relatively low noise threshold (uncommon in the world of analog delay units) makes it a breeze to record. And because the user can control so much of what the effected signal sounds like, it's possible to get a setup going where there's minimal difference when switching the DMM on and off--always a huge relief for studio engineers.
When performing with a band, which is where my own Deluxe Memory Boy has gotten the most mileage, the pedal is highly valuable. Having big, easy-to-reach knobs and a highly logical control layout makes tweaking sounds on the fly a breeze. And the much-vaunted analog sound, where echoes decay/degrade more and more with each passing repeat means that the effect never gets confused with your guitar's dry signal. This helps both the guitar and the pedal cut through a mix without overpowering other elements.
As it stands, the only real issue I've had with the pedal is the LED that flashes above the Tap Tempo switch. As a longtime user of other delays that incorporate a tap tempo feature, including other EXH echo units, I'm used to seeing the LED flash in time with my taps. Ergo, when I first brought the DMM to a band rehearsal, I was confused because I set the echo subdivisions for a dotted-eighth note (or triplet) feel, and stepped on the Tap Tempo button in time with a song's quarter notes.
However, the LED was flashing out of time with my taps, and I was dancing on the Tap Tempo button all night trying to get my bearings and keep things locked in with the rhythm section. This is not an ideal use of the pedal; although you can adjust your tempo on the fly without bypassing your signal, adjusting the tempo creates a momentary "warping" sound as the analog guts of the DMM do their thing to follow your command. This "warping" can make you sound wildly out of tune for a few seconds at a time. So now, I sounded not only out of time but out of tune as well!
Fortunately, a quick re-reading of the instruction manual saved the day. It turns out the DMM's Tap Tempo LED flashes in time with the echoes, not in time with your taps. D'oh! Oh well. Now that I'm aware, it's not a mistake I've made subsequently and I've just gotten used to this configuration.
It's also worth noting that although the Depth control provides a pretty big change in the flavor of the repeats, this pedal will never, ever sound like a pristine digital delay. If you want something that is more versatile, capable of going from darker analog tones to digital brightness, I would suggest that you investigate the Line 6 Echo Park instead.
(Side note: I have not tried playing with the optional expression pedal, although there are several demonstration videos on websites like YouTube that one can reference to get an idea of what using one will accomplish. Suffice it to say that the DMM can get pretty wild!)
As with any Electro-Harmonix pedal, the DMB has a few quirks--some are likely to annoy a certain percentage of players, but those same "issues" will be seen as "valued character traits" by other guitarists. It really depends which side of the analog/digital divide you happen to sit on.
But if you're looking for a pedal with vintage analog vibe that allows you to retain all the control and daring features that are normally reserved exclusively for modern digital delay pedals, look no further than the DMB. On top of its easy-to-use set of controls and great sounds, you'd have a hard time finding another real analog pedal with this many features that sells for under $200. And if you're willing to do some legwork and research, you'll find that you can score a used Deluxe Memory Boy for much less money than that, making this an even more attractive proposition!
This is both a great acquisition for experimentally-minded analog devotees, as well as a terrific point of entry to the analog world for the curious neophyte. The only way to know if it's right for you is to try one, but if you're already comfortable with the character of analog echo units, don't hesitate--get your hands on the EHX DMB as quickly as you can. This one is a future classic!