It’s interesting how times change and how trends shift with them. Back in the early ’80s, digital was “in” – whether it was a delay pedal, or rackmount system, digital was new, sophisticated and very hot. Also in the ’80s the cost of digital effects had finally moved down to the point where they were becoming affordable to the mass market of musicians. this point, analog technology and especially analog delay units themselves were “out”. While many pedal makers such as Boss still manufactured their analog delay units, these were relegated as being the bottom of the line and were priced accordingly. Afterall, who’d really want analog delay when you can get more delay time with crystal clear fidelity from a new digital unit?
Now as we sit comfortably within the digital age in the year 2002, there is a new-found resurgence and interest in all things analog. Analog, with its imperfections, coloring, and resulting warmth just seems more human and more natural. These days, the word digital invokes the thoughts of being “stiff”, “sterile sounding”, or just fill in the blank with your favorite similar adjectives and nouns.
We’ve already debated and discussed the merits of different types of delays previously and my personal opinion is that each type of delay still has a merit and a place. That being said, for basic delay applications for guitar, my personal favorite sounds are those that come out of analog units. The two best-known makers of analog delays in the past were Boss and Ibanez, with Boss’ DM-2 and DM-3 units commanding premiums in the $200 range currently on Ebay and Ibanez’ AD80 and AD9 units doing pretty much the same.
Maxon’s AD80 is part of its reissue-series of effects and are based on the same circuit implemented in the earlier well-known Ibanez units – in fact Maxon was (and still is) the manufacturer for Ibanez effects. So here we go with the details.
Like the Maxon OD808 Overdrive reviewed earlier, the AD80 Analog Delay has simple features with controls for Delay Time (adjustable from 10-300 milliseconds), Repeat (number of echoes) and Blend (level balance of delay signal). The unit houses one 9-volt battery accessible by removing four screws on the base of the unit, which is approximately the same size as a typical MXR effect pedal. An AC adapter jack is provided as well as individual quarter inch input and output jacks. The AD80 uses a standard SPDT footswitch that operates quietly. One input and two outputs are included so one can run the unit in stereo, with one signal completely dry and the other delay-only.
These days, the question always seems to emerge, “Does X product have ‘True Bypass’?” The answer with the AD80: no it does not and here’s why I think you shouldn’t care. In my opinion, where true bypass has an impact is with effects such as a wah pedal. The inductor and components within a wah make it so you can noticeably tell the difference in tone when you turn the wah off. Highs are cut and the level is slightly reduced. Now 99.9% of the other pedals made and available out in the market have such excellent buffering, that you’re NOT going to hear any difference anyway. So while True Bypass can be considered desirable, and is certainly helpful in marketing, it can be expensive and difficult to implement in pedals with JFET switching such as the Maxon AD80. Try hooking up the AD80 in a chain and listen to it bypassed and then hook up a true bypass pedal in the same chain while removing the Maxon and again listen to the bypassed signal. I’d place a bet that you wouldn’t hear any difference. Again, the reason I ramble on about this is that I think honestly the whole true bypass deal has been way overhyped. I still get e-mails from people asking me if I’ll modify their Boss boxes for true bypass and I give everyone the same story. Yes, cool to have, definitely not such a big deal in most cases if you don’t. Did Hendrix, Page, Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan or countless others care that they didn’t have true bypass? I seriously doubt it. O.k. back to the review….
The manual that accompanies the AD80 is the same as the OD808 and is particularly useful because it includes not only basic operational directions, but sample settings also for obtaining different types of sounds. A warranty card is included and the AD80 and the unit is backed by a limited 3-year warranty on all non-moving parts such as transistors, while potentiometers and jacks are covered by a 1-year warranty.
Again, like the previously reviewed OD808, the AD80 is constructed in a strong die-cast housing and Maxon decided to NOT cut all costs and mount the footswitch and jacks directly to the PCB, but wire them like the original units. This is definitely appreciated. I would not expect to see or have any problems with the AD80 in terms of unit failure as it is very well built with quality components. Wave soldering on the board looks great as well. Nice work.
I think one of the primary reasons why digital delays just aren’t considered “more desirable” compared to analog delay units these days is that the majority of delay sounds that guitarists like to use can already be obtained with simple analog units. From lead or rhythm doubling sounds, to ’50s rockabilly quick slap backs, to longer delays with extended repeats that are put “in the background”, the AD80 is perfectly capable of doing it all. Again, digital has its place, but analog can now hang out as an equal (or to some a superior), rather than having the inferiority complex it had in the ’80s.
My personal and most often used delay effect is one where the delay time is set to around 250 milliseconds, with four or five repeats set at a very soft level. This fills up my sound with nice ambience.
Listening to the AD80 in this mode of use, you can hear the shifting in tone as the repeats are processed – the decay progressively loses fidelity and the highs in the tone of the delay are ‘clipped’ away from the signal. This unintentional sonic characteristic – deemed undesirable in the ’80s because the repeats weren’t identical – is actually what makes Analog Delay units like the AD80 perhaps the most realistic of all types available. Consider a real echo environment in a cavern and you’ve got the idea!
Since the highs are rolled off and the mids become emphasized as a result, a warmer characteristic can be achieved. I turned up the Blend (level) control up higher and listened even more closely to the delays when setting the unit to maximum delay at 300 ms. At this setting, I was amazed at the quietness of the unit – there was no noise or “breathing” effects going on with the signal. This is indicative of a quality analog bucket brigade chip inside and careful overall design. I’ve got to tell you, this is analog delay at its best. As a previous owner of an Ibanez AD-9 and Boss DM-2 units, the Ibanez AD-9 was my clear favorite out of those two and the Maxon AD80 holds its own with my old Ibanez. In one respect, a potential shopper can feel secure that they’re getting a brand-new unit with warranty and support and therefore some peace of mind.
One thing I definitely enjoy with the AD80 is its incorporation of a stereo output. If you’ve never run a pair of amps with stereo echo effects, you’re in for a treat. Having a dry signal come from one amp and a wet delay “echo only” sound going through the other just adds even more to the realism of the effect itself. Very enjoyable.
If you’re on the market for a warm, natural delay sound, and are especially selective about your tone, noise issues (or lack thereof!), then the Maxon AD80 is worthy of consideration. However, if you’re looking for a delay with programmable features and bells and whistles, this is definitely not the delay for you. If I had a “dream delay”, it would be an analog one where I could set it up for one, two, or three of my favorite settings and switch between them. Products such as the Line6 DL4 provide something similar through digital modeling and it does an admirable job I’ll admit. However, the Maxon AD80 is really for the tone connoisseurs and purists that want a true warm analog delay effect, brand new and built to high standards, with sonic superiority, all in a small, rugged package. To satisfy all these characteristics in the analog delay realm, the Maxon AD80 really stands alone. If echo tone and realism is what you seek, look no further than the Maxon AD80. Though it may be considered pricey to some since the trade-off is sound quality over just having features, I’ll personally go for the sound quality option over just having more features any day.