Electro-harmonix Stereo Electric Mistress Review
Original author: Ivan Milenkovic
Weapon: Flanger/Chorus Stomp Box
Model: Stereo Electric Mistress
Price: 118 USD (referenced on 2.sep.09. @ eBay)
Welcome to my review of this nice little stomp box. I bought this pedal some time ago and I still use it, so it may be time for me to do a review on it. This should be first in line of reviews of my EHX stomps. Hopefully I will not make such big pauses between the reviews.
This review (as my future reviews will be) is written in perhaps a bit unusual form. I try to really point out the important aspects of the pedal, instead of keeping myself too much on the functions and other stuff that I can find mostly on EHX site in the form of their video reviews. I hope this kind of style will help you to determine how these stomps really behave.
A bit of history
As all people who are into stompboxes are aware, EHX is the brand that was very popular during 70ties with Fuzz, Flange and Delay models that represent point of reference for today's devices. The saying "they don't make them like they used to" is true in this case as with most vintage gear, and those were the glorious days of analog gear. What seems a bit ironic is the fact that these models were considered very "passe" in the 80ties with the abundance of digital FX devices, but now in our super-modern times, analog is something that is highly appreciated once more, so all companies are making big efforts to capture a part of that magic that once existed. EHX is no exception and they have many models today that are trying to emulate the sounds of the devices that once existed, some of them being exact cosmetic and electronic replicas, some being completely new models but with a twist on the old legacy. Stereo Electric Mistress is a device that can fall somewhere around the second category - It's a digital stereo flanger/chorus effect pedal that bears the (mighty) Electric Mistress name. As soon as you hear the word digital, it may seem that EHX people are just trying to cash in on the Electric Mistress legacy with completely new stomp. Is this the case, or are we looking at the pedal that is completely redone in order to accommodate the needs of a modern player? I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle, so this is what I'm going to try to explain in the rest of the text.
Now you may say now: "enough of this mumbo jumbo Ivan, lets see the pedal in action!". In fact, I never intended to really put all the dry specs or reviewing here, I'm just giving my point of view on the pedal. To get yourself familiar with the pedal, I suggest that you check out next video made by EHX featuring Dan Miller, which is a great first-glance review:
Comparison with Electric Mistress Flanger/Filter Matrix
Now that you heard the pedal in action, lets be blunt. This pedal is digital stomp box, which means your signal goes through AD/DA converters. Period. It will never sound like analog, so EHX did made a "mistake" of stamping Electric Mistress name on it. The actual Electric Mistress pedal was analog Flanger pedal that had the filter matrix function as a separate mode, and this is the only thing that these two pedals have in common. Well sort of.. The Stereo Electric Mistress is primarily a flanging device, with filter matrix function incorporated into rate knob which is a good way to save space. And it does have the stereo out.
Chorus and Rate knob
One thing that makes this pedal valuable is the fact that it has chorus effect as well. I want to note here that this pedal is primarily a flanger, so if you turn down the flange knob all the way down, and crank the chorus knob, you will still hear some flanging going on. It's subtle but it is there, and it is messing with the frequency of the chorus. Also the rate knob doesn't affect the flange and chorus effects equally well. Flanger gets more precise control with the rate knob, while chorus gets "undefined" control. This is due to the fact that flanger and chorus rates are not properly matched, so since there is always some flange in the mix, and you want to use only the chorus, frequency clashes will occur in time to time while you control the rate of the chorus, as the flanger will be moving in the background as well.
OK, after all this reading you probably don't want to buy this pedal. I told you the bad news first, and now some good news. This pedal is quite good in terms of price/performance. Flanger and Chorus in stereo for 118$ in a box this size is not an easy thing to find with this quality. Yes, yes the stomp is digital, and it has nothing to do with the lush flanging of the vintage electric mistress, but for a digital effect it is quite warm, and beats all the similar Boss units in terms of (digital) sound quality. Flanger is cool, and chorus is moderately lush and spacious with a good bottom end on most of the sweep degrees. One thing that it is bad is the filter matrix function. Aside that I didn't find the use of it (perhaps there are players who will find it interesting), the sound quality of it is well - simply not enough. On most sweep settings, the filter is sounding very dull and thin, with a metallic character that really reveals the digital short-delayed signal in a most destructive manner imaginable for this pedal. Again, possibly someone will like the metallic sound of a filter sweeped to one fixed position and find the use of it, but if you ask me, it's way better to leave the pedal to do the automatic sweeps since it is doing a great job (only) with that. Before this pedal I had Boss CE5 digital chorus, and if you want to achieve the distorted fusion type of a sound and need chorus, get the Boss, this thing will not work that great with distortion. It's just not that transparent. Although Boss will sound a lot thinner, it goes along with distortion very well. So fusion players stay away from it. Psychedelic rock players will love it however. If you want to muffle the signal with some cool sweeps, this pedal will deliver. I did experience some tone loss when turning on the pedal, and for me the effect takes away a tiny bit of the midrange when it sweeps. It is good for live uses, but with lots of cymbals and perhaps another guitar, stomp can tend to get lost in the mix during hi pass sweeps.
The pedal itself is very nicely done, good metal casted case, nice painting on the front side, good knobs, sturdy switch and the attractive two-color LED that alternates the colors with the rate speed adjustments. Bad side for this pedal is that it doesn't accept batteries, so you have to use the 9V adapter. I used standard Boss one and didn't have any problems at all. One thing that I noticed after this pedal being some time in my pedalboard and part of my live gear, is that input and output outer side jack screw plates are starting to unscrew a bit. It is not a big problem since the whole jack components are firmly in place, but if you leave it for 6 months or so and don't check it out, you risk to loose the plate screws. This is just a minor flaw, and it is common with many EHX pedals.
Here you can check out the PCB of the SEM in all it's digital glory:
Important thing to mention to people not familiar with the brand is that EHX is not a boutique category although they tend to look that way at first glance. It says "Made in NYC, USA" on the front side, but if you carefully examine the inner side of the casing, there it says "Made in China". A bit of an irony from EHX people IMO.. I think most of the (digital) components come from Asian countries as well. However I do not feel that those components are necessarily bad, in fact, some of the best stuff is made there, but you cannot shake the feeling that EHX device labeling is mostly done by their marketing experts, not their tone experts.
If I needed to say one word about this pedal it would be - Interesting. Nothing more, nothing less. The price is very good, and it is a great upgrade from Boss little stomps. If you need compact flanger/chorus pedal then this is the one. However do not be mistaken that you will get a part of a real Electric Mistress sound. This pedal is completely new thing with features that resemble to the old Mistress, but it is best to treat it as completely new digital effect. And since it is a very cool one as well, there is no point in not getting it and trying it out.