Over the past few years I've plugged into a crazy number of Klon Centaur clones, or "Klones," as they have come to be known among guitar people. It seems every company that does overdrive has a Klone in its product line, and why not? The riddle of the Centaur's circuitry was de-gooped and decoded long ago, and it appears likely that Klon itself will never manufacture another, so...capitalism, I guess. Anyhow, having spent many hours among the Klones, and having played quite a few original Klon Centaurs as well, the thing I've noticed about the Klones is that many of them really do get it (mostly) right, matching the tone, feel, and functionality of the mighty Centaur with surprising accuracy. Even Electro-Harmonix's unbelievably affordable Soul Food gets so close to a Klon that many players would never be able to tell the difference.
Despite this, one manufacturer that can make a legitimate claim to producing the most authentic Klon Centaur reproduction: J. Rockett Audio Designs. When the reproduction Klon KTR was being built, it was by Rockett. So, naturally, one can make the reasonable assumption that nobody but Klon itself knows the circuit as well as the crew at J.RAD. Having previously released its acclaimed version of the silver Centaur, dubbed the Archer, Rockett has recently released its gold "horsey-man" Centaur variant, the Archer Ikon. I was tasked with evaluating the new Ikon, and was able to compare it directly with TRW's own original golden Klon Centaur, as well as the silver Rockett Archer. The results were impressive, though not altogether surprising.
On Golden Klon
One area where the Archer Ikon really nails it is the buffer. The Centaur is legendary in part because of its superb buffer, and this is where many of the lesser Klones fall short. The Centaur was intended to function primarily as a super transparent clean-ish boost, and most Klon owners do indeed use it this way, with the Gain below 9 o'clock, Treble set roughly neutral, and Output set for optimum tube amp breakup. Obviously, when using the pedal as a boost, the quality of the buffering is crucial. I'm delighted to report that the Ikon's buffer is in every way the equal of the original, with the same defined, sparkling personality that improves the sound of any amp without unduly imposing upon it. It still sounds like your amp, just bigger, bolder, and a little more "alive."
Though many Centaur users never get the Gain knob past 9 o'clock, I have always been enamored by the way this circuit clips when the gain is pushed, and feel this is an underappreciated facet of the pedal's unique disposition. When comparing the Ikon to our own gilded Klon, I found the dirt characteristics of the two to be indistinguishable when set by ear to the same gain levels. For the life of me, I would never be able to tell them apart consistently in a blind test. That's a pretty amazing feat. Compared to Rockett's original silver Archer, the Ikon exhibited a dollop more of the silky, musical compression that makes this circuit special. It also seemed a tad warmer, and perhaps slightly rounder in the low end. The difference (as with many things Klon-ish) is minute, but notable. Individual results may vary.
Lastly, I wanted to check out the Ikon's facility with stacking. The Centaur is an ideal foundation for gain stacking, due to its 18-volt internal operation and generally even-keeled personality, so for the Ikon to cut the mustard it would have to perform similarly well in this application. It definitely did. The Ikon paired up beautifully with everything from mild-mannered overdrives to raspy, foul-tempered fuzz pedals, and behaved in the same way I would expect the Klons I have used to behave. It's as capable a stacking platform as any pedal I have used.
What we like: No-compromise gold Klon tone for less than 200 bucks! Totally nails the Centaur's boosting and buffering qualities, reproduces its distinctive clipping characteristics, and just generates a very convincing feel of overall Klonliness. J. Rockett Audio Designs has cloned every molecular detail of the gold Centaur in a way that no other company has managed to do, cementing its claim as the ultimate Kloner.
Concerns: A replica of this quality will undoubtedly harm the resale value of the Klon Centaur. Take note, pedal investors!