Straight from the Source – Interview with Source Audio

  • By Fletcher Stewart @tonereport
  • September 03, 2014

Welcome to the future everyone. There are some effect pedal companies that dare to be different and push the boundaries of expression, sound design and functionality. There are very few however, that manage to cram comprehensive rack system tweak-ability, sound quality and processing power into pedalboard-friendly enclosures – and there is only one that allows you to manipulate the sound parameter of your choice with a wireless ring. Enter the limitless soundscape of Source Audio. Today, we will pick the brains of Chief Scientist and Sound Designer Bob Chidlaw and his partner/forward-thinking, barrier-busting Hardware Engineer Jesse Remignanti…

FS: Bob, you are no stranger to the world of sound design and it is documented that you are a collector of vintage effects, tube amps and guitars. As you are creating in the digital realm, do you cross-reference the behavior of classic devices; build from the ground up, or a little bit of both?

BC: It depends on just what we’re trying to do.  For our OFD (Overdrive – Fuzz – Distortion) pedals, there was a lot of listening done to various analog boxes, along with looking at schematics.  But it’s not just a matter of doing a digital version of an analog circuit, replacing each transistor with a digital model.  That’s still too expensive – although if all the digital models were perfect, you wouldn’t need ears to develop the product, you would just copy the schematic.  That takes way more computational power than we can afford currently.  Instead, we have to do endless listening to try to get the right sound from a digital circuit that only vaguely resembles the analog one.
Our Orbital Modulator pedal was not as constrained in matching existing pedals.  After getting the expected flangers and phasers going, there was a lot of room for experimentation in getting new sounds, that still seemed to fit in an effects product with the more commonplace sounds.  Some of these involve multiple independent taps in the digital delay line, which gets expensive to do in analog.  There is a tremolo applied to the final wet signal, which can do things like periodically interchange the positions of the peaks and notches in a flanger frequency response.

FS: Guitarists can be a shockingly conservative lot when it comes to trying new things – particularly if they are digital. Having once been an analog loyalist, I can personally attest to the amazingly chewy, organic sounds of the Orbital Modulator and it has kicked two or three old favorites off my own pedalboard. It might be helpful for someone with your legacy and experience to help disarm the digital skeptic by explaining how MOJO isn’t confined to the analog realm.

BC:  “If it sounds good, it is good.”  (I’m not sure if anyone knows who first said that.)  We’re careful to minimize all the digital artifacts with good design work;  note that I’m not going to claim any sort of perfection, but only that any issues are really hard to hear, considering the intrinsic noise levels of guitars and amps.  Amusingly enough, when I was at Kurzweil, we did a flanger effect that could add noise to the signal, to sound like an authentic noisy analog flanger.  Haven’t done that at Source Audio, we are usually rather short on controls to waste one for something like that.
So how does one get MOJO into a product?  All I can suggest is that careful attention to getting every little detail right is a large part of it.  It takes a long time; I’ve been fortunate in that in my career, I have been given enough time, and not been pressured into just throwing something together quickly.