Commitment to Organic Mechanics
As pedal makers the world over are submitting to the more and more lifelike sounds and possibilities of the digital world, it is equally interesting to see and hear offerings that try to push analog into tonal realms not yet explored. This new Floppy Disc Delay from our German friends Clouds Hill FX represents a fearless tonal pursuit that utilizes the defunct—yet readily available—floppy disk. Yes, some of us still remember excitedly feeding a hungry home computer these plastic treats in a pre-game ritual that could last an hour—mentally psyching up for The Oregon Trail or the beginning of a King’s Quest. But, while many new pedals play like a video game, this big black and white box dishes out vintage UFO drones and rich Joe Meek-style slapback treats on a big spinning platter.
The Clouds Hill Floppy Disc Delay is such a compelling and original concept that I was prepared to travel by train, tube, and my own two feet to hear it—and I did just that. Basically, a digital drive system tape deck motor running off 12 volts spins the innards of our old floppy little friends round and round like a wheel of tonal fortune. But, to me the thing that makes this huge electro-mechanical beasty so special is the expressive control of this motor. One can vary the speed with expression pedal, motor switch or even CV or gate control. Let’s us start the spin cycle…
The Function and Form of a Spastic Elastic Echo Machine
What do we all love about vintage tape echo units? The rich dynamic repeats, the quirky sonic artifacts of tape degradation, the gentle wilting pitch warble of warped heads and last but not least, the rich sounding preamps on the input stage of these old units. Floppy Disc Delay sports all these attributes and while we don’t have multi-head taps or super long delay times at our disposal, we gain the ability to slow down, speed up, or even stop the motor with real musical inertia.
Even without the expression pedal hooked up, the Motor switch—my favorite switch on the unit—can be used to quickly ramp up into echo or wind down into a sloped skid-stop similar to unplugging a vinyl turntable mid-song or slowing down a tape reel manually. This feature alone is awesome for trippy breaks in a song. Hooking up the expression pedal really opens up the unit, allowing one to control the motor speed in real time from either toe-to-heel or heel-to-toe in the first two modes. The last two modes create errors—either more intense or random—as the expression pedal treadle is tapered. This sounds beautifully menacing in that Portishead kind of way. Apparently the error generation was tuned to Johann’s old broken-in-a-good-way RE-201, so there is some real-deal vintage tape unit DNA in the design of this pedal. Awesome.
What We Like
If you are a tape or analog delay aficionado, this box will be hard to resist. Tonally speaking, the repeats exhibit bucket-brigade resonance crossed with rich tape saturation and a hint of that hovering sunburnt magnetic disc oscillation. Maybe it is a placebo effect because of the knowledge of a spinning magnetic disc inside, but there is a hint of Echorec to my ears—especially at faux-reverb settings with short repeats and high feedback. The build, graphics, pulsing multi-colored eye and rich JFET input section is all top-shelf and the packaging is incredible as well. This is an investment piece for serious echo freaks to coddle and cherish. Also, there were tons of floppy disks manufactured in the world so cartridge replacement shouldn’t be an issue for quite a while.
This bad boy is huge and expensive; knowing of course that this reflects the quality, necessity and build time. Also, I think some of the controls are a little bit redundant. For instance: the Mute switch. If I’m being picky, I think the blend could go a little bit wetter. It might be cool to see a more striped-down, less expensive variant of this incredibly unique unit at some stage. Full marks must be given for seeing this machine to production though. Obviously, no was expense spared.