The Bloom Box from Beyond
In the realm of guitar, I love sounds that are instantly recognizable with a unique character that can only come from one source. I personally have two favorite characterful guitar reverbs—neither of which manage to mimic real-world spaces, both of which sound otherworldly. Having cut my teeth as a surf guitarist in my formative years, I still have to pick my jaw up off of the floor when I hear the tube-driven splash of a Fender Reverb Unit with the Dwell control cranked. My other favorite guitar reverb that I have mentioned many times before comes from the 16-bit ‘80s—the mighty Midiverb II. Though clunky and outdated on paper by today’s standards, the Midiverb II sports the fabled Bloom algorithms that were painstakingly programed by none other than MXR and Alesis founder Keith Barr. I have been searching for a long time, but no pedal I have tried can quite nail the mystery and expanse of those Bloom patches. . .until now.
The Specular Reverb 2 has been on my hit-list for some time after hearing immersive stereo demos from Mike Hermans, Brett Kingman and others. So, I simply had to get in touch with GFI System designer Henry Widjaja to get a unit to review for myself. During our email exchange, he did confirm that both the late-great Keith Barr and Lexicon’s David Griesinger had an influence on the algorithms, but the SR2 has a sound and design concept all it’s own.
Variations on a Dream-Theme
Starting with the Normal reverb patched into the effects loop of a Victory Kraken, I wanted to see just how much gain it would take before a muddy mess ensued. This sounds crazy, but my criteria for a good verb algorithm is that it sounds big and clear from clean tones to filthy. This is more from the Robin Guthrie School of ambient treatment than say, Neil Young. I am happy to report that the “mother algorithm,” on which all the Atmospheric treatments are based around, sounds more ethereal and expansive than any verb pedal in recent memory, while always leaving the analog dry signal magically defined. I listened in awe as every tiny micro touch of string-speak and picking nuance bloomed out into little fluffy clouds of dissipating beauty. With a medium decay and a squeaky clean tone; I was compelled to play Joey Santiago’s super suave intro riff to The Pixies classic “Ana.” Pure ‘90s daydream bliss gushed out of the speakers.
Tapping both footswitches, I engaged the green LED tier of Atmospheres. This is where the Intensity knob became useful. Starting in the Modulated setting, I set the Blend and Decay fairly high, left the subtle high frequency Dampening at noon and dialed in a bit of modulation with the Intensity knob. If one is after a Kevin Sheilds-style intergalactic teakettle rush of ambient movement, this is it right here. Lilting folds of melancholic modulation twisted even the simplest of riffs into a Martian sunset of sound. Though this is my favorite extra atmosphere, the Shimmer and Echo proved very useful indeed. The former is the best shimmer this side of Eventide (nothing is worse that a badly designed shimmer) and the latter is like a diffused repeater that remains rhythmic without ever obscuring the groove. The Tremble verb is my second favorite atmosphere and holding down the Select switch ramps up the intensity to maximum gradually—this trick works great for hands-free dynamics with the Voices and Infinity settings as well.
What We Like: The Specular Reverb 2 has a vastness and clarity that belies its small footprint. This is due in no small part to a design philosophy that builds upon psychoacoustic principles rather than physical space replication. Strapping on headphones and running in stereo will blow minds. Analog dry signal, pre-set storage and pure, singular Specular sound make this a Top Tone Award candidate if I have ever heard one. Shoegazers and ambient Avant-gardists can stop the search here. This is a small key to a big world.
Concerns: Reading the manual is mandatory with this piece, but operation soon becomes second nature.