The Pedal: TC Electronics Flashback X4
The Point: Multi-Mode Delay and Looper
The Cost: $249.95
By now you’ve had a chance to see Andy demoing the new TC Electronics Flashback X4. It’s a great demo that highlights the many versatile delay modes and the looper that the X4 has to offer. I thought I would take a closer look at a couple of the new modes that are exclusive to the X4, and talk about the versatile looper that is a part of this package as well.
I’ve been a fan of TC Electronics delays in the past, owning the original Flashback, the Repeater and the modified iB Nova model. All of them have something unique to offer, but the one thing they have in common is that they sound great and are simple to use.
This new X4 model continues in this vein, and goes a step beyond. It gives you more delay settings (12) and has four slots for downloading new Toneprint settings from the TCE website (versus 1 with the original Flashback). It also has an enhanced 60-second looper that allows all of the delay modes to be used while the looper is engaged. The previous Flashback did not allow this dual feature. Also unique to the X4 is a dedicated tap tempo switch, three preset positions to save your favorite settings, and an expression pedal input and midi control.
New delay models that are sure to please
The first thing I did after hooking up the X4 was give the new delays a try. Tube, Space, Analog w/Modulation, and the 2290 w/Modulation settings are unique to the X4. And while not new technically, the Analog mode sounded different - I liked it better as it just seemed more believable as an analog delay than the original Flashback. I didn’t have both to compare, and maybe it’s a case of wishful thinking, but whatever it is, the analog modes rule hard.
Let’s look at some of these new settings. The Tube setting emulates an old Dynachord Tube Echo, and while it was pretty good, it wasn’t terribly exciting. It wasn’t as dark as the analog setting, and it didn’t have quite the signal degradation as I might have expected. But I’ve never owned an original Dynachord, so perhaps it is fairly accurate. The biggest compliment of this mode is that it doesn’t sound digital, so I would say mission accomplished.
The Space setting was terrific and is almost worth the price of admission for this pedal. It is my favorite setting on this pedal. It’s their take on the Roland Space Echo, and it adds some nice reverb and modulation to the signal. I could even see TCE building a mini pedal with just this setting, perhaps with an added control for the modulation and reverb. With this setting, the notes seem to float in space, in a very pleasing manner. The soundstage seemed to widen, and notes had a nice lush feel to them. The added modulation is just right, and while I normally like to be able to tweak my modulation, I didn’t feel I needed to in this setting.
The Analog w/Modulation mode was fantastic too. Again, the chorus-like modulation was very good. I almost wish the speed of the modulation could have been a bit faster, ala the EHX Deluxe Memory Man (in vibrato mode), but it’s still really good as is. Additionally, both analog modes work really well with some added distortion or fuzz. After playing in this mode for a while, you might start wondering if there’s even a need to have that extra analog delay on your board. The only thing missing is the bucket brigade chip’s white noise. Not.
The 2290 setting, as most people who are familiar with TC Electronics delays know, is an extremely accurate, digital copy of your delayed signal. Each repeat sounds like the original, with little to no signal degradation. So the 2290 w/Modulation is an interesting setting, because the repeats are still very clean and accurate, but the added chorus modulation gives it more feeling, making it seem less sterile. I liked it a lot, and actually prefer it to the regular 2290 mode. The added modulation is clearly present, but never overwhelming.
The original Flashback had a 40-second looper built into it, but it was very basic. You would choose the looper setting, step on the footswitch to start a loop, step on it again to stop the loop. Problem was, you couldn’t use the delays at the same time. The X4 solves this dilemma with a small switch that lets you choose between delay or looper mode. When you choose looper, the delays still work, but the foot switches (for presets in delay mode) now function only for the looper. Footswitch A starts a loop, B pauses it, C is for playing the loop only once, and the Undo/Tap switch is used to erase the loop. And you can add layers of loops, and erase the most recent one, each time. One thing to realize is that in loop mode, whatever delay you have chosen will be heard while making a loop. The only way to negate this is to turn the delay volume all the way down. This isn’t a big deal really, but might make it a little more challenging to use in a live context. But when you realize that full feature loopers like a Boss RC-30 are about $300 new, the X4 seems like a bargain for what you get.
Overall, I thought the X4 was a pretty good pedal. It packs a lot in a large box (small, it ain’t). You get twelve different delays, some which are really, really good, as well as the option to add four more delays via the Toneprint option (at no added cost), plus a pretty good looper in one package. While it doesn’t have a ton of extra features beyond what is fairly standard, it is well thought out and simple to use. I thought the construction felt good, but in full disclosure I did have one significant problem with the X4.
After a while, I noticed the A footswitch (which controls either the first delay preset, or to start a loop) started to stick a little bit. I thought perhaps I wasn’t tapping it squarely enough, but it then happened more often. And finally it stopped working altogether. The switches on the X4 look the same as the other Toneprint models, but they are different, and are considered a soft touch design. While some might see this as a concern, I’ve personally owned seven other TCE pedals fairly recently, and have never had an issue with any of them, so this surprised me. I’ll chalk this up to bad luck this time.