The Coolest Pedals to Process Synths – Stomp into Soundscapes!

Author: Tomas Morton | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

The world of modern recording is a fascinating, albeit sometimes overwhelming, place. This is largely due to the fact that synth emulations and plug-ins have become so advanced that it’s often hard to distinguish whether a track is using the real deal or an emulation.

In many ways, I believe most music enthusiasts don’t mind this, as long as the synth sound blends well within the track. However, I’ve noticed a significant shortfall in the studios of many electronic musicians and synth enthusiasts – the lack of high-quality hardware effects.

With many plug-ins now featuring artificial effect sections that wouldn’t have existed in the original synth, a lot of producers resort to using mediocre, and at times, horrendous-sounding effects without giving it much thought. As a mix engineer, I’ve encountered numerous sessions where the sound could have been amazing, if not for the thick, muddy layers of poor-quality reverb and delay.

Recently, I’ve started asking artists and other producers to provide me with dry versions of their sounds, along with the version they’ve processed with effects when I’m about to mix their tracks or continue producing. Once I’ve treated these sounds with my collection of analog and digital hardware, they invariably shun the in-the-box effects.

I’ve found that among all the sessions I’ve processed, both with plug-in and analog synths, these five pedals have received the best feedback from my clients. Allow me to share a few tips on how I use them.

5 of The Coolest Pedals to Process Synths – Beyond Electronic Music!

1. OTO BAM

Say hello to the French company OTO, who took the world by storm with their phenomenal 8-bit analog box, the Biscuit. It was such a game-changer that it sold out within an hour, causing a six-month waiting list for the next presale.

Unfortunately, they had to discontinue the Biscuit. I had the chance to chat with one of the designers at a gig in Paris, and he shared that the issue was sourcing the rare 8-bit converters, like the ones in the iconic vintage Fairlight. Trying to remake them with a new old stock chip just didn’t have the same magic.

But don’t worry, the story doesn’t end there! He went on to create a trio of fantastic devices: the Bim, Bam, and Boum. Bim is a 12-bit delay, Boom is a compressor and saturator, and my personal favorite, the Bam box, might just be the best ’80s lo-fi reverb pedal I’ve ever heard.

In fact, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that it might be my favorite reverb of all time, even outdoing legendary Lexicon, Eventide, and AMS rack units.

The Bam is an algorithmic reverb but with a twist. The algorithms are unique and crafted by in-house designers. They’ve even added a few super cool reverb types that blew my mind. These are the primitive and non-linear reverbs.

When you first listen to the Bam, it has a hint of the flavor of the AMS RX16 unit, used by artists like Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, and Pink Floyd.

The really fantastic part about this unit is that you can MIDI it up and use CC sliders to automate the parameters with any sequencer. Plus, it has six super fun knobs that you can tweak in real-time.

I love using this as a performance reverb, where I can change the tuning, size, and tail diffusion, and introduce all kinds of weird and wonderful artifacts into the sound. And the best part? They always sound amazing.

If you’re looking to infuse some vintage or ’80s vibes into your synth or digital emulations, I can’t recommend this pedal enough. Just passing your sound through the primitive algorithm, even with almost no reverb dialed in, will bathe your digital sound in a warm, analog glow.

2. Eventide H90

Eventide has always been a beloved name amongst major studios and platinum record artists. Their classic H3000 units pioneered that groovy 70’s sound that we all can’t get enough of today.

The coolest thing about Eventide? Despite being legendary, it’s still run like a cozy small business. Its team is like a family, with long-term employees who never waver in their commitment to top-notch quality.

For a bit, it felt like they were focusing a bit too much on guitar players when it came to pedals. But then, they began re-issuing updated versions of their iconic rack effects, with the amazing – but rather pricey – H9000 rack being one of them.

Due to the steep price tag, many producers asked if Eventide could bring the best parts of their flagship units into a more accessible format. And because Eventide, like Strymon, is based on digital emulations, it was a breeze to port them from the huge unit to the H90.

So, for just 10% of the price, you get the same awesome sound quality – just with fewer options. It’s such an easy decision! These effects bring a whole new level to synths. One of my least favorite effects that many producers use on synths is chorus and phaser.

The situation improved when Universal Audio started modeling some of the older vintage phasers. But let’s be honest, the stock plug-ins in many DAWs are not the best.

A potentially cool sound can quickly become a cheesy generic sound when these effects are applied. This pedal remains my go-to for modulation effects.

Give it a try with your synths, using a harmonizer with a tight pitch doubling effect instead of a chorus or phaser. It adds that little bit of thickness and pitch shift that really beefs up old synths.

Why did Minimoog and Prophets sound so cool? Often, their oscillators were detuned from each other, giving the sound a sense of movement and width. And guess what? The H90 has that in abundance.

3. Strymon Deco

Strymon, much like Eventide, is a company that really puts heart and soul into crafting quality, innovative designs. Even though their products are digital pedals, they truly have an analog feel to my ears.

I used to rely heavily on their reverbs, and still do, but ever since I got my hands on the OTO Bam, it’s been hard to find a reverb that compares to synths.

So, you can imagine my excitement when Strymon announced their first saturator and tape effect delay. The Strymon Deco is a nod to an effect pioneered by the legendary Jimi Hendrix, which was a slap delay created by two out-of-sync tape machines.

This effect brings a bit of psychedelic grunge to the mix, but it’s absolutely fantastic with synthesizers. And don’t worry, the Deco is packed with controls to fine-tune this effect and really make it work with your sound.

It can add a touch of grit and warmth through its distortion and tape saturation circuit, and it also has a Widener function, which starts off as an auto-doubler and transitions into a vintage-style slap echo.

For any pop synth sounds needing a bit of an analog feel, the Deco is your best friend. Say you’re working on an EDM track and the plucks sound a bit too digital – pass them through the Deco, add a touch of widening, and opt for that delay instead of reverb.

The result is so much cooler.

4. Elektron Analog Heat + FX

There’s always a bit of magic when a synth company decides to craft their own effects pedal. It’s not an everyday occurrence, but when it happens, it’s usually something to write home about. Think of Studio Electronics and Moog with their Moogerfooger line, which was a total hit!

But, let me tell you, no one has packed as much versatility and low-end analog power into a pedal quite like Elektron. Their Analog Heat + FX is a shiny, upgraded version of their initial Analog Heat release.

The Analog Heat was, in essence, a saturator fused with a super cool analog filter.

Elektron earned their stripes with their digital machines, but over the past decade, they’ve been rolling out some seriously impressive analog machines, complete with legit analog filters.

This little box is a compilation of everything they’ve learned and developed, and then some. It’s a game-changer in the synth world.

Especially for those of you who find that plug-in emulations sound a tad thin and digital, and lack the warmth and punch of the real deal. Running your sound card through the Analog Heat compensates for any thinness, delivering an incredibly warm, sometimes gritty, but always powerful sound.

But this pedal isn’t just about analog filter and distortion. It’s essentially a sequencer and synthesizer in its own right. The range of modulation patterns and LFO-based timed rhythmic effects you can add to stale, boring synth sounds is mind-boggling.

I’ve even paired it with my Minimoog when I want to add a splash of modern sound. What was really smart of Elektron was they blended the best of analog and digital into one machine. Despite some grumbles that their compressor and bit reducer were completely digital, it all made sense once you got to grips with the machine.

The distortion is generated by eight fully analog circuits. To keep the sound current and controllable, going digital was a wise move and you don’t lose anything in terms of sound. This box has a sound all its own.

It can sound stunning, like you’re running your synth through a top-tier console, and just pushing the preamp inputs to add a smidge of harmonic color.

The fact that you can also control it as a plug-in using Elektron’s Overbridge is super cool. Imagine having this pedal in your live set as a player – it’s the only pedal I use live.

I’ll pair it with the Eventide H90 and the Analog Heat, but if I’m using Ableton Live and triggering stems, everything runs through the Analog Heat. I even use it as a soundcard of sorts.

Plus, it’s got modulation effects and a really sweet delay and reverb. It’s pretty much everything you need wrapped up in one pedal.

5. Meris Ottobit Jr.

Just a while ago, we were reminiscing about the now-obsolete OTO Biscuit. Not sure if its name pays homage to that device, but Meris introduced their unique take on this design and named it Ottobit Jr.

The key difference between the two is that the Ottobit is a digital effects box with an analog path.

Unlike the Biscuit, there are no bit conversion chips. But that’s precisely why it’s still in production and at an amazingly affordable price, given how costly the used Biscuits are.

And I have to mention, they do sound noticeably different. The Ottobit is designed to be more extreme, less warm and it’s a delightful mix between a guitar pedal and a pedal. That’s what I find so appealing.

The fun part is experimenting with the sequencer and stutter effects. Plus, you can tinker with them in real-time as they each have their dedicated knobs. One of my favorite things is to manipulate the pedals I’m using in real-time while I’m tracking synths.

Whether it’s playing an analog lead on the Minimoog or a pad on the Juno 106, there’s something exciting about having a pedal in the path that I can adjust the knobs of while I’m playing the synth and create some unique variations. This is particularly true for pads.

When it comes to MIDI and plugin emulations of synths that I’m using, I like to route out the synth I’m playing, pass it through the Meris, and add a filter cutoff as well as some sample rate reduction.

Sample rate reduction is a fantastic tool for tweaking synths. Fans of analog synths will tell you a lot of what distinguishes a mundane-sounding modern synth from a vibey cool-sounding vintage Synth is the analog signal path built into the outputs themselves.

Often, they had very limited sound specs, which unintentionally made them a bit more lo-fi. Nobody really thought much of it back then; it was considered hi-fi.

But as digital machines have become cleaner and cleaner, many synth enthusiasts have found themselves missing the grit of the old machines. That’s exactly where these amazing pedals come in handy and why they’re so sought after.

Unlike guitarists who add distortions and conspicuous effects to their sound, synth guys generally prefer to enrich the signal. In my view, that means adding a hint of warmth to soften the high-end with some harmonics and more presence in the low and mid bump.

The Meris is one of those pedals that does this beautifully.

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About Tomas Morton

Tomas is a record producer, engineer, and synthesizer enthusiast based in Pasadena, CA. He received training at Berklee College of Music in Boston and the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA. When not in his studio, he can often be found scouring garage sales or Craigslist ads for vintage gear treasures.

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