“Upgrade everything. It’s like lifting a blanket off your amp.” The marketing pitch is bold. Let’s put the Sonic Stomp to the test and hear if it delivers as promised…
BBE’s Sonic Stomp belongs to a category of processors that have a mixed reputation and various names such as enhancers, exciters, vitalizers, maximizers, etc. Some swear by them for almost any type of signal and others write them off as being nothing but snake oil and empty promises.
In essence, we’re dealing with psychoacoustic processing, involving time-based phase manipulation. I will not delve into the technical side too much, but rather listen and then decide whether or not this pedal deserves a spot on the almighty pedal board…
The user interface is extremely simple – just two knobs an LED and a footswitch. The right knob is named PROCESS and it simply allows you to apply more or less of the ‘magic touch’ – the sonic maximization if you will.
The left knob is named LO CONTOUR and simply shapes the low frequencies in your signal, which is working like a counter-adjusting option. The PROCESS knob works harder in the upper mid and treble area as you turn it and to avoid too much ‘clankiness’, you can use the LO CONTOUR to dial in some low-end.
First, I’d like to touch briefly on the topic of ‘loudness’. Our ears and brain are designed by nature to favor ‘louder’. In other words, since the Sonic Stomp does not have a level knob to adjust the output, unless you keep both knobs all the way down the overall output volume will increase – and thereby your brain will be fooled to believe that it now sounds better. Yet it may just be the fact that it is a bit louder that makes you perceive it as the better tone over the dry signal.
Therefore, I decided to adjust the level of the sound clips so you can judge the effect of the Sonic Stomp with as little ‘loudness skewing’ as possible by setting the drum track to a fixed level and then adjust each take of the bass in order to hit between 0.8 and 0.4 dBFS on the master output bus. Please note that there is some variation in perceived loudness across the clips as some of the more extreme settings boost either very high or low content so much that it drags the overall signal down as a consequence.
NOTE! Please use headphones or ‘real’ speakers. You simply can’t judge low-end material on laptop, tablet or phone speakers…!
NOTE! If you are on a mobile device, please turn it to landscape mode to see the knob settings of the pedal for each audio clip.
For a pedal with so few controls, the Sonic Maximizer pedal is remarkably versatile, and I think you can find an amazing amount of useful tones just noodling around with these two knobs. Surely, extreme settings get the tone out of control, but I actually found that a surprisingly large part of the knob range is within the usable territory.
Also, a little goes a long way, so I do think the pedal is quite versatile in the sense that you can use it with equal success for very subtle tone shaping to rather extreme experimental tones. Yes, it’s a one-trick-pony, but it can do that trick in a hundred different ways. And you can use it in several different ways, too. For instance, you could find a subtle setting and use it as an always-on pedal, or you can dial in an aggressive and scooped sound as part of your in-your-face slap tone that is only punched in during certain parts or solos.
Given the physical size, which is fairly big, it’s pretty light. A quick look inside also reveals that whatever it is that it does from a technical point of view, it doesn’t require a lot of materials… But that doesn’t mean the quality is rubbish. I have used my Sonic Stomp for almost a decade without having any issues at any point, so I have no reason to question the build quality.
As for the design, I’d say the single biggest flaw is that it doesn’t have a dedicated knob to control the output level. You could argue that as long as the signal does not run hot and start to distort internally, there should be no issue – and yes, you can of course counter-adjust the level on the amp. But I do like being able to set the level that goes out of any pedal that alters the volume during the internal processing.
At this point (2015) you can get a Sonic Stomp at around $80-100, which is more than reasonable. No doubt, I find the value for money very high on this pedal.
I really dig this pedal, and considering the price point I’d recommend it in a heartbeat to anyone looking for a versatile tone-shaping tool that reaches beyond the standard EQ on the amp. But at the end of the day, does the Sonic Stomp really ‘upgrade everything’ and is it able to ‘remove a blanket off your amp’? Tough one… I definitely think it can add some magic under the right circumstances, and in some cases that does in fact mean adding a ‘larger than life’ quality to the tone, but it also does scoop your sound by nature. Some scooping cam be good, but you can also overdo it and end up drowning in the mix.
Either way, if you do decide to get one, give it a few night sof rehearsals with a band and find out how far you can push it without losing definition. Then, after a couple of songs – or at least at the end of the session – try to punch it out. You may just find that there is something missing that you really liked…
Can breathe life into dull tones
Easy to use
Very high value for money
No output volume control