Darkglass – Vintage Ultra REVIEW

Earlier this year, Darkglass released a revamped version of its highly popular B7K overdrive pedal. Now, a similarly updated revision of the Vintage Deluxe has arrived. Please meet the Vintage Ultra… 

 

 

darkglass-vintage-ultra-controlsThe Vintage Ultra is laid out exactly like the B7K Ultra, and if you check the specs on the Darkglass website, they seem almost identical from a feature and control perspective. In total there are eight knobs, four 3-way toggle switches, two footswitches and two LEDs to play around with.

On the back you will find input and output jack connectors plus the power supply input. On the left side, there is a DI Out on an XLR connector and on the right side a push knob allows you to activate the GROUND LIFT function.

The four lower knobs make up the EQ part of the pedal: BASS (100 Hz center frequency), LO MIDS, HI MIDS and TREBLE (5 kHz). For each of the mid bands, you also get a toggle switch for choosing between 3 target frequencies. LO MIDS choices: 250 Hz / 500 Hz / 1 kHz, and for the HI MIDS: 750 Hz / 1.5 kHz / 3 kHz. All EQ bands can be boosted or cut by 12 dB.

The top knobs mainly control the overdrive section. First of all, of course, the DRIVE knob that sets the amount of dirt you want to apply, supported by the LEVEL and BLEND knobs. Finally, a MASTER knob lets you set the overall output level, perfect for dialing in unity gain.

The two other toggle switches belong to the drive section. The ATTACK switch deals with the high frequencies of the drive signal. Setting are either FLAT, BOOST or CUT. And the GRUNT switch handles the bass side of your overdrive tone in much the same way.

The two foot switches, BYPASS and DISTORTION, work independently, but logically the BYPASS footswitch takes out both the clean preamp / EQ as well as the drive circuit, whereas the DISTORTION foot switch can add drive to whatever fundamental tone you have created with the EQ side of the pedal.

 

 

white headphone with rhythm symbol

The sound clips include only 3 rounds. But there is a reason for that…

  • Clean Preamp / EQ
  • Drive
  • Vintage Ultra & B7K Ultra Comparison

I used the same basic sound clip for the clean preamp as I did on the B7K Ultra review, and I did in fact go through each and every one of the methodic settings. Only to find when I A/B tested, the conclusion was clear – the preamp section on both pedals is indeed identical. There was no difference to detect whatsoever. In the first round, you can hear the BASS knob at similar settings for both pedals, and from then on, simply jump to the B7K sound clips if you want to hear how each of the knobs/toggle-switches sound on this pedal.

The second round is a little different. The sound example is a solo bass part played with a pick, and might sound more like a guitar part. I am not sure if that is something you’d do very often on bass, but I think it does give you an idea of the fundamental character of the drive, and not least how well it handles a polyphonic context.

The third round is based on the drive test of the B7K Ultra, and I set the Vintage Ultra to the exact same knob settings. But unlike the clean preamp / EQ examples, this time there is a huge difference in tonal character…

 

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.

BUTTON-SOUND-CLIPS

 

 

Fundamentally, the Vintage Ultra is every bit as versatile as the B7K Ultra. As mentioned in connection with the clean preamp sound clips, there is no audible difference here, and it does sound great. The drive section is much more, well, vintage-sounding. It’s more mid-focused and ‘raw’. What you like the best is purely a matter of taste. Are you more into the hi-fiish, scooped tone of the B7K Ultra, or the growlier Vintage Ultra? Well, if you can’t decide, simply get both! 😉

Me? Hm… I really like both of them, but should I choose, I am actually leaning towards this one… Ironically, I preferred the B3K over the original Vintage Microtubes. I think what I missed there was the GRUNT and ATTACK switches, and in a way the B7K Ultra unites the best form both pedals. Still, the character is so unique for both of them that I might just end up with this one AND the B3K to also have that tone in the arsenal…

As with the B7 Ultra, the second foot switch also adds massively to the versatility. Plus, having both a dedicated LEVEL knob for the drive section and a master volume on the output allows you to really control the level between the two sides of the pedal as well as in combination with your other pedals.

In brief, the versatility parameter is close to hitting the roof.

 

 

Since the physical design (apart from the color scheme) is identical to the B7K Ultra, the points made back then are exactly the same, so I have simply decided to quote that section:

“Qualitywise, the Ultra seems to be right up there along with the other Darkglass pedals. No further marks, everything seems to be solid and ready to take a beating on the road for ages. Of course, this pedal is brand new and I haven’t been able to long-term road test it, but based on previous experience with this pedal brand, I have no reason to doubt that there will be no issues with this one in the years to come.

Overall, the design is good. The footprint is similar to the B7K, Vintage Deluxe and Super Symmetry Compressor pedals. Only, the design is ‘landscape’ and it’s a little taller. The I/O design is perfect to my taste as I like the connectors to be separated as much as possible to prevent cable clutter.

if there is one thing to mention, it would be that due to the high count of controls, the toggle switches are not that accessible. If you want to quickly flick one of the switches on the fly, you better be precise. Especially the cut/flat/boost switches for the ATTACK and GRUNT control are hidden in between the dialing knobs. I guess that in most cases you would find the tone you want anyway, and the switches are probably meant as set-and-forget controls, but having said that, I often find different rooms and venues to need different effect and amp settings. I would not be surprised if I would actually want to flick some switches id-song at some point. Maybe I should set aside a bit of practice time for that exact exercise…”

 

 

Today (2016), the Vintage Ultra retails at $389 – just like the B7K Ultra. Since I do prefer the tone of this one just a tiny bit more, I guess that to me, the value for money is also just a hair above in comparison. And of course there is still great value for money here. Great tone rarely comes for free.

 

 

Overall, the Vintage Ultra is a great pedal. The only small issue is the ‘hidden’ toggle switches, but ultimately I would definitely recommend this pedal to anyone on the lookout for a great-sounding and highly versatile overdrive and/or preamp pedal. It is great for both purposes and in combination it is quite a lethal combination.

 

PROS

Sounds great

Extremely versatile

Good value for money

2 foot switches

Built-in DI w/ Ground Lift

 

CONS

Toggle switches crammed in between knobs

 

SCORE

SOUND: 98

VERSATILITY: 96

BUILD QUALITY: 90

DESIGN & USABILITY: 88

VALUE FOR MONEY: 87

TOTAL SCORE: 91.8

 

Find the Best Price
(B7K Ultra – Vintage Ultra available July 2016)

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