January 13th, 2023 | John Dines
Need Some Midrange Punch?
Get Ready For the Big Fight!
Origin fans out there will have noticed we now have two contenders for the mid-forward overdrive spot on your board, but can there only be one winner? After a number of inquiries from curious customers, we thought we’d weigh in on the M-EQ Driver vs the Halcyon Green Overdrive. How do you know which one is for you?
Before we get into the differences between the two pedals, let’s take a moment to consider why mid-forward overdrives are so desirable. An electric guitar signal starts with a fair amount of midrange, and we tend to favour amps that “scoop” the tone somewhat. A typical guitar amp will add brightness in the treble, a little low end and take away quite a bit of mids, leaving a somewhat sweetened tone – by a typical guitar amp I mean a black panel Fender. Sure, that’s not what everyone uses, but they’re certainly the amp of choice for players who like to use boost and overdrive for their lead tones.
This type of amp tone is great for filling space in the mix without overpowering the singer with too much midrange. But, when we push the amp into overdrive, or feed it with an already overdriven signal, those extra bass and treble frequencies can be a hindrance. Too much treble will accentuate the “fizzy” extra harmonics that overdrive gives us. Too much bass and the tone can become muddy, especially if we are overdriving the amp itself. Whether the overdrive is coming from the amp or the pedal, keeping the same frequency response as the clean tone will prevent the lead sound from cutting through the mix – instead, it will just fight with all the bass and treble that’s already there. We need mids!
Most great overdrive pedals follow a similar formula: roll off lots of low end, so that we don’t fill our tone with mud or cause our amp to “fart out”, then remove treble after the overdrive stage, so that the fizzy edges of the distorted tone are warmer and less abrasive. They also tend to use diode clipping for the overdrive stage, with the diodes configured in a “soft-clipping” arrangement. Sure, this makes pedals interchangeable to an extent, but we as gear cork-sniffers know that the details matter. So, how have the boffins at Origin Effects tackled the age-old concept of mid-forward overdrive, and how does our approach differ from what’s already out there? I’m glad you asked…
In the Green Corner:
Our Halcyon Green Overdrive is based on, you guessed it, the Ibanez® TS808 Tube Screamer®. Well, “based on” is perhaps a little unfair. It was designed from the ground up to facilitate our Adaptive Circuitry, then voiced to have the same response as the original TS808, with some clever stuff in the diode clipping circuit to really match the tone of the original’s components. Mainly, it’s the Adaptive Circuitry that makes it really interesting.
Remember earlier when I mentioned the bass and treble roll-off that stop our amp getting muddy or fizzy and help us cut through the mix? Well, no pedal embodies that approach more famously than the TS808. It probably springs to mind more readily than any other when you think “mid-forward overdrive”. Its well-known mid hump is just right for solving all our lead tone voicing problems, with one catch. If you’re the kind of player who likes to roll back their guitar volume to clean up – or just someone who lives on the edge of breakup and plays dynamically – you might have this issue with green pedals: Once you’ve turned your guitar down to clean up, you no longer need that mid hump. What you want is your real clean tone, but the TS808 is rolling off all your bass and treble to help the overdrive sound. When cleaned up, this sounds thin and nasal – not like your clean tone at all.
Our Adaptive Circuitry solves this. With your guitar on full, and the Halcyon’s Adaptive Circuity engaged, the tone is almost identical to a real TS808. When you turn your guitar down, however, it’s a different story. The Adaptive Circuitry gradually restores your missing bass and treble frequencies as the pedal cleans up, moving seamlessly between the classic TS808 mid hump and the clean tone you love. To put it another way, dynamic players can now have their cake and eat it. Lovely green cake.
Another part of the TS808 sound is that there’s some clean signal mixed in with the drive tone. When you’re running into a slightly overdriven amp (as the pedal was designed to be used), this clean signal helps the sound stay full and defined, with plenty or articulation from those clean peaks. It never collapses or cancels out with the amp’s tone, like some distortion pedals can. When using a TS808 with a clean amp, as is more common these days, this blend of clean and dirty can sound a little odd. To be honest, it could be the reason you hear a lot of players saying they don’t like this style of pedal. In the Halcyon, we’ve put the clean signal on a knob – turn up to get even more definition than the original, or turn it down to remove that pesky clean signal when using it into a clean amp.
Lastly, the Halcyon’s VOICE switch selects between two mid humps, with the MOD setting shifting the emphasis a little higher up the frequency range. This setting is particularly flattering to humbuckers, which have historically sounded a little woolly when amplified through a TS808. Another problem solved. But that’s enough about the Halcyon, what about our other contender?
In the Blue corner:
If the Halcyon is so great, why bother making the M-EQ Driver? Because it’s just different, that’s why! While the Halcyon aims to recreate and improve all the characteristics of a classic drive pedal, the M-EQ Driver does the opposite. Everything about how the M-EQ Driver creates its mid-forward drive tones is unusual because the starting point was totally different.
The M-EQ Driver recreates the circuit of a 1950s Pultec® Studio EQ, but reimagined as a guitar pedal. These EQs are still sought after today but are quite unlike a typical, modern studio EQ. Their passive circuitry gives the EQ curves a very musical character and their push-pull valve output stages can be pushed into subtle overdrive. It’s this overdrive that we focused on, recreating this push-pull output stage using transistors. This gives the M-EQ Driver a very different clipping style to the Halcyon, much more like vintage amp overdrive and not at all like a typical drive pedal. The way this interacts with the EQ is also very interesting. We also recreated the mid band of a Pultec®, which is what gives the M-EQ Driver its mid-boosting ability.
It’s the interaction between this overdriving output stage and the mid-boosting EQ that gives this pedal its unique character. Because the EQ comes before the drive, pushing more mids into the drive stage creates more drive at the chosen mid frequency – we chose mid frequencies that work particularly well for guitar, rather than keeping all the frequencies offered by the original 1950s units. So, at lower levels of mid boost, the M-EQ Driver makes a very good stand-in for any traditional, mid-forward drive, albeit without the blended-in clean tone that some TS808 users find distracting. Crank the Drive and Mids controls, however, and it makes some rather bonkers, resonant distorted tones that an ordinary overdrive could never dream of!
At the other end of the spectrum, with the Mids control all the way down, the response is a lot flatter than our little green friend. Combined with the very natural drive sound, subtle settings on the M-EQ Driver can do the studio trick of “just making everything sound better and more interesting”, without leaving the tonal footprint on your sound that a TS808 would. With the addition of an Adaptive high cut control that responds to playing dynamics, the M-EQ Driver makes for quite a versatile pedal. Is it a classic drive? Is it a mid boost? Is it an always-on tone-enhancer? Well, it’s all of those things but done in a way that doesn’t sound like other pedals. There’s a reason studio cats still like the Pultec® EQs 70 years on – they’re just cool. That’s how we’d describe the M-EQ Driver.
So, what does all this mean for you, the buyer? If you like classic overdrive pedal tones – arguably the most classic of them all – but you just wish there was a way to improve on some of the shortcomings, then a Halcyon Green Overdrive is likely to float your boat. But if you like to do things differently, you want to get crazy thick drive tones or you’re after a subtle studio finish to your tone, the M-EQ Driver might just give you a sound you wish you’d had before.
I know what we hope you’ll do: hedge your bets and buy one of each, pretending you’ll only keep one. Sorry to disappoint you but, after fifteen nail-biting rounds, it’s a draw!