May 5th, 2023 | John Dines
We recently launched our DCX BOOST and DCX BASS pedals and we’re thrilled to see how well they have been received. It’s great to see so many guitarists and bassists trying them out in all sorts or different rigs, so we’re here to talk about signal chain order and how to get the most out of a DCX.
The DCX pedals are inspired by a legendary studio preamp – the UA 610. In a traditional studio environment, the preamp always comes first. This is simply because the preamp’s job is to take the signal from your mic or instrument and amplify it so that it is able to work with the other gear in the chain, such as compressors, EQs tape machines etc. Of course, we know that preamps are more than mere amplifiers of signals. All the great preamps that we get excited about today add something more than just level. Character, harmonics, overdrive – these are all the things we expect from a great preamp, and the things that we wanted to recreate in the DCX pedals.
The fact that we have recreated the 610 circuit in pedal form means you’re not constrained to a certain signal chain order like you would be in a real studio situation. On the one hand, this is great because it gives you the freedom to experiment. On the other hand, if there are no “wrong answers” about where to place the DCX in your signal chain, how do you know which placement is best for your needs?
The DCX can obviously work well as the first thing in your chain, just like a real studio preamp, but so does another of our studio-inspired pedals, the Cali76 Compressor. So, if you’re putting together a studio-style signal chain that includes both pedals, which way round should you put them?
DCX First in the Chain:
As mentioned earlier, the DCX can make a great first-in-the-chain pedal. It can shape the sound of your instrument and add some character that will give every pedal downstream of it something better to work with. In this position, it can also do a really good job of evening out the differences between different instruments. For example, someone who uses a Les Paul most of the time can boost the level and girth of a Strat so that their other pedal settings don’t need to change.
When using the DCX before a compressor, lower gain, more subtle settings will be most effective. Bear in mind that adding a lot of gain and distortion early on in the signal chain will increase noise, which then gets amplified and exaggerated by subsequent pedals – especially compressors.
For this reason, using EQ mode with cleaner or mildly overdriven tones will get the best results. Also, keeping the output level close to unity gain will keep the gain staging of your pedal chain more manageable. Avoid adding excessive output level this early in the chain as it could push a subsequent compressor too far into compression, or clip the input of later pedals, leading to feedback issues or distortion that are hard to track down.
For players looking for a touch-responsive low-gain drive, running the DCX first will be very effective. The DCX is able to react to playing dynamics and volume knob changes, moving between clean and overdriven tones in a very natural way, especially with the help of its Adaptive Circuitry. The Cali76 then takes this range of tones and makes sure they are delivered at a consistent level to pedals further down the chain, meaning your dynamic edge-of-breakup tones are always prominent in the mix.
The following clip shows a low-gain drive tone on the DCX BOOST, varying the drive using the guitar volume knob. The signal chain is DCX BOOST, Cali76, RevivalDRIVE Compact, Cab Sim.
Another thing to consider when running the DCX ahead of the Cali76 is EQ. Because a compressor takes big signal levels and reduces them, it will do the same thing to boosted frequencies. For example, boosting bass frequencies using the DCX’s L.F. control will appear to the compressor simply as an increase in volume, resulting in more compression. Because the compressor compresses the entire frequency range, it will – to some extent – even these EQ changes back out, making big EQ boosts less apparent and somewhat dependent on volume.
For this reason, it is better to stick to small EQ changes when running the DCX before the Cali76, or mainly using the EQ controls to cut frequencies that you don’t want to reach you compressor or other pedals further down the chain. A good way to think about it is: when using the DCX first, make small EQ changes that improving and tweak the character of the instrument, rather than big changes that alter the sound drastically.
In the following example, we hear the DCX BOOST cutting being used to tighten up the low end of a Les Paul and add a little presence in the top end, using an L.F. cut and a slight H.F. boost. The signal chain is DCX BOOST, Cali76, RevivalDRIVE Compact, Cab Sim. The DCX is engaged half way through.
Let’s hear something similar on bass. This time, we’re using the DCX BASS’s H.F. control to tame the high end from an active bass, before running into the Cali76. You can hear the DCX engaged half way through. The signal chain is DCX BASS, Cali76, audio interface.
DCX After Compression:
Running the Cali76 first is a good idea if you plan on boosting frequencies significantly with the DCX. You’ll have nice, consistent tone which you can then change the frequency content of dramatically. This is a great approach when getting “direct-to-console” bass tones. The Cali76 gives us our punchy dynamics and even volume, while a clean setting in the DCX BASS’s EQ mode allows us to dial in the big L.F. boost we need for a direct tone. Remember, we don’t have the resonance of a bass cab to rely on for our low end content. Another benefit of running the Cali76 first is that a compressed signal will never push the DCX too far into overdrive. We can keep the DCX right at the point of clipping so that it adds that elusive, analogue character without any sudden distortion.
The following clip features a direct bass tone, running the Cali76 into the DCX BASS, straight into an audio interface. The DCX BASS is engaged half way through, providing some significant EQ and just a touch of console-style drive.
Using the DCX to boost an amp or another overdrive pedal will also require the Cali76 to be placed first in the chain. The reason is simple: if we want to throw a load of extra level into our amp, we can’t have a compressor in between, evening that level back out. In this instance, we want our compression first, then our DCX taking that compressed signal and pushing more of it into whatever follows.
In this case, we’re using the DCX BOOST to boost the input of a RevivalDRIVE Compact, which is acting as our “amp sound”. The signal chain is Cali76, DCX BOOST, RevivalDRIVE Compact, Cab Sim.
Another reason to run the Cali76 first is if you are using the DCX for more overdriven tones. Even a really good compressor will, by its very nature, exaggerate any background noise from pedals placed before it, so running an overdriven DCX after the Cali76 will keep noise to a minimum, make it easier to avoid gain-staging problems and give the DCX a more consistent tone to work with. This will give us a constant, thick drive tone with plenty of sustain.
The next clip combines moderate compression with the DCX BOOST’s OD Mode. The signal chain is Cali76, DCX BOOST, RevivalDRIVE Compact, Cab Sim.
Some players may also want to use the DCX after overdrives, as a solo boost. This can be done with a little care and attention to gain staging. Because the DCX pedals are designed to break up, using them in this way will require them to be set as clean as possible. Start with the OUTPUT control at maximum and the DRIVE at minimum, which will give you unity gain. You’ll also want to ensure that pedals upstream of the DCX are outputting around unity gain, so that they do not feed excessive level into the input of the DCX. This will allow you to achieve maximum levels of clean boost by increasing the DRIVE control whilst also taking advantage of the DCX’s tone-shaping abilities.
But the tone-enhancing, mojo-infusing properties of the DCX pedals are best enjoyed near the beginning of the signal chain, adding plenty of the character to the signal in a way that the rest of your pedals can benefit from. And the best way to do that in your rig? Well, hopefully that’s now a little clearer.