The Electro-Harmonix Small Stone has a sound so desirable that hardware-happy engineers use this humble pedal effect at the mix stage in preference to fancier rack-based processors.
German software developer ArtsAcoustic decided to develop its own plug-in emulation of this classic, dubbing it BigRock. It goes beyond the original design by adding plenty of extras, turning it into a kind of big brother - hence the crafty name.
The original design's continuously adjustable LFO rate and two 'colour' (resonance) options remain, and when you load up the plug-in, these are the only controls you'll see, besides the bypass switch.
In this form it operates as a mono effect, and aside from the LFO's red LED and footswitch LED, this is how the original MkII pedal looks.
Select the Advanced tab and a bunch of extra features are revealed. Importantly, the plug-in now operates in stereo. The colour option becomes a continuous control (0-100%) and this control extends beyond the original high resonance setting (which you'll find at 88.5%). Because the original setting also influenced the filter structure, this control morphs between those two designs.
Next up are three controls that affect LFO behaviour: Amount, Centre and Offset. Amount selects a modulation range for the LFO (0-3 octaves), Centre adjusts the modulation centre frequency (40Hz-4kHz), and Offset adjusts the left/right phase offset of the LFO (up to 180 degrees either way).
In Advanced mode, you can sync to host tempo, with the Rate knob setting note divisions rather than frequency. You can also apply an offset to the LFO cycle using the Phase control. Things are rounded off with high and low-pass filters and a dry/wet mix control.
BigRock's sound is instantly likeable, and in basic mode, the Jean Michel Jarre pad preset delivers loads of thick, resonant swirl. As expected, though, it's the advanced features that take this to another level.
A small tweak of the Offset control and you find yourself surrounded by a smooth stereo swirling effect - push it too far, though, and the out-of-phaseness can be disorientating!
Factor in the low and high-pass filters and centre frequency setting, and tailoring slow, evolving tempo-synced pad effects is very easy. We were surprised by how powerful the colour option could be at its maximum setting, and also with the variety of flavours that it achieves in other positions.
Also rather useful is the LFO Phase Offset knob, as you can position it so that the sweep starts where you want it to within its cycle.
So, any frustrations? A couple: first, we noted that a new instance of the plug-in always launches in basic mode. More limiting is the fact that you're stuck with just one LFO with a fixed shape.
Even so, if you're interested in BigRock, your primary concern will be with whether it delivers that classic rich tone, and this it certainly does.
Now listen to our audio demo to hear:
1. String Machine - Jarre style string machine sound. First as is, then with the mono Jarre style preset. Adjust colour and LFO speed. Then advanced settings - add offset, tweak colour, adjust amount and centre, adjust hi and low pass filters. Finally adjust mix control to dry and back to wet.
2. Electric Piano - First in bypass then a spin through some of the presets.
Captures essence of the original. Brings modern flexibility. Excellent for adding swirling stereo width. Useful starter presets.
LFO is rudimentary. Always loads in basic mode.
Even Jean Michel Jarre couldn't fail to be impressed by the glorious whooshing of this little gem of a plug-in.
A software emulation of the classic Electro-Harmonix Small Stone phaser pedal