A brief history of chorus (plus 6 killer plugin clones)

Chorus effects attempt to do as their name suggests: transform one sound into many. This is achieved by playing copies of the original signal back with slight variations in pitch and delay time. The Hammond organ featured a primitive version of chorusing, and you may already have noticed the similarity to Ken Townsend’s ADT effect employed by the Beatles at Abbey Road.

The technique got another airing in the 70s, when it was used to thicken the sound of string machines such as the Solina String Ensemble.

However, most modern choruses - like so many other effects - can be traced back to Roland. In 1975, Roland released their much-lauded JC-120 Jazz Chorus guitar amplifier which marked the first appearance of the company’s ‘Dimensional Space Chorus’ effect. This fabulous fattener was effectively too good to be contained, and by 1976, it had been distilled into a stompbox: the Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-1. In 1979, Roland trundled out a dedicated rack-mountable unit: the Dimension-D.

The chorus effect became all but compulsory in the 1980s. It was the sound of the New Wave, and MTV-ready rockers slathered it all over their basses and guitars. Chorus circuits found their way into synths, too. Roland’s valiant effort to bring low-cost polyphonic synths to the masses resulted in a number of single-oscillator instruments with a chorus tacked onto the end of the signal path to add the necessary width. Instruments that didn’t have a chorus feature were more often than not plugged into a chorus pedal. It was the 80s, after all!

Needless to say, the originators would soon be joined by a host of imitators. By the end of the 70s, Electro-Harmonix had brought out their Small Clone pedal. It was pretty popular at the time, but these days it’s positively deified, thanks to finding a champion in Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain.

To read the full Vintage Effects feature, pick up the November 2018 edition of Computer Music.

6 killer chorus clones

Sknote DDD

It’s hard to stare into the deep, dark image of Sknote’s dead-on Dimension-D doppelgänger and not wish we had an honest-to-goodness hardware version of DDD to spruce up our racks. The gorgeous GUI one-ups the original, but the sound is nothing short of timbral time travel. Four modes, fat knobs and chunky metres are joined by a switch for toggling between mono and stereo chorusing.

Read more about Sknote DDD

Native Instruments Choral

One of three modulation effects in NI’s Mod Pack, Choral doesn’t look like much, but don’t be fooled - it’s a versatile plugin offering four different chorus modes, including some that recall classic vintage kit. The Synth mode offers Juno-style chorusing with a few extra features, and the Dimension mode recalls the famous Roland rack-mounted units. Others include Ensemble and the modern Universal mode.

Read full Native Instruments Mod Pack review

Mercuriall Chorus WS-1

Russian manufacturers Mercuriall know their way around a pedalboard, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that their WS-1 chorus plugin sounds as good as it does. What is surprising, though, is the price: you can download it for free from their site. Depth, Speed and Mix are all on offer, and you can make a choice between mono and stereo versions.

Download Mercuriall Chorus WS-1 for free

ValhallaDSP Übermod

To single out ÜberMod as a mere chorus is to damn it with faint praise. It is, in fact, a wildly versatile tool capable of chorus effects, modulated bucket-brigade delays, non-linear reverberation and much more besides. Nevertheless, at a mere $50, the stellar chorusing that this boppin’ blue baby has to offer is worth the price all by itself.

Read more about ValhallaDSP Übermod

Togu Audio Line TAL-Chorus-LX

TAL offer plenty of Roland-inspired synths, and this freebie is culled from their TAL-U-NO-LX, a note-for-note copy of the much-loved Roland Juno-60. Offering a smattering of controls that include Volume, Dry/Wet and Stereo Width knobs, it lets you dial in the perfect amount of thick, gooey girth. As with the original, there are two modes from which to choose. Simple and effective.

Download Togu Audio Line TAL-Chorus-LX for free

Acon Digital Multiply

Multiply isn’t meant to model a specific vintage unit, but it’s so good at what it does that we couldn’t really get away with not including it in this list. Besides, there’s an integrated equaliser onboard, so it’s easy enough to craft a suitably crusty sound, should you care to do so. A true ensemble effect, Multiply offers up to six voices, pre-delay and plenty of modulation.

Read more about Acon Digital Multiply

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