The multi-effect unit has had a bad rap over the years and has been much maligned, especially with the advent of the boutique guitar pedal revolution.
However, with units at the top end like the Line 6 Helix series rehabilitating their image, an interest is slowly redeveloping at a more affordable price point. Especially for ‘grab-and-go’ situations, or playing in function bands on small stages, there is certainly a case for small, integrated multi-effects units, particularly when it comes to ease of use.
Here, we’ve selected a few of the best contenders in the rugged, compact multi-effect category to pit them head-to-head and see which one emerges on top. Let’s dive in…
The SoulMate is the largest of the units, and the tones available are appropriately massive to match.
Given that it’s about the size of a Pedaltrain Nano, it might not actually slim down a small rig by very much, but at least it’s built like a tank. There’s an overdrive, distortion, reverb and delay on offer, with a separate boost, stereo outputs and a tuner function.
The delay and reverb are solid, but nothing to write home about when compared with discrete stompboxes. On the other hand, the overdrive is stellar, and although the distortion was a bit tricky to dial in, the two stacked make for a killer lead tone.
4 out of 5
Mooer Red Truck
The Red Truck has all the effects you could want in a simple channel strip, with reverb, delay, modulation, distortion, drive and an inline boost.
Within each effect there are also a lot of options, like subdivisions on the delay, choice of tone between digital, analogue or tape emulation, and usable phaser, tremolo and flanger settings on the mod patch.
The only setting that lacks is the shimmer on the reverb, which is devoid of the smoothness of other octave ’verbs. The overdrive is great for pushing an amp into saturation and has a lot of gain; the distortion is RAT-like with a powerful three-band EQ.
5 out of 5
The smallest and cheapest of the units, the Dapper still has a sturdy construction and solid feel, with an overdrive, distortion and delay with tap tempo all individually footswitchable, as well as a tuner on the front panel.
The distortion has a limited two-band EQ, but there’s some decent heavy clipping saturation on offer. The red flag is with the overdrive where, depending on the guitar used, the tone control is only really usable after three o’clock if you want anything other than quite thumpy, muddy blues tones.
Not the most versatile, but for a straight-up rock or blues player it fits the bill.
3 out of 5
Tech21 Fly Rig5
In terms of looks, the Tech 21 wins hands down. The features are stripped-back with a SansAmp (preamp), Plexi and delay with tap tempo, but no tuner.
The design and form factor are great and it feels slick and intuitive to use. The delay in particular has a really nice tone to it, and the addition of modulation makes it more versatile.
When not running into a DI, the SansAmp section can be temperamental depending on which amp you’re using it with, but the Plexi delivers a startlingly close drive tone to the gain channel of a Marshall we tested it with. Combine that with the boost footswitch and it really rips.
4 out of 5