|The Electro-Harmonix Flanger Hoax bills itself
as a "flanging phaser modulator." The manual (four small pages on a single
folded sheet of purple paper, setting a new record for the highest ratio of effects
complexity to documentation length) boasts that the Flanger Hoax is "one of the most
powerful modulation instruments ever designed." In some ways this may be true
-- the Flanger Hoax probably has as many controls and signal routing options as any
commercial analog stompbox flanger or phaser ever made. A few years ago, it appeared
that analog delay based effects were headed for extinction, given that Panasonic no longer
produces the necessary bucket-brigade delay (BBD) chips, but the appearance of inexpensive
Chinese-made clones of the MN320X series chips made an innovative new BBD effect like the
Flanger Hoax possible.
The FH can be described as a through-zero
flanger (TZF) with a phase shifter preceding each of the two analog delay lines whose
outputs are combined to produce the TZF effect. Input and output are both mono,
although separate dry, mixed, and effect-only output jacks are provided.
Unfortunately, the layout and labeling of the controls for the two processing chains seems
almost deliberately misleading, giving the impression of two phasers that happen to have
delays connected to them. One point which is unclear is whether the phasers are
actually phase shifters in the usual sense of the word, i.e. allpass filters whose output
is mixed with the dry signal to produce phasing notches, or allpass filters alone.
For example, the Eventide Instant Flanger used a combination of allpass filters and BBDs
to achieve its through-zero and stereo imaging effects. At any rate, the block
diagram in the "manual" makes it clear that the delay lines, which cannot be
bypassed, are the core of the Flanger Hoax.
Note that while there is a Blend (wet / dry)
control, the TZF effect requires that Blend be set to 100% wet signal, which leads to the
FH's one major flaw, described later. The Blend control is probably the only control
on the FH which has no learning curve. Note that there is no way to vary the mix
between the two delay lines, which appears to be fixed at 50/50, but this is really not a
problem, especially given the sometimes overwhelming variety of other options.
going into the processing in more detail, first the "Modulator" (LFO) should be
described. This is a sine wave LFO which has a rate control (1/14 Hz to 220 Hz) and
quadrature outputs, i.e. the basic sine plus versions at 90, 180, and 270 degrees.
The manual, while technically correct in referring to these quadrature outputs in terms
like "90 degree phase shift," may confuse some users who have never heard of
phase shifts in an LFO before. At any rate, these four quadrature LFO outputs can be
used to modulate the two delay lines and one of the two phase shifters.
input signal is fed to the two phasers in parallel, either of which can be bypassed, so
that if desired, only the parallel delay lines are in the signal path, for the classic TZF
effect in which one delay line "passes" the other, so that in effect a negative
time delay is achieved during part of the sweep, with the through-zero point achieved
where the relative delay between the two is zero. The delays appear to be identical,
with each having a delay range of 1 to 11 milliseconds. However, this does not mean
that only an 11:1 sweep range is possible, since the two delays' outputs are combined.
In fact, since the relative delay is zero at the through-zero point, it could be
said that the sweep range (although not the
delay time, of course) is infinite.
both phasers bypassed, setting up a TZF effect using the two delay lines gives a hint of
the boggling range of options to be navigated when using the FH. First, a Delay Mode
can be selected, using the rotary switch. This controls which two out of three of
the four quadrature LFO outputs are fed to the two delays:
Delay 1 Delay 2
"DC" appears above, this means that the corresponding delay line is not
modulated by the LFO, i.e. a fixed delay. In this case, the Delay Amount control for
that delay sets a fixed delay time between 1 and 11 milliseconds. In all other
cases, the Delay Amount control determines the amount (depth) of LFO modulation applied to
that delay, like the Depth or Width control on a normal flanger. So in Mode 1, when
Delay 1 is at its maximum delay time, Delay 2 will be at its minimum, since the LFO
waveforms are 180 degrees out of phase in Mode 1. However, what those minimum and maximum delay times are will
be governed by the Delay Amount control for each delay.
way to get a feel for some of the range of possible flanging sounds might be to set the
Delay Mode to DC (which could have been named Mode 0),
in which no LFO sweeping occurs, and simply grab the two Delay Amount controls
and start twisting one at a time and then both together. This will demonstrate that
there are many combinations of delay times where the TZF effect appears, with various
timbres, and that there are a number of sweet spots and many useless or awkward-sounding
combinations. The sounds quality also varies noticeably; more on this later.
The Invert switch multiplies all these possibilities by a factor of two.
this initial run, the two Delay Amount controls should be set such that they are around a
third of the way up, and the Delay Mode set to Mode 3, where one delay remains unmodulated
while the other sweeps up and down past it, generating TZF. At this point, it
becomes a matter of adjusting the Rate and the two Delay Amount controls to taste.
The other delay modes, in which both delays are swept simultaneously, give still more
options. Mode 1 might be a good next choice, with the Delay Amount controls set
between 1/4 - 1/2 of maximum. But these are only rough starting points, and
literally hours can be spent finding good settings.
On top of
all these varieties of flanging, one or both of the phase shifters can be enabled.
The phaser in front of the first delay line is fixed at the unusual setting of 240
degrees, and has no options other than a bypass switch. It's not a bad idea to
repeat the flanging "test drive" with the Fixed Phaser and Invert switches on
the first delay line in one of their four possible combinations:
Fixed Phaser off,
Fixed Phaser on,
Fixed Phaser off,
Fixed Phaser on,
Finally, the Swept Phaser, which feeds the
second delay line, can be enabled. At this point, the user is either happily
wallowing in a sea of options, or ready to throw the box out the window in frustration.
As the name implies, this phaser is swept by the LFO, at the same rate as the delay
lines, but with an LFO waveform independently selected from any one of the four quadrature
outputs via the Modulator Mode control. A fifth Modulator Mode setting is DC, which
turns the Swept Phaser into a second Fixed Phaser. The Amount control is similar to
the Delay Amount controls on the delay lines. In addition to being able to set the
amount of LFO modulation of the Swept Phaser with the Amount control, there is a
two-position Response control, which gives a choice of linear or logarithmic sweep
The last set of options controls feedback,
a.k.a. regeneration. Feedback can either be bypassed or one of two feedback modes
selected. Note that all feedback is sent to the inputs of both phasers. In the Wet mode, the feedback is
tapped from the final wet output, i.e. the mix of the output of the two delay lines.
In this mode, extreme feedback can give results somewhat similar to that of a
conventional flanger, although given the overall processing, it's not surprising that much
more unusual feedback sounds are possible. In the Swpt (swept) mode, the feedback is
taken from the output of the Swept Phaser, before it is sent to the second delay line.
So in this case, the feedback loop is around the Swept Phaser, but the feedback is
also sent to the input of the Fixed Phaser. This feedback loop is maintained even if
the Swept Phaser is bypassed - the bypass routes the input signal directly to the second
delay, but also still sends the input signal to the phaser, preserves the feedback loop
around it, and as mentioned above, sends the feedback to both phasers. In this configuration the Swept
Phaser exists only as a self-contained feedback loop which feeds the input of the Fixed
Phaser and its delay line, with the intensity of this "double phasing" being
determined by the setting of the Feedback control.
At this point, it may appear that the Flanger
Hoax is some sort of ultimate modulation device. This isn't the case, if only
because TZF effects, and the unique extensions of TZF that the FH offers, are just that,
unique -- there are many classic flangers, from pedals like the A/DA Flanger to the
Electric Mistress, to rack flangers like those from Roland, MXR, Systech, etc., whose
tone, character, and versatility the FH can't and probably wasn't intended to duplicate.
It's a special effects device, not a normal flanger, but it's reasonable to expect
that most users of the Flanger Hoax already have their flanging basics covered with other
Unfortunately, there is also one serious
problem: the FH is very, very noisy. Electro-Harmonix' early delay-based devices
were infamously noisy, and the FH preserves and possibly even advances that tradition,
although it doesn't sound anything like vintage E-H pedals like the Mistresses or the Poly
Flange. When the Blend control is set to full-wet, where most of the interesting TZF
and sound-warpage effects are found, the FH emits a wall of hiss that even an external
noise gate is hard pressed to disguise. Of course, full-wet is the worst case for a
BBD-based device, but the FH is bad even by "BBD standards." Sweeping the
delays, either manually or with the Modulator, shows that the amount of hiss is dependent
on the delay time, and worst at short delays. Oddly enough, other typical "BBD
problems," such as distortion and clock whine, are less obvious than in many analog
delay effects, and the FH generally avoids the pitfalls inherent in a TZF design, such as
sonic garbage due to intermodulation products from two different clock frequencies.
But depending on the source material, the hiss can be anything from just-tolerable to
excruciating, and is a major flaw in an otherwise fascinating box. It's hard to tell
if this was a tradeoff to avoid a dull-sounding, heavily filtered effect, an attempt to
keep the cost down, or something else.
The other set of gripes mainly involve the
control layout and labeling. Of course, there is no easy way to describe the complex
signal routing of the FH at a glance. But the basic Fixed Phaser / Swept Phaser
layout of the right-hand area implies that if one or both phaser sections are bypassed,
the delays are bypassed as well, which is not the case. Likewise, the Invert switch,
located in the Fixed Phaser area of the controls, affects the entire first signal chain,
even if the Fixed Phaser section is bypassed. The Swept Phaser controls are
separated into two sections, well apart from each other and in different colors.
Either there is some inscrutable logic to all this, or perhaps it's just a 21st century
example of the same twisted Electro-Harmonix mindset that led them to inexplicably name a
compressor the Black Finger, or to name their original flanger the Electric Mistress.
But these are minor complaints that fade with repeated use, unlike the annoying hiss.
One last point isn't so much a gripe as a
request for more. It would be nice if the Flanger Hoax had stereo outputs, so that
the user would have the option of "mixed in the air" TZF, as well as other
spatial effects, especially given the quadrature LFO options and asymmetric phaser
configuration. In the current Flanger Hoax design, the best that can be done is to
put the dry signal in one channel and the wet signal in the other, for a pseudo-stereo
effect. Independent outputs from each phaser / delay line could result in unusual
stereo panning and imaging, such as that produced by the Instant Flanger.