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Review – 3 Leaf Audio Octabvre, Wonderlove and Doom Pedals

review-3-leaf-audio-octabvre-wonderlove-and-doom-pedals

3 Leaf Audio Octabvre, Wonderlove and Doom Pedal Reviews

Back in the late 70’s and 80’s, synth/keyboard bass was in its heyday, appearing on all kinds of records, supplanting the organic electric bass tone we fell in love with in the 60’s and 70’s. While synth bass’s day in the sun didn’t last for too long, there has been an undeniable resurgence of electric bass players trying to cop the synth tones that bubbled up during that era. Nowadays, if you want your electric bass to sound like a synthesizer, you have a couple of options: You can go with a “one stop shop” multi-effect or synth pedal, (for example, the popular Boss Bass Synth, MarkBass Super synth, or the coveted Akai Deep Impact) which contain all of the sonic components that comprise synth bass tone, namely: octave, envelope filter and distortion. Alternatively, you can get those tones from individual pedals in a certain order.   In the last few years, I’ve been dialing in my synth bass sound with the latter method, handpicking different effects geared toward my ideal synth tone. I much prefer the ‘modular’ approach, as it lets me tweak the individual sonic puzzle pieces, AND also lets me use any of those pieces by itself, which I end up doing a lot more than using the full blown synth sounds.

In my quest to find the ultimate octave and envelope effects, I inevitably became hip to 3 Leaf Audio, makers of exquisitely designed and built effect pedals. First thing first: the build quality and componentry is superb. The enclosures are heavy duty and solid feeling, switches and knobs all feel smooth and sturdy, and even the paint jobs and graphics show a keen eye for detail and design. Spencer Doren opened 3 Leaf Audio in 2008, borne of a lack of satisfaction with offerings at the time. It started with mods and tweaks of existing pedals and soon he started designing and producing his own pedals.   He currently offers a range of pedals that, when used in combination, provide lusciously deep and syrupy synth tone. Let’s go through the pedals one by one.

First up is the 3 Leaf Audio Octbavre MKII Octave pedal.

review-3-leaf-octabvre-wonderlove-and-doom-pedals

The Octabvre is based on the tonal blueprint of older Boss OC-2 octave pedals, which are widely regarded as the high water mark for processed sub-octave synth bass goodness for electric bass. Not the fastest or most transparent unit out there, users usually agree that there’s some weird magic in those pedals that just sounds great, and transforms your bass into a straight up booty machine. If you’re wondering about the name, the pedal gets its name from bassist extraordinaire Tim Lefebvre (David Bowie, Krantz Carlock, Lefebvre, Tedeschi Trucks Band); one of the true pioneers in the modern movement of electric bass players seeking righteously synthy bass tones. One thing that sets the Octabvre apart from other octavers is that it features 2 different settings that are switchable via footswitches. On the left side you have a super-fast tracking, warm sub octave that allows you to tailor both the mix level of dry/wet as well as control the overall output level. Kick in the right side, and you get vintage ‘sub-octave only’ OC-2 heaven:   big, dirty, synthy grit with loads of bottom and a tone knob that allows for some adjustment of high and mid frequency presence. With the tone set at its lower range, it is very reminiscent of my MIJ Boss OC2, and just the way I like it!   Sidebar: I always had a love/hate relationship with my vintage OC2. I loved its tone when engaged, but It didn’t track as fast as I wanted it to, it was pretty finicky about input levels, and despite having a great sub-octave tone, in bypass mode I found it to be a real tone sucker. I found I had to keep the OC2 on a true bypass loop in order to not deal with subpar tone when the unit was bypassed. The Octabvre Mk II also features the “Tim Tuning” switch, which, according to Spencer is more true to the OC2 tone. I found the Tim Tuning to be a little deeper and purer sounding, and have less gritty mids than the switches other position. I ended up using Octabvre in “Tim mode” all the time. Spencer also notes that the new Octabvre Mini (a more affordable version with less features) offers only one voicing, and it’s a modified version of the Tim Tuning setting.   When I asked Spencer about the ideas behind this pedal, he told me that he used to go see Lefebvre when he played in NYC at the 55 bar with Wayne Krantz (lucky dog!). Spencer says: “I’ve been a fan of Tim’s playing for years. I used to see him play at the 55 Bar in New York back when I lived there. My playing style is somewhat similar to his and I figured he would dig my creations, so I got in touch with him and sent him a few stomp boxes. We got along immediately and a few months later I started working on the design for the Octabvre. The idea for that pedal came about because I would always see Tim bend down in the middle of a song to turn off the dry knob on his OC-2, and I figured a 2nd footswitch that cut the dry signal would let him use the octaver effect more effectively.” Thus the Octabvre was born!

Next up is the 3 Leaf Audio Wonderlove Envelope Filter.

review-3-leaf-octabvre-wonderlove-and-doom-pedals-2It’s pretty hard to imagine that so much control and versatility can be housed in a stomp box sized enclosure, but the Wonderlove manages to offer a level of control over its effect that is pretty much unparalleled in the current market. Back in the day, there was the coveted Lovetone Meatball, which offered a similar amount of control over parameters, but is was big and clunky, and these days, fetches astronomical prices on the used market.   The Wonderlove does everything a good envelope filter should do, and a few other cool things. It allows you to control the input sensitivity, the attack and release speed, and the resonance level, and it offers things like: a dry/wet blend knob, a footswitchable expression pedal (to mimic a manual wah-wah pedal), a global tone knob for sonic seasoning to taste, and (most ‘hip-ly’), a selectable buffer circuit with an fx loop.   Why is this hip? Well, say you want to run an octave and fuzz before your envelope, because that’s the tone you like, BUT… doing that causes all kinds of weirdness for how the envelope filter “sees” the input (they tend to like clean consistent signals to work properly), this loop allows you to run your effects in this hypothetically preferred method, while hitting the envelope filter with your clean signal, so the envelope functions consistently and smoothly, no matter if the octave or fuzz are engaged. Overall, I was super impressed with the Wonderlove, mainly because it allowed me to tailor EXACTLY the kind of filter effect I was going for. Most filter pedals opt for simplicity, whereas the Wonderlove goes for maximum tweakability. While this may be off-putting for some, for those willing to put the work in, they are rewarded with a very finely tuned envelope filter sound that has exceptional tone and responsiveness and can be adjusted towards a number of tonal options. After a little learning curve, I was able to dial in bootsy funk, lyrical vowel-like soloing tones, and all kinds of bubbly weirdness. I seriously can’t imagine wanting for another filter pedal after being spoiled by the Wonderlove!

And finally, the 3 Leaf Audio DOOM Fuzz.

review-3-leaf-octabvre-wonderlove-and-doom-pedals-3I’m gonna be the first to admit that I’m not a huge fuzz aficionado. I like a nice dirty fuzz tone, but typically opt for cleaner tones, generally speaking. Whether that makes me a particularly bad or good person to review a fuzz pedal will have to be up to you. Let me make a case for the latter.   I don’t like a lot of fuzz pedals, as they can kill dynamics and low end punch, sound un-natural and have too much of a baked in distortion level. The Doom Pedal really surprised me with its uniqueness and dynamic range. At its lower settings, it has a very reactive dynamic presence, which I like. I was able to “play the effect” by varying how much I dug in with my right hand, and it offered a very responsive experience, which appealed to me immediately. As you crank up the gain levels and open up the tone, the DOOM served up everything from creamy, to snarly to downright synthy glitch. At certain settings it sounds brassy and processed in a very synth friendly manner.  The DOOM really excels in combination with the Wonderlove and the Octabvre.   Using the three in conjunction with each other was straight up addictive, and dished out Moog-worthy synth tones, that would make any keyboard bass fan smile. The grittiness of the DOOM really brings out the tone of the other pedals, and I found myself wanting to play Boogie On Reggae Woman over, and over and over. It’s just a flat out enjoyable pedal combo, which makes perfect sense, given the family tree.

As mentioned above, all three of the 3 Leaf pedals have exceptionally high quality feeling build quality, are housed in heavy duty enclosures with great paint and graphics, and clearly employ top shelf jacks and switches. There isn’t anything to nitpick about with any of these pedals, that wouldn’t be filed under “subjective”, and I can say with confidence that Spencer knocked these 3 pedals out of the park. Whether you’re looking for just the right octave pedal, envelope filter, or dynamic fuzz effect, or a full blown bass synth channel, you seriously owe it to yourself to check out the 3 Leaf product line.   The Octabvre MkII sells direct for $259, The Wonderlove for $299, and the DOOM for $219.   For more information, visit 3 Leaf on the web at www.3leafaudio.com

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