Review – DSM Noisemaker Drive Maker Pedal
It may be hard to imagine Chile as a nexus of effect pedal innovation, but Chile’s DSM Noisemaker has quickly made a name for themselves with the success of their cabinet simulator pedal, the Omni Cab Sim Deluxe (OCSD).
On the heels of BMM’s review of the OCSD, I thought I’d take a moment to review DSM’s other super cool and unique offering, the Drive Maker. In the fashion of their Omni Cab Sim, the Drive Maker packs a ton of features into a very well designed and superbly constructed pedal. The Drive Maker dishes out a wide set of features, not immediately apparent when looking at its small footprint and compact controls. Full disclosure: I’m not exactly a guru of drive. I typically opt for the various colors of clean and transparent in my tone, but I know a drive/fuzz is good when I can’t stop playing with it, which is the case with the DSM. I easily dialed up a wide array of awesome sounds, from searing lead fuzz to rumbly deep grit, and even some funky, non-linear breakup that was reminiscent of a dirty ring modulator. Muy bueno. It didn’t take long to realize that DSM is forging a path with this pedal, and not copying or replicating other popular designs. According to the manual, “the core of the Drive Maker engine is the “NAFTA” engine (“Not Another Friggin TubeScreamer Again”)”, which gives one a pretty clear sense of where DSM stands in regards to bringing something unique to a crowded market. Daniel Schwartz Muñoz (DSM) says: “The drive maker was born after years of research for the perfect distortion. There´s no perfect distortion! as every tone has its time and place on music. It had to be the most versatile analog drive available, and have its own thing going on at the same time. It was a painstaking design”.
One would be hard pressed to imagine getting more features into a pedal of this size. The front panel is jam packed with switches and knobs, and although this can make it a little tough to read at times, you really have to hand it to the designers for managing to cram so many cool features into a pedal roughly the size of a bar of soap. Not only does the Noise Maker deliver overdrive and distortion tones, EQ, a noise gate, and a selectable mid boost, it also contains a ¼” fx loop that allows you to plug other pedals into the Noise Maker, so that when you kick on the boost channel for extra gain, you can add with it some additional effects of your liking. This makes for a pretty nifty solo/lead channel where the sound of several pedals can be accessed with one stomp. Inside the chassis, you can select via dip switches whether the fx loop is on all the time, or only when the boost channel is engaged, further adding to the Drive Makers high degree of flexibility and customized control.
Looking at the top row of knobs, the Drive Maker has just the kind of controls I would want on a drive pedal. The sensible Voice knob functions as a global EQ, going from a bass boost at minimum, all the way to a treble boost at maximum. At noon, it is fairly balanced, EQ-wise. The Gain knob offers a somewhat clean boost all the way up to a full-on saturated drive as you approach the upper limits. The addition of the Gate knob is really cool, in my opinion. It works great for higher saturation tones, and really helps to tame the beast, so to speak. I liked adding in just a little of the gate at lower settings as well for a slightly smoother sound. The Bass and Treble knobs (+/- 10dB) are of course super helpful for dialing in a balanced bass tone to suit an individual’s preferences. Finally, an overall Level control serves as a master volume, for optimal control over gain staging. Moving to the switches, The DM has three main distortion modes; a lower gain creamier OD that offered a variety of soft clipping overdrive sounds. I was able to cop some Motown-y vibes in this mode, and at higher gain settings, a full-on distortion. The higher gain Dist mode serves up considerably hotter, more saturated sounds. Be careful switching from one to the other, as there’s a sizable volume jump. The Broken mode is the most mysterious and unique mode. I think the best description is DSM’s own, from the manual: “Very asymmetric, weird drive. At mid gain, it is very bluesy and full of harmonics. At high gain, with powerful pickups, it “chokes” and sounds fuzzy and weird. Very unique”. It sounded similar to my ears to the Dist mode, but with more artifact and odd breakup characteristics that were a little unpredictable, but lots of fun to get weird with. In addition, the Drive maker offers three different Octave modes; Low, Normal, and High. The High octave brings in a ton of upper harmonic content and in is the most interactive with the higher gain drive modes. It definitely was the most fun as a soloing/lead tone and had a dynamic response that was very expressive. In the Normal position there is no octave effect, and Low adding a little less of the upper octave sound with a slightly different midrange characteristic. The Mid switch (phew!) offers a 700hz scoop, an 800hz-2Khz boost and a flat response, further allowing you tailor the drive engines overall voicing.
The Boost switch offers even more (getting tired yet?) configurable awesomeness to the already long list of the Drive Maker’s features. Not only do you get up to 30dB of continually variable boost via the tiny black thumbwheel, but as mentioned earlier, with internal switches settings, you choose whether the unit’s FX loop is on full-time when the pedal is engaged, or only when in boost mode. I think that makes for a pretty awesome solo channel, giving your sound a boost and simultaneously controlling a number of effect pedals all at once, for simplicity on stage.
Whew! That’s a whole lot of pedal. The takeaway for me with the Drive Maker, as well as DSM’s Omni Cab Sim Deluxe is that both pedals seem to be designed for maximum control over a large number of parameters. As opposed to being designed around specific overdrive or distortion standards, the Drive Maker delivers a powerful drive “engine” and a whole lot of ways in which It can be manipulated to create unique and inspiring overdriven sounds. Whereas this approach can sometimes result in overly complicated designs that are hard to get dialed in properly, the Drive Maker is intuitive and easy to set up. The addition of the bass and treble control, as well as the global voice control means that almost any mode or octave setting can be made usable, which makes for a heck of a lot of variety. The gate control is another standout feature of this pedal. As someone who doesn’t often go for highly saturated overdriven sounds, it allowed me to tame the distortion characteristic, without changing the degree of gain or output volume.
All in all, I have to hand it to Daniel at DSM for crafting a well-made, highly tweakable, intelligently designed pedal, capable of producing a wide array of inspiring and usable drive flavors. Bass players should definitely consider the Drive Maker when looking for an overdrive pedal for their rig, especially those who like to tweak and adjust to their hearts content. Considering its unique feature set and the signature tones its capable of serving up, I would definitely recommend this pedal to all my distortion loving buddies. Play guitar too? Flip the other dip switch inside to change the tone profile and you’ve got all the Drive Maker’s deluxe features, tonally optimized for a guitar’s frequency range. That’s quite the two-fer. The Drive Maker sells direct from DSM for $239 plus shipping. For more info and video samples, visit DSM Noisemakers website.