Review: Empress Buffer+
Empress Buffer+ Review…
Buffer pedals: What do they do exactly, and do you need one in your rig? I wanted to explore this subject because it seems like passive P and J style basses still rule the day and are more in fashion than in recent memory, and also because it seems like pedalboards of varying size and complexity are becoming the norm for working bass players. When you play a passive instrument through a series of bypassed effects pedals (or a long instrument cable, for that matter), the relatively weak or ‘high impedance’ signal loses a little bit of its oomph with each foot of cable, each connector, and each bypassed electronic component it passes through on its way to your amp, due to capacitance. Whether you’re an effects junkie, a tonal purist, or an IEM user lovingly crafting a great amp tone with pedal-based amp modeling effects, you can think of a buffer as a “conditioner” for your passive signal- something that preserves the full dynamic range and tonal integrity of your basses. Whether a buffer pedal will benefit your setup comes down to 3 basic questions: Do you play passive basses; Do you use pedals; and/or do you use long (15-20’) instrument cables? A buffer at the front of your pedalboard ensures that your pristine passive tone will be preserved through all those components and arrive at your amplifier as Leo Fender intended it. Similarly, if you play a passive bass with no effects and a 20’ cable, you’re probably losing a bit of your signal due to the capacitance in the long cable, and a shorter cable to a buffer (then a long cable to your amp) will ensure that your bass tone stays strong, clean, and full range.
Enter the all-analog Buffer+ from Empress Effects, which is designed to be a “complete I/O interface for your pedalboard, while maintaining the highest fidelity to your guitar’s signal”.
The Empress Buffer+ is a well-thought-out solution for players who want to retain the purity of tone they get from plugging their axe straight into their amp while using their pedal setups.
If you play an active bass, which by nature has a lower impedance (hotter) signal, you may not get as much benefit from an active buffer stage, but a pedal like the Buffer+ can have other advantages.
The Buffer+ is robustly built, as are all Empress products, and its well-thought-out features and form factor make a lot of sense. Both the input and output jacks are located on the right side to serve as a nice tidy “patch bay” for your cable comings and goings from your board. The “Input Loading” mini pot fine-tunes the “load” placed on the pickups. Fully clockwise yields the cleanest fullest sound, and things get a little less bright and full range as you dial it back from there if you want to tone things down a touch. There is a +3/0/-3 dB Input pad switch that can even out signal levels between different instruments or set the right amount of volume to optimally interface with your effects. A selectable noise filter cuts any hiss that may be generated from the pedals in your chain. On the left side of the pedal are the Send and Return jacks for your FX loop. There is a buffer stage at the input of the pedal, as well as following the Return jack, to ensure that your signal gets preserved going into the effects loop and coming out of it. The Buffer + offers up to 30dB of gain, post FX loop, courtesy of the soft switch footswitch. A tuner output is located above the Send and Return jacks. Holding the footswitch down for 1 second engages a silent mute function.
There is another cool use for the Buffer+, as a “1 in, 3 out” splitter box. If nothing is plugged into the Loop In jack, the pedal will generate 3 full bandwidth outputs (Amp Out, Loop Out, Tuner Out) which can be mighty handy for signal routing in some stage and studio setups.
All in all, the Buffer+ is another in a long line of winners from Empress and may be an excellent solution for tone preservation, cable management, boost, and noise suppression.
As pedal-loving tone nerds like me can attest to, the drag with running a sweet board is that it can sometimes result in losing a little bit of clarity and life, compared to plugging your bass directly into your amp. The Empress Buffer+ can help mitigate those losses in tone and keep your sound full and punchy. For all the work you go through to make your bass sound great, you want to make sure you’re not losing clarity, richness, and detail.
The Buffer+ retails for $149, and they offer a stripped-down version of the Buffer without boost, input loading, noise filter, or input pad for $99. If you’re running a passive P or J bass and some pedals, and still want your bass to sound great, you might want to look into what the Buffer+ can do for your setup.
For more information, visit online at empresseffects.com/products/buffer-1