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Boost Pedal Reviews

Courtesy of Donner Rusk

First foursome...
Time Machine Boost
Sweet sound Booster
BJFE Baby Pink Booster
MMFX Tube Dancer/DTD1 clean boost

These actually have the word 'Boost' on them (not like the distortions that boost the first channel of the effect).... simplest first...

  • Sweet Booster ( Bob Sweet), LED and 9v adapter, One Knob, Small MXR sized box
    This has plenty of gain, and retains the high end well, there is a little mid bump and this one would be great for giving a little fatter sound to your clean or driving an amp over into drive. Has a slight 'thickening' effect over all

  • BJFE (Bjorn Juhl) Baby Pink Booster, LED and 9v adapter, one knob, small box
    This one has good amount of gain and retained the original tone balance of the signal best, and maintained the sound of the amp/guitar combination with the beautiful top end intact and slightly sweetened. The unique part of this one is that it remains dynamic. Most boosts make it louder and also 'harder or stiffer', this one retains the touch sensitive quality of the amp.

  • MMFX (Morgan Miller) DTD-1 boost (this is the boost side of the Tube Dancer and works independantly of the overdrive side of the pedal), LED 9v adapter, the DTD is a small box one knob
    Full range boost, real headroom increase, even bottom is clearer, this is the kind you might just leave on all the time, sounds more like a Matchless---- HUGE amount of gain, really more than most people would ever use.... this would likely overdrive an old Marshall Major (Heck it would likely overdrive an old Big Block Chevy!).

  • Time Machine Boost by 'Legendary Tones' ( David Szabados and Robert Keeley), 3 LEDs, 9volt adapter (included!), 3 knobs, 2 Stomps, 1 Mini switch
    The basic funtion of this unit is to be able to flip between two boost tones 'Modern' and 'Vintage'. And then there are two vintage tones to choose from through a miniswitch. I remember when I first looked at it on the site, I was thinking 'oh come on thats just ridiculous'. But it has very different tones available. The 'modern' side is always available. It is a full-range modern almost HiFi sound (Gilmours Clean on the Wall-EMGs) and then you can switch to the Vintage side, which is a Rangemaster type treble booster and then a fullrange 'vintage' boost (Germanium I believe), If nothing else its educational to hear the two/three side by side... the vintage 1966 setting is a treble booster that boosts treble with out boosting the rest of the signal and 1972 is similar but has the whole freq range boosted and is a low level overdrive, both give an 'old' sound - less clarity - maybe the difference between early Clapton and Allmans - hard to nail down, this vintage side has an intensity control to adjust the treble boost... but both of these tones are definitly tone/character changers, not really 'clean' boosts - tone modifiers fer sure, BUT you have the Modern setting if you want just a 'more' clean.

... second foursome up to the tee
BlackBox Cobalt
Voodoo Labs Sparkle Drive
Menatone Red
Banzai Cold Fusion

these are all actually overdrives that are also touted for thier 'clean boost' abilities too...but this time Im only checking for clean boost....

  • BlackBox Cobalt no adapter or LED (they are available though), Volume-Bias-Drive-Gain knobs
    Clear full range boost, without accentuating any particular frequencies, gain and head room adjustable (bias knob), no tone control, very nice clean with plenty of gain, good modern overall sound without getting overly glassy. Lots of gain if you want it.

  • Voodoo Labs Sparkledrive, 9v adapter LED, Drive, Tone, Blend and Level
    I put this in this group for reference as many people have these, but expecting it to be quickly outclassed, nnnope.... If you turn the clean all the way on, the drive and tone controls do not work, so its then only a clean boost... and a very nice one with proper highend definition and full range boost. It's a little less 'clear' through the mids, and there may be a slight bass boost, but this is designed to be blended with the 808 circuit that is in the drive and tone knobs, so when it is in blend mode the highs and lows are what is mixed in for clarity... just enough gain to get the job done, but not enough for some users...

  • Menatone RED no LED or adapter, Gain Bite Volume knobs
    This is the forerunner of the Red Snapper which has more gain and drive and 'bite', and the RED is no longer available new......too bad- its a great clean boost, even with the gain most of the way up it doesn't get really distorted. Most would call it a dirty clean rather than a Drive tone. I had the Snapper at the same time I got this, and it does better in the drive category, but the RED is a great natural boost with good gain and more treble bite than most of us could use - thank goodness for the bite knob.

  • Banzai Cold Fusion, LED 9v adapter, Gain Tone Level knobs
    Interesting interaction of the knobs --- I had found a nice clean sound and was about to say it had a bit of a mid hump, but when you turn the GAIN control almost off, it goes to a clear even sound, as you roll the gain up to about 9 o'clock the mid hump thickens in and then it goes on to distort, and the Tone control has a wide range, so you can kind of taylor a clearer sound if you need it. With the gain up it kind of goes to Tele-bridge-pickup-land with a nice midrange bump-honk.... I'll want to spend more time with this in the overdrive reference. If this is like the Klon, I can see why people have such differing opinions...
Next foursome... by request 'lower end readily available' pedals
Ibanez GE10 Graphic EQ
Ibanez TS9 DX 808 mods + mode
Nobels ODR1
Ibanez TS10 stock
So good idea- we just want to boost the signal without changing the tone- simple right?
  • Ibanez GE10, seven band EQ and master level all on 'sliders', in/outs and 9v adapter jack
    The GE10 is a graphic equalizer from the old 10 series that also has an overall boost/cut.... these little guys are very handy, good amount of gain and with all the controls flat, pretty 'flat', and with the EQ you can get a little treble boost or put a smiley face mid dip on the EQ and get a nice spankin is noisier than the other pedals ( I put the Sweet and the Pink in to check).....

  • Ibanez TS9DX 9v/LED, tube screamer with extra 'mode' knob
    This is basically a reissue TS9 with 3 extra modes and one of them is a clean boost mode. With the drive on 0 and tone well up it does boost the signal (and the noise). It still has a midhump which muddies the clarity quite a bit.....

  • Nobels ODR1, Drive Spectrum Level controls, in/outs and 9v on the away side plus an input for remote activation
    These are loved for there overdrive tone as they have good bottom retention as-is and a smooth drive tone as well... this was the noisiest yet, and the same thing that makes it a good overdrive, hurts it in the clean field - thick lows and mids...

  • Ibanez TS10, drive tone level, in/outs 9v on the away side
    This is a long time favorite lowcost drive of mine (made in Japan, original 4558 chip) because of the way they are wired, the stock unit has better bottom than a stock 9 or 808 and a little clearer sounding but it's still basically a midhumper and will not boost the whole range without changing the low/mid balance... the only one that was close was the GE10, very close, a little noisier and the high is a little brittle but very suprising; you might want to dig out your old EQ pedals if you havent used them in awhile...

The Klon arrives... Well it's (the Klon) the one to beat so far- the Baby Pink is very close as are the Cobalt and the Mena RED.... But strictly for clean boost- wow! Id be very interested to know if there is a difference when made true bypass, And if there is a difference in the silver and gold ones, or new versus old, any changes been made along the way... anybody actually know???

The Baby Pink is a good match for the Klon, it will get 98% of the Klon Klean and then you can use the Klon as an over drive and then use the BP to make the overdrive louder, cheaper than a second Klon certainly... in lieu of an award-send all donations to the Get DonneR a KloN fund...

Yeah the Klon/Cold Fusion I guess is a big question... the Cold Fusion almost seems like someone took a Klon and tried to make something 'More'. My gut impression is the Klon is still a notch up for clean boost- there is something there, just a little extra clarity, that makes me want the Klon back on when I switch it off, the Cold Fusion does a great clean boost but, just for clean boost, there are 3 or 4 others on my floor that I would keep first, but it seems the one weakness in the Klon is that it does not do super gain/distortion type stuff, or put this way - the Klon is made to drive your amp to distort - where the CF will make that sound itself. Different application if you play a clean amp and want the overdriven sound at about the same level, the cold fusion will do that better. If you want the pedal to whack your tubes into glorious overdrive the Klon is better with my rig. So it seems the maker took the one place the Klon got complaints and leaned on that. I actually think the Mena Red is a closer Klone than the Cold Fusion. I got my favorite Klon setting- and then got the same sound on the RED and the knobs were in the SAME place, all three knobs, was a bit spooky.........but all three pedals are first rate.

The Sweetsound/Nick Greer/LPB-1 etc. boosts are excellent and they do boost some of the lower frequencies which some will prefer with other amps especially, but I got a percieved 'thickening' from the deluxe which would probably be good if I used it to drive the clean into overdrive - for just simply improving the clean tone - the Klon and the Baby Pink and RED all get 'Lenny' awards ( pedals I most like to play 'Lenny' thru).

Fourth foursome:
Boss Blues Driver
Rodger Roberts Fat Box
Carl Martin Boost Kick

  • Boss Blues Driver (unmodded): 9v, LED
    Nice Suprise on this one. With the gain on 0 this is a pretty flat and clean boost, and with the tone control you can dial it in for your rig, it has a buffer and its pretty quiet. Better than the TS and ODR for flat eq boosts. May not have enough gain for a loud boost.

  • Fat Box (Rodger Roberts): LED, 9v (added),2 knobs, 1 rotary, 1 stomp
    This is a handmade that was distibuted thru Fat Sound until recently. Very interesting box; it has a level and drive control and then a five way rotary knob that selects different germanium and silicon transistors. It does a wonderful straight boost most of the way up the drive knob and with the various transistor options you get different tones. Similar to using a Fuzzface on low gain for clean boost - pretty flat eq with a nice sparkle on top and good head room. Good amount of gain.

  • Carl Martin Kick Boost: 9v, LED, Punch/Attack/Edge/Level knobs
    Versatile booster. With the three tone controls which equate to bass/mid/treble you can dial in a flat boost and then raise the gain with the level control and adjust it for about any eq shape you like. Like other equalizer type pedals it has more noise than less complicated pedals. This would be great for live applications, but maybe a little too noisy for recording.
Foursome numero five...
Boss Metal Zone
BJFE Baby Blue
Tube Works Blue Tube
Tech 21 Comptortion
  • Boss Metal Zone Just seeing if you're still paying attention. Nevermind - Sorry.

  • BJFE Baby Blue: 9v, LED, vol/treb/drive
    This a drive pedal but with the drive down, it's pretty close to the Baby Pink - nice suprise. With the drive at 0 it is a little listless, but with the drive up at about 8 or 9 o'clock it is nice and even then you have the treble control to match it to your rig... and it's very quiet and built like a baby blue brick.

  • Tube Works Blue Tube: AC plug/LED, output/drive/hi/mid/low controls
    Can't believe I forgot about this one. Ive had this for a long time-I used to use it for many things like running an acoustic pickup to warm it up and give it some life. Excellent clean boost. It has a tube ( 12ax7- I use a 5751) in it so maybe this isnt fair, but very nice detail and warmth. This will also warm up your digital effects too. These were originally made for bass and keyboards - the clean brother to the Real Tube. This one may go to the Big Dance.

  • Tech 21 Comptortion: 9v LED, level/tone/tortion/comp controls
    This actually has a pretty good flat sound with the 'tortion' and 'comp' off. Tone control is helpful and the comp is nice, but it's still a little noisy.
Final Fivesome...
Ibanez Fat Cat (needed a fourth)
Pharaoh Class A Boost

  • PE Germ: 9v/2LEDs, 2 stomps/Growth/Growth and multiply knobs
    This is an interesting pedal- its a germanium based clean pedal like you would get from a clean fuzzface - nice fidelity and clean high end, good flat EQ but with a slight brittlenes to the high end --- the 'second channel' gives more boost and can be overdriven a bit...

  • Zvex Super Hard-on: no adapter or LED, 1 stomp and one knob (crackle OK)
    This is a unique pedal in that it was patterned after the input on old recording consoles with extremely low resistance. Very natural boost. A slight favoring of the high end which depending on the aplication is a plus or minus, but its one of the best and some may like it even better than the Klon for Klean boost, plenty of headroom. 'Volume' knob is noisy and inherent (crackle OK) when turned and you may be turned off by the lack of AC and LED, but strictly for full range tonal boost its 'top shelf'.
    Ed. Note: Actually the SHO is a mosfet based pedal with an extremely high input impedance.

  • Ibanez FC10 Fat Cat: 9v/LED, distortion/tone/level knobs
    This was Ibanez version of the RAT (Cat gets Fat by eating RATs) with the distortion turned off it is a good clean boost and as you roll the distortion up a hair it fills out nicely, but it still rolls off a bit of the bass.

  • Pharaoh Class A boost: It has Led/9v adapter and volume, 'contour' and tone controls
    Interesting and versatile booster. With the tone all the way up and the contour all the way down, it is a clean clear boost similar to the Sweet/Greer/LPB1 type boosters with good gain... as you turn the contour knob up ("the contour control affects the negative feedback around the transistor in the boost circuit. It allows you to control the gain and linearity / distortion characteristics of the effect.") first it gives a touch more bottom and then towards the top it begins to have an amp-like distortion, a little added grit and drive, giving a it a 'Brian Setzer' type drive/bite ( I cheated and plugged in the 6120 Setzer and it sounded great - nice 'rip')....for straight clean it is just fine- nice full range without any one frequency boosted.

In a nice turn of events, two local Pros that I tech for are in pedal search mode and many of the higher quality pedals from this reference session will get a different work out over the next two nights...... may the cleanest boost win!

Testing rig: maple neck strat into a silverface Deluxe Reverb on a Furman SPB-8 powered board
and George L cables

Reviews written by Donner Rusk

Nathan Condon submitted these additional shootout results (Thanks!):

Well I think I'm about as decided as I'll ever be on the clean boost winner. So here are my findings. I did not use an extra pair of ears to help me out as planned because I didn't manage to test all the pedals in one shot. Sorry this is not as thorough as I first intended, but I hope y'all get a kick out of it. My "ratings" are very dependent on my gear and ears. Please take with a grain of salt (or 2)! I did NOT take price into considration! If I had, some of the ratings would change.

Some important preliminaries:

I am a bedroom picker and did not test the pedals at high volume ("too loud" daytime apartment volume was the max). Also, even if I did, I play through an Allen Tonesavor at 80 watts with 2 x 12 in closed-back combo, and 2 x 10 extension cab (1/2 back). That is alot of headroom, and the "tubes beginning to break up" situation was not very realistic for my applications. So please understand that I was after a low volume clean boost, not an overdrive or push-the-front-end pedal.

Another important point is that I owned a Klon for 5 years, and it was *almost* satisfying me for clean boost, and so it was the benchmark throughout my testing. I also had the Tube Works Real Tube 901 with 12AU7 for about 3 years.

For what it's worth, guitars are a swamp ash/maple parts tele using Fralin Steel Pole pickups, 4-way switch, and 500K pots, and a Les Paul Classic with Seth Lovers, upgraded pots, and a Bigsby (graphtech saddles). I did not test the boosts with all my effects, but was thorough with the Barber Direct Drive SS because I was dissatisfied with my OD tone, and it came in around the same time. It was important to me to get a clean boost that would sound good in combination with the DDSS.

The pedals in this shootout are as follows (in no particular order):

  • Klon Centaur (older gold if that matters at all)
  • Pharaoh Class A (single volume knob)
  • Banzai Cold Fusion
  • Tube Works Real Tube 901 (with NOS 12AU7, also ried with NOS 12AX7 and stock 12AX7)
  • Xotic RC Booster

On to the results:

Klon Centaur: this was an excellent pedal any way you slice it, except when you look at the price. I think it was the only pedal doing what it does in 1996 or so, but other makers have caught up, and this should have driven down the price, IMHO. The mid hump was irritating, and the OD capabilities very limited (especially at low volume/clipping)! It was perfect for fat SRV sounds with a strat through a BF amp, and this is honestly what I was after when I bought most of my gear. (SRV is still one of my 3 favorite players) I sold my strat, and found that I didn't like the Klon so much with the Paul and tele. I also had another US Strat Deluxe, 52RI tele, '94 Gretsch 6119, and a '64 Vibrolux that I used with the Klon but sold these with time. The Klon is the BEST of the pack for that fat boost sound with virtually no compression or bass loss. On the few occasions that I did open the amp up and rattle the windows cranked up to 7 or 8, it delivered the goods as it says it does, but that was mighty loud. Maybe there's alot to be said about small wattage amps, but I still like headroom! I got the Klon for about $275 shipped, and just ebayed it for alot more! It's a very good pedal, and I tried to cop the sound with the others below, in combination and alone. I just won't miss the mid hump, which cannot be dialed out, and it wasn't true bypass which doesn't sound THAT bad, but it was enough to get in the way. Overall, I'd say it's a 9.2/10 because to get better than this, you're talking real picky and probably real expensive!

Pharaoh Class A (single volume knob): This was a bit of a surprise. It actually has alot of the Klon character in it at a very low price. There is a low-mid warmth that is kind of hard to describe, and it is another good pedal. I was concerned about the tone shaping options, and this ultimately bumped it from the list of "possible". I would very strongly consider the 3 knob version they currently offer because the tone is great, with somewhat attenuated highs, but it gets a nice bluesy sting as you turn it up and dig into the strings. I didn't find that any of the other pedals here had this quality (at least not to the same degree or with the same effect). This is an original-sounding pedal that would really work for blues players, IMHO (which I am, but not solely). I would rate it around 8.0/10. A pleasant surprise!

Banzai Cold Fusion: This is another great pedal (I'm going to say that alot). It is distinct in character, and it has something none of the others do; overdrive! I found this one to have a great upper sting that is (as many others say) great for blues BUT especially for dark amps. The "sting" can get icepicky, and the Tone knob is very limited IMO. Maybe it's at unity only at full CW, I don't know. It is not a transparent pedal (let the reader understand), IMO. It didn't cut it as a low volume clean boost, but there's alot of tone in it, and I would use it given other circumstances. It did sound a little less "boutique" to my ears, and some people report that there's more "rattiness" to the tone, and this is pretty accurate, so if you want that, here's a good place to start. Also pretty bass-heavy BTW, and there is way more volume boost that you could ever use on tap! Roughly 8.7/10 I'd say.

Tube Works 901 Real Tube: I originally got this for an overdrive sound and it fell short. I experimented with tubes, and it helped the tone alot, but it always has the spongey tube feel, which can make for thinness and loose character. I managed to cop a Klon-like tone out of it with a serious side-by-side tweaking with the Klon. I was awestruck that it came so close, and that was when I realized I had an excellent clean boost on my hands. The missing ingredient is tightness. The bass response is very tubelike, and you get the "sag" effect, so the bass isn't as tight as the solid state units, and this matters alot. If you want a tube feel, then this is the pedal for you. It goes for cheap on ebay, and you can throw a 12AU7 in there for a big improvement. It is not a cheap sound at all, and it goes right into blues territory for a smokey drive that is impossible to replicate using transistors. Anyway, I was more after a tight clean boost, so it isn't the winner. About 7.9/10 cuz the tone controls are a bit tweezy-cheezy sounding.

Xotic RC Booster: Well, this is it for my shootout. The last of the list (also the last pedal to arrive). This pedal is top quality and dead quiet (not all the others mentioned above are). Added tone shaping -yes. FAT Klonlike fat fat boost Fat? NO. I like this pedal alot, and it is my winner. It can't get the fatness of the Klon, and I'm going to miss that, but the bass is tight, the boost is beautiful (I mean that as in clean boost is pretty-sounding). The treble and bass knobs have a center detent for boost or cut (nice), and the gain knob adds a slight "tube rectifier sag" that sounds amplike (quoting someone else here). It is a winner in the pure boost category, and for my applications, you might guess that this is the best pedal for me. I wish I still had my strat to see what it's like, but I'm a different man now. Whatever, it has very flat EQ, and it adds subtle girth and support to my sound, and it's compatible with all my other pedals. Nothing is going to muddy this one up. I mean that it CAN'T sound muddy. You can drive the gain up and volume down to make it clip(don't like that sound, BTW), but it's never mushy and farty. I really wish I could have this RC and the Klon in the same pedal, but you know, you gotta be realistic. The Xotic is a little pricey (overpriced maybe), but it wins my shoot out, so some people will say that you can't put a price on your tone.

I hope you enjoyed my little experiment, and learned something helpful in your tone search or for plain curiousity.

Also see the AMZ Compressor Pedal Reviews

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