Stompboxes are, by design, implements of very occasional joy. Sure, some stay on longer than others, but you’d be hard pressed to find a player in the world who relies on flanger, for example, as the bedrock of their sound. For the vast majority, the first step on the path to tonal glory is an amp, tube driven or otherwise, that has all the spunk and moxie that they feel satisfied deeming the bare minimum. True as this may be, there have emerged over the last few years an increasing number of pedals that promise to enhance that foundation tone in one way or another.
By far one of the most successful ‘always on’ pedals that I’ve come across is the EP booster made by Californian innovators Xotic Effects. This slim little number is intended to be reminiscent of the preamp stage of an Echoplex tape delay with the repeats dialed out, a trick used by Jimmy Page and The Beatles to add extra heat to what they already had cooking. While the owner’s guide calls it a booster, it has fast become a staple starting point for a vast number of effects chains with users noting the way that its warmth and transparency adds a ruddy cheeked sense of health to their tone. Xotic has a number of other tricks up its sleeve, and new addition the Soul Driven is sure to rise through the ranks as quickly as its little mate.
At its heart, it is a tube screamer. This is a chrome plated, single switch whose job is to give you the chime and shimmer of a pair of overheating power tubes at the well timed drop of a Cuban heel. While there are literally hundreds if not thousands of similar pedals on the market today, the Soul Driven certainly does a damn fine job. With all four knobs at noon, the tonal signature is as shiny and crystal clear as the housing itself with a clip that is as close as I’ve heard to a ’65 Princeton at full tilt. While other screamers, especially the more famous iterations, suffer for their bawdy mid hump and icepick sheer high end, Xotic’s unit leans heavily on its particular sense of clarity and headroom beneath the break-up. Having said that, if you want it to sound more like the green machines relied upon by so many guitar heroes then the Soul Driven also has you covered. The Mid Boost knob grants you total control over how smooth you want your 800Hz to be. Wound all the way down, it’s as creamy as Holy Grail 808s, but give it a nudge and it’s closer to the toppy screech of an OCD.
The thing that impressed me the most about the Soul Driven is that it has the potential to join the EP Booster in the always-on Hall Of Fame. There are a few different sweet spots in the push and pull between input gain and output level that, depending on your application, could potentially improve your overall signal in a really charming and technicolour way. On their website, Xotic seems keen to push the idea that this is a sweet spot divining rod, and I couldn’t agree more. With this pushing the front of a thicker drive more suited to bigger jumps in dynamics, I could see any number of avid tone hunters leaning over the fold back wedges to catch a glimpse of your ace in the hole.
Hits and Misses
Harmonically rich, clear and tonally versatile in a snappy chrome casing