Gamechanger Audio is a Latvian-based company founded in 2015. Since then, they've released the Plus Pedal, the Motor Synth, and this new line of Plasma distortions. With their namesake as a constant reminder of what they are striving for, each of the former devices has been designed from a completely unique philosophy. So, what does the Plasma Rack do? It cranks the incoming audio up to 5500 volts and measures the continuous discharge of the plasma bulb. This provides the user with a brutally heavy distortion and a hyper quick noise gate. The xenon bulb isn't a gimmicky feature to make you feel like Thor wielding his mighty hammer – it is a critical part of the device. But the Nikola Tesla coil-style lightning bolts seen from the faceplate during processing are some serious eye candy.

The Plasma Rack is enclosed in a single rack space black chassis, with a window for the xenon bulb and two handfuls of potentiometers, plus backlit switches. Primary controls include a true bypass standby Power button, a -20 dB input pad, plus knobs for Gain, Voltage (with modifier buttons to adjust the amount of power sent to the Plasma tube), and wet/dry Blend. An EQ section offers a simple 3-band (low/mid/high) that sculpts only the distorted sound or both the distorted and clean signals (selectable via the Clean EQ button). The Clean Gate is lightning quick, reacting differently depending how hard you drive the lamp. This gate can be applied to the wet signal or the wet/dry signal. The back of the unit offers both balanced XLR and unbalanced TS ins and outs, three send/returns, MIDI in/thru/out, an expression pedal input and a ground lift. Moreover, there are eight user-assignable preset slots and a savable boot-up state. One would say this processor is DEEP!

Engaging the Tremolo (tremolo/ring mod feature) button was instant fun, controlling the rate of the modulation and depth, which when turned counterclockwise puts the tremolo out of phase/alternating between dry and wet signals. The Dynamic button enables the tremolo to affect either the transients or the decay of the signal! Three different FX loops are available; the first affects the dry signal; the second affects the wet signal before the Plasma Tube; and the third affects the wet signal after the Plasma Tube. Implementing a wah pedal and a delay pedal in different effect loops expanded the tonal sculpting further, not to mention the ability to switch from instrument to line level. The Sustain button engages a subtle compressor circuit – handy for lower voltages sent to the bulb as the sound can fizzle out quickly. With the Voltage knob increased, the compression sustain is not as noticeable. Plasma's Oversaturate mode is inspired by a rectifier-based "octave up" circuit, but it doesn't sound like one might think – instead it rewards with a plethora of high harmonics, so that when the voltage is cranked up it can obliterate the signal to near static. Every instrument or bus required a unique setting to find its sweet spot. Taming the Plasma Rack is executed with the Blend knob, which can change to mix between a wet/overdriven signal instead of dry. There's full MIDI control of the device and can use an expression pedal assignable to any of the pots. Plus, with a click of a button, a second Plasma Rack can be controlled using MIDI CC [Continuous Controller].

The sound of the Plasma Rack is a hi-gain distortion that is noisy, broken, spitty, and almost alive like the sound of electrical arcing. The use of this distortion provides heaps of character and is not subtle. I had great success in destroying drums and programmed beats, specifically in an electronic music realm. On individual acoustic drums, especially snare, the noise gate and blended distortion were helpful in creating a unique thwack on the attack of the strike. Running an electric guitar directly provided enough level to the D/A converters and all the character that this box imparts. Where I feel the unit shines is in the sound design realm, with its ability to mangle the source into completely new territory while automating all parameters via MIDI. The Plasma Rack lends itself to heavier genres in both guitar and synth-based music, however, creative use with a liberal amount of the Blend knob can help it to sit well in lighter music.

The Plasma Rack is a unique distortion effect, with a ton of routing and sound shaping options. It sounds unlike any other distortion I've heard and reacts to source material in a unique way. Sound designers or, electronic and heavy guitar-based musicians would get the most mileage out of this "lightning in a bottle." The Plasma Rack is a mono device, so if you are entertaining the idea of stereo, be ready to buy two. I believe there are many avenues to explore with this new type of distortion/sculpting that will only be limited by an engineer's imagination.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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