In Tape Op #104 we chatted with the fabulous Oliver Ackermann from the band A Place to Bury Strangers and the head of Death By Audio. His Death By Audio still makes some of the best stompboxes out there, and with ROOMS I think they created one just to please me. Accurately described as "a stereo, multifunction digital reverb capable of searing volume, gated walls of sound, and long, trailing reverberant ambiances with an intuitive array of controls designed with live mood-bending in mind," ROOMS is all that and more. I had a field day on guitar through an amp. In the studio, interfacing with an in the box mix, I plugged it line level direct in, via 1/4-inch TRS cables. I had to drop my sends down a bit, and the signal coming back off the ROOMS was fairly low but certainly workable. Being that it's a stompbox there's a bit of hum in the background, but it never bothered me much. Better than many other pedals in this vein.
They say some tools are inspirational and lead to creative breakthroughs in the studio, but normally I shrug my shoulders and call BS on that. I've never been inspired by a mic preamp, an equalizer, or most of the other mainstays of recording. Reverbs and echoes were the first sounds I wanted to facilitate in my home recordings back in 1980, as I realized my weird synth boxes were super dry sounding and that a lot of the ambience that I dug on Pink Floyd tracks came from reverberant textures. Since then I've accumulated all sorts of delay and reverb devices, but ROOMS might be the actual inspirational brain fuck I was looking for.
I love long delays and reverbs, like Frippertronics, Brian Eno's [Tape Op #85] regenerating tape loops, Sigur Rós' [#41] guitar drones, and the Cocteau Twin's [#50] cascading guitars. But keeping a regenerating reverb or delay "under control" and musical sounding can be difficult. ROOMS will get out of control when pushed, but overall it remains musical and inspirational. Hell, I ended up recording a 13-minute Neu!-inspired track in the middle of writing this damn review. The stupidest, simplest guitar parts I'd come up with would always sound big and meaningful through this box. Awesome.
The controls were actually pretty easy to sort out without a manual. FREQ and DEPTH adjust diff parameters in each reverb mode. TIME makes it bigger or smaller, duh. Those, and the mode selector, get you up and running fast.
There are six main reverb modes available by a big, easy-to-see selector knob. ROOM allows for the biggest surf guitar sound I've ever heard, but also was amazing and usable to record back into an in the box mix on vocals (the client loved it and probably thought I had some special plug-in chain!). DIGIT has a later '80s vibe; think of David Gilmour's tone from that era – colder and sleek, with some spiraling modulation sounds that seem to pop out when hit harder. PEAK is like adding cutoff (actually bandpass) and resonance filters on a delay. You can create dark reverb modes that build up around what you feed into this, and then warp them all over. Score a film or create ambient music, instantly. This was my favorite setting to work from. The GATE setting does gated reverb sounds. Having lived through that era, I wept for a little bit at first, but then got myself together and tried it out on some drum tracks. I was able to get a lot of sounds, many of which did not remind me of Phil Collins. This could be useful! WAVE is pure modulation reverb/delay fun. If PEAK doesn't take you into space far enough, this will get you there. A single vocal can begin to create chordal layers with a bit of stereo width going on. In other, warped oscillation modes it's pure Hawkwind. The final setting is GONG. No, not the band or the instrument, but a bit-destroying ring modulating reverbed mess. I was able to make it sound like a harmonized fuzz guitar was playing along with me at times; WTF? This is about as far from The Ventures as one can get. I would keep this setting in my back pocket and use infrequently, but with distinct purpose!
The extra ALT mode is a smart addition for live use, allowing a second set of FREQ/DEPTH/TIME settings to engage at the press of a second footswitch. One cool trick is to mimic the main settings but with a short Time, and when pressed an expansive reverb can be heard to squash back down in a dramatic way. There are ways to set up expression pedal use too. Having individual DRY and FX level knobs that are easily seen and manipulated is perfect. I could create effect-only tones and slowly bring in the dry signal, or vice versa.
What's crazy is I could see retro guitar tone folks loving this as much as modular synth nuts. The textures can go anywhere, and musically, making this one of those rare effects units that could serve many purposes. I won't let the ROOMS pedal return to Death By Audio. It's going to see a lot of use on my productions and might even make me get more of my own music recorded. It makes music fun, which is not something I usually say about any recording gear, ever.