For decades, the boutique pedal market consisted mostly of builders who refined somewhat low- to middle-tech designs and relied heavily on obscure and obsolete new old stock parts that were too rarified for mass consumption.
Sophisticated, high-tech effects were the domain of bigger companies with bigger budgets and armies of engineers, which led to some stellar innovations that unfortunately often lacked the personality and quirk that comes from more individual creativity.
However, recently the boutique pedal realm has undergone a renaissance of sorts where a growing number of smaller companies are developing some truly cutting-edge stompboxes with intensely progressive technology and features. Hologram is part of this new breed of boutique builder, founded in 2015 by Jason Campbell and Ryan Schaefer, who have backgrounds in engineering and software design but are also musicians.
The Microcosm is Hologram’s latest offering, described as a “granular effects pedal” that employs delay, looping, pitch shifting and sampling as well as reverb, modulation and filtering to generate truly fascinating tones, textures and rhythmic patterns. When Hologram says that the Microcosm generates new sounds, the company is not kidding: this unit offers effects that are truly unlike anything else out there.
Pedals that offer such an advanced level of sophistication can be intimidating, but the Microcosm features a very straightforward layout that makes it easy to navigate presets and tweak your own sounds. A rotary Preset Selector button in the upper right corner accesses the four basic groups of effects (Micro Loop, Glitch, Granules and Multidelay) that offer a total of 11 distinct effects plus a User bank.
Each of the 11 effects has four preset variations to provide a total of 44 presets plus 16 user programmable presets. Parameter adjustments are made via eight knobs at the upper left, consisting of Activity, Shape, Filter, Mix, Time, Repeats, Space and Loop Level controls.
There’s a 60-second phrase looper with pre-FX, looper only, burst and quantize modes plus a reverse button that instantly plays your loops backwards. The three footswitches control tap tempo, bypass and hold/sampler in regular effects mode and record/play/dub, activate looper and stop/erase functions when the looper is engaged.
Rear panel jacks consist of a single mono/stereo TRS 1/4-inch input, left/mono and right 1/4-inch outputs, 1/4-inch expression pedal input, full-size five-pin DIN MIDI In and MIDI out/thru and a standard 9VDC center negative power input for the provided adapter.
Whereas most stompboxes provide effects that are like frosting on a cake, the Hologram Microcosm is an entire instrument that’s more like the cake itself with decadent frosting, shiny, sparkly sprinkles and a detailed three-dimensional candy rendering of Hokusai’s Great Wave of Kanagawa on top.
This is a deeply inspirational pedal that dictates very distinct sounds, note patterns, textures and rhythms that are anything but subtle. Ambient and progressive guitarists will definitely love the incredibly complex sounds it generates, but open-minded players of other genres will likely figure out creative uses for it unless they exclusively play traditional styles like blues, rockabilly and old-school country.
Words cannot do justice to the complex and richly textured tones the Microcosm generates. Clean amp settings are best when you want to hear the finest nuances of its gritty Granules and skittering Glitch effects, but I also loved the wondrous clatter and noise it offers with high-gain settings both in front of an amp and inserted in an effects loop. The way some of the effects howl and smear when distorted could even work in a progressive metal context.
Generally, effects that provide the Microcosm’s level of sophistication require an advanced degree to program and operate, but here operation is surprisingly straightforward and simple. With effects as unique as these, my advice is to just dig in and start tweaking knobs to see where it leads you and what inspires your creative impulses.
Just take the time to familiarize yourself with the process for saving presets, which you certainly will want to do. The looper section is more powerful and sophisticated than most (the reverse function is a blast), but it too is very straightforward and intuitive to use. The 16 user preset locations can save loops as well as effect settings.
- PRICE: $459
- TYPE: Granular looper and glitch pedal
- CONTROLS: Activity, Shape, Filter, Mix, Time, Repeats, Space, Loop Level, Preset Selector
- FEATURES: 11 unique granular and looping effects, 44 preset variations, 60 second looper, tap tempo, MIDI, stereo I/O, 16 User Preset slots, stereo reverb, “Hold” sampler function, Adjustable Pitch Modulation, Resonant Lowpass Filter
- BYPASS: Switchable true bypass/buffered bypass with trails
- CONTACT: Hologram Electronics