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Lately, it seems like the stomp-box world has focused on building a better delay pedal, with dozens of contenders offering powerful new effects. While a few traditionalists have steadfastly clung to the analog realm, the most significant progress has taken place in the digital-modeling world with delay units that offer accurate reproductions of tape, analog and digital delay effects, and much more.
The TC Electronic Flashback X4 is a significantly expanded version of the company’s acclaimed Flashback Delay stomp box, providing an impressive selection of delay effects, a dedicated looper section and the benefits of TC’s TonePrint technology. About four times the size and seemingly four times as powerful as the Flashback Delay pedal, but less than twice the price, the Flashback X4 promises to deliver exceptional value to delay junkies who want it all (and more).
The Flashback’s size is comparable to large delay pedals made by Eventide, Line 6, Strymon, and Vox, and like those pedals, it offers an overwhelming smorgasbord of delay effects. Here the menu consists of tape, tube, space, analog, analog with modulation, reverse, dynamic, 2290 (based on TC’s 2290 Dynamic Digital Delay), 2290 with modulation, slap, lo-fi, ping pong, and four settings for loading additional TonePrint delay effects.
The control section is about as simple as it gets, providing rotary knobs for delay time, feedback, delay level and looper level, and mini toggle switches for selecting delay times and switching between Looper and Delay modes. The delay-time toggle offers quarter-, dotted eighth– and quarter plus dotted-eighth–note delays. The four footswitches allow users to choose three different presets and manually tap delay times when the Delay mode is selected or control record, play/pause and other functions in Looper mode.
The rear panel offers a much more sophisticated selection of features than the average stomp box, including true-stereo 1/4-inch input and output jacks, an input for an optional expression pedal, a mini-USB jack (for uploading software updates and TonePrint effects), and separate MIDI In and Thru jacks (for syncing delays with an external MIDI clock and controlling functions/selecting presets via MIDI). The entire unit is light but ruggedly built to provide reliable performance onstage. A power adapter is included with the pedal, but it can also be connected to multipedal power supply with a nine-volt or 12-volt DC jack that provides at least 300mA of current.
Although the words digital modeling strike fear into the hearts of stomp-box purists who worry about being subjected to confusing menus instead of comforting knobs, rest assured that the Flashback X4 offers the dead-simple operation of an analog device, even though it has a state-of-the-art soul. Effect geeks probably already had their interest piqued by the aforementioned 2290 models, and they’ll be pleased to know that the Flashback X4 delivers the goods when it comes to crystal clean 2290-style delays and much more.
The tape, tube, space, analog and lo-fi effects deliver plenty of vintage character, but guitarists with well-developed ears may notice that something is missing—namely, noise. At first the pristine nature of these models is off-putting, but once players get used to the absence of the bed of noise that used to obliterate subtleties and nuances, it’s easy to fall in love with the distinct personalities and musicality of these classic delay effects.
The space delay and modulation delays add a layer of subtle chorusing to the repeats, producing lush, luxurious textures. The sound quality of the Looper effect is also outstanding and crystal clear. I laid down 10 to 12 overdubs without noticing a significant reduction in sound quality, and it seemed like I could overdub forever without degrading the signal. I also enjoyed being able to record dry loops and then play live guitar processed by delay while the loop remained dry.
The TonePrint feature is a must-have for effect junkies who like to constantly explore new effects. While the mini-USB jack provides a fast and reliable way to download new TonePrint effects, it’s also possible to download TonePrints wirelessly from a smart phone, which is much more convenient onstage than hauling around a laptop computer. TC currently offers more than 80 TonePrint effects for the Flashback X4 programmed by guitarists like Reeves Gabrels, Steve Morse and Joe Perry, and the selection continues to grow.
List Price $369
Manufacturer TC Electronic, tcelectronic.com
The Flashback X4 provides 12 preset delay effects, which include classic tape, analog and digital delays, including TC’s beloved 2290.
Four TonePrint slots allow users to download custom delay effects from TC’s TonePrint library, programmed by famous pros and acclaimed tone engineers.
A dedicated looping section lets users record loops up to 40 seconds long and overdub unlimited guitar tracks.
The simple layout of the control section makes it easy to dial in desired delay effects quickly.
The Bottom Line
The TC Electronic Flashback X4 provides an impressive selection of delay and looping effects with the pristine sound quality that has made TC effects a studio standard and the choice of countless pros.