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Coopersonic Dirtbox & Germaniac

Stomp Box Distortion Effects By David Greeves
Published November 2012

Based in Nottingham, UK, Coopersonic Audio Engineering are responsible for a growing range of hand-wired effects pedals. We've already reviewed their Tubecleaner and Valveslapper, and this month turn to another pair of intriguing noise makers, the Dirtbox overdrive/distortion and the Germaniac vintage fuzz.

Coopersonic Dirtbox & GermaniacBoth pedals can be powered by a 9V battery or a standard 9V DC adaptor. In each case, a true-bypass footswitch is joined by a trio of controls, and mono quarter-inch input and output jack sockets. Inside the smart, powder-coated enclosures, the wiring is neat and secure, the jack sockets being mounted on the case rather than the circuit board.

The included instructions describe the sound of the Dirtbox as lying somewhere between that of the Colorsound Overdriver and the Lovetone Big Cheese, two much-loved drive pedals that employ silicon transistors, so you'd expect this pedal to live up to its name and supply some aggressive, '70s-style distortion. Indeed, it does so, but the big surprise is just how versatile the Dirtbox is. The 'dirt' knob covers an impressive range, from full-on fuzz distortion down to much more moderate overdrive. Turn it right down and the Dirtbox even provides a great almost-clean boost (assuming that your pickups are of a sensible low to moderate output), with no shortage of gain available from the level control.

The character of the Dirtbox's distortion is certainly more raucous Rat than smooth Tube Screamer, and at more extreme settings there's a brightness to the fuzz that is nasty — in just the right way! But this edginess is not at the expense of body and punch, and the sounds on offer are impressively full and articulate in both bass and treble ranges: the very opposite of muddy and mid-heavy. Meanwhile, below 12 o'clock the excellent 'bite' tone knob trims off the top end for a darker tone, while above 12 o'clock it progressively thins out the sound for taut, funky fuzz tone with tons of bite.

Coopersonic Dirtbox & GermaniacIt's pleasing to find that the range of all three controls extends beyond safe and sensible territory. That's certainly also true of the Germaniac. Using NOS (New Old Stock) germanium transistors, this pedal does an accomplished job of supplying warmer and more rounded — though still very dirty and aggressive — fuzz sounds. The fuzz knob covers a considerable range (while never getting quite as clean as the Dirtbox can), from a light, fuzzy drive to extreme, fully compressed fuzz sustain. Again, the level control provides more gain than is strictly sensible, guaranteeing that, unlike some fuzzes, you should always be able to cut through the mix.

However, the 'mania' knob is, appropriately, where things really get crazy. While lower settings add a dirtier, more pronounced edge to the pick attack, turn it up further and you'll encounter the kind of glitchy, scratchy sounds that say either 'the battery in my fuzz box is running out of juice' or 'there is a giant radioactive mosquito trapped inside my amplifier'! Set like this, or pushed even further into self-oscillation, the other two controls and the guitar's volume knob become very interactive, if a little unpredictable at times, and there's plenty of scope for experimental use with basses and synths.

In summary, then, the Germaniac is an impressive fuzz effect that ranges from vintage to experimental. For sheer versatility, however, it has nothing on the Dirtbox, which is an excellent multi-purpose distortion pedal that I highly recommend to anyone with a taste for edgy, aggressive drive tones. David Greeves

Dirtbox £89; Germaniac £99. Prices include VAT.Dirtbox £89.00; Germaniac £99.00.