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Evol Audio Fucifier

Mic Preamp & Distortion Processor By Paul Nagle
Published February 2010

Hell‑bent on achieving truly demonic distortion, we put Evol Audio's oddball processor through its paces.

Described as a Distortion Synthesizer, Evol Audio's Fucifier is a striking overdrive/distortion processor that features an analogue filter, tape simulation, a vintage germanium preamp and an inductor‑based equaliser. Although not a synthesizer in the usual sense, the Fucifier (pronunciation "deliberately vague”) aims to deliver a tempting menu of grunge and deep, fat saturation to satisfy even the most demanding firestarter, industrial‑noise merchant or metalhead.

Devilish Good Looks

With an attention‑grabbing scarlet paint job, this is one deep and substantial module. I felt slightly guilty cloaking its fiery presence in a dull‑grey 19‑inch rack, but any fears it might be overlooked evaporated on power‑up. When summoned, Evol's intimidating (financially at least) Fucifier lights up your studio like a coal plucked from the ninth circle of hell.

The hand‑finished front panel is a sliver of real wood, upon which is printed the untidy‑looking logo and black text, some of which is darn small. It's 'distinctive' rather than beautiful, but the controls are all reassuringly weighty and luxurious. Some are arranged rather close together but they still manage to be fairly accessible, a feat accomplished by employing knobs of varying type and size. Most eye‑catching are the seven clear‑acrylic Gain knobs. Tubular and hand‑made, some are slightly off‑centre, which is odd but not unpleasant. The knobs alone will earn the Fucifier's place in some studios: catch the impressive show of LEDs shining through them, and you're hooked. The LED brightness represents signal gain as audio hurtles through like a soul in search of redemption.

If you were wondering about the whole demonic angle, my impression is that it's all a bit of a lark — except, perhaps, for its impact on the manual. In gothic style, this tome is tied with a leather thong and laid out like a spell book: think Buffy The Vampire Slayer rather than Aleister Crowley. The problem is with the red ink on beige parchment effect, and the tiny font used: some of us are not getting any younger you know! Fortunately, even if the small print defeats you, most of the Fucifier's foibles are revealed by good old‑fashioned experimentation.

Before getting started, it was time for a quick dig in my adaptor box. The rear panel's inputs for line and microphone, and also the main line output, are on XLRs. The only quarter‑inch jacks on the rear are for an expression pedal (with which to sweep the filter cutoff) and the filter's separate high- and low-frequency outputs (about which more later). For convenience, two extra quarter‑inch sockets are sited around the front. These are instrument and speaker connections, so that even if the device is racked you can quickly plug in a guitar or keyboard. The Fucifier functions happily as an amp/preamp, although it does not support phantom‑powered mics.

Hot Fuzz

The rear panel of the Fucifier: pretty standard stuff, except for the high-frequency and low‑frequency outputs and expression pedal input, all of which add to the versatility of this device.

The Fucifier is divided into four modules, each activated by a blue‑backlit (when active) button: Vintage Preamp, Filter Distortion, Filter Bypass and Induction EQ. Having chosen an input source, you tweak its level via tiny trimmers beneath the Line/Mic selector switch. There's even a trimmer for the dry component of the Wet/Dry mix. If, like me, you're using the Fucifier via mixer effect sends, this might be of little value, but when you're using the front‑panel instrument input the trimmer can be vital to fix level discrepancies between dry and wet signals. I should mention that it's a mono effect: this species of distortion is evidently deemed too scary for an entire mix! Also, be aware that the Fucifier can produce serious amounts of gain.

The first of the clear knobs, backlit in blue, controls input gain, which is the beginning of the audio chain. To better appreciate the effects of gain on subsequent stages, it's advised that you set this at unity (12 o'clock). Having duly obeyed, we can move on smartly to the Vintage Preamp. This offers a choice of clean and dirty operation, dirty meaning that tape simulation is engaged. This involves two further controls, Tape Drive and Saturation. Unless you set the former quite high, you risk a sudden and not entirely expected drop in signal level when switching from clean to dirty. Tape drive has a warmly raspy quality and at its maximum, with gain boosted too, the simulated overdrive practically flatlines, warping and compressing the signal dramatically. Saturation has a more subtle effect, but as you bring it to its maximum you can easily imagine real tape becoming heavily saturated, the audio losing definition.

Next down the pipe comes the analogue filter and Filter Distortion section. This works in conjunction with the Filter Bypass button, but how it does so left me scratching my head at first. Evol are contemplating renaming the button in future revisions, which is probably a good idea. Currently, when Filter Bypass is engaged, the filter's output is split at the cutoff frequency into high and low components. Each component is then subject to its own distortion gain and type. However, when Filter Bypass is deactivated the signal sent to both distortion channels is identical, and the filter is removed from the picture.

This is a lush and musical filter, its nature thick and juicy at low overdrive, aggressive and cutting when cranked up. Subtle uses of gain at this stage produce warmth without dirt — but dirt is always waiting in the wings. Boost resonance near to max and it cries like a wounded VCS3. Traditional filter sweeps and blips are offered by the twin modulation sources: a triangle‑wave LFO and an envelope follower. At its fastest, the LFO never reaches audio speed, but it wibbles beautifully nevertheless. The envelope follower's depth has an impressively wide range and it takes only a small amount to produce typical filter dynamics. Excessive settings lead to scary and unpleasant noises, or even eerie silences.

I've already noted that the Filter Bypass button sluices the audio through high‑ and low‑frequency distortions. The gain knobs for these are backlit in mysterious green and purple, and as you tweak them, your fingers constantly fly back to the Filter blend control to adjust the mix or hear either frequency in isolation.

The high‑frequency distortion employs a three‑way switch to determine its filter type, the choices being High Pass, Band Pass, or High and Band Pass combined. The output is further shaped by the Symmetry control, which governs fine‑tuning of the audio waveform's upper and lower clipping. On one occasion, with Symmetry wound right up, I was convinced someone was cooking bacon nearby, due to the unearthly spitting and sizzling! Both channels have a chunky six‑way switch to select the distortion type. The types on offer include FET, which is transistor‑based and breaks up as gain is increased. At its limits, this becomes rather too harsh for my tastes. Then there's LED‑type distortion, which is slightly less aggressive and with a higher clipping threshold. If it's more dirt you require, Silicon distortion is on hand. Or Germanium, which, the manual assures me, is softer and warmer than Silicon. To be honest, after flicking through them all several times, I couldn't always swear to recognise which was which. There was still one more level of detail left, too: selections that combine two types of distortion at once or, in the case of the low‑frequency band, 'Off', which deactivates clipping entirely. This option paves the way for mixing cleanly filtered sounds with distorted high‑frequency components. Actually, an even better way to do that is to tap off the individual low- and high-pass filter outputs from the rear panel. This might seem extravagant, as it gobbles up two spare mixer channels, but the extra opportunities afforded by individual processing justify this for me.

Auditioning all this distortion takes time, as does comprehension of the turbulent ocean of gain that washes around the available headroom. Eventually, as you get close to something you like, there's perhaps one last adjustment required. Maybe the top end is a little too brutal? Or did you dare to wonder what "more balls” might be like? Whichever, for a no‑nonsense slice of final mutilation, the Induction EQ is at your command. Its five smooth sliders drive big tonal changes which, for a change, feel intuitive from the outset. Most modern active EQs are built from op‑amps, resistors and capacitors. These are cheap and easy (comparatively speaking) to design and, for the most part, are predictable and linear. Inductors, on the other hand, are made from coils of wire wrapped around a core. The cores exhibit weird behaviour, making the inductance change depending on signal level. This takes us to the end of the line, and one last acrylic gain‑knob, backlit in orange.

The Good, The Bad & The Evol

How many truly unique distortions are recognisable? That question nagged me for the first few days after the Fucifier arrived. My perception began to sharpen only when I started to work on a track. The Fucifier's snarling presence possessed my TB303 bass pattern, and at a stroke put all that fine‑tuneability into perspective. As time passed, I repeated the exercise with drums, guitars, keyboards, samples and vocals — individually and even grouped together. Processing a complete (mono) mix seemed to offer definite possibilities.

The Fucifier bestowed bite and attitude wherever it was applied, but the best rewards came when I learned to back off the gain. Indeed, the hardest thing to grasp is the need to make continuous adjustments to navigate the tonal shifts. With so many places to do this, LED junkies who work primarily in the dark will find it incredibly hard to resist cranking up everything in sight (trust me). But resist you must, or be lost in generic roar.

Each section can be used alone or in combination with others. In a sense it's similar to a modular synth, albeit one with a fixed signal‑path. Being a synthy chap myself, I turned to the filter often. For arpeggios, bass parts, the whole William Orbit, it was pure bliss when driven by a sweeping LFO and a blipping envelope follower. Combining the filter and dual distortion gave rise to a whole new barrage of filth. And if some of it sounded a little similar, at least its tonal range was wide — and highly tweakable. Being of a certain age, I found some of the highest frequencies of fuzz quite painful. Note also that, as the filter self‑oscillates at high resonance, it will continue doing this even when no more signal passes through — which is something to watch out for.

Conclusion

Squelchy filter noises, ripping overdrive and tweakable distortion... the Fucifier has its own character, and offers plenty of variations on the theme. Sure, it's probably more distortion than most of us ever thought we needed, but as a one‑stop filthbox for the connoisseur, nothing else quite compares. The analogue filter is a gem, and splitting its output into two distortion channels is a major component of the Fucifier sound. Almost as much fun is processing the raw filter output via external EQ, compression and effects. I reckon there's also some mileage in processing complete mixes through mild tape distortion or Induction EQ: it certainly made me curious to hear what a stereo version might sound like.

The Fucifier is priced beyond casual — or even moderate — interest, even when you consider that it has a potential additional role as a 'character' mic preamp, with the grit and distortion bypassed. I'd expect to see it on the shopping lists of the likes of the Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers, but it may prove too hot for the rest of us. This is a real shame, because even though I couldn't always tell one bzzzz from another, this red box was great fun to have around. If you agree that — despite Cliff Richard's best efforts — the devil still has the best tunes, maybe the Fucifier is his opening entry for best gear?!  

Second Opinion

It's quite plain to see — and hear — that cleanness and transparency are not this creature's raison d'être. In fact, if anything's clear, it's that the Fucificer is intended to mangle sounds from pretty much any source (mic, line or instrument) and to spew them forth to different destinations (a 4‑8Ω speaker and/or line‑level output).

If you're anything like me, you'll be tempted to engage all the buttons and twist every knob until you're rewarded with a cheesy disco of animated backlight LEDs. Do that, and you'll get incredible amounts of ugly distortion — because this box is capable of more perverted, dirty fuzz than you could ever need.

Delve a little deeper, though, and you'll discover that it's actually pretty controllable, and capable of much more subtle colouration too. In fact, if you switch everything else off and just use the mic preamp, you're rewarded with a lovely, warm sound that's beautiful on vocals (at least, I thought so with my own!) and can work wonders when you switch in a little of the tape emulation. As there's no phantom power, you'll need a separate supply, a condenser mic capable of being powered by batteries, or to use a dynamic model (in which, of course, I include ribbon designs), or perhaps a tube mic, which will have its own power supply. It may not be targeted at the preamp market (it's too pricey to be bought for that purpose alone), but it's nonetheless a shame that they didn't add phantom power, which would have made it more versatile.

A minor gripe is that the quirky and distinctive (and thus appealing) manual includes little by the way of technical specification. That's not a huge issue, though, as this device is very much about adding flavour and dirt, and noise figures really mean very little in this context. You really need to plug your source in and fiddle until you get a pleasing result.

The Fucifier is most effective used as an insert processor, whether for blood‑curdlingly excruciating distortion, or as a means of adding saturation. As a processor for a drum mix (albeit a mono mix), I was able to get results I've rarely experienced from other units. Perhaps the nearest I've come is using a nice preamp with tape modelling circuits, such as the Rupert Neve Designs Portico 5042, the Empirical Labs Fatso, and the (admittedly even pricier) Anamod ATS1. But they're all rather more polite. On the distortion side, I've used some boutique pedal effects that offer similarly hellish, if less controllable results, but nothing so versatile.

If you have a penchant for the diabolical and distorted, the Fucifier is incredibly good fun. The mic preamp and tape-simulation circuit add to its flexibility — and even go some of the way towards justifying the price. Dear Mr Satan, if I sell you my soul, can you give us a stereo version too? Matt Houghton

Pros

  • Distortion taken to a new level.
  • More lights than Blackpool (and almost as much dirt).
  • Front‑panel instrument and speaker outputs (you can use it as an amp).

Cons

  • Cheaper than your soul, but only just.
  • Not for the faint‑hearted or uninitiated.
  • Mono only.

Summary

More crunchy than a Crunchie, more distorted than the Daily Mail, the Evol Fucifier is a high‑end effect processor with a price tag to match. If you thought distortion came in only vanilla and chocolate flavours, here's a giant tub of Jalapeno, Guacamole, Chilli and Brimstone to rewire your taste buds! Cue demonic laughter and fade...

information

£1880 including VAT.

Funky Junk +44 (0)207 281 4478.

sales@proaudioeurope.com

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www.evolaudio.com

Published February 2010