Embracing both the charm and limitations of open‑reel tape, the Tensor is a unique and creative looping pedal.
Red Panda have been making innovative DSP‑based effects pedals for over a decade now and their popular releases, including the Particle and the Context, usually delve into the more experimental side of stompbox effects processing. The Tensor continues in that vein. A wildly creative tool, it can of course be used on guitar but it’s also fun with other sources in the studio. While it offers most of the features of a typical loop pedal it gives you access to so much more besides, and it’s perhaps best to think of it as a digital ‘tape effects’ pedal: it boasts a collection of open‑reel‑tape‑style effects that can be applied either in real time to the incoming signal, or to recorded loops.
The Tensor features effects such as live reverse, tape stop and pitch shifting, but isn’t bound by the limitations of tape — you also have the ability to stretch or compress time with no pitch change. You can record loops, overdub (sound‑on‑sound) and randomly splice recordings of up to 9.4 seconds long (4.7s for stereo). Having used actual tape to achieve these sort of effects I’m familiar with the sound and process, and the Tensor not only delivers all these wonderful sounds but it also makes them very quick and easy to produce.
It’s quite a ‘deep’ pedal: it can be used as a basic looper with record, playback, loop and overdub functions, but you would be doing a disservice to the Tensor by using it exclusively in this way. It took me a few sessions and a good read of the (excellent, 34‑page) manual before I completely understood what it was capable of, and I suspect some of the more casual guitar pedal users may be less keen. I have to say that it’s totally worth the time investment! It’s not that it is hard to use, just that a little understanding is necessary if you’re to get the most out of it.
Despite its depth in terms of features, the front panel is mercifully simple. It’s not spacious, exactly, but everything is accessible and easy to adjust, and the pedal has a small footprint so it sits nicely on a pedalboard or on the desktop.
Speed controls the tape speed; at the 12 o’clock position the ‘tape’ is stopped, while clockwise from there it plays forward and anticlockwise in reverse. You’ll notice that adjusting the Speed control bends your pitch but it doesn’t stretch the time of your playing. If you depress the On switch, however, the buffer will play back in Drift (stretched time) mode. Time controls your time stretch/compression (1:4 to 4:1 for looping and up to 4:1 for real time). Pitch gives control over pitch shifting up to ±2 octaves. Rand controls the amount of randomisation applied to your sound; lower settings add stutters, set around 12 o’clock it will randomly repeat short segments, and turned fully clockwise it slices up your sound and shuffles it. It also randomises the values of each knob, depending on how they are set. A little bit...