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S-CAT Double Trouble

S-CAT Double Trouble

This dual‑distortion box is equally at home with guitars, synths and drum machines, on a dusted‑daily desktop or a filthy stage pedalboard...

Space Cat Audio Technologies (S‑CAT to their friends) started life in the UK almost 15 years ago, with Arron Courts and Abegael Saward modifying vintage electronic instruments and selling them on eBay. More recently, the two began to work on their own, original designs and enlisted the help of circuit designers John W Oram and Dave Cherry. The aim was to create a range of hands‑on devices that would be well suited to live settings, while being influenced by Courts’ and Saward’s love of experimental circuit bending. The Double Trouble analogue filtered distortion, reviewed here, comes in the form of a desktop‑friendly stompbox, and promises versatility and power in equal measure.

It Takes Two

The Double Trouble can be thought of as two distortion pedals in one box. Powered by an external 24V DC supply, each distortion stage has its own input and output courtesy of quarter‑inch jacks on the rear. They can be used independently or in series, and the latter can be achieved internally so you only need to hook up a single input and output cable. With a sturdy metal chassis and firm knobs, the box has a solid, weighty feel, and its satisfyingly inclined panel seems more typical of a desktop synth or audio interface than an effects pedal. Since it’s intended as much for use as a pedal as on the desktop, footswitches engage/bypass each distortion. That’s not unusual by any means, but as someone who tends to use these things mostly on a desktop I’d like to see manufacturers offer an option for quieter and more hand‑friendly switches!

S‑CAT cite a dearth of good distortion pedals that work well with line‑level signals as a key motivation behind the Doube Trouble, but say experimentation with instruments including guitar (because, well, duh...) presented various applications and this sparked a shift in the design direction. The preamp stage was rejigged to better handle high‑impedance input signals and a buffered bypass was added so that the pedal could sit nicely between a guitar/bass and the line inputs of a console or audio interface.

The first processor is Distortion I. This employs a germanium diode circuit and, S‑CAT say, is intended to offer “edgy break‑up tones”. To compensate for the tendency of distortion to squeeze the dynamism out of some sounds, there’s also a switched Transient Boost knob with three settings (Low, Mid, High). The manual says this blends back in “the initial transients that have been squashed... giving more punch” and it works — more subtly than I’d like, at points, but you can use it to dial in dynamic front‑end detail and attack, particularly for percussion sounds. It sounds to me as though there’s more to the circuitry here than simple parallel distortion.

The ‘high‑gain’ Distortion II, on the other hand, is conceived as being more like a console’s preamp stage, and offers a slightly less ‘angular’ sounding overdrive to my ear. Turn it up and you’ll reach clipping, and a separate output level control can either be used to tame the output of this distortion or to turn up the output from Distortion I without running it through Distortion II. To shape the sound, Distortion II has a switched‑frequency peak filter, and this can be placed pre or post the distortion stage for more flexibility.

Each distortion stage has its own dedicated I/O, but the two can also be cascaded internally.Each distortion stage has its own dedicated I/O, but the two can also be cascaded internally.

Drive Time

Initially, when using one channel or the other individually, the Double Trouble sounded somewhat tamer than I’d anticipated. Not bad you understand. In fact, you might even call it ‘classy’, but it was a little more classy‑sounding than I’d usually look for in a distortion box. Though there were certainly differences in the two channels; both had the feel of a warm boost that could be moved into grittier harmonic distortion at high levels. It was certainly no wild beast — at least, not yet.

The Double Trouble’s manual suggests that Distortion I is the best choice for drum machines and bass guitar, while Distortion II is better suited for synths and lead guitar. But I have to say that while both offered slightly different responses, they both sounded great on more or less everything. So I’d encourage you to experiment. It is distortion we’re talking about, after all!

I have a Korg MS‑20 Mini — surely a synth that’s primed for this kind of treatment — so I hooked it up to the Double Trouble and set the oscillators to maximum volume (which, I should say, reduces the headroom on its filter and VCA considerably), playing with various combinations of saw and triangle wave drones, experimenting with their phasing relative to each other, as well as sweeping the filter and playing with resonance to try and excite different responses from the distortion.

At times I felt that the Double Trouble seemed like it could have been a circuit inside the MS‑20 itself, so nicely did the two work together.

Again, it didn’t initially seem to threaten too much aggression at specific frequencies. But it did respond very nicely, right across the frequency spectrum, so I can’t complain. Those used to distorting synthesizers, will know that things can jump from subtle to savage very quickly: two oscillators at the same pitch are often very harmonically simple, yet the moment one of those oscillators is modulated or detuned and more harmonics are introduced, things can get gnarly — sometimes in a great way, other times not. Often, the first thing to go when playing with distortion is a sense of detail and that just wasn’t a problem here. In fact, at times I felt that the Double Trouble seemed like it could have been a circuit inside the MS‑20 itself, so nicely did the two work together. Another thing often thrown out with the distortion bathwater is low end, and again I wasn’t disappointed. I was looking to use the Double Trouble to add some ‘beef’ — a low‑end tightness and more punch — and found it. And I’m glad to say it wasn’t a ‘there’ or ‘not there’ effect; I could access various flavours, which was great.

The Transient Boost circuit of Distortion I was quite an asset too. Overall, the circuit added and took away various characteristics as I cycled through the settings and I found that just as useful in helping me identify what I didn’t want as well as what I did! The Low setting didn’t feel like it did a huge amount for the sources I was running through it, though I’m sure it has its uses; it’s good to know a more subtle effect is available.

Arguably, the thing that most obviously distinguishes Distortion II from the first is its filter section. As I said above, this can be switched in or out of the signal path, and when on it can be placed before or after the distortion circuit, and the two positions give you very different responses. I enjoy building ‘sonic pressure’ behind a filter by, for instance, placing a distortion pedal before a wah‑wah, and this sort of feel is very much achievable here. Sweeping the filter section while feeding it the bass sounds of a Roland T‑8, for instance, a modest and diminutive 808‑emulating machine that I hope you’ll deem acceptable in place of the original (I do), it had a very good go at delivering the kind of throaty filtering associated with the TB‑303. That’s no mean feat, and it was something I was excited to try on a range of other sounds. Drums generally can be difficult to distort while maintaining all the complexity and character that attracted us to the original sound, and when used with Distortion I’s Transient Boost I was pleased that they seemed to gain in punch and percussive definition, rather than just grit and harmonic content — the initiated will know that distorted percussion can often end up dully latching onto one fundamental frequency, and that felt well mitigated here. They also responded beautifully to Distortion II’s filter circuit.

I’ve not even discussed the Double Trouble’s secret weapon yet! That you can have both circuits connected in series, to process a single input signal, is wonderful. It’s where things get really dirty and, as you can probably imagine, where instruments like electric guitar and their amplifiers come into the discussion. When configured in this way, the Double Trouble essentially became much more than the sum of its parts, and although guitar distortion is a deeply subjective thing I dare say that in a blind shootout between the Double Trouble and your favourite pedalboard stalwarts (the Big Muff Pi, say, or the ProCo Rat) the Double Trouble would more than hold its own. It’s not just about the tone, either — the noise floor still wasn’t a problem; even with both halves in series and set to maximum distortion it remained palatable (if not negligible). It’s also worth noting that you can get quite a level boost when using the two stages in series like this, so if placing it between a guitar and an amp, it can change how the amp responds. In short, there’s a whole world of tonal interaction to play with!

Dishing The Dirt?

The Double Trouble is a very well made, good‑sounding distortion pedal that is more than worthy of what’s a very reasonable asking price. I can almost imagine it as a mainstay in a small setup’s go‑to chain, so smooth can it sound and so easy is it to dial in subtle distortions. But despite at first feeling that the Double Trouble might be somewhat limited in its scope, the more I explored it the more I realised just how incredibly versatile it is. It’s as good for treating synths as drum machines, but has plenty to offer bassists and guitarists too. It could be a double‑sided tone hub for a synth setup, or a single‑channel beast ripping through a guitar amp or into your DAW. It’s rugged enough for the road, but would feel just as at home on the desktop or above a keyboard. In short, S‑CAT have come up with a unique contribution to what, let’s face it, is a pretty crowded distortion market, and of this they should be proud.


A classy sounding and wonderfully versatile studio‑grade boutique distortion pedal that doesn’t cost the Earth. Recommended.