With patch‑morphing and a built‑in step sequencer, the NightSky is no ordinary reverb unit.
Strymon have dubbed their new NightSky the ‘Reverberant Synthesis Machine’ and it’s easy to both see and hear why. With three distinct reverb processing cores, real‑time processing of pitch, harmonics, shimmer, modulation, overdrive, a synth‑like resonance filter and a sequencer, this is a pedal that’s packed full of features. Mercifully, then, operating the most commonly used functions doesn’t involve any menu diving. In fact, almost every parameter can be tweaked from the top‑panel controls, which are a joy to operate and are spaced adequately for larger hands. That said, it’s well worth consulting the manual to discover the less obvious secondary functions. But even these, which are found on all Strymon’s pedals, are only a couple of button presses away.
The high build quality of the hardware is what we’ve come to expect of Strymon. It takes the form of a sturdy, dark blue, anodised aluminium chassis, sporting three multi‑use footswitches, 16 buttons and 10 knobs. Inside, the processing is unashamedly digital, with 24‑bit, 96kHz A‑D/D‑A conversion and high‑performance SHARC‑based DSP. The dry signal has a fully analogue path, though, so there’s true zero latency, and you have the option of using True Bypass (electromechanical relay switching) or the transparent‑sounding Analog Buffered Bypass.
On the rear panel, you’ll find generous connectivity. The NightSky has a switch for selecting between the high‑impedance instrument and line‑level input modes. Line mode adds 10dB of headroom, and it’s a great addition on a high‑quality digital pedal like this, as both keyboard players and mix engineers will find at least as much to love here as guitarists. The pair of low‑noise JFET preamp inputs (use the Left only for mono) and low‑impedance stereo outputs are on TS jacks. The analogue I/O are joined by an expression pedal jack input, which allows control of any knob’s function with a standard expression pedal, but you can also execute MIDI program changes and select presets. Maybe more interesting is the ability to bypass the Mod, Tone or Voice sections of the pedal using a Strymon MultiSwitch Plus controller. There are also five‑pin MIDI DIN In and Out connectors and a USB port, which is used both for MIDI control and for firmware updates. A centre‑negative power 9V DC inlet completes the I/O.
The control knobs are divided into five sections: Mod, Decay, Tone, Voice and Mix. Beneath these sit eight buttons and three footswitches. The first, welcome, thing that I noticed about the controls was that there are separate level knobs for the wet and dry signal paths; I often become frustrated by the limitations of the classic wet/dry control on pedals, and it’s great to be able to keep the dry sound at a consistent level and balance the wet level to taste, rather like you’d do when using an aux send in the studio.
In the Decay section, you’ll find three types of reverb, each of which has different characteristics: Sparse has a very granular sound; Dense has a plate characteristic, with a fast response and dense reflections; and Diffuse is a slow‑building, atmospheric wash. You can adjust the pre‑delay time by holding the Texture button and turning the Reverb control (anti‑clockwise for shorter, clockwise for longer). The Length knob dictates the decay time, which ranges from less than a second to almost infinite sustain. The Size/Pitch knob increases the size of the reverb core, to create a larger ‘space’ and if there’s already audio in the reverb core, it also controls the pitch of the reverb. Three Quantize settings determine the response and range of the Size/Pitch control: Smooth sets a continuous range over 2.5 octaves; Half Step quantises the audio to half‑step intervals over a two‑octave range; and Scale quantises the audio to a selectable scale over two octaves. To select different scale options in this mode, you can hold the Quantize button and select one of the eight preset buttons in the sections below.
The Voice section houses three elements, called Shimmer, Glimmer and Drive, that Strymon say are designed to “enhance the aural spectrum of the reverb”. Shimmer is one of Strymon’s best‑loved algorithms — pretty much all Big Sky owners will have enjoyed experimenting with it — and the NightSky’s implementation allows you to add an adjustable ±1 octave pitch‑shift to the reverb using the Interval knob, with detune up and down being available around the 12 o’clock position. This can be applied to the reverb core only (Regen) or to the input source before the reverb core. A Shimmer knob controls the amount of this effect; when set to minimum (fully anti‑clockwise) the effect is off.
Glimmer enhances the input signal’s harmonics, and enhancement can be based on low or high frequencies. I found that the latter option opened up the top end nicely, without killing the dynamics and, with Glimmer’s gain turned up, the low‑frequency option added a wonderful resonance to the reverb. The level of the Glimmer effect can be adjusted by holding the Glimmer button down and turning the Reverb knob.
The manual describes the Drive knob as controlling “saturated overdriven harmonics with a soft clipping characteristic”. Pre and Post switches determine whether the effect is applied before or after the reverb core, for different results. Post‑reverb Drive allows you to create a wonderfully saturated reverb tail, which I think the shoegaze crowd will really enjoy! As with Glimmer, you can adjust the Drive gain by holding down the Drive button and twisting the Reverb knob.
The modulation and sequencing options combine to create a supremely tweakable palette of reverb sounds.
The Tone section is used to apply filtering to the reverb. The Low Cut knob removes low‑end information from both the output and the regenerating core of the reverb, while High Cut removes high‑frequency content from the reverb. Between them, a Filter switch allows you to change how the latter filter is applied: the Regen option filters out high end from the reverb’s decay, creating a decay that gets darker over time, while Low Pass applies a high‑frequency roll‑off to the reverb’s output. You can also adjust the resonance of the Low Pass Filter, by holding the Filter button and turning the Reverb knob. This is a lot of fun to play with — with the resonance level raised, the filter can sound very synth‑like — and the ability to route a MIDI or expression pedal to the High Cut control means there’s great potential here for live performance. Despite the features of this section all being useful, I can’t help feeling that an additional band‑pass option would have been a valuable asset, especially given the modulation options that are available...
That brings me neatly on to one of my favourite features of the NightSky: its Mod section. This really encourages you to explore the use of movement into your patches. Your choice from six waveform shapes (triangle, square, ramp, saw, random and envelope) can modulate one of three target areas (Verb, Pitch and Filter), and there are rotary controls for Speed and Depth. The modulation targets are selected using the Target button: Verb modulates the delay lines within the reverb, Pitch modulates the Size/Pitch control and Filter modulates the High Cut knob in the Tone section.
While you may be familiar with the classic waveforms, the Envelope option is a bit different. When selected, this responds to playing dynamics, with the input sensitivity being set by the Depth knob. With the Depth knob set left of the 12 o’clock position, the envelope starts at a higher value and is triggered to go to a lower value with an input signal. With Depth set past 12 o’clock, the envelope starts at a lower value and goes to a higher value when triggered by an input signal. In between these settings (ie. with Depth at the 12 o’clock position) the modulation is turned off. Thus, you have access to positive and negative modulation. I particularly enjoyed the natural sense of movement that followed my playing dynamics when modulating the filter section.
For the waveform options other than the Envelope, the Depth knob adjusts the waveform depth: the higher you set Depth, the deeper your waveform will be, and the more dramatic the modulation of the target parameter; when fully anti‑clockwise the effect is bypassed. The Speed control adjusts the rate of modulation from 0.06Hz to 12Hz (roughly 16 to 0.08 second sweeps).
The three multi‑use footswitches’ primary functions are labelled above in capitals. The On switch on the left of the pedal is used to activate/bypass the pedal, and has two secondary functions. Holding it down triggers a Morph feature, which sweeps between the current and another stored setup — setting these up is easy enough, but you’ll want to consult the manual, in which the necessary steps are laid out clearly. It performs a different purpose when the pedal is in Sequencer mode, of which more below. The Favorite switch is used to toggle between an active preset and the current settings of the knobs on the front panel, with a green LED indicating whether you’re using a preset.
Stepping on the Infinite switch is more interesting: in the default mode, this freezes the input to the reverb core, while also letting you perform new audio (that can be processed by the reverb on top of the frozen audio). I love this feature, which enables you to create a mesmerizing ambient wash and play a melody right over the top, in the same reverberated ‘space’. But holding the Infinite switch down longer activates the Sequencer, which is a step sequencer that can create rhythmic interest by adjusting the Size/Pitch settings.
The sequencer is such a welcome feature in the NightSky pedal. It’s so easy to set up and operate... I imagine synthesists and sound designers will have a field day with it.
Each step is associated with a preset button, so you can have up to eight steps. To set up a sequence, you press a preset button and then adjust the Size/Pitch setting to taste. Then repeat for each step. You can activate/deactivate each step individually by pressing the corresponding one of the eight preset buttons. An activated step is lit, an unlit button is skipped (rather than denoting a rest), and the current step’s button will be lit red.
You can quantise (ie. pitch‑snap) the steps to half‑step increments (the nearest semitone) or to the nearest note in one of eight musical scales (see 'Sequencer Scale Options' box). A variable glide time can also be applied, which is akin to a portamento effect for the Size/Pitch. Alternatively, you can tune the sequencer freely, with no quantisation applied at all.
When in Sequencer mode, you can choose to have the Sequencer play back at a tempo that you tap in, using the Favourite footswitch, or to manually step through the sequence using the On footswitch. If the sequence is already running, the latter switch will reset the sequence to step one. You can also sync the Sequencer to an external MIDI source such as a DAW.
The sequencer is such a welcome feature in the NightSky pedal. It’s so easy to set up and operate, yet opens up so many sonic possibilities. Whether tapping a tempo in to create movement in my sustained note trails or manually stepping through the settings, I found it inspirational. When it comes to guitar, it will hold some appeal for the more adventurous players out there, but I imagine synthesists and sound designers will have a field day with it.
The Nightsky is a very accessible pedal, in that if you jump right in you can create some simple and beautiful ‘standard’ reverbs. But the modulation and sequencing options combine to create a supremely tweakable palette of reverb sounds, and it really shines as a more complex effect.
Sending a string pad sound from a Prophet-6 to the pedal on a bus was a joy...
I own several high‑quality reverb pedals, including a Strymon Big Sky, an Eventide H9 and Earthquaker Devices’ Afterneath, and use them all regularly; I felt that I had my reverb bases fairly well covered and wasn’t sure what more I could discover. But I have to admit that from the first time I plugged the NightSky in, I knew I had to own it! I adore the modulation options: not only do they sound good, but I find myself needing to tweak them only minimally before I land exactly where I want to be. The different flavours of reverb that are covered in the Decay section cover various bases and are all highly usable, too.
I spent a lot of time when evaluating the NightSky running my guitar through it straight into a Fender Bassman amp. But I also love that it can be set to line input mode, and I experimented with using it as a send effect hooked up to our Looptrotter console. Sending a string pad sound from a Prophet-6 to the pedal on a bus was a joy: dialling in an ethereal ambience with a slow‑moving modulation on the filter was very satisfying and sat in my mixes perfectly.
So it sounds good. It can do simple and complex effects, without ever making it a hassle for the user. And the line input mode and MIDI functionality make it really versatile too. What’s not to like?
1. Minor pentatonic.
2. Major pentatonic.
5. Minor blues.
6. Harmonic minor.
7. Whole tone.
- Out‑of‑this‑world reverb sounds!
- Modulation and sequencing options mean lots of creative potential.
- Fully MIDI controllable.
- Line/Instrument switch: it’s not just for guitar!
- Not a traditional reverb pedal, and the particular flavour might not be to everyone’s taste.
The NightSky reverb is built well and sounds great. Strymon have done well to make such a complex effect pedal so simple to use.
£439.95 including VAT
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