In the world of guitar effects pedals, there is no name more respected or synonymous than Boss. For nearly 50 years, Boss has been making compact effects pedals for guitar and bass. Their current square shape is definitely the image most people think of when they think about Boss pedals, but their early shapes were big old mains-powered boxes – hardly the sort of pedalboard real-estate-friendly small stomps we all know today.
In 1976, based on the Roland JC-120 amp’s Chorus channel (which was, in fact, originally made for Joni Mitchell to recreate the stereo effects she had in the studio while on the road), Boss released the CE-1 chorus – their first ‘compact’ effects pedal, and arguably the pedal that started it all. The CE-1 was immediately loved by players such as Andy Summers and Alex Lifeson; in fact, pretty much any chorus you hear on late 70’s/early 80’s records is likely to be a CE-1 and is still essential to modern players like John Frusciante. The CE-1’s place in pedal history cannot be ignored, and its lush and wide tones in both chorus and vibrato mode are the standard by which all chorus pedals since have been judged!
This leads us to our comparison: how does the CE-1 stack up against both the UA Brigade chorus (a reference to the bucket-brigade chip used in the original pedal) and the NI Guitar Rig 6 Ensemble plug-in (well…. It’s pretty obvious where they got that name… right?).
We put them to the test, and the results were very interesting!
There have been many imitators over the years such as the RetroSonic Chorus, and even Boss themselves have even included a CE-1 setting on their current CE-2 Wazacraft pedal. Also, thanks to modern technology there are some pretty amazing digital emulations as well, from the ’70s Chorus’ in the Line 6 HX series of effects to the computer-based plug-ins this video is comparing. One of the downsides of an old pedal is 50 years of wear and tear and component breakdown that can affect the pedal and thus, more importantly, the tone. Old pedals also have quirks like impedance mismatches and high-end loss in terms of guitar tone which can be frustrating, or they require mods and workarounds. Modern digital emulations have none of these issues – but there is that hesitation with truly recreating an analogue sound with a digital processor.
The tone of the original pedal is iconic – honestly, it sounds good in pretty much any setting. The issue we had with our borrowed test model was the input was very sensitive and had a very small useable range of input sensitivity before it distorted. This was likely due to the old parts – and because it is such an iconic pedal, we let it slide. The original is also quite a noisy pedal, a quirk of a pedal that is older than this reviewer! The difference in noise floor between the CE-1 and the Brigade was immediately obvious, with the Brigade having no noise floor or unwanted distortions and sounding every bit as good as the original, albeit without the charm of playing a vintage Boss pedal. The UA Brigade is an awesome-sounding plugin, and at about one-tenth, the price of the current market value of an original CE-1 represents amazing value for money too!
The cool thing about the Brigade was that the settings on the plug-in lined up exactly with the settings on the original – the speed of the chorus and vibrato was the same in every position. This sort of meticulous modelling on UA’s part shows their attention to detail – it’s no wonder the emulation sounds as good as it does too!
The comparison with the NI Ensemble was a little different – the ensemble certainly didn’t have the same warmth as the Brigade or the CE-1, and the positions on the knobs were a little different in terms of speed and depth. However, the Ensemble does have a few tricks up its sleeve, including deeper EQ possibilities and the ability to sync speeds to tempo. This could be very useful depending on your set-up. Also not forgetting, Ensemble is part of a whole suite of guitar amps and effects in NI Guitar Rig 6 (which all sound pretty excellent, to be honest – perhaps a more in-depth review of this plug-in is warranted) whereas the Brigade is a standalone plugin.
The UA Brigade is a truly excellent-sounding chorus – equally at home on guitars or synths or whatever you can think of! It’s a dead-on emulation of the original CE-1 and sounds every bit as good. When you take the noise floor into consideration, you could say it sounds better, but that feels like sacrilege, so we’re going to stop short of saying that. But we’re pretty close!
If you get the chance to try out an original CE-1, plug in and bask in its glorious stereo sound and let its analog warmth wash over you and envelop you. If, like most people though, you don’t have that opportunity, the UA Brigade is a truly worthy emulation of an iconic pedal.