About a year ago, I managed to score a lot of pedals by not a lot a money. Most of them have had a comfortable life, in their boxes, in a shelf at home. Still, I remember I brought them, and decide to take one out of the box to test and see what they have to offer. Now, as many of you know, I have a thing for phasers (specially the Behringer VP-1), so it made perfect sense to add this pedal to my collection. The Behringer SP400 is a digital, monophonic phaser pedal made back in the day Behringer wasn’t too busy releasing spoof’s of possible future products. It might not sound as vintage and warm has the VP-1, but it has some interesting features I wanted to convey in the video demo bellow.
The build quality of the SP400 is similar to all other Behringer pedals of the 400 series: it has a blue plastic chassis with relatively firm knobs and the overall feel brings it closer to the 600 series than to the rather flimsy and fragile 200 and 300 series. On the front panel, you’ll find four knobs: RATE, DEPTH, RES (resonance), and MODE. As you might have guessed, the RATE and DEPTH knobs control the rate and the amount of modulation that goes into the phaser in order to get those sweeping harmonics that characterize this kind of effect. The RES knob controls the resonance of the all-pass filters that make the phaser per se. The higher the resonance, the more intense the phaser effect will be. You should notice that there isn’t a MIX or Dry/Wet knob, so RES is the only way to tame the effect, should you wish to have a more intense or shy phaser in your sound chain.
Like most Behringer pedals (and perhaps all pedals from all manufacturers), the interesting stuff is on the MODE knob. This pedal offers four different emulations of classical phasers with 4-, 8-, 10- and 12-stage phaser emulations. The more stages in the phaser, me more intense phasing you’ll have. Indeed, the 4-stage phaser mode can be very discrete and give only a hint of phasing on the mids and mid-highs. Such mode is not made for your Berlin School tracks, or emulating Jean Michell Jarre’s string machines, but will put some movement in stale pads to give them some energy without removing their original character. On the other hand, the 12-stage phaser is as deep as phasers go. This is where you can get the deep phasers, jet filters, etc. And the best thing is: you have two intermediate steps between these extremes, allowing for a lot more flexiblity that what you would get from a simple analogue phaser (unless you go for the really high-end ones, of course).
But the most interesting modes are in the upper section of the MODE knob. There is a FALL and a RISE mode. In both cases, the modulation is controlled by a sawtooth LFO (instead of the typical sine/triangle waveform). In the FALL mode, this is a ramp down sawtooth that works wonders when doing minor chords on pads, adding some sadness, darkness and a general sense of going down. On the other hand, the ramp up sawtooth used in the RISE mode gives you a sense of ascension, giving an uplifting mood to the chords… I’m inclined to try this in a 2-part composition, with a darker part filled with falling phasers, and an uplifting response made using the RISE mode. I’m guessing that will be interesting. Finally, you also have a STEP mode, which is akin to have a Sample&Hold modulating the phaser.
The creative possibilities of this pedal (specially the FALL, RISE and STEP modes) are greatly enhanced by the fact that you can sync it to the tempo. If you press and hold the stomp switch for 2 seconds, you’ll enter TAP TEMPO mode, were you can tap the tempo on the stomp switch and the pedal will sync the LFO rate to that tempo. You can also use a switch pedal connected to the EXP/CTL input to tap the tempo without using the stomp pedal. Moreover, you can also connect an expression pedal to the same input and use it to adjust the maximum modulation depth, without touching the DEPTH knob (in which case, the depth value set by the knob works as an upper limit to the parameter).
At the end of the day, I am a little bit sad that this pedal is no longer in production. Working with it is really inspiring, and can lend a lot of expressiveness to the sound of even a simple synth like the Volca Keys. Second hand units are not uncommon, and you can use this link to search for available SP400’s on e-bay, should you wish to buy one for yourself.