A few weeks ago I managed to score a rarity on e-bay: an almost new Behringer VM1 Vintage Time Machine. This is an old Behringer pedal (perhaps one of their earliest models) that is no longer in production, and hasn’t been for a long time. It is not an expensive pedal (usually it goes for less than 100€ on e-bay), but it is hard to come by. It is an analogue delay effects pedal, with some interesting features.
The first word that comes to mind when I think of this pedal is “Huge”. This pedal, like the VT999, is bigger than my volcas. It is also considerably heavy and can only be powered from a 9V power supply (center pin negative, like most pedals). In fact, the similarities with the VT999 Vintage Tube Monster are so many, I think the level knob on the VM1 is there only to accommodate the number of knob holes on the casing for the VT999. They were also made at about the same time and are fully analogue effects pedals. Both have a power switch on the back, but the effect is only engaged when you press the stomp switch on the front.
Taking a tour of the controls on the VM1, you’ll find the stomp switch and five knobs on the front panel: LEVEL, MIX, FEEDBACK, DELAY and CHORUS/VIBRATO. On the back panel, you have the power socket, an ON/OFF switch, one INPUT socket (6.5mm unbalanced TS mono), an EFFECT OUT socket and also a DIRECT OUT socket that send the unaffected dry signal. You also have a switch to select between CHORUS and VIBRATO as the modulation for the delay effect. This latter feature is a great addition I do not see very often on delay pedals at this price point, and greatly enhances the expressiveness of anything going through this pedal. There are also two LED indicators for POWER and for OVERLOAD.
In order to hear anything coming out of this pedal, not only must you activate the stomp pedal, you also need to adjust your LEVEL and MIX knobs. The LEVEL knob adjusts the amplitude of the incoming signal that goes into the delay engine (so it is your pre-effect volume). The MIX knob allows you to balance between the dry signal and the delay. The mix between the two signals goes out from the EFFECT OUT socket. If you have the MIX in the 10 position (100% wet), and both outputs connected to your mixer, you can control this blend from the mixer. More useful still is to record the DIRECT OUT and the EFFECT OUT at 100% MIX using two different channels. This allows you not only to adjust the blend between the two in the mix, it also allows you to have some fun playing with the panning of the dry and delayed signals.
The heart of this pedal is the Delay engine, which is controlled by the FEEDBACK and DELAY knobs. The former sets the amount of delayed signal that is feed back into the input of the delay engine, while the latter sets the time between the incoming signal and the first delay. Pushing the FEEDBACK knob over 5 gets you into self-oscillation territory. With some reverb (using, for example, the RV600), this can create great drones, or even some Karplus-Strong sounds, if you are really good at adjusting both knobs. Because this is an analogue (possibly a bucket brigade) delay, don’t expect long delay times: this pedal can go up to 700ms… perhaps a little bit more, but not much. There is no way it can sync to the tempo, unless you are able to adjust it by ear. Also, the pedal becomes quite noisy for the longer delay times. Some analogue pedals, like the MoogerFogger, have a built in low pass filter to avoid some of the high pitch noise this delay mechanism makes. This gives the MoogerFooger a lovely dark delay sound. In the case of the VM1, there isn’t such filter, so it is more akin to the delay sound you find on the Monotron Delay, the Volca Keys, the Stylophone Gen X-1, or the Minilogue. However, you can take advantage of the two outputs and make the 100% wet signal go though your filter of choice, for a darker and more tailored delay solution.
Finally, there is a CHORUS/VIBRATO knob,m which adjusts the amount of modulation on the delayed sound. You can select between the two effects using a switch on the back panel. Both effects derive from modulating the delay time, causing some pitch fluctuations on the effect output. The CHORUS/VIBRATO knob allows you to travel through a wide range of options, from a very shy chorus, to a wide and expressive vibrato. Some settings sound better then others (chorus with the knob at 10 sounds terribly out of tune).
At the end of the day, the Behringer VM1 Vintage Time Machine is a big lump of metal making noisy delays with optional modulation. It has a some imperfections, but they do add to give the sound some character. The fact that you can take the DIRECT OUT and a 100% wet signal from the EFFECT OUT really opens up the creative possibilities of this pedal. Using it can be inspiring, but its size, weight and lack of battery options makes this more of a studio piece. They are rare, but not very expensive. After playing with it for some time, I start to understand why people owning one of these might have difficulty parting ways with it. It is not as flexible and portable as the EM600, but it does find its place on the sound palette I trend to work in.