My initial impressions of the box were very good. It’s built really well and is a breeze to work with. So easy I didn’t bother opening the manual. It’s all twist and click so nothing new for us guitar players. I really like how simple this unit is laid out. It’s one smart looking box and feels great in your hands too. Turning the knobs you see two arrows directing you where to go to match the current preset settings. I got a little hypnotized doing this. It’s strange the things you enjoy sometimes! Switching is great and TC have used some lovely toggle switches which you don’t have to jump on to engage, and therefore you don’t get a whopping great thwack through your amp either.
Kicking in the first preset I had to double check the thing was plugged in! This was a very pleasant start indeed as I am a big fan of transparency. I’ve got a really nice guitar and amp and I’d like to hear them and the Nova Drive certainly did not let me down in that department!
I stepped through each of the 18 presets, as you do with something new, just to get a flavour of where this thing was going. The presets were all full, warm and felt great to play through. For me the feel of a distortion is paramount. If it doesn’t feel right I don’t really care how good it sounds because it is an instrinsic ingredient to help coax some magic from my stubby fingers.
BTW, the video above is TC’s product video… that’s not me…
I’m very impressed with the overdrive in this unit. Setting all the controls at 12 o’clock you really do have to double check it’s plugged in. So many units suck the tone right out or even worse just distort too much, even at lower settings. The NDR-1 has a really great 12 o’clock sound which I feel is important for any pedal but especially overdrive pedals. You want to match your amp and then find how much gain and tone you want to add or take away. The NDR-1 really couldn’t do this any better.
In terms of gain you don’t get a lot. But in fact the overdrive is so nice you may wish you could turn the knob a bit further. That said, maybe you do get a bit more than the tube screamer type pedals that are around. However, it blends so well with the pre-amp that you really could get anything you want from this section alone. TC have very cleverly included a Mix knob so you can decide just how much to send to your pre-amp stage. I was very happy using this as a clean boost I can tell ya!
Overall I’m extremely impressed with the overdrive in this unit. It doesn’t have the same flavour as say a Tube Screamer due to it’s transparency, so don’t expect that from it. I will probably leave my Maxon OD-9 in my setup, purely because that tube screamer character is something I really enjoy. I’m so spoilt!
Initial impressions of the distortion were very similar to the overdrive. With the settings dimed it sounded pretty transparent, just with more gain. Perfect. Just what TC promised it would be! It had a fair amount of distortion in this dimed position (like the max of the overdrive) but I fancied a bit more and so I cranked it all the way up. I was surpised at just how much character this distortion has. And it’s a pleasant character! None of that scratchy, tinny muck here! The distortion in this unit is very impressive. It’s smooth and very nice throughout all it’s possible settings.
TC suggest this distortion circuit is similar to a Rat. And this is true, particularly if you boost the treble a little. Doing this you will find some of those famous Rat tones, which I personally love. It has a fatter low end than the Rat but hey Rat fans, you can turn the bass control down a bit.
A problem for me with distortion boxes is the tone control. Usually some kind of horrible boost that you just position in the spectrum. Yuck. Thankfully TC have avoided that kind of tone shaping. I’m not a big fan of distortion tone controls in general but the ones on the NDR-1 are fab and do exactly what you want. You can coax an awful lot of variety from this distortion. Rolling back the treble at high distortion settings gets a wonderful creamy lead tone that got saved as a preset immediately!
However, as it was similar to a Rat I found I missed the Filter control!! Oh, the irony. It would have been interesting to see a switchable alternate EQ mode here turning the bass/treble into a cutoff/reso or something. Maybe something for the NDR-2?
The range of distortion settings is quite wide. In the lower settings it starts to behave similar to an overdrive pedal and I got some extremely playable tones here. Boosting up to about 2 o’clock I found my favourite distortion settings which had bags of character and squelchy-squashy-iness. 3 o’clock was almost as much as my pre-amp could take before it broke up nastily and full up distortion is extremely thick but smooth and warm. It’s not meant to be a metal pedal and it’s not but it does have plenty of distortion in here! And plenty of level boost too should you want to melt your face off.
This is where this pedal comes into it’s own. As an overdrive or distortion it’s really good but when you start fiddling with the routing this pedal does indeed become a monster of tone!
You can run the overdrive into the distortion, distortion into the overdrive or… and wait for it…you can run both at the same time in parallel. Gain stacking is nothing new and to be honest not something that was really that popular in the past. I remember back in the 80s some players running a few distortions together to get really distorted sounds but they were mostly texture type players. It seems to be something all tone wizards demand these days.
The important thing with gain stacking is that you have a really good transparent base to start building from. And the NDR-1 is pretty darn transparent! You also need to have sounds that compliment each other and are characteristically different. The overdrive and distortion are different in this unit but not massively so. It’s not like a tube screamer and a Rat. The OD doesn’t have the tube screamer character and weird tone control. And the distortion doesn’t have the Rat weird Filter control. So it’s not quite the starting point you’d really like to be at.
However, the third thing you need is sounds that will blend together and this thing sounds incredible when you blend the two circuits together!
The really cool thing is being able to switch between different routing methods at the press of a button. None of this unplugging and plugging and smacking your guitar into the floor and other hard objects whilst doing so. It’s incredible just what you can find by flipping the two sections around. TC said this pedal would be versatile and they weren’t joking around!
G-System, MIDI and PSU
As a G-System owner I am desperate to get this thing hooked up with it. However, TC didn’t include the cable with the unit which is a bit annoying if you’re a G-System owner. Therefore unfortunately I can’t make any comments about how this unit integrates with the G-Sys. From what I can see it looks very cool but I’m not even sure if I’ll ever get to try that out as I can’t find the cable at my distributor.
And it’s not just G-System owners missing out, it’s anyone with some MIDI knowledge. The parameters are controllable via MIDI. Yes you read that right! You can assign an expression pedal to the distortion parameter if you want, or even the routing mode. If only I had the cable!! You can also run an external switch with this giving you even more options.
Something of note is that this unit is 12V with a 380mA draw. Again G-System users will probably sniff a little as they can’t use the unit to power the NDR-1. Such a shame but the unit does come with the PSU supplied. The unit runs slightly warm, which is no problem whatsoever but slightly unusual if you’ve never experienced a warm stomp before.
So has this pedal made it into my arsenal? The overdrive immediately made the cut. That section alone is simply fantastic and so un-switch-offable. The distortion I admit I was tentative about at first. It’s creamy, smooth and thick with a lot of variety and it’s a very nice distortion but I have a very nice amp and like the gain sound it has! However after some serious fiddling I started to find it impossible to switch off as I liked every single thing I did with it! And if that’s not enough there’s the routing modes. Again with those I couldn’t decide upon which sounded best as they all sounded so good.
The NDR-1 is fabulous. It’s everything you want from an overdrive box. And it’s everything you want from a distortion box. And they go together in the same box. You have 18 preset locations to save lots of cool sounds and you have those awesome routing modes. If that’s not enough then there’s the MIDI stuff too.
Oh yes, I have a new favourite distortion pedal!
The NDR-1 retails at Â£190 here in the UK. Check the TC Electronic website for more details. And take a look at the Octa-Screamer while you’re there!
TC Electronic Nova Drive NDR-1