DSM & Humbolt Electronics Simplifier Bass Station Review
February 16, 2020
Yes, this is a compressor reviews site. No, the Simplifier is not a compressor. But sometimes you get your hands on something that is such an impressive piece of kit you want to spread the word. That's exactly what is happening right here.
The folks at DSM Noismaker shared one of their prototype Simplifier Bass Stations with me and I've been using it a lot over the last few weeks. Needless to say, I am impressed.
In collaboration with Humboldt Electronics the team has crammed a ton of functionality into a tiny enclosure. I'd be willing to bet the Simplifier is smaller than many other pedals on your board already.
There are nine dials on the face of the enclosure and one dial on the front. There are three four toggle switches on the face of the enclosure and one on the right side, and three on the back side. There are two XLR outputs, a passive/active input, a through/out switchable output, a Parallel FX Send and Return, and a Preamp FX Send and Return. Finally, a 9-volt power input. Whew... more on these later.
The device itself feels solid and has heft to it. For the most part it seems well made though some of the switches are plastic and feel like might not hold up to much use. The folks at DSM said these particular switches were the only ones that would fit the form factor.
At its core, the Simplifier is a preamp, cab simulator, EQ, and DI box, all-in-one. But it is not your everyday combo pedal. No, this is one highly configurable and versatile little box. I can see where the Simplifier might not look so simple to dial in. I am hoping my review will help break down each component into something understandable and shed some light on how the whole thing works together seamlessly.
Connect your bass to the Passive/Active input on the back. Use the toggle switch below to flip between active/passive based on the output of your bass. This switch essentially acts like a pad to help boost low output instruments or pad a high output bass with something like an 18-volt preamp.
I'd recommend connecting earphones to the input on the front marked with a headset icon. Doing so will help you dial in your desired sound. There is a handy Phones level dial on the front of the pedal with plenty of volume boost available.
Then turn the Preamp blend knob (top row, furthest left dial) all the way clockwise to blend full preamp. In this position, you are blended 100% preamp which will allow you to hear the effect of the EQ without distraction from other aspects of the circuit.
Now boost or cut Highs, Mids, and Lows with the 3-band EQ dials. There is also a Mid Frequency switch that will allow you to configure the center point of the midrange between 900hz, 400 hz, and 1.5 khz. Nice!
Then adjust volume and gain to taste. It is possible to dial in some grit in the form of breakup with the gain dial turned to 2:00 and higher. I wouldn't describe the type of OD/breakup as overly pleasant but it is there. It is also useful to compensate for the different types of basses you might connect, higher output or lower output passive basses. Needless to say, you will use the gain dial for sure as the overall output of the Simplifier is not as hot as other preamp type pedals.
At this point, stop and dial in your sound. There is plenty of variability in the preamp section but I personally don't find it as pleasing as other pedal EQ/preamp pedals I've tested. That said, I don't think DSM and Humboldt intended for users to use the preamp section alone. That's not really the point of this little device.
Now let us move on to the Cab Sim functionality. There are three dials and two switches you will use to configure.
Start by turning the Cabsim Blend dial (bottom row, furthest right knob) all the way clockwise to Wet. Doing so will blend the circuit to full cab sim effect which will help you hear what is happening.
Then select which cab size you prefer by adjusting the center toggle switch marked Cab Size. You have the option of 4x10 vented, 8x10 sealed, or 1x15 vented. Each sounds distinctly different and are all useful. My preference is for the 4x10 vented.
Next, adjust the Speaker Color toggle to your liking. I'd describe the Bright position as somewhat Ampeg SVT-like. Modern is all around full and punchy. Warm does more with the mids. Don't think tube tone but I supposed it is a bit more wooly sounding though.
You can adjust the simulation of microphone placement with the Mic Position dial to centered (dialed all the way clockwise) or off axis (all the way counter clockwise) to anywhere in between. There is a ton of variability in tone when adjusting this dial and it is legit.
If that were not enough already, you still have the Resonance dial which essentially simulates the resonance frequency of the cabinet. Really cool. I found I really liked the dial set somewhere between 2:00 and 4:00 for overall bigness and spacial sound.
Remember the Cabsim Blend dial? Use it to blend the amount of preamp tone and Cabsim tone. After dialing in my cab sound I really like this dial set somewhere around 2:00 for more "wet" signal which essentially means a fair amount of cab signal blended in.
Now, let's talk about the Parallel FX Send/Return. You can route something else in the signal path but bypassing the preamp circuit. Then use the Parallel Blend knob (top row, furthest left) to blend between the onboard preamp and whatever you have routed into the Parallel FX path. That's really a cool feature. There are so many applications for this including compressors, other preamps, etc. where you can blend the degree to which those devices are impacting your tone along with the onboard Simplifier preamp.
The Parallel LPF three-way goggle serves to basically allow you to set it up so your mids and highs pass through the preamp , and your low end bypasses the preamp. Then, you can use a compressor on the parallel fx loop so the low end gets compressed, but the preamp signal keeps its dynamics. Then blend again both signals and go to the cabsim, ready for the FOH. Very sweet! Or leave the switch in the center Off position. Your choice. This whole circuit is a lot more than just a clean blend like in many other preamp pedals on the market.
You still have a Preamp FX Send/Return to pass other pedals if you want as an effects loop.
There is an 1/8" AUX input on the front to connect a phone or other device. That combined with the Phones out makes the Simplifier a real nice practice device.
There are two XLR outputs and a ground lift switch on the back.
The left XLR marked DI Out sends the complete signal but the LPF affects it, as well as the phase switch on the right side of the pedal.
The right XLR marked DI Parallel includes the blend from the Parallel FX loop. You could send two signals to FOH with this setup.
The 1/4" output marked Thru/Out Output can be switched between sending an unaffected signal or an affected signal with the plastic toggle switch below.
Finally, there is a Parallel Phase switch for inverted or normal. This switch is located on the right side of the enclosure. It is there because some pedals invert the phase and when pedals are connected to the Parallel FX loop that switch could come in handy to avoid clipping on the parallel and DI.
So how does it sound?
In one word: Complex. I mean that in a good way though. There is a ton of tone tweaking opportunity and it is probably one of the best devices I've ever used to truly simulate amplifier and cab tone without having the real amp and stack behind you. In fact, that's where they got the name Simplifier. It is a "Sim"plifer of an amplifier.
With this device you can dial in everything but sterile and boring. You can count on legit tone in a way that still adheres to the sound of your bass but pushed through an amp and cabinet to FOH. It will replace preamp pedals and separate cab simulators. I would see little need for a separate HPF pedal with the Simplifier in use.
The DI sounds fantastic, as does the 1/4" output. It is a killer practice amp.
Is it difficult to use? Well, yes... and no. It becomes more intuitive as you use it. For me anyway it helps to think of it in three different parts as I outlined above.
1. The preamp section
2. The cabsim section
3. The loops
I do think it is useful as a pedalboard preamp, last in chain. I also think it has great value in the studio.
DSM Noisemaker and Humboldt Electronics have created something quite unlike anything on the market. Due to its size and the amount of functionality built in, it is a game changer. It sounds great.
Downsides for me would be the fact that some of the switches are plastic. I do worry about them breaking off.
The preamp section alone isn't as impressive maybe as I'd like, but when blended in with the cab simulation that's where the magic happens. I suspect nobody would buy this device to use only as a preamp anyway.
Yes, there is a learning curve but it isn't insurmountable. It's a lot of functionality and tone for the price and sounds fantastic.
Retail price: $329