Monday, December 19, 2011

Review: Ibanez UE300 Multi-Effects Unit


This is the Ibanez UE300, a multi-effects unit. Produced in the 1980s, this is one of Ibanez' first effects units combining more than one pedal into a single, self-powered unit. The pedals are essentially a TS9 Tube Screamer*, a CS9 Stereo Chorus, and a CP9 Compressor/Limiter.

Since the Tube Screamer itself is undoubtedly the most famous, most popular, and arguably most useful pedal in the world, this unit deserves special consideration simply because this notable effect appears in its circuit. From a player's perspective, this is an opportunity to own a vintage Tube Screamer at a fraction of the cost of buying a standalone one. As a collector, this pedal seems like a solid investment for the very same reason; as older TS808s and TS9s increase in price (they already fetch upwards of $800 and $500, respectively), the UE300s will certainly rise in price as well. Since the CP9 and CS9 are nearer to the bottom of the range of values in 9-series pedals, their inclusion in this unit is unlikely to have as significant an effect on the value of the UE300.

What makes the UE300 unique from a modern perspective is the fact that it is made up of fully analog circuitry. Most of us associate muli-effects units with digital modeling, and a wide range of inferior-sounding effects, most of which sound terrible, and process the original signal into oblivion. The UE300, however, is like having the original analog pedals (the total cost of which is well beyond the average price for a UE300), plus the convenience of a single, self-contained and self-powered unit. Moreover, the sound of these pedals in incomparable to anything else; each of these pedals on their own is considered among the best at what they do. Another great feature of the UE300 is the Bypass switch, which allows you to leave the pedals on, but bypass the effect circuit altogether. On a conventional pedal board, this would require another pedal, and a great deal of extra wiring.

There are, however, disadvantages to this fantastic unit. For instance, if you happen to like one, but not the others, you are stuck with a very large and inconvenient unit, and this is probably a deal-breaker in all cases except the Tube Screamer (an original CS9 or CP9 on its own rarely exceeds $100). Another drawback is noise; the UE300 generates some signal noise on its own – more, in fact, than if you were to connect the three individual pedals together on a conventional pedal board. The irony of this is that the one distinct advantages of a combination effect ought to be the lack of need for connecting cables and individual power supplies. On one hand, the UE300 is convenient because it has its own power supply, and requires only two cords to attach to an amp; on the other, it limits the range of selectable effects, and produces undesirable noise.

*There are some reviews, including one by Guitar World Magazine, that indicate that the circuit in the Tube Screamer section of this unit is actually closer to a TS808 than a TS9. The one I have contains the same 4-digit serial # Japan Radio Corp. JRC4558D op-amp found in many TS808s, but this chip can also be found in early versions of the TS9. In any case, there are so many factors affecting the sound of a Tube Screamer that this alone is not enough evidence to conclude which pedal this one most resembles. I would argue that this is in fact a unique Tube Screamer, since it is only found in these multi-effects units, and should be considered independently of the others. Regardless, it is easier to acquire a UE300 than an original TS808 or an original TS9, especially one with the “holy grail” JRC4558D chip inside.

The Verdict: If you can find one of these in good condition for a reasonable price, buy it! It will prove to be a good investment, and (if you haven't already) you will get to experience the joy of playing with a real vintage Tube Screamer. You will also become the envy of your gearhead friends.

Price Range:
$200-350

Highs:
-Has an original Tube Screamer!
-Great, warm sound
-Analog circuitry
-Bypass pedal

Lows:
-Limited effects
-Size
-Somewhat noisy
-Requires a grounded A/C outlet

Rating: 6/10

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