Steve Crow is the designer and builder for Audio Kitchen amps, and his eight-year-old daughter hand paints every box. Coming from a pro sound engineering background, as well as being a guitarist, has informed Steve’s attitude towards amp and pedal design. He feels that nothing flatters the tone of a guitar or bass so much as a valve grid, so that’s what he uses in all his products.
Inside The Small Trees, there’s an ECC82 double triode. The pedal comes with a 12-vault power supply, but an internal transformer steps it up to run the valve at full voltage. The first triode provides the gain and the second triode is configured as a cathode follower to give you a low-output impedance, which can drive long cables with minimal losses.
The phrase `sonically transparent’ used to mean something quite specific. These days, it’s not unusual to see it applied to things such as Tube Screamer clones, so The Small Trees is a timely reminder of what `transparency’ actually means.
I first hooked it up with two guitar cables, a 10-footer between my guitar and the pedal and a 15-footer between The Small Trees and the amp. With equalised levels, the bypassed tone was dull, mushy and lifeless. So I plugged into the amp direct for comparison and everything sounded fine.
Switching on The Small Trees made using the two lengths of cable sound just like plugging directly into the amp. The low output impedance makes this pedal a fine line driver, and you could set it to unity gain at the end of a line of pedals for a lossless signal path, though it does add a little additional noise.
Another option is to use The Small Trees as an attenuator. This may seem counter-intuitive, but cranking a valve amp then reducing the signal level using the pedal produces excellent results. The tone retains its clarity and vibrancy rather than going dull or plunky ± as always, a treble bleed capacitor helps.
With 16dB of gain, using The Small Trees as a line driver or attenuator may seem wasteful, because it’s a fantastic clean boost that just sounds sweeter and plays better the more you crank it. At unity gain, there is subtle bass roll-off, but since the low end fills out as you increase the volume, the slight bass roll prevents muddiness without sounding bass light.
There are innumerable solid-state clean boosts with superb sound quality, and we put The Small Trees up against some serious boutique contenders. None of them could better the finessed treble or touch sensitivity of The Small Trees. Top-quality audio gear is all about small margins, but there’s no doubt The Small Trees is in the upper echelons.
Inevitably, this pedal isn’t going to win any prizes for versatility and it’s not a problem solver, tone shaper or talent substitute. In fact, you can really only get away with a simple switch and knob control arrangement if what is coming out of a stompbox is so good you wouldn’t want to mess with it anyway. That’s what you get with The Small Trees because Crow’s intention to make engaging and earthy-sounding pedals has been fully realised.
Audio Kitchen – The Small Trees
• Price £300
• Description Clean boost/line driver/attenuator pedal with ECC82 valve and 12V power supply. Made in the UK
• Controls Level
• Features True bypass footswitch
• dimensions 116 (W) x 91 (D) x 55mm (H)
• Contact Audio Kitchen 020 8735 0045