Caroline Kilobyte & Haymaker Reviews
Intriguing names and graphics, and mysterious extra switches… Richard Purvis gets his head around a pair of American originals from Caroline.
We’re looking at a green overdrive that doesn’t want to sound like a Tube Screamer, and a lo-fi delay that doesn’t want to sound analogue. Caroline makes all the right noises about courage, innovation and ‘daring to dream’ – we’ll soon find out if the pedals make all the right noises, too, but they certainly don’t look like cautious copycats.
Founded in 2010, this small-scale US firm bankrolled its early projects – including the first version of the Kilobyte delay, launched in 2013 – through Kickstarter crowdfunding.
The product roster has since expanded to seven stompboxes, and they’re still made in Columbia, South Carolina.
Digital delays have been trying very hard to emulate the scuzzy, warbly decay of their analogue ancestors for a long time now – and some of them are really, really good at it. But lo-fi doesn’t have to mean analogue – and the Kilobyte proves it. This box lets your dry signal pass through unmolested, but creates its repeats by ramming a powerful overdrive preamp into a cheap digital delay chip designed for toys and karaoke machines.
So, you have controls for level, feedback and delay time, but also – the top right one with the space invader icon – attack, for setting the gain of the preamp that drives the repeats. There’s also a second footswitch, known aptly enough as ‘havoc’ – hold this down to temporarily max out the feedback setting for runaway self-oscillation.
Finally, the little trimpot in the middle controls the modulation depth of the repeats. The original Kilobyte had this pot hidden on the inside, and that brings us to a more fundamental change: unlike the handwired 2013 version, this pedal is built around a printed circuit board. Caroline reckons there’s no audible difference, and based on past experience we’re inclined to believe it.
This is only a wee stompbox, after all – and a lo-fi one at that.
The manual includes some suggested settings, and that’s just as well because it can take a while to feel at home with the idiosyncratic labelling of these controls. Probably the best approach is to start with the attack and modulation at zero, then tweak the other three controls just as you would on a normal delay.
It’s not exactly scuzzy like this – there’s just a touch of treble roll-off helping the repeats to blend in naturally. The maximum delay time is not far short of a full second.
Dialling in just a smidgeon of modulation brings some welcome sweetness to clean chords, and we’re now starting to feel very comfortable with this warm, soothing delay. But then, creeping up to tip us off the sofa in a disorientated heap, comes that little space invader.
With this knob past halfway, the dry signal is still unaffected but the repeats are properly ratty – and also a lot louder, so you’ll have to pull the level control right back to compensate.
You can use the feedback and delay time controls to create soaring and swooping self-oscillation patterns, but it’s a real bonus to have the havoc switch at your disposal here. The repeats get more and more gnarly as they build – middly overtones barging their way to the front in a joyously unpredictable way – and then drop gently away again as soon as you take your foot off.
You can even ride this switch through chord progressions like an accelerator, letting the noisy ambience build then lifting off just long enough to get round the corners.
What kind of overdrive is the Haymaker? The website blurb mentions three widely acknowledged classics – the Centaur, the Timmy and the Tube Screamer – but makes it clear that, in keeping with Caroline’s fearless ethos, those reference points were always targets to beat, not to emulate. What, all of them? Well, you might as well aim high.
We’re promised a wider gain range than most pedals of this type, from transparent crunch right through to blistering fuzz.
That’s not why it’s called a ‘dynamic drive’, though. That’s down to the three-way mode switch in the middle, which adjusts how hard the signal is clipped, and therefore how squished it sounds.
Might this be inspired by the symmetry switch on the Timmy? As with the Kilobyte, we get three other controls whose functions are straightforward once you’ve deciphered the graphics (volume, gain and tone), and one that’s a bit of an enigma. This bottom-right knob is called shape, and the best way to explain what it does might just be to describe what it sounds like…
However, first there’s one more control to mention: an internal trimpot for wet/dry balance, which – according to the manual, and even a cheeky message on the circuit board itself – we shouldn’t go anywhere near. Ha, right. We’ll have a good old fiddle with this in due course.
The middle switch setting is supposed to offer the most open, uncompressed sound, and that’s where we’ll start. With the gain just shy of halfway and the shape control at zero for now, we get a full, crisp low-gain overdrive that’s about as transparent as they come. It’s basically your bypass signal, but bigger and hairier – a fine starting point for any overdrive.
Things do get a lot more rocky when we start piling on the overdrive, but it stays effortlessly smooth and tonally neutral all the way round to the top.
Flick the mode switch from B to A and you might be tempted to flick it straight back again – it’s a step back in ‘bigness’, with the midrange flattened out for a more fizzily saturated drive. Mode C is more compressed again, but it is worth persevering because – with a little tweaking – these extra voices are great for softer-edged lead work.
And the shape control? It sort of brings the whole thing to life – that is, even more life than it had already. Turning it up adds richness to the overdrive and sparkle to the top in
a way that’s subtle but hugely useful.
Finally, as nobody’s looking, we’ll give that little trimpot a twist to blend some clean signal back into the overdriven sound. Can it really be so dangerous? Nah. As long as you don’t go too far, it sounds bloody great. And that, children, is why you should never do as you’re told.
• PRICE £199
• DESCRIPTION Digital delay pedal, made in USA
• CONTROLS Level, attack (delay gain), summation (feedback), binary clock (delay time), trimpot for modulation depth; bypass footswitch, havoc hold footswitch for self-oscillation
• FEATURES True bypass; powered by 9v DC adaptor (not supplied)
• DIMENSIONS 122mm(d)x91mm(w)x49mm (h)
• CONTACT Audio Distribution Group 0045 6574 8228 (Denmark) carolineguitar.com, audiodistributiongroup.com
• PRICE £199
• DESCRIPTION Ovedrive pedal, made in USA
• CONTROLS Volume, punch, highs, shape, three-way mode switch; bypass footswitch; internal trimpot for wet/dry blend
• FEATURES True bypass; powered by 9v battery or DC adaptor (not supplied)
• DIMENSIONS 122mm(d)x91mm(w)x49mm(h)
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