Review: DryBell The Engine
This ‘foundation preamp’ packs both a Plexi-style overdrive and a versatile boost circuit for a full suite of 1960s British rock and blues tones.
There’s nothing like the roar of an old Plexi head, but they’re devastating loud and hefty beasts – especially once you’ve slapped the obligatory 4×12 cab underneath – so the current trend for ‘Marshall in a box’ pedals makes a lot of sense. And this one, from Croatian maker DryBell, is quite possibly the classiest example yet.
In fact, the Engine aims to capture both the crunch of a vintage Marshall amp and the spank of a Rangemaster treble booster, with enough controls between its two independent (and stackable) channels to cover pretty much every old-school British tone you might care to hear.
Immaculately finished in deep Prussian blue, this dual stomper is easy enough to navigate once you see it as two distinct pedals sharing an enclosure. On the left, our overdrive has controls for level and gain plus mini knobs for tone and midrange ‘shape’; on the right, the booster allows adjustments to those all-important upper-mid frequencies (‘range’) as well as the overall boost level, with active bass and treble controls below.
The two footswitches are as far apart as they could reasonably be, while a push-button in the middle lets you flip the order when you have both engaged. Now that’s something you certainly can’t do with an original Dallas Rangemaster and Marshall Super Lead.
A preamp is as much about tone-shaping as it is about dirt – and for what it’s worth, the Plexi side of this unit can go almost completely clean. But what we’re really here for is the crunchy stuff… and it’s extremely good.
It hardly seems to matter what kind of amp you run it through – the Engine’s drive circuit pushes out classic Marshall grind, with that familiar tight bass and sweetly rasping edge. The mid-gain sounds are on the money and, yes, it will stretch to JCM800-style heavier tones with no less authority.
In an A/B test with another fine Plexi type, the ThorpyFX Bunker, the DryBell’s overdrive sounds smoother, more compressed and less forthright in the midrange – which will make it easier to love for some, but less alive and ‘authentic’ for others. Anyway, it’s at its most pure with the shape control maxed out – turn this anti-clockwise and the mids soften down even further.
Rangemasters are really more about pushing the biting upper mids and tightening the low end than adding pure treble, and this device’s second channel can certainly do that: with the range control at full and some cut to the low EQ, you get a clonking slap around the chops that’s pure first-generation Brit rock. Play around with all three tone controls, however, and a wide palette of boost textures reveals itself, from a simple full-frequency shunt to various shades of Vox-like chime.
This makes for a natural pairing with the Plexi channel, and the fact that you can switch the order of the two is a useful touch: boost into drive offers more saturation, while putting the drive first lets a tonally-focused boost cut through more clearly. This is a mightily pricey pedal, yes, but it’s a genuine two-for-one and they’re both superb.
- PRICE €326
- DESCRIPTION Overdrive/preamp and boost pedal, made in Croatia
- CONTROLS Side A (overdrive) level, gain, tone, shape, bypass footswitch; Side B (boost) range, level, low, high, bypass footswitch; A-B/B-A order switch
- FEATURES Buffered bypass, powered by 9V mains supply only (not supplied)
- DIMENSIONS 120 x 98 x 51mm
- CONTACT drybell.com