Sonuus Wahoo

Last year, Sonuus first showed the programable Wahoo Analogue Dual-Filter/Wah pedal at a NAMM show. Having reviewed their brilliant i2M audio/MIDI converter, I was interested in anything else they might have up their sleeve, and this new pedal, offering Moog-style filtering in addition to more typical wah sounds, looked promising. The fact that note tracking could modify the filter changes was particularly intriguing. Well, I finally got my hands on one. Does it live up to the promise? Read on…

The Wahoo ($349.00) comes packaged in a solidly built enclosure, comprising an expression pedal next to a control area. Roll bars neatly protect knobs/switches and buttons from lead-footed damage. A pair of arrowed up/down buttons, for changing parameters and scrolling through screens, flank a large numeric display screen on the left, while the Save button is on the right. Pushing on the large knobs chooses the macro parameter to be edited, and turning it adjusts said parameter.

The Level section includes Drive, which adds some grit to bring out the filtering; Mix to adjust the balance between Wahoo’s two filters; Dry/Wet, which allows unaffected dry signal to come through; and Output, to control the overall level of the effect.

The Filter section has a button to toggle between the two filters for editing purposes. It allows you to control the Q (resonance), Frequency, and shape of each filter.

Mode determines how the filtering will be modified: whether with the expression pedal—like a wah; an LFO, the envelope of your attack, or the pitch of the note you are playing. Custom mode is where you adjust global settings like the brightness of the LED; choose the proper response for the instrument you are playing: i.e. guitar, bass, five-string bass; match the input sensitivity to the level of your pickups; set it to turn the effect on and off using the expression pedal rather than the on/off switch; adjust the noise gate attack, and adjust the amount of time you have to hold down the footswitch to enter the mode whereby it steps through presets.

As you can see this unit is deeply adjustable. While I found it relatively easy to access all these parameters on the pedal, bending over can get a bit wearing. Fortunately, Sonuus provides a USB connection to access a software editor that makes programming the unlimited sonic possibilities of this device delightfully simple and intuitive. The USB port also powers the pedal, allows synchronization to DAW tempos, and enables downloads of firmware updates or uploads of presets—for saving and sharing.

So how does it sound?

To avoid option anxiety, I opted to start by running through the presets. I plugged a pre-lawsuit Fernandes Tele-style guitar, running DiMarzio Virtual Vintage pickups, into the Wahoo, then into a Rockett Pedals Allan Holdsworth Signature overdrive, through a Guyatone MR2 reverb, into a Fender Blues Junior.

(Recorded examples are that guitar into direct into Ableton Live, using their Amp and Cab plug-ins).

The first factory preset is called Standard Wah, but “standard” doesn’t do the sound justice.  It oozed gobs of “Shaft” goodness and growl. Though there are wahs available that offer a few choices of Q and maybe some output control, nothing compares to the tweakability of the Wahoo. I could add drive within the pedal, so as not to have to step on a separate overdrive to get my grit; I could also modify the sweep from whatever low frequency point I preferred to my favored highs, as well as adjust the length of time the sweep spent on the low or high end.

The second preset added resonance to the sound, hinting at the kind of self oscillating and feedback that make the experimental guitarist’s heart flutter.

I decided to test out the vowel sounds in envelope mode. Here the software came in especially handy, offering direct access to envelope sensitivity, attack, decay etc. It also features an intuitive graphic interface of overlapping, multicolored ovals to help mix and match the vowel sounds.

With some set up time and practice, the expressive power of these two functions could result in a more literal version of “making that guitar talk.”

For the LFO demo, I synched the Wahoo to Ableton, which easily recognized it (as long as it was plugged in before I booted up Live). Did I mention the expression pedal functions as a MIDI controller? I could use it to control parameters on Live’s plug-ins and soft synths, while the LFO or envelope function on Wahoo took care of the pedal sweeps.

Starting with the Space Invaders dual-filter preset, I adjusted the individual LFOs so that one filter was sweeping one-eighth the speed of the other.

Sonuus uses the audio to MIDI pitchtracking technology developed for i2M to let the Wahoo filters track pitch and pitch bending. Set in pitch tracking mode, as I played higher notes the frequency got brighter. You can reverse the curve, which changes the emphasis from hi to lo.

In pitch bend mode, the filter sweeps only when you bend a note. As that is often when I would normally sweep a wah up, this allowed me to leave the pedal far behind on stage and still get the same expressive effect.

I could go on and on, but would still probably miss something; this thing is way deep. Still, it is important that I mention the warm analog (or analogue for those overseas) sound of the filters, as well as the new technology that eschews either potentiometer or optics in the expression pedal, in favor of a system that Sonuus maintains will never wear out or get scratchy.

In an era of companies, small and large issuing yet another version of the “same old same old” (Electro-Harmonix excepted), this is one of those rare entries into the effects market that is truly new. It is worth the price of admission even if you never use it for anything but a great sounding, extremely versatile wah and envelope filter. But, more important, this is a pedal that  will allow creative personalities to come up with sounds hitherto unheard.

Wahoo indeed!

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