The MXR Phase 90 is a classic. From Funk to Punk, Country to Psychedelic, Floyd to Zeppelin, this pedal has earned it’s merit on quite a few classic recordings. But with a standard version already offered by Dunlop for a quite a bit less coin, does the CSP0026 earn it’s merit in the marketplace?
Enclosed in its classic small footprint “Bud Box” and utilizing a single control for speed adjustment, the Phase 90 is simple in operation as it is in tone. Nothing wacky or out of space here…just a warm chewy phase that doesn’t make it obvious that you are using modulation; it actually helps you sit in the mix better with it’s mild compression and subtle hints of distortion. The current “standard” version seems to do the trick well, though the manufactures of the many boutiue clones in the market would argue this. Does the reissue offer more than the standard Dunlop Phase 90 does?
Jim Dunlop and his company seem to think so. Since they purchased the rights to MXR, they have continued production of many products in their effects line. And more recently, their Custom Shop has reissued many of the classics to a more vintage specification. It’s a subtle difference, but until you try an actual vintage unit, the standard version might not give you an impression that it is the Phase 90’s subtlety that makes it so revered in talk amongst classic phasers. In company such as the Mu-Tron and EH Small Stone, both known to be able to reach the upper limits of swirl insanity, the tiny MXR has little variation other than speed (though depth is apparently simultaneously lowered with an increase in speed.)
Rock and Roll Animal
Many enthusiasts argue over what year is “proper” year to buy, with the 1974 vintage considered by many to be the archetypical version, both in component quality and build. But it isn’t necessarily the 1974 model that was used on all of those Radio classics we know and love; the continued increase in sales of the whole MXR line in the Seventies meant that more and more Artists were using the later models. Add to that the fact that it’s rumoured that the Phase 90 was originally in production as early 1972 and you have a lot of conjecture and not a lot of fact. Having said that, the original 1974 Phase 90 is often the most sought after. Some say it is the tone and some say it is the build. Some even say it is the build is that gives it that tone. Admittedly there were some differences. MXR often used the Bud Box enclosures that weren’t used in production. The circuit and componentry also apparently changed a bit with a few modifications in 1975.
The Dunlop CSP026 Reissue of the Phase 90 is said to have been based on an example originally purchased by Senior Dunlop Engineer Bob Cedro in 1974. It was subsequently reverse engineered to produce a version that was closer to the original than the current offering. Far from the (more) mass produced standard MXR M101, the reissue is Hand Wired with select components that mimic the 1974 parts list as closely as possible. Hand Matched FETs, Switchcraft jacks and a Carling footswitch keep things authentic to the keen eye and the foam lining and script logo only add to the classic aesthetic. This vintage vibe also means battery only operation, no true bypass (though some say this has been updated with a “Revision C”) and no LED indicator either. While this strict adherence to originality may not add much in terms of tone, it does lend an air of authenticity. Of course, modern pedalboards can deal with these issues (Loop switchers have their own LEDs and Power Suplies have connectors that will allow for battery snaps.) This can also be something to talk to Analog Mike about as well.
Hit the footswitch and you instantly know where you are. Like a sepia-toned filter, a good Phase 90 doesn’t scream it presence; it just subtly let you know you are in the land of classic tone. Set to it’s most mild speed the CSP026 can add the just right amount of bite, something that you might not expect from an effect cherished for it’s “warmth.” With the speed set mid-way, it gives the sense of movement without bending the actual lines you are playing…it is still a part of the signal and not simply on top of it. If spinning heads is your thing, crank the speed and it can get as far out as the ocean without making you seasick…it’s still PART of your tone. An oddity of the reissue is that the rate of the LFO cannot match the extreme settings of the original it was compared to, although this apparently can be adjusted internally with trim pots along with the depth. Though not verified, it seems that the depth is being decreased as the Speed is increased.
How close does it get to an original? Keep in mind the tomfoolery that went on in the factories of the Seventies: strict, consistent labour methods of the 50’s combined with the “Liberties” emerging from the previous decade means that it comes as no surprise that the original MXR pedals don’t have the build consistency of, say, a modern boutique pedal. Compared to contemporary EH offerings, they can seem downright mass produced, but placed next to each other, MXRs of the same production run from the Seventies often have subtle differences between them, and in this circuit that can mean a whole lot. So bear this in mind if you do compare the reissue with an original.
That being said, the CSP026 holds it’s own next to a vintage Phase 90, and then some. Besides tone that is almost identical to a vintage unit it was compared to, it didn’t have any of the issues of the 70’s classic: no noisy potentionmenters, crackling 1/4″ jacks, and no worry about having such a valuable pedal on your board, almost vulnerable to beer spills and rant foot stomps alike. (Something to consider, though, is at this price, keeping an eye on an any open containers carrying liquid wouldn’t be such a bad idea with the reissue either.)
The CSP026 Reissue gets as close to the original MXR Phase 90 as you could really ever need it to. It sounds amazing, clearly doing an admirable job at aping the tone of its predecessor. As with the original it produces a simple classic effect within a small, solid enclosure, idiosyncrasies and all. All of this authenticity comes at a bit of a price, mind you, but considering what the original examples currently sell for, this is a bargain. Or course, this isn’t uncharted territory; many clones of classic effects have done this admirably. As with those, there will be naysayers arguing how close it can get. But this is coming from (Dunlop, the purchaser of) the original company. Take a listen, and if it’s close enough for you, you want to take a quick trip to the local Dunlop Dealer, as opposed to the WWW for hours of trawling to find a actual function vintage example. Bon Voyage!