If you are familiar with Pearl Jam’s sound, you probably know just how raw and organic it is. One man who is to thank for that is Mike McCready. His use of effects pedals has shaped the color of Pearl Jam’s sound, while also spawning a whole trend which many follow to this day. Now, Mike is pretty adamant when it comes to the effects he will include in the signal chain. One of his favorites is the Xotic Effects AC Booster. When it comes to overdrive and distortions, boosters are not really that popular anymore.
These pedals are some of the oldest and simplest effects we have today, but ones that are still very much relevant. A good booster can be much more useful than even some high-end overdrives. It all comes down to who is using it and how it is being used. Today we are going to go over the Xotic Effects AC Booster and its capabilities. As you are about to find out, this thing has a mean punch to it.
Xotic Effects AC Booster Review
The way boosters work is fairly simple. Their main task is to give additional girth to the signal before it reaches the amp. This girth comes in form of increased level that has no distortion or fuzz applied to it. The situation where boosters really start to make a difference is when you pair them with a decent tube amp. As you probably know, original overdrive was created by pushing the tubes in an amp out of their comfort zone. By making them work harder than intended, you would ultimately get that distortion of tone that we all grew to like.
One of the best ways to achieve that effect today is by using booster pedals. The simple fact that the nominal signal level has been elevated is enough to achieve the overdrive effect. Compared to dedicated overdrive pedals, booster induced overdrives have a more natural sound. On the other hand, you can also use boosters to simply give fatten up your tone. As simple as they are, booster pedals offer a whole lot of versatility that you otherwise just wouldn’t have.
With all that said, Xotic Effects AC Booster is not your average boost pedal. As a matter of fact, it is much closer to an overdrive. First and foremost, this is a boutique pedal. Its circuitry is simply on a different level, which is partially why it is capable of delivering the performance it does. Xotic used a classic vintage enclosure as the base for this model. The enclosure is made of high gauge quality steel that can take whatever abuse you are capable of dishing out. That vintage theme is also present in the graphical design they went with. The entire thing comes in bright yellow color, with only the labels and being written in black.
A standard booster pedal usually has one knob, that being the level control. Xotic Effects AC Booster comes with four. You have gain, volume, treble, and bass. In other words, aside from the linear boost ability, you can apply the boost to different parts of the frequency range. The gain knob is there as an extra. Once you max it out all the way, the tone you get can be classified as a light distortion.
If you want the good old boost, Level is the control you will be dealing with the most. One of the things that really defines a booster pedal is its transparency. Transparency is defined as pedal’s ability to let the nominal signal go through its circuitry completely unaffected when all of the knobs are set in the neutral position. This is not to be mistaken with bypass. Knowing that a pedal is transparent means that there are no hidden adjustments being made to the tone, aside from the ones you make intentionally. Needless to say, Xotic Effects AC Booster is very transparent. On top of that, Xotic also included a true bypass switch.
At this point, many will question whether this pedal can even be classified as a booster, or a more versatile distortion/overdrive. Xotic has made it pretty hard to discern the true nature of the AC Booster, but the easiest way to give an answer to this question is to say that it does it all. This type of versatility is one of its best assets. If you need a transparent boost, you can have it. If you want an organic overdrive, you can have that as well.
Unlike many other boosters, overdrives, and distortions, AC Booster allows you to dial in the type of tone that can sometimes even combine the qualities of these three categories. In other words, you have complete freedom to shape the signal however you want. Mike McCready’s use of AC Booster has shown us just how far you can take this model and still have that authentic tone. Some experimentation can take you to very different results, which is the beauty of having a boutique circuit such as this one.
To get a look at this pedal in action, watch this video review by Youtuber Prymaxe.
Standard booster pedals are very situational by nature. Their use is defined by the gear they are used with, which makes them attractive to a very specific group of users. What Xotic did with their AC Booster is something completely different. They have managed to bridge a lot of these issues, combine the pure clarity of a transparent booster with the aggressive nature of an overdrive, and even add some of that Dist flavor in there as well. Xotic likes to call this pedal a booster, but we think it transcends this category.
If you are looking for a way to spice up your tone, that is organic, natural sounding, and ever so slightly different from what is commonly used, this pedal is the answer. Now, it may not be the most affordable thing on the market, but the sheer value it offers makes it more than worth the investment.