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The Arion SCH-1 Stereo Chorus began life in the late 80′s as a very affordable (perhaps even cheap!) alternative to Boss’s CE-2 and other chorus pedals. It was largely ignored in the pro community, most likely due to its low price and cheap plastic finish, but in recent years it has seen a surge in popularity after Landau was spotted using one. There are a couple of different versions of the circuit, the oldest in a grey plastic box, then the one we are reviewing in the black plastic box. There is also the SCH-Z which is a newer take on the circuit and many people say it isn’t as ‘good’ as the SCH-1. There was also another version which is quite rare known as the Stereo Fat Chorus (SFC) which is said to be the holy grail of chorus but very few are around.
For the record I have at once owned a grey box SCH-1, black box SCH-1 and also the SCH-Z. They were all a little different and my favourite is the one we are reviewing today, the black box SCH-1.
Three knobs (which is one more than many other chorus pedals) and a switch for selecting between mono or stereo operation.
Rate – The Rate knob has a pretty big range and can go from a slow evolving soundscape to a very quick, sea-sick warbly tone and all of those beautiful places inbetween.
Depth – Again, a very wide range going from nigh on still to very deep.
Tone – The unique SCH-1 tone control. This is perhaps the secret to the SCH-1′s success. It is quite an original tone circuit, particularly for a chorus pedal, and is capable of creating some very sweet, crystal clear sounds. Equally it can provide some dark, almost muddy tones which are perfect for that leslie-cabinet emulation we all crave.
Direct / Stereo Switch – A basic mono or stereo operation selector switch. The beauty is that even in mono the Stereo selection DOES alter the tone and sound of the pedal. I always have mine on the stereo setting, it seems to be a little deeper and a little clearer the reasons for which are unknown but most people do seem to agree.
The Dreaded Buffer!
The SCH-1 is NOT a true bypass pedal but is the buffer as bad as it could be? The answer is no, in fact quite the opposite; many people rave about how good a buffer it is and prefer to have it in their signal chain for their buffering needs. It isn’t an incredibly difficult mod to make this pedal true bypass (and lots of companies are now doing just that) but many people also like to utilise the buffer. Considering the cheapness of the pedal (and therefore the likely cheapness of the components) the buffer is actually pretty good.
The final point I want to make before we evaluate the pedal is that, when engaged, there is a small leap in volume. It isn’t a mega hassle but something that you should be aware of.
So then, how does it sound? Is it as good as everybody else says it is? Is it the holy grail of chorus pedals? Or just a load of hype? Any more questions?….
Right off the bat the SCH-1 is a wonderful sounding chorus unit. It has been my chorus of choice for several years now and I have owned several newer and much more expensive pedals but I always find myself going back to the SCH-1.
Firstly it excels as a basic chorus unit adding depth and dimension to a clean tone. With the Rate at around 9 ‘o’clock, Depth at around 1 ‘o’clock and Tone at 1 ‘o’clock you get a very three-dimensional, rich chorus sound that really adds sparkle and life to any clean guitar tone. Rolling the Tone down with these settings gives an even thicker, richer chorus sound that can become quite muddy but is very reminiscent to that Roland Jazz Chorus sound that is quite sought after. With the Rate backed off and the Depth up full you achieve the widest, deepest chorus available from this unit and it provides and atmospheric, pad-like, evolving sound that the Shoegazers and Ambient players will love.
With the Rate and Depth cranked it is easy to get those completely OTT, warbling tones that, whilst quite unmusical, can be used occasionally for a great sucking, sea-sick effect and all without little to no clock noise.
Rolling both the Rate and Depth back to more sensible levels you start to hear what this pedal has become famous for, a reasonably realistic and very musical leslie effect. It is much more realistic and pleasant than a vibrato sound trying to achieve the same effect and this is where the Tone control is especially useful. Set bright it provides a very modern, pristine vibrato / leslie sound but set down in the dark regions it really thickens up and gives and incredibly rich, realistic leslie simulation. Of course there are many pedals that now attempt to achieve this sound, and many of these can cost hundreds of pounds, but lots of players keep going back to the SCH-1 to achieve this effect as it is very affordable, ‘realistic enough,’ and probably about the best ‘bang for the buck.’
Now, I’m not really a fan of chorus on dirty tones (for clarity: anything more than ‘crunchy’) so the SCH-1 doesn’t particularly excite me in this area and I also find it quite spikey and harsh when being hit by high volumes or gain, but maybe that is just me. On a mildly crunchy tone the leslie effect does work remarkably and this is what you will hear the likes of Landau doing.
It is very hard to say anything negative about the SCH-1 considering its now legendary status and the price it is available at. That said, the volume boost when engaged can cause a few minor problems and the plastic enclosure is not the most reliable. They don’t exactly fall apart in your hands, but they also don’t instil much confidence when you accidentally stomp a little too hard which is why many people are opting to have their’s rehoused or have sturdy footswitches installed.
The buffer is another, if you are running a large board without a buffer you might find the SCH-1 quite beneficial to your overall tone, but if you already have a few buffers then adding another could start to be problematic too.
All-in-all this is my favourite chorus pedal that I have ever tried, second only to a handful of rack units (and perhaps the TC Electronic SCF). Whilst the SCH-1 is no longer made it is quite easy to get a hold of second hand on auction sites and forums so snap some up whilst you still can!