Following on from my recent review of the AC Plus (CLICK HERE to read it), I thought I'd write a quick article comparing Xotic's venerable AC Booster, RC Booster & BB Preamp models. These units have become modern classics & can be found on the pedalboards of many a tone-hound (from the likes of Eric Johnson to Greg Howe), yet you'd be forgiven if you found choosing between them a little confusing. In this article I shall attempt to clear up the differences & help make your choice a little easier...
WHAT ARE THEY EXACTLY?
The first thing to clear up is what these bad boys actually are! It's fairly common to assume that the AC & the RC are both clean boosts & that the BB is a preamp/DI of some sort; however, this isn't actually the case. If there was an award for misleading pedal names then Xotic would surely take the prize as all three pedals are in fact overdrives! Xotic's approach is to create pedals that remain faithful to your existing sound & these are overdrives of a transparent & touch-sensitive nature.
All three pedals share the same control layout: 'Gain', 'Volume', 'Treble' & 'Bass'. They all feature True Bypass switching, the choice of 9v battery or mains-power operation, a status LED & a dashing powder-coat finish... albeit that each one is a different colour (I guess you have to be able to differentiate from them somehow!).
Well, this is where the pedals actually start to deviate &, in order to outline the differences, why don't we start with the AC Booster...
The AC Booster was Xotic's original overdrive & it forms the basis for all three models. It's a smooth overdrive that responds well to playing dynamics, cleans up nicely from your guitar's volume pot & lends itself to kicking an amp set at the point of breakup suitably over the edge. The unique thing about Xotic's overdrives however comes courtesy of the 'Tone' controls; these are in fact active controls that can both cut & boost the EQ ranges within their command. This allows you to tweak the top & bottom end of the overdrive to suit & yet manages to do this without particularly affecting the character of your existing tone... nice!
Following the success of the AC Booster, Xotic found that a number of people had been using the pedal at lower drive settings as a pseudo clean boost of sorts. They had also received a number of requests to release a lower gain version tailored more specifically toward this type of use; their answer of course was the RC Booster!
In comparison to the AC, the RC has considerably less gain on tap & is not as inclined toward compression. It's a low-gain overdrive with plenty of headroom & is ideal for those who wish to either add a touch of hair to a clean amplifier, or as a clean booster to drive the input stage of your amp (or overdrive pedal of choice) that little bit harder. It probably won't have enough drive to function as your primary overdrive source, but it excels at adding an extra touch of gain without affecting existing dynamics.
Next in line is the BB Preamp & the story goes that Scott Henderson loved the AC Booster with humbuckers, yet requested something that could achieve similar results when using single coils. Xotic took this challenge head on of course & this time they went for a character that they felt was closer to that of a Marshall stack (BB stands for 'Big British') & this results in an overdrive that's bigger & beefier sounding than its relatives. Xotic say that this is the most wide-ranging of the three pedals & one could argue that there's a smidgen more gain present than with the AC Booster. The character is noticeably different though & the BB works particularly well for fattening up a thinner sounding rig, or anywhere that a bit of extra 'chunk' is required (it's ideal for adding girth to Fender-style amps for instance).
Where these pedals vary the most is undoubtably in the midrange &, when it comes to guitar tone, the majority of the character is dictated by the frequencies that fall within this area (which is why Xotic don't include 'Mid' controls on many of their units). I’d say that the AC has a more pronounced upper-midrange, while the BB is more focused in the lower-mids (I also feel that the high-end seems a tad more defined on the BB due to the less prevalent upper-midrange). The RC clearly has the flattest mids of all three & is the most transparent of the bunch as a result.
It's not hard to see why all three of these pedals have earnt the status of 'modern classic'; they all remain faithful to your existing tone, they clean up beautifully from the guitar's volume pot & (although they're very similar) the best one for you will depend on your specific needs. When making your selection, one has to remember that an amp's tonal character does shift slightly when naturally pushed into overdrive & a completely flat overdrive without any compression (although technically the most transparent) will never sound or feel like a natural distortion. Compression & an overall filling out of the sound is what one would expect with an overdriven amp & just where that filling out occurs is what dictates the character of the sound.
The AC is undoubtably the smoothest of the overdrives due its pronounced upper mid- range, the BB is the beefiest & the RC is ideal when being used in conjunction with other drive sources. It must be said that these pedals do stack really well with one another though! The obvious thing to do is to run an RC in front of either an AC or a BB; however, my favourite tones were achieved by running an AC & a BB together (both with relatively low drive settings) & then balancing the levels to taste. Whatever the drive tone you're looking for though, there's sure to be something that will tickle your fancy somewhere within the Xotic range!
For more information on any Xotic pedal, please click the link below, give us a call on 01202 597180 or e-mail [email protected].