Xotic effects have become synonymous with tonal quality & their range of boosters/ overdrives have been adopted by players such as Eric Johnson, Scott Henderson, Steve Stevens & Greg Howe (to name but a few). Models such as the AC Booster, RC Booster & BB Preamp all became instant classics shortly after their introduction & the range has continued to grow even more impressive with every release since. Xotic are a company that listen to their customers &, having found that a number of players were stacking their pedals together (e.g. a BB Preamp with an RC Booster, or an AC with an RC), it was in 2007 that they released their first dual pedal: the AC Plus.
The AC Plus is a dual overdrive/boost pedal that can be used in varying combinations to achieve a whole gamut of different drive related tones. Its adornment of knobs & switches offer true flexibility & its pedigree certainly sets the bar high. Why don't we dive in & see how it measures up...
XOTIC AC PLUS - FEATURES
The first thing that strikes you with the AC Plus is its name! It suggests a connection to the beloved AC Booster & one would certainly approach this pedal expecting a resemblance in character perhaps. The powder coated finish, paint-splat font, True Bypass switching & 1Mohm input impedance all stay true to usual Xotic form & users of other pedals within the line should immediately feel at home with the AC Plus.
In terms of controls, although the pedal might look a little complicated on first inspection, the thing to remember is that it is essentially two pedals in one chassis (if you were to draw an imaginary line down the middle of the unit, the controls on the left-hand side would control channel B and everything on the right would be for channel A). Let's start with channel A...
Channel A features 'Volume', 'Gain' & 'Tone' controls, as well as a 'Boost' switch. The 'Volume' & 'Gain' knobs both control the levels of their respective features, the 'Tone' knob allows you to attenuate your treble & upper-midrange frequencies to taste (as per the norm for overdrive pedals) & the 'Boost' switch allows you to increase bass & lower-midrange frequencies by +3dB. Channel A has more gain on tap than channel B & it is as easy as pie to dial in.
For Channel B you will find 'Volume', 'Gain', 'Bass', 'Mid' & 'Treble' controls, as well as a 'Comp' switch. The controls are all self-explanatory save for the 'Comp' switch, which allows you to switch between soft & hard clipping. With the button depressed you get earlier break-up & the channel exhibits gain levels similar to that of a TS-808; with it in the 'up' position there's a later break-up & it functions more like a clean boost. Channel B is the far more flexible of the two, but is arguably less transparent & a touch more fiddly to dial in.
The eagle-eyed among you may well have noticed that there's still one other button left for us to talk about; it's labelled 'A>B/B>A' & it's located bang in the middle of the pedal. This button really adds to the flexibility of the AC Plus & it comes into play when stacking both channels together; its purpose is to allow you (the user) to dictate the signal-flow depending on your specific needs. For instance, say you had your amp set with plenty of clean headroom & were using channel A of the AC Plus as your main overdrive. Perhaps you then wanted to use channel B as a clean boost to raise your overall level for soloing (you could even tweak the EQ on channel B to add in an extra dollop of singing mids should you wish); well, no problem, just set the button to the A>B position. Alternatively, maybe you wanted to use channel B to hit the front end of channel A that little bit harder & thus achieve that extra level of saturation; well, just put the switch in the B>A position & hey presto! This little button really allows you to get the most out of the AC Plus by putting every possible permutation of the tones it can conjure right at your fingertips.
XOTIC AC PLUS - SOUNDS
Well, with two independent channels & a ream of controls on offer it'd probably come of no surprise when I say that there's a whole host of tonal options on offer with the AC Plus. Just how you choose to use it will largely depend upon your particular guitar/amp combination & the sort of tones that you're trying to achieve. Channel A is undoubtably the smoother & more transparent of the two drives & it would seem that this channel is perhaps intended as the pedal's primary overdrive. Channel B, by contrast, is closer to the tone of the original AC Booster & functions nicely as a sculptable lead boost (while also providing a more ragged, rough-around-the-edges gain-structure than channel A when used at higher drive settings). The two channels certainly contrast & compliment one another suitably & my favoured results were achieved by running channel B in front of channel A. I found that by doing this & by keeping the gain levels relatively low on each channel I was able to achieve a fairly mature gain-structure that sounded more two- dimensional than when using the channels independently. In fact, it is my understanding that channel B was originally designed as a boost for channel A anyhow, so it would make sense that it works well this way!
XOTIC AC PLUS - CONCLUSION
Let's cut to the chase: I was well impressed by this pedal! Xotic have stuck to their usual approach in that, despite the huge range of tones on offer, the AC Plus still serves to augment the tones that are already present within your particular guitar/amp combo (rather than attempting to create a whole different character of its own). It's an approach that gains the favour of the tone-purists among us & the really impressive thing is that Xotic have managed to achieve this with the AC Plus while also giving us an increased flexibility that's seldom found in a pedal of this nature.
My biggest bugbear with dual pedals in general is that you're usually stuck with whatever signal-flow the designer happens to have chosen & personally, I find it completely useless to locate a clean boost straight after an overdrive. Most people will want to locate their overdrive near the beginning of their effects chain, whereas a clean boost will always work best as the very last thing in line before your amp. As a result, when pedals have a boost section located after their drive section this tends to results in only one side of the pedal actually being of any use (much to my dismay as my own current overdrive pedal of choice is built this way) &, to me, if you're going to build both a boost & an overdrive into one box then it is far more useful to place the boost section first so that you can use it to hit the front-end of the overdrive harder as & when required (unless the manufacturers want to include 'Send' & 'Return' jacks located between the two stages of course!). Having said that, I do understand that there may be users out there who don't really use many effects & in this instance having them the other way round may actually work out. Fortunately, unlike any other dual pedal that I've yet come across, the AC Plus is equipped to allow its use whichever way round you wish. A simple flick of a switch keeps both sides of this pedal useful regardless of what other effects may (or may not) happen to be following
Overall, a very well thought out pedal that comes highly recommended!