Review: The TC Electronic Flashback delay for live looping (new video and sound samples)

To my great joy (and the slightly lesser joy of my neighbours I imagine) I finally have a device that allows me to do live looping. As seen here previously I have started to do some very basic videos of this and the latest one will be linked at the end of this post.

Edit, 17 oct: Please note that I’ve added some later thoughts at the very end of this post which modify some of my original opinions.

The pedal itself sounds good but has some user interface issues – most notable is the abscence of a dedicated tap tempo switch which I have grown very used to having with my Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Boy. It does have a “strum tempo” feature but it is nowhere near mature. To begin with you have to step on and hold down the switch for two seconds before you can strum the tempo you want, and doing so mutes the signal. In effect, if you need to sync or re-sync with the beat mid-song, you will have to be quiet and not contribute to the music for ca five seconds. And do you want your delay to be a subdivision of your strummed-in tempo, say a dotted eight? First you must be in quarter note mode, then set the tempo as above, and then change the switch from quarter note to dotted eight. Imagine going from one stummed tempo to another between songs, both in dotted eight mode – madness! And also somewhat beside the point for me as I don’t use this for “normal” delay duties but those are some crazy oversights.

Another strange mistake is that when I set the pedal to be in buffered mode, so that the delayed signal “spills over” when disengaged and the loop keeps playing, the reverse delay can no longer be set to wet signal only. In other words, the straight and the reverse-delayed signal are both heard whether you like it or not. This is not how I would like to use a reverse delay.

If you are not a guitar player and pedal user, much of the above will make no sense at all. Bear with me just a little bit more and soon we will get to the pretty sounds!

As I said, I use the Flashback as a live looping device. “Live looping” is the act of performing and/or sampling music and/or sounds and repeating them live, as a performance. In contrast, to copy+paste a drum segment in a piece of software to get an ongoing drum groove  is still a form of looping, but not live looping. It began in the mid 1900s with tape loops with Terry Riley being one of the most common pioneers you hear about, and in the 1970s tape live looping had as much of a commercial and audience awareness breakthrough as it could ever hope to get with Fripp & Eno’s No Pussyfooting. Fripp later started touring and recording with a more mobile version of that setup called “Frippertronics” using two Revox tape recorders. The number of players using similar techniques has grown since then, especially with the emergence of digital equipment which is easier to move around and suffers little to no signal loss compared to tape loops (unless you want the sounds to degrade of course).

In practical terms, I set the delay time knob at ca 3 o’clock and the feedback knob at max or slighty less. “Feedback” in this context simply means “number of repeats”. The Flashback is a digital modeling delay which mimics the sound and behaviour of several types of delay – for looping I use the “2290” and “Tape” settings where “2290” is the name of TC’s legendary old digital delay and “Tape” mimics the sound degradation of a tape based delay unit like the Echoplex.

So how does it sound? Well – good! It sounds really nice. The “tape” mode probably degrades the sound a bit sooner than I like but the “2290” is great. It is also possible to get a loop going in “tape” mode and then very quickly switch over to “2290” to in effect “store” the tape loop without the tape degradation effect (I do this in some places in my videos and it can cause a small hiccough to be added to the loop).

Here are some brief and simple samples, recorded with my phone held up to the guitar amp:

The first and second are in “tape” mode, the third in “2290” mode.

All things considered this is a pretty good pedal that does just what I want it to at the moment. For me it lacks versatility and has very limited possibilites for making adjustments while playing so I would not use it as a regular delay pedal as such. The various sound voicings also can not be changed in any way – like how much degradation the “tape” mode causes or how much modulation is added in the “Mod” mode. The Toneprint feature is nice and it is quite surreal to completely change the sound of your delay by holding your mobile phone up to your guitar pickup!

The next step for me as a live looper, equipment-wise, is to add another guitar amp for stereo and then to look at some kind of multi track unit for even more fun! Thanks for reading this and please enjoy my latest looping video:

Follow-up, 17th october. I have now worked with this pedal for a while. To begin with, the reverse delay suddenly does mute the dry signal – or at least it did when I tried it again the other day. I have no idea why as I have not changed anything. The same goes for subdivided strum tempo, it suddenly works as you’d imagine it would. I can not remember whether I tried these features before or after I did a firmware update on the pedal, so it could be that which corrected these flaws.

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