Pigtronix Keymaster Review

The Keymaster intuitively impedance-matches inputs and outputs, and with its two effects loops, enables you to connect and combine gear in new, creative ways. Marcus Leadley asks: are you the Gatekeeper?

Details
Manufacturer Pigtronix
Price £249
Contact John Hornby Skewes
Tel 01132 865 381
Web www.pigtronix.com

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Pigtronix’s Keymaster is one of those devices, which, in itself, doesn’t process sound. As a universal signal-routing device, what it does instead is enable you to get a whole lot more out of the gear you already own. You can convert mic or line-level signals to instrument level – balanced to unbalanced, and visa versa. You can get any signal into a group of guitar pedals (or other processors) and then back out again.

Or, as it happens, into two groups of guitar effects; there are two unbalanced pedal-level effects loops – both with true-bypass switching. And you can either alternate between loops or crossfade between them to create a blend of effects.

This crossfade can be controlled by an expression pedal, so the creative potential for both live and studio situations is huge. And once you’ve processed your signal, it can exit the device at mic level using the XLR out, or at line level via the balanced/unbalanced ¼-inch connection.

The Keymaster is a chunky, business-like package with the controls neatly laid out over the green-and-white graphic. The XLR input/outputs are on the top while the TRS In/Outs are on the right and left sides of the unit respectively. The send and return sockets for loop A are on the right side of the unit and for loop B on the left. The power socket and expression pedal sockets are along the forward edge.

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Although supplied with an 18-volt power supply, the unit will run on anything between nine and 24 volts, with the upper level providing the maximum headroom. There are two gain controls – one for the input stage and one for the output. Each offers a 10dB boost to help you manage any signal-loss issues through the chains of effects. There’s also a mini toggle switch to switch the effects loops between series and parallel mode.

In Use
The question is, really, where do you start? Possibly the most obvious use of the Keymaster is on a pedalboard, as a means of managing a guitarist’s effects. As well as switching between or blending groups of effects, there are some simple, very practical uses. For example, I put a delay in loop A, put B into bypass mode, and connected an expression pedal: this gave me a very effective way of controlling the wet/dry effect blend while playing. I also set up two distortion pedals with very different characteristics in loop A and B.

The Keymaster made it possible to switch rapidly for different parts and create a range of hybrid tones. Older pedals that aren’t true bypass can also be ‘truly’ bypassed. It’s also very easy to connect a single instrument to the input and connect to two different amps via the loop sends. This means you can effectively turn the amps on and off using the loop buttons.

This is an example of the Keymaster’s credentials as a ‘sonic Swiss Army Knife’, which can facilitate any number of audio solutions. In the studio, I recorded some clean parts to Pro Tools and then passed the signal out to the Keymaster. One of the Keymaster’s sends was then used to connect to a physical amp and the other to a Kemper Profiler Amp modeller, to create a range of reamping configurations.

It was also possible to put two different instruments in the loop’s return jacks and run both out to a single desk channel and use crossfade to blend between the two, especially interesting when using vintage synths.

Next, I connected a mic to the Keymaster and, using various combinations of loopers, delays and a pitch-shifter, had a lot of fun pretending to be a beatbox artist. Finally, I split the stereo signal from my laptop into discrete mono signals using a splitter cable and fed each side to a different loop.

This let me process and blend a range of field recordings and found sounds into a dense sound-art-style montage. In all instances, the sound quality was excellent.

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In Use Tip
If you don’t have a patchbay in your studio, the Keymaster can function as a convenient point of connectivity through which to connect external hardware processors to your DAW. Its ability as an intuitive impedance-matching device means you can use a wide range of kit while maintaining sonic integrity.

Alternatives
Not too many products offer the same range of characteristics as the Keymaster. If you need a basic true-bypass dual effects-loop pedal, Radial’s Big Shot (£79.13) is a practical solution. Want to go totally crazy with multiple effect loops and pedal combinations?

How about the JOYO PXL8 (£139), which offers no fewer than eight switchable effects loops? Alternatively, if you need to connect equipment operating at -10dBV with +4 or 8dBM systems, drive long lines or split an unbalanced mono signal into two balanced outputs, then the Aphex 124B (£309) is a very professional piece of kit.

Key Features

● XLR and ¼” (balanced /un-balanced) inputs & outputs
● Dual instrument-level FX loops, true bypass
● Impedance- matching, all-analogue audio path
● Series /parallel operation
● Crossfade function with expression-pedal option
● 10dB input-gain boost /10dB output-gain boost
● Pigtronix 18V DC adaptor included
● Size (cm): 14.48×11.93×3.81

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