BGRA: SWR Engineering Interstellar Overdrive

Manufacturer SWR Engineering Model Interstellar Overdrive
Reviewer Jay Lewis Email n
Experience 10 Item owned 1-6 months
Review Date 2001-09-23 Price paid $600
OtherStandard SWR features...all that you could ask for in a one-rack space unit.
I originally purchased the IOD because I am a fan of late '60s and '70s classic rock and was looking for the ability to dial in a wide range of tube amp tones, from adding thickness to the ultra-modern, highfi sound of my Redhead combo to the classic sound of a pushed and heavily driven tube amp, all the way to flat-out raunch. Since this is a special order item from SWR and you will never find one in a store to demo, since SWR dealers don't carry them, all I had to go on were reviews and word-of-mouth from those who had the device. From the research that I had done, it sounded like the IOD could deliver what I was looking for, so I took the chance and ordered one sight unseen...and unheard. Since the only other piece of amp equipment I have is my Redhead combo, I had hoped to use the IOD as an effect. The unit can be used as a dedicated preamp, or it can be run throgh the effects loop of another amp and can be used a an effect, turned on like a regular stomp box. I wanted to use my Redhead in its existing capacity, since it is an outstanding amp, and could mount the unit in the one rack space built into the amp itself and could simply punch in tube distortion when ever I needed a little gring or grunge. This was a great plan, but I soon determined that the unit, when used as a "effect", performs only to a fraction of its regular capabilities when used as a preamp. I found the tone to be weak an anemic, and the distorion really wasn't the thick, pushed-almost-to-the-brink-of-explosion type of thing that I was going for. Plus, the wiring sceme was a little precarious, with cords going from front to back, back to front, and all over the place. Needless to say, I ended up setting the IOD up to be used as a preamp, using the power section of the Redhead and bypassing the tone controls of the combo. This worked a LOT better, and if I ever want to go back to my regular Redhead, all I have to do is disconnect the line in cord, plug back into the Redhead input and I'm good to go. With all other set-up concerns out of the way, I was finally happy with the tone. In fact, I LOVE this little unit now, and am very pleased with its performance. I've seen some reviews where there is some concern with how "hot" the unit runs. It gets warmer than a solid state head, but nothing to worry about. I've also read some reviews where the reviewer talked about the "sweet spot" wandering. The sweet spot, or amount of distortion you want to dial in, will vary depending on your taste and sonic needs, but I have noticed that, with use, the spectrum of distortion does change with time. When the unit is relatively "fresh", to get a pushed tube amp sound, I usually set the drive around 11:00, and 9:00 gives me a clean, fat tube tone with no distortion. However, at the end of the set, the sound that I was once getting at 11:00 may now be at 10:00, as the 11:00 setting is giving more distortion that needed. Just something to be aware of, but nothing to worry about. Just turn a knob and all is well. So far, this little device has allowed me to finally realize sounds and tone that have been in my head for years but that I never felt could be achieved from a practical standpoint. To think that I can get the sound of a ridiculously heavy and unreliable tube amp in the size of a tiny, light, one-rack-space unit with the quality and performance of the SWR name behind it, not to mention a myriad of other handy and modern features is mind-boggling. This preamp isn't for everyone, but if you've ever listened to any of the live music from the late '60's (Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Jeff. Airplane, Allmans, etc.) and want THAT sound, the IOD is a GREAT place to start.
construction (98%)
Anything with tubes is prone to reliability problems, but so far the IOD has performed flawlessly
clarity (98%)
Typical SWR hi-fi, unless you scorch the tubes into fuzz heaven!
versatility (90%)
Literally everything from modern ultra-clean to bombastic buzz.
service (95%)
value (85%)
overall (90%)
You could probably buy a half dozen stomp boxes for the price of this baby, but none of them would
The BGRA is generously underwritten by David King of Bass Guitar Systems.
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