The Mod Dwarf promises an entire guitar store’s worth of effects in a single pedal

Mod Devices’ Duo and Duo X are certainly unique in the world of effects processors. They’re basically computers in a performance-friendly format that you build virtual pedalboards on using open-source plugins and a browser-based interface. They’re not without their flaws, though. The flagship Duo X is prohibitively expensive at $765. Especially considering the platform and company are still relatively unproven. And the original Duo was both pricey at $449 and had very rudimentary onboard controls. The new Mod Dwarf doesn’t solve the pricing problem, unfortunately. Though it was originally expected to retail for around $365, it’s now listed at $499 on the company’s site. But it does offer far more comprehensive controls than the DUO in a much more pedalboard-friendly format than the Duo X.

Note: The demo below is recorded directly from the Mod Dwarf using the built in amp simulations and some light EQ and compression. Any noise in the recording is due to the preproduction power adapter.

One thing that Mod Devices has proven adept at is building sturdy hardware. Just like its previous products the Dwarf feels road ready. It’s probably not as dangerous to your toes as the much heavier Duo X, but it’s still plenty robust. The three footswitches are solid, the four buttons offer satisfying feedback and the three endless encoders have a satisfying amount of resistance. The single screen feels a bit more cramped than the dual display interface on the Duo and Duo X but it never posed a problem.

Mod Dwarf

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

Around back there’s still plenty of connectivity options:

  • Stereo ins and outs

  • TRS MIDI in and out

  • USB-B for connecting to a computer for audio, MIDI and building virtual pedalboards

  • USB-A for thumb drives and USB MIDI controllers

  • Headphone out for silent practice

One thing you won’t find, though, is an expression pedal port, which is disappointing. Effects like the Super Whammy plugin (obviously an emulation of the Digitech Whammy) basically demand one.

The Mod platform got a major update in early April, but frankly you’re unlikely to notice that much of a difference in regular use. There’s a file manager now for uploading audio, MIDI and impulse response files. There are also plugins that take advantage of those files, so you can customize your cab sims or import a pre-programmed MIDI sequence for one of the synths.

Mod Dwarf

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

The biggest enhancement, though, is the addition of a momentary option for the footswitches. That means you can load up an epic delay and activate it only while you’re holding down the switch to add emphasis to certain notes. The effect will still latch if you double tap the footswitch, so you’re not even sacrificing functionality, just making it slightly less convenient.

The Dwarf is supposed to allow you to build pedalboards directly on the device. Unfortunately, that feature wasn’t ready for testing yet. This would be a huge step for the platform. Having to be connected to a computer to customize your effects chain is a bit cumbersome and means that I’m inclined to just leave the Dwarf on my desk, rather than actually put it on my pedalboard.

That this potentially gamechaning feature for the Mod family isn’t ready yet is a huge disappointment. Because otherwise, the core of the Dwarf doesn’t feel dramatically improved from the Duo X. There are some more plugins and some of the cab and amp simulations seem slightly better, but nothing here turns the Mod platform from an interesting idea with a lot of promise into a must have studio tool.

Mod Dwarf

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

Even the internal CV (control voltage) functionality, which was pretty messy when I reviewed the Duo X last summer hasn’t seen much improvement. You can control almost anything using CV, but it still requires menu diving and isn’t particularly intuitive. And the number of modules built specifically for CV is limited unless you’re willing to wander into the beta section of the plugin store. To be fair, if you’re using a Mod Duo, Duo X or Dwarf, you’re probably not afraid of experimental software. Honestly, the whole thing feels like one big beta test at times. And it’s worth noting that some of them don’t even have UIs yet (as indicated by their Altoid tin-like icons).

It’s these sorts of inconsistencies and lack of software polish that continues to be the Mod platform’s Achilles Heel. Whether it’s in the UI (or lack thereof), or the volume difference between various plugins, or the CV implementation. While the hardware is undeniably excellent, the software feels undercooked.

Source: Engadget

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