If you are running a simple rig, with just a guitar and an amp and, eventually a couple of pedals you will probably never need some buffer in your chain (at least that one of those pedals uses it).
But, even with simple rigs, if the run of guitar cable is long enough, the lost of high end, strength and punch can start to appear. This is when a buffer can help you to restore your lost frequencies, signal strength and punch.
Buffers are very simple circuits and, one of the simplest of any pedal effect. In fact, they are some kind of unitary gain amp that works to make the next pedal to see the signal as if the cable between your guitar and the buffer didn't existed.
This sounds good enough!. But, we were already discussing in my entry "the cost of the cup of tone" that, even the simplest design with a single transistor is now the one that is creating the sound, your guitar isn't anymore. Therefore, how transparent a buffer can be will depend on the design and quality of their components.
Taking the oportunity that I will repatch my pedalboard with Mogami's cables and, that I've removed all the pedals, I wanted to check the three buffer pedals that I actually have.
The three buffers
First buffer I've ever owned was the MXR MC-401 Booster / Line Driver. This pedal has two functions. When the booster knob is on its minimum, the gain is unitary so, just the buffer (Line Driver) is working to restore the original signal's caracteristics. For this test, I was only interested on the buffer side of each pedal.
Second buffer I've bought is the Mad Professor Ruby Red Booster. This pedal has an inner micro-switch to activate or deactivate the buffer and, three knobs that work in two more additional boosters (a typical booster and a treble-booster). I've maintained the inner buffer active but, I didn't stepped over the pedal to avoid to run the booster sections of such a pedal.
Third buffer was the Wampler Clean Buffer. This is the simpler of all them, the buffer is just active when you step over the pedal switch, otherwise, true bypassed.
I don't know why but the MXR never worked fine for me. I remember having lots of troubles when I've tried it to push the rest of the chain. I've always feel it as thinning the sound and removing some of the body.
The Mad Professor one is a very good pedal, a real Swiss-Knife. The two additional boosters help to have exactly what you want to deliver to the rest to your pedalboard.
The reason to go for the Wampler's one was that, after loading the first Wampler pedal in my pedalboard, I've realized that those were the pedals that were delivering the sound I always wanted and, therefore, I didn't needed the booster function of the Ruby or the MXR and, then, a simple buffer should work in my chain.
To no compromise the results, I've feeded every pedal with the same Pedal Power unit and, plugged just to one at a time, without changing amp' setting and, with guitar controls all the way open.
Overall, I have the impression that all the buffers are bringing back lots of high end and, all them tend to make the sound a bit thinner and sharper but, the effect is more clear in the MXR, then in the Ruby and then in the Wampler.
When you strum hard power chords, I feel some hollowness in the MXR, a bit less in the Ruby and nothing in the Wampler, that retains full strenght and punch, while the punch is being tamed in the MXR.
The MXR is probably the one with more high end and, can sound a bit harsh or even piercing. This effect is less noticiable in the Wampler and a tad less in the Ruby.
What was a real surprise in the test was the tests with the pedals switched off. The Ruby one is out of this comparison, since the inner buffer was active all the time (no true bypass). When I've changed from the MXR to the Wampler I was highly surprised.
The MXR seems to be a tone sucker and, just pluging a cable in each jack makes the sound weaker, with less punch and a clear roll off in frequencies. But, the Wampler sounded strong, with less lost high end, full bodied and with punch. Why?.
Since both pedals are true bypass, I can only imagine that the components involved for both pedals are the ones making the difference. Is the Jack, is the switch, are the inner wires that link jacks to the switch, is the led?. I dunno but this unexpected results blown my mind.
Unfortunatelly the chained audio processing (24 bits to 16 bits to MP3 to Youtube) can hide the little details that are clearly audible live and, I am not very confident that you can hear them. Therefore this blog entry is a good complement to the video, resuming my feelings and experience.