… technical stuff, challenges, development and more
If you are one of those people who likes to read more about the product you are interested in, you will find some cool stuff about the Unit67 development in this article, a little bit about DryBell, some technical details, how the DryBell Team created this idea and what exactly the Unit67 is all about!
The new DryBell mission – Unit67
At the beginning of this article we will look back briefly at the Vibe Machine, our “baby” and the first pedal released under the DryBell brand. You’ll be glad to hear that the same team of people that created the Vibe Machine series are now behind the development of our new pedal – the Unit67.
Thanks to our customers
We would like to take this opportunity to thank ALL our customers once again for continued support and giving us such excellent feedback, both positive and negative (luckily, the negative is rare). Direct and personal communication with our customers is something we love, value and always practice. We stand by our products and care a lot about our reputation, so you can be sure you’ll always get a product from us that we are fully satisfied with.
Many world-famous guitarists are using the Vibe Machine, Michael Landau, Doyle Bramhall II, Steve Stevens, Jon Carin, to mention a few.
We are very proud of the success we’ve achieved with the Vibe Machine (you can read more about the Vibe Machine here) and we hope that our new creation Unit67 will be very well received as well.
We’ve put all our energy, knowledge, skills and live experience into this pedal, just as we did with the Vibe Machine. We learned quite a few tricks along the way and we’re very happy with how it has all turned out. Over the next few pages you can read about how the Unit67 was made and what is actually the Unit67.
Project Unit67 was first put on hold in 2011 because of production complexities with the Vibe Machine
The initial idea for the Unit67 came about back in 2011, when we imagined a unique tool for pushing the guitar’s tone through the mix while highlighting a specific shape of frequencies, and our goal was to make it the simplest and most practical for the user. More details on the Unit67’s final concept (highly versatile EQ set, boost and 1176 type of compressor – all in one) will follow further in the article, but first, just a few words about what happened when we started this project in 2011.
Some of you may remember, we released our red Vibe Machine V-1 in 2011, the same year that the idea of the Unit67 was first born.
At that time, we were working simultaneously on both projects, but the Vibe Machine was our main mission. We didn’t call the second project “Unit67” back then, its working title was Neanderthal named after the discovery of Neanderthal man remains in the town of Krapina, now one of the most significant sites of this kind in the world, and it is also where DryBell’s workshop is currently located.
However, after just a few initial months of development, our project “Neanderthal” was put on hold because of the sudden increase in the market demand for Vibe Machines in 2012. The Vibe Machine uses very complex components (photocells). The R&D needed to improve and speed up the production processes has completely exhausted all of Zvonch’s resources. At that time, Zvonch was still the only person in the company working on pedal assembly, with a little help from his family.
So, during the 7 year period between mid 2009 (the beginning of the Vibe Machine’s development) up until the last quarter of the 2016 (when the Vibe Machine V-2 was released), Zvonch and the team were completely dedicated to the development of the Vibe Machine series, its new features, the very sophisticated computer-robotic devices for photocell handling/matching, further development of the production process and lots of other DryBell stuff!
With all this knowledge, dedication and procedure, Zvonch (and probably some of the other top vibe builders) could write a nice chunky book for your coffee table! BUT before that saga 😊, you’ll be able to see a lot of these details in the film we’re currently working on…
Right after the release of the Vibe Machine V-2, Zvonch and the team restarted the Unit67’s development (ex. Neanderthal project) and 2 years later (September 19th, 2018), our new pedal was finally released, the Unit67.
The idea behind the Unit67
So, the Unit67 has a special and very unique EQ set, boost and 1176 type compressor – all in one compact and practical pedal.
It’s a sublime combination of several effects working in perfect synergy!
It doesn’t matter what your playing style is, how loud you want to play or whether you use any other pedals in your signal chain. The Unit67 is a versatile multi-functional tool which will improve almost every tone to the next, harmonically rich level. Unit67 gives you an exciting new playing feel and response which you’ll immediately love.
The core concept (main purpose) of the Unit67: You know that playing feel when you play through a loud or overdriven amp, when every note comes out easily and you can play effortlessly? Well, that’s what the Unit67 is all about, only you don’t have to play LOUD or with an overdriven sound to get there!
Connected in between your guitar and amp, the Unit67 becomes an extremely powerful and handy tone shaping tool. It’s also very versatile in terms of pedalboard position, you can place it anywhere you like it and it will work its magic.
If you prefer long, sustained notes, by using the Sustain control, you can get great sustain whilst retaining your pick dynamics. If you want to boost your amplifier or a drive pedal in your pedal chain, just turn the big Boost knob up. If you want to compensate for the tone of your guitar, amp, or some other pedal at any playing volume (this is crucial), use the highly versatile and specially designed EQ controls.
Accentuate your lead playing with just one knob: Range.
The Range (Master) control will help you cut through the mix and will enrich your tone with the glorious sparkle often associated with the old classic Rangemaster. It has been tested on a huge range of classic amplifiers with VERY satisfying results (more on that in the Range section).
So, everything is readily available on this pedal. Tons of great separate features which you can combine or blend with each other to enjoy their full potential. It’s a very helpful sonic assistant for the working musician!
Development testing stages and sessions
Whether it’s just bedroom playing, relaxing low-volume jam sessions with our friends or real gigs (played by our guys Kruno, Silk, Gogo and Tom), simply none of us can stop the enjoyment experienced whilst playing through this pedal. The development period was interesting, challenging and fun for all of us. Our testing guys are not just the DryBell crew who worked on the pedal’s development. DryBell’s friends and experienced musicians also helped us test it, even the guy behind the camera in DryBell demos! 🙂
We are all very different types of guitarist who likes the same pedal. That’s why we’ve asked our friends to write down their own impressions.
You can read their reviews HERE. Of course, they are not our customers, but they are using this pedal in real situations on different stages and setups, so you can read and experience firsthand impressions of using the Unit67. Biased reviews? It’s up to you to decide.
We just wanted to share with you the most useful feedback we’ve gathered so far from our personal experiences. We are all very proud of this product and hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as we all do!
The Unit67 internal signal path diagram
Over the next few sections we will focus on the more advanced and technical parts along with practical examples of the Unit67’s usage. For easier understanding of the Unit67’s circuit, here is a simplified block diagram of the Unit67’s internal design. We’ll try to explain every stage/feature separately.
Low noise OP amp design
By removing the back plate of our newest creation, you will reveal the world we have lived in for the last 2 years. It consists of 369 hi-quality electronic components, very carefully chosen by Zvonch. Meet Zvonch and the other DryBell team members here.
After a LOT of thought and driven by previous experience, we decided to go with an OP amp based design. Some may disagree with our choice, but at the end of the day, besides being a quality product, the sound is the only thing that matters. This pedal gives you a very unique, rewarding feel while playing!
The complex circuit in this particular pedal contains 3 different OP amp models, chosen from a large number of OP amps during the development period. Only the best of the best were considered for each specific electronic stage, no matter the cost.
The Unit67’s circuits are designed as high current low noise in all its signal paths, there was no cutting corners in any part of this pedal’s design or construction. When you see, feel and hear it, you will know why the Unit67 is a very special piece of gear!
Input Buffer and buffered bypass
The main input signal is going directly into an ultra linear, high bandwidth buffer with a high headroom of 14.0Vpp (16.1dBu). That’s how the tone integrity is preserved. This super ultra-low noise buffer is designed to have no signal loss unlike most classic transistor buffered pedals. The signal from the buffer output is passed to the output switch for smooth buffered bypass operation.
Some of you might wonder why this pedal has no true bypass, but be assured that the buffered bypass was chosen with very good reason. The very first prototype of the Unit67 had a true/buffered bypass selector switch (internal DIP switch, see picture below), but on this type of pedal such a design had more cons than pros.
Classic true bypass configurations have their own parasitic capacitance between the main circuit’s input and output. While testing the true bypass mode with switchers like the Boss ES-8, the first Unit67 prototype with all its pots at max (41dB high gain) had problems when the ES-8’s input buffer was not engaged. That’s because the connection to any switcher always adds capacitance. So, the pedal’s “in phase” design combined with high gain and increased parasitic capacitance were causing some oscillations on the first prototype while being used with the unbuffered switcher.
To minimize this parasitic capacitance, we went through numerous true bypass configurations and the ones that solved the oscillation issue were quite complicated. Beside that, the pedal would have needed to be unnecessarily bigger and more expensive. We didn’t want to go in that direction because we wanted to give our customers a compact and affordable product. So, we decided to improve the buffer we had even more (to increase headroom and lower the noise as much as possible) and to go with the buffered bypass design only.
To close this buffer story, the circuit with the redesigned buffered bypass is superior to any previous version. After a series of rigorous tests we haven’t found a single issue.
The bypass system redesign is one of several reasons why release of this pedal was postponed for 8 months. Also, the pedal has a nice fade-in/fade-out LED operation 🙂
Unit67’s compressor feature
The FET compressor part of the pedal is probably the most complicated part of Unit67’s design, but contrary to that, it’s very easy to use. Extremely simple, extremely efficient!
The Sustain pot adjusts the amount of parallel compression. It’s a mix/blend control between compressed and dry signals. Thanks to the well-known true parallel compression circuit, you can add the right amount of sustain while retaining pick dynamics with just one simple knob.
The second control of the Unit67’s compressor circuit is the input gain switch. With this switch you can select two types/gains of compression: Low (+4dB gain) and High (+10dB gain). The switch changes preamp gain and because of that, the threshold level (the input signal level where the pedal starts to react) is also changed. The result of this is two very different compression characters.
By combining the Input switch and Sustain controls you can get a wide range of different compressed tones and it will sound great at any of the pot’s positions! You can easily switch it in live, on-stage situations when you pick up different guitars, in-between sessions, etc.
In this single knob design, parameters like Attack, Release and Ratio are fixed internally, but are VERY carefully chosen based on many years of playing experience. That was a huge task because we had to satisfy a wide range of musicians and playing styles. We set them at very specific values to get the pedal’s superb dynamic response. We’re quietly confident you’re going to love the settings we’ve worked so hard to achieve!
Keep in mind that the Unit67 is not just a compressor. We love simple and useful things that sound good. Since we have invested so much time in testing and developing this “single knob compressor design”, it’s not impossible to think that a future DryBell pedal could be a full-size compressor with all its classic controls. We’ll leave that for some other project. The idea behind Unit67 is quite different.
In the context of the Unit67, we believe that we have designed the pedal in a way that satisfies the most demanding of guitar players. There are tons of compressors out there and we’ve gone through lots of them, classics like the Orange Squeezer, Ross/DynaComp etc. Of course, they all sounded good, but we were looking for a great sound and without too much noise.
Zvonch, Kruno and the rest of the guys went through a variety of testing sessions throughout the Unit’s development period. Zvonch also tested several different VCA chips and created a few different feedback networks (side chains) for them. From that point, everything started to look much more serious. The turning point was when we entered the world of studio FET compressors.
The famous UREI 1176, which has been used as one of the most powerful studio workhorses over the last 50 years, stood before us and it was ready to be carefully examined and tested. Preliminary tests were very promising; the UREI’s dynamic characteristics added something very unique to the sound. Naturally, the decision fell to using an 1176-like design.
So, inspired by the unique sound and feel of the 1176’s design, Zvonch created his very own low noise compressor circuit for this pedal. The FET voltage divider (gain reduction network) principle is the same as the original, but with OP amps around it.
The feedback network is one of the most important parts of the compressor’s design because it largely defines the sound of the compressor. Zvonch worked very hard for almost a year just to perfect feedback network circuits and dynamic characteristics for the Unit67.
The classic 1176LN design colors the tone. All of the Unit67’s limiting amp design is made to be transparent for guitar and the resulting tone, response and feel is simply beautiful in our opinion. If you listen carefully, you can hear that in the Unit67’s demos.
Also, our recreation of the respected 1176 design has additional internal temperature compensation which monitors all the compressor stages temperature variations, including discrete FET circuit and feedback network components. This pedal was tested in a wide range of temperatures from -10°C to 90°C (yes, 90°C), so you can be sure that this compressor will not change its sound when you’re playing a gig at -5° C or at + 45° C. The tone will remain the same at any of these temperatures, as you, your amp and guitar freeze, melt or burn!
Did we mention that the Unit67’s design is fully analog? 😊 Yes it is. We hope that you’ll like the tone of the Unit67’s compressor, we like it a lot!
EQ section with bypass option
The whole EQ section has a completely different design approach in comparison to the compressor stage and it was also a very challenging task.
The signal from the compressor stage is sent to the EQ section which contains 3 tone controls: Range, Low and High, which you can turn on/off with the EQ hard bypass switch. This switch is useful for exploring the tonal differences between the engaged/bypassed EQ section. Also, if you want to use the compressor feature on its own, you can keep the EQ switch off.
Low and High EQ controls
The first two controls in the EQ signal path are Low (bass) and High (treble) and they are pretty self-explanatory. Press the footswitch to add Unit67’s machinery to your existing setup and use your ears and those Low/High knobs to further tailor the bass and treble frequencies in your overall sound.
These controls do not have symmetric characteristics and we’ve been tweaking them for a long time to be compatible with a wide range of amps. E.g. Low control has its gain from -15.8dB up to +9.3 dB and the unity gain is at approx. 12:30. High control has its gain from -13.2dB up to +7.2dB and the unity gain is also at approx. 12:30. They are designed to be useful in all positions in different situations and to be spectrally compatible with the next most important EQ control – The Range.
The Range – Sparkle & Shine
Remember, the one of the main ideas behind the Unit67 is the possibility that the pedal can emphasize specific frequencies for your lead guitar…
We gave ourselves an additional, clear, but challenging goal: the pedal must do this job with only one knob – not graphic or parametric EQ with lots of paths to get there.
And we did it. The knob called “Range” controls a very specific mid-range frequency spectrum, very similar to that of the old classic “Rangemaster”, tuned to just the right center frequency and a carefully shaped bandwidth.
We played around with it a lot. Kruno has a finely tuned ear and years of playing experience, he defined the target character of the Range feature after working with Zvonch using several complex parametric EQs on the prototype board. They succeeded in applying this to a single knob called “Range“.
We’ve balanced the pot’s operation with many different amps to make sure that your tone won’t become muffled or too harsh when you play around with the Range knob. While developing this stuff, we always kept simplicity and effectiveness in stage situations in mind.
In the development phase we tested and played the Unit67 through well renowned classic amps such as Marshall Plexi, Hiwatt DR504, Fender Deluxe & Band Master, Vox AC30 and many others. No matter what setup was used, the tone and feel benefited from the magical touch of the Unit67.
In situations when you’re using darker toned amps or guitar pickups, “The Range” will always add a harmonically rich sparkle to your tone.
A great example of the Unit67’s versatility is the Range feature combined with a touch of sustain and boosted just enough to give you THAT tone. It will give some serious bite to the final sound which is another way to push you through the mix while playing lead. The Unit67’s features combined together reward you with lots of impressive tones!
The Range circuit, like all signal path stages in the Unit67 design, is high current low noise design too. You can boost/cut the Range spectrum up to +/- 13.1 dB. The tone neutral position (unity gain) of the Range knob is exactly in the middle of knob’s rotation, at 12 o’clock. This knob is placed as the first knob in the Unit67’s EQ row; you will use it a lot 🙂
Unit67’s output stage
The signal from the EQ section is sent to the output amp. The output stage was also very challenging and a completely different design than we had in our first prototype and it was also one of the major reasons behind the pedal’s delayed release.
But now it is a beast! Thanks to the high internal power supply voltage (23V), Unit67’s output stage has the high output headroom of 20.0Vpp (19.2 dBu) with the stage gain of -7dB on minimum or 22.4dB at the maximum pot’s position.
The Boost stage is designed to be a semi-clean boost. The reason behind this lies in the nature of how the guitar amps work. When you boost the guitar amp with a full-range signal, you can get a lot of unnecessary treble and bass. That’s why this output stage has carefully tuned bass and treble frequency roll-off at the higher gain settings (more than 1 o’clock).
Though expensive, the vintage Davies Molding bakelite Daka-ware knob was chosen at the very beginning of the pedal’s development. Besides the cool factor, we wanted to be practical as well. You can easily control the Unit67’s output level with your foot.
The unity gain zone is at the 10 o’clock (lightning mark). That position may slightly vary if the Sustain feature is being used, because the compressor’s output level depends on the pickup level you are using. So, the exact unity gain can be chosen only by listening to the pedal. However, at the lightning or near the lightning mark is the unity gain point on the pot’s rotation.
The last few words…
As we said before, from the very beginning of Project Unit67, starting with the very first breadboard prototype, we were simultaneously developing and rigorously testing it with a ton of different amps, pedals and guitars and no matter what setup was used, it always seemed to be enhanced and refined by the touch of the Unit67.
During the development process we were thinking a lot about how to make it simple for the end user. The learning time to get comfortable with Unit67 is virtually non-existent and within a few seconds of playing, you’ll find instant satisfaction.
We’re sure you’ll agree with us that it’s not enough to just make a perfectly working device, it must be nice looking as well. We’ve spent lots of time creating the Unit67’s visual identity and we took design inspiration from 60’s space consoles. We’re really happy with the result! Hope it will fit well on your pedalboard 🙂
This story is probably for another article, but the production process setup was the last thing after the pedal’s long development. You can be sure that our production and testing processes have been raised to a very high standard.
We put in a lot of thought before production started which now results in every pedal produced being, behaving and sounding identical. Our own automated and semi-automated testing procedures, noise and signal testing, intermediate tests, semi-automated compressor FET bias adjustments and of course listening to and visually checking every single pedal in the final production steps ensure that you will get a technically superior product.
With all that being said, it has been a challenging but fun two year journey for us and now it’s up to you to try the Unit67 for yourself. We hope you’ll like it!
DryBell Team (and friends)
Martina, Zvonko, Kruno, Luka, Marko, Mario, Gordan, Borna, Miro, Silvio, Marijan, Tom
Unit67™ is a trademark of DryBell Musical Electronic Laboratory.
DryBell M.E.L has no affiliation with Urei or Universal Audio company.
Artistic impression of Neanderthal Man by British novelist William Golding.