The Chase Bliss habit helped me rediscover the joy of making music

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Image Credit: Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

The hardware itself is also a step ahead of the competition. Now, there aren’t a ton of ways to stand out in the pedal game if you stick to standard-sized metal housings, but Chase Bliss opts for knurled metal knobs and LEDs are tucked away in tiny metallic calderas. These are small touches that elevate a Chase Bliss pedal above other players on the market, which is important when you’re loading that much.

The two main knocks against it on the hardware front are a lack of stereo outputs and a non-standard ¼ inch MIDI connection. Frankly, I don’t think the former is a major issue. I have a small handful of stereo pedals in my collection, and I hardly ever use them in stereo. The MIDI port, on the other hand, is a little depressing, especially now that ⅛-inch TRS MIDI is a widely adopted standard. Instead, you need a special adapter box or custom wired cable to connect other MIDI gear to Habit.

Also, since Chase Bliss has to make room for the DIP switches, all the jacks are located on the sides of the pedal. It’s not a dealbreaker, but connecting audio, power and expression consumes a bit more space on your pedalboard than if the sockets were on top.

Modifiers

These complaints are minor though and they hardly matter once you start playing. Even when using it as a relatively simple delay pedal, the habit shines, especially once you start exploring the modifiers you select using the three-way switches in the middle. (The fourth switch just above the footswitches is used to select and save a pair of presets, and we’ll just skip it.) The middle switch switches between the two banks or disables modifiers, while the switch on the left selects which specific modifier you are using and the button above dials in the amount and style of said modifier.

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

Each modifier has two different variations, depending on how you turn the knob. For example, the A-1 modifier is a quantized step change in fifths and octaves. To the right of 12 o’clock, repeats are played forward, while to the left, they are played in reverse. This means that even if you don’t touch any of the other controls, you have seven separate delays at your fingertips.

Other modifiers include band-like lo-fi effects, smooth pitch shifts, and a multimode filter. But the two most interesting are probably the trimmer and the dropper. Trimmer trims chunks of audio at the start or end of a note and can be used to create complex stutter rhythms. Meanwhile, Dropper causes your signal to drop, appropriately. Turn the Modify knob to the right and you’ll find rhythm patterns; to the left and the echoes will disappear randomly. Throw that in and you get heavily gradient, almost granular effects (which you can really dig into with the Spread and Scan buttons, but more on that later).

Controls

Chase Bliss Habit

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

The controls on the top are, more or less, what you’d expect from a standard delay pedal. There is level, reps (feedback) and size (time). One important thing to note is that as you increase or decrease in size, there is no change in height. The ones below are where the interesting stuff happens. We’ve already mentioned the edit button, but next to it are the Spread and Scan controls. Spread controls a second playhead that lets you get standard multitap echoes at lower settings, but as you start to increase it, it goes further and further back into the past. It’s less of a delay and more of a time machine. If used cleverly, you can create cascading counter melodies as you play with yourself 30 seconds ago.

The scan has two modes: automatic (default) and manual (controlled by one of those DIP switches on the back). In automatic mode, it introduces random extracts from old audio files. The Scan and Spread buttons interact, so when Scan begins to dig into the past, it drags the secondary Spread playhead with it. This is important because as you increase the scan, you make the spread all the more unpredictable. It can be fun if you’re looking for glitchy mayhem, or frustrating if you’re trying to lock yourself into a groove with yourself.

If you set scanning to manual, you choose when to your choice of the last three minutes. This is especially handy if you’re using the Habit as a musical sketchbook, as you can record three minutes of noodles and then go back and find the tunes you really want to savor.

Chase Bliss Habit

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

There is a middle ground, which is my preferred method of using Scan. If you hold down the left footswitch, it momentarily sets the sweep to maximum, then returns to where you have it when you release it. If you use it with Scan set to zero, you can insert controlled bits of chaos exactly when you want them. And since Spread and Scan are tied to Size, everything stays pretty much in sync.

Then there’s the three-way switch on the far right labeled In-Out-Feed. This is probably the strongest control of the entire pedal. In the middle or out, you get predictable sound where every echo sounds exactly the same. When switched to in, each echo is fed back into the modifier circuitry. It can give you sparkling chimes that go up high until they send your dog running for cover. Or echoes that crumble further with each repetition. Or, notes that get shorter and shorter as the Trimmer modifier shaves further and further.

To the right is Feed Mode, which feeds the habit’s output straight back through the input, creating echoes of echoes and accumulating altering effects endlessly. This is where things can happen really wild. This can give you metallic, almost reverb-like drones. But it also means that, if you start turning the knobs, those changes are imprinted on the internal “tape loop” because what comes out comes back and is recorded. This becomes even more powerful when combined with the Collect DIP switch on top.

Collect

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