MXR Joshua Ambient Echo review – a budget, small-format shortcut to impressive The Edge tones

MXR Joshua Ambient Echo review – a budget, small-format shortcut to impressive The Edge tones

MXR has a long and respected history of creating brilliant compact delay pedals – how many times have you seen the venerable Carbon Copy on a pedalboard over the 10 or 15 years? Exactly. The new Joshua Ambient Echo is something rather different to the Carbon Copy’s analogue-style repeats – instead, the pedal is designed to recreate those classic 1980s rackmount stereo delay tones.

READ MORE: Review: Boss DM-101 — the new benchmark for analogue delay?

What’s so special about 80s stereo rack delays?
Well, as hard as it is to imagine in this era of high-end DSP chips littering pedalboards like confetti, there was a time when creating massive sounds required massive hardware. This meant that in the 1980s especially, pro guitarists often ditched pedals for the more cumbersome but exciting world of rack-mounted effects processors.
These rack-mounted effects – especially delay and reverb – were much beloved of session guitarists of the era, and perhaps most notably of all, were crucial to the legendary guitar sounds that became the trademark of The Edge on U2’s The Joshua Tree album in 1987 – I don’t imagine the pedal’s name is coincidental in that regard.
MXR Joshua Ambient Echo. Image: Adam Gasson
What does a stereo rack delay unit sound like?
These stereo rack delay units allowed guitarists to create rhythmic repeated delay patterns from very simple guitar motifs, often with modulated repeats bouncing from different parts of the stereo field, resulting in an almost hypnotising melodic wash of tone around the listener’s head. Obviously, while the days of guitar players carting fridge-sized rack cases from gig to gig are a thing of the past, in recent years the emergence of more ambient styles of guitar playing has seen an increased interest in those kinds of sounds.
However, thanks to the advent of modern high-end DSP, these sounds have become available in smaller and smaller packages – the Joshua is perhaps the smallest pedal yet to attempt to capture the vibe of these massive rack units, but how does it do it?
Controls on the MXR Joshua. Image: Adam Gasson
Is the MXR Joshua easy to use?
Resplendent in its smart white sparkle finish, the Joshua from a distance looks like any other MXR compact pedal that you’ll have seen over the last few decades – in fact it has the same six control knobs and two small soft-touch push buttons configuration as the Poly Blue Octave and Fullbore Metal.
On the side you have the classic input and output jacks, along with a second jack on the output side – this can be set to allow either external tap tempo, expression pedal, or even stereo output depending on how you set the small recessed switch next to it.
Up top, controls for delay, regeneration and mix are fairly straightforward, while the powerful division control shifts the repeats from simple quarter notes to dotted eighths and triplets. The mod control unsurprisingly introduces modulation to the repeats, and voice blends in octaves to the echo repeats.
And then there’s more in the shape of the illuminated push-buttons up top. One controls a second quarter-note repeat that can be added to your current setting, while the other turns on trails.
MXR has packed in an awful lot of powerful tone-shaping features in a really clear and straightforward way – it can be as simple or as complex as you need. Under the hood there are also some powerful secondary settings with some clever control tweaks – most notably holding down the footswitch for a few seconds turns it into a tap tempo footswitch.
The MXR Joshua’s footswitch. Image: Adam Gasson
Does the MXR Joshua Sound good?
My old Strat into my old Vox AC30 seems like an apt pairing to get this test going, and upon kicking on the Joshua set to a simple single quarter repeat, I’m instantly impressed by both the lack of background noise that often plagued the old rack units, and crucially the very musical tonality of the repeats. It has just the right hint of 80s digital crunch at higher settings of regeneration, which allows the trails to sit beautifully under my playing in a distinctly different tonality to an analogue or tape delay.
Turning up the modulation control gives the repeats a beautiful chorus-esque tonality, or even rotary speaker vibe at higher settings. The voice control adds pitch-shifted octave notes above and below to your repeats, and is best used subtly adding a beautiful epic pad to your repeats – unless of course you want to explore more of the organ or POG-style tones at higher settings.
Setting the Joshua to two separate delay ratios (set at one dotted eighth and one-quarter note facilitated by that extra Echo 2 button) is the crucial ingredient to nailing those Edge epic delays that bounce around the stereo field in such a musically magical fashion. With the expression pedal jack set in stereo mode, using this sound with a two-amp rig is utterly spellbinding.
Input and output jacks on the MXR Joshua. Image: Adam Gasson
Is the MXR Joshua worth buying?
Quite how MXR managed to squeeze so many features into a box that’s no bigger than my old Phase 90 really is quite a feat in and of itself. But the fact that those features create sounds that are so fun and inspirational makes this pedal far more than an impressive technical exercise. Everything from simple grunge slapbacks to complex rhythmic patterns wrapped up in waves of swirly modulation, and epic widescreen octave atmospherics are available here if you want them to be.
When you factor in the simple usability and the clever tap tempo function… not to mention the stereo and external control capabilities, there’s really not much to complain about here. I guess given the sheer breadth of sounds on tap here, some users will miss the lack of any kind of preset function.
How many of us actually use presets though, really? I can certainly live without them, and if you have the time to properly learn all the varied possibilities hidden within these six small knobs and two buttons, you’ll certainly have found what you’re looking for.
MXR Joshua alternatives
The Joshua does an impressive and affordable job of recreating The Edge’s classic delay sounds, but if you want to go to the source, TC Electronic’s 2290 ($349/£299) is the pedal version of the rack unit Mr Evans was using back in the day. If you want something more compact, Boss’ DD-8 ($189/£149) offers a bunch of fun sounds in a similarly bijou package. Another premium pedal aimed squarely at the 80s rackmount sound is the Meris Polymoon ($299/£276).
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