Akai DB1 Deep Impact
I love synth pedals. And trust me, the cabinet knows—I have quite a number of them. While some definitely do their job better than others, all of them have their place. And while most of them are designed to make a regular guitar sound like a multifaceted workstation keyboard rather than a synthesizer, I love them all just the same. For those lower-frequency players, none of the biggest sellers do any justice. This follows the universally agreed-upon timeline of effects usage per band members; for a lengthy spell, bassists that used pedals were given a side-eye.
But as synth pedals continue to be made, it’s hard to believe that some of its earliest heavy-hitters were released in the ‘80s and ‘90s, such as the Korg X-911 and the DigiTech XP300 Space Station. But while those faffed about with a more general kitchen-sink approach to the subject, it was Akai in 200X that came out with the most potent offering to date. This is the Akai SB1 Deep Impact.
Although some places claim the Deep Impact came out in the late ‘90s, nobody that I know is entirely sure when the Deep Impact was released. As far as I can tell, it was 2002. Prior to that, Akai’s “professional” website came out with guns blazing about its silver boxed series that included the VariWah and Intelliphase. However, a short time later, Akai Pro’s website appeared to go dark, resurfacing with pictures of gleaming mixers and MPCs. It’s too bad; the Head Rush, Unibass and Deep Impact were arguably the best pedals Akai ever produced.
When a pedal’s endorsee list contains players like Bootsy Collins, Chris Wolstenholme and Paul Turner of Jamiroquai, you pretty much know what to expect: throbbing, guttural filter sweeps with a funk chaser. And yeah, you get that. But you get a pretty bang-on stab at a host of synth patches, including fifths, warbling pads and much more. It’s not without its limitations, though.
The Unibass and Deep Impact were centered on the frequency range of the bass guitar; the Unibass generated a fat unison mode with an octave up and subtle thickening, which is easily adaptable to six strings. However, the Deep Impact in particular made no bones about its applications. When played with a guitar, notes outside of the bass frequency range cut through at a very distinct threshold, and not in a “hardware limitation” kind of way; there is a literal cut-off point. One note in a scale gets enveloped in the circuit, and the very next rings through as if there was no effect at all.
The way it’s used is deceptively complex. Like the old analog synths it seeks to replicate, dialing in a patch takes a little effort, and in the same way as many of them. Two of the unit’s three knobs are for input and output levels—the Input control is accented with a metering system and lets you set the clipping threshold of the unit before setting the output volume. While two-thirds of the knobs are standard fare, the money is in the program system.
On offer are nine programs with a blank parametric slate. The left footswitch cycles through these programs in ascending order, while an optional footswitch cycles in descending order, and the center control cycles through 10 different parameters (and one preset loading option), all of which are fully adjustable with the rotary encoder in the center of the unit. Most of them correspond to controls on real analog synths, such as (filter) Cutoff, Resonance, Attack and Decay. When you factor in this multi knob, the Deep Impact actually has 12 controls for your tweaking pleasure, far more than the competition. And the ends to which you can adjust the tone are relatively absurd.
While vintage synths of yore can oscillate and destroy your ears when the resonance is cranked, Akai thoughtfully keeps the extent of the parameters usable. With that being said, the Deep Impact will mercilessly punish any subwoofer placed before it. Akai promises a four-oscillator affair within the Deep Impact and while there’s no way to dial it in solely based on those merits, it certainly sounds gargantuan. It’s probably why they are worth so much.
The original designer of the Deep Impact, one Andras Szalay, revived the project well after Akai washed its hand of the line under the company name PandaMIDI and the product name Future Impact I. For a spell, it was tough even to get one of those, and prices encroached upon the original. Now on its third revision, readily available and with a new brand name, the Future Impact continues to carry the torch. There’s just something about that Akai unit, though...