Maxon PH-350 Rotary Phaser
We’ve talked a lot about vintage offerings here at Cabinet HQ, mostly for the purpose of illustrating history. And as is normally the case with technology, the first commercially available product, while undeniably inspirational, isn’t always the finest example in retrospect. We’ve covered the Seamoon Funk Machine and the Coron Phaser 55—hardly the best examples in their classes, but canonical footnotes of ingenuity. Sometimes though, we have to give credit where credit is due and acknowledge an exemplary unit, one that sits atop the genre. Today, that pedal is the Maxon PH-350; the finest phaser ever created.
You may recognize this pedal as an afterthought to much popular devices in the same series of devices. This “vintage series” was packaged in a very distinct cast and sloped enclosure and was double the width of Maxon’s normal offerings. The two heavy hitters of this series are and were the AD-900 (along with the AD-999 and AD-999 Pro, two souped-up versions), and the OD-820, once thought as nearly equal to a Klon Centaur in tone and topology.
What many people don’t know is that there were eight pedals in this series, all of them absolutely exceptional. Outside of “the delay” and “the overdrive,” many players knew nothing about the entire line. And even when I was working in half the music stores in Portland, I laid eyes on less than half of them. Knowing Maxon’s track record, this is definitely in accordance with tradition. Let’s talk about Maxon for a second.
Maxon has been in the manufacturing business for longer than one might think, having actually designed all the pedals in the original Ibanez line. Hoshino Gakki Co, under the brand name Ibanez, licensed Maxon’s 808-series circuits for its line. Maybe you’ve heard of those 808-series Ibanez pedals. Of course, everyone knows the 9-series as well, but while most Americans think the Maxon name faded out and then returned, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
In fact, Maxon has released ten wholly separate pedal lines, including many that some players have never heard of, and that’s not including the multitude of nonstandard Maxon boxes such as the Flying Pan and Jetlyzer, or collaborations with other companies. These lines range from the mundane to the “this could only have come from Japan” sort. When was the last time you heard anyone talking about their Fire Blade series Auto Filter (besides Josh Scott)? And the Auto Filter wasn’t one of three or four; there were eight Fire Blade series pedals in all. I personally have only seen and played just one (the DS-F1 Distortion). It sounded excellent.
Across all the lines and counting the Ibanez equivalents, Maxon has always produced top-notch effects. This perhaps culminated in the Vintage Series, and with it, the PH-350 Rotary Phaser.
The simplicity of a good phaser is always one of its strongest suits. And while options like waveforms, envelope control and step sequencing are good fun, above all, we want a phaser to excel at one thing: cyclically shifting the phase. The Maxon is the cream of the crop in symbiosis of all the best and essential parts of phase shifting.
Any effect utilizing an LFO (low-frequency oscillator, the motion component of any modulation effect) is composed of two core parts; the frequency (modulation speed) and the amplitude (modulation depth). But the interesting thing about the phaser is that by definition, the “depth” element of a phaser usually corresponds to the depth of a series of all-pass filters (the number of which is referred to as “stages”), which is then animated with a rate control. You end up hearing a sweeping phase cancellation. The Phase 90 didn’t have anything beyond a rate control utilizing a fixed depth (to great effect) and four stages. Other pedals tinkered with depth and also feedback controls, which Electro-Harmonix called “Color” on the Small Stone.
The Maxon wraps up the finer points of all four in such a way that leaves nothing to be desired. Turn the Speed knob down to its minimum and it will come to a sludgy halt; turn it to its maximum and you can barely distinguish where the wave crests end and the troughs begin. The Depth control has an exceptional range and the Feedback control is neutral in the middle; turn it right-of-center for a gooey modulation that self-oscillates at max and turn it left-of-center for a hollowed-out jazz-friendly sound. The stages are switchable too, from a mellow four to a near-unhinged ten. There’s also a dry out for stereo operation.
An underrated aspect of a phaser that’s just not mentioned enough is headroom. What does a phaser sound like when pummeled with an onslaught of dirt or a line-level signal? If it sounds peaky and temperamental, the headroom (or lack thereof) may be to blame. Even undervolted at 9V (the OEM adapter supplies a puzzling 10V), the PH-350 gobbles up and and all inputs and coats them in a velvety sheen. Part of this is due in part to the unit’s optical topology, just like the classic Mu-Tron Phasor II which produced buttery phase shifting decades before it.
I run a Moog Source into three high-gain dirt pedals, and with a single click, the PH-350 coats the morass in chocolate syrup and puts a cherry on top. It just does the trick. Get one and protect it at all costs.