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Polyphrase - Vongon

Polyphrase - Vongon

by Jason Czeryk

Right out of the box you know you’ve got something special with Vongon pedals. I mean, sure, they’re always great looking—the nice hand-sanded and polished walnut enclosure, the Rogan knobs (in this case white), the attractive faceplate, but it’s oh so much more than a fancy-looking pedal, and their latest pedal, Polyphrase, is knocking my Birkenstocks off. (I live in the Northeast, no shame in my footwear, ok?)
Polyphrase is a digital delay/echo and looper that claims inspiration from vintage digital delays like the Lexicon Prime Time and such. I’ve only been fortunate enough to use vintage digital delays sparingly, and that particular Lexicon once, at a friend’s studio years ago. Though I remember thinking it was cool, and we messed around with it a bit on guitar, I couldn’t figure out how to make it shine and I don’t remember too much else about it, other than the name. Good names will go far. Well, if it’s part of the inspiration for Polyphrase then shame on me, because looking at it now, it looks amazing, and again, so does Polyphrase.
Polyphrase is an easy pedal to jump right into for anyone that’s ever spent time with a delay pedal; there’s nothing mysterious or hard to decipher here. The first thing you notice, other than the beautiful craftsmanship and design, are the two sliders in the middle of the pedal that break up the pedal into two sides and determine delay times for each channel. They can be synced or not, and this opens up just a huge amount of crazy delay options. With the Echo controls and a mixture of tone sculpting options on the right, and a Tap Tempo/Infinite control on the left, it’s an easy tour to take.
The right side of the pedal has controls for Time, Mix, Echo Style, a soft switch for engaging the effect, and a 3.5mm MIDI In jack for syncing to other devices, and for MIDI control for all of Polyphrase’s parameters, and storing some presets, too. With some button pushing on power up, Polyphrase can be set for various gain levels, so if you’re feeding it a guitar, synth, or whatever else, you don’t need anything else to get the right level.
Polyphrase can be run in mono or stereo and there are three echo modes to choose from: Dual Stereo, Ping Pong, and Mono w/External Loop. There are four ¼” interface jacks at the top of the pedal (In L/Mono, In R/Return, Out L/Mono, and Out R/Send), and plugging Polyphrase in (to the new Waveform Cat Powr, no less!) and taking the grand tour in mono mode of the Echo side of the pedal found me in pretty good shape in terms of dialing things in quickly. From slow, druggy rhythmic repeats to stainless steel bathroom slapback, there is a beautiful surround to the sound, nothing nostalgic or dirty, just clear and clean, and it was as simple as turning the Time dial (with a total of nine maximum delay times ranging from 85 milliseconds to 22 seconds!) and sliding things around to see what could be had.
Since I was in mono, I decided to use the Send/Return function to tweak Polyphrase’s repeats. Really, with Send/Returns the sky's the limit, and I patched into the Strymon Starlab to add some spacey reverb to the repeats, and then to Weston Precision Audio’s SF1 Filter to sculpt the tone further. I kind of like running reverbs into filters as opposed to the other way, as it sometimes opens up a different sonic palette doing it like that, reacting with the inputs in a way that running a dry signal into filter input doesn’t always do, even though my mind feels like it’s doing something wrong—like running delay after reverb—which is something I did also, with Starlab going into the 4ms Looping Delay (still in the Send/Return on Polyphrase). It’s just nice having that Send/Return option to get crazy with the delay line or sculpt the tone of the delays and it can be really interesting when the Mix is at 100% wet—no dry signal allowed!
I was digging the Mono mode but was antsy to get into Stereo Mode and give that a shot, of which there are two options: Dual Stereo mode gives two separate echoes that can—yes—be run in stereo—with each echo sent to separate outputs, but the two echos can also be stacked for a mono output and can make some rhythmically bizarre delays. Ping Pong mode is a stereo/headphone lover's dream, which has the delays for each side feed into each other's inputs and acts as a multi-tap delay when in mono mode.
The left side of the pedal is where the sculpting of the delays takes place. There’s a Feedback knob that goes to 110%, a bi-polar Tone knob to cut low or high end, and onboard pitch modulation with Rate and Depth controls. The Depth control—like Tone—is bi-polar as well so that in the middle position there is no depth—no modulation added to the signal—but turning the control left of center adds sine wave modulation and turning it right of center adds random modulation. I like this bi-polar stuff, it’s a smart and interesting way to add numerous options in one control, and I like that it still allows for how much of something you want to add, it’s not just a fixed amount. The modulation is really versatile, going from 0.1 Hz to 10 Hz (so close to audio rate), and the two waveform choices—sine and random—are exactly what I like to modulate delay repeats with when I do so with an LFO.
The left side has a soft footswitch for Tap Tempo and Infinite, for infinite feedback, with a small button selector to switch between the two. I like it because you can tap your tempo if you’re not syncing to anything via the MIDI in, and then switch to Infinite with the tempo remaining how you set it. This dual-functionality of the switch is a good way to avoid having three switches instead of two, and using Infinite mode and mixing that into the background (or foreground) with whatever the input is and manipulating the various parameters, shaping, tweaking, scurrying the sound is inspiring. It can be anything from a subtle pad to a dominating mechanical wash, wiping out the input entirely. Throw in some onboard slow sine modulation and you’re in Boards of Canada territory, with that creepy detuned sadness; the soundtrack of perfect lawns, stiff G&Ts, and ridiculously organized garages. The Infinite output can be isolated to the OUT R (essentially bypassing the Return part of the Send/Return) with the unaffected mono signal going to the OUT L so you can process each in other ways, and you can play with just the Infinite and use this as a sound source. It would be ideal if you could isolate the Infinite output on one side and the delayed signal on the other, but I’m not sure how that could be done with only one delay line. Magic, I suppose? Two Polyphrases? Hmmm….
One of the really cool things about Polyphrase is that changing the Time parameter doesn’t alter the pitch, but moving the sliders does. If you have a fast delay time going you can effectively pitch the delays and use Polyphrase like an instrument all to itself, as a sound source. Mostly I did this with one signal but with the stereo out. It’s just way too cool to use Polyphrase in stereo, tweaking the delays for each side, then hitting the little Sync button to quickly sync them, then undoing that. And setting each delay to opposite extremes—one fast and one slow—in either stereo mode configuration was awesome.
While I can’t imagine seeing Polyphrase on too many pedal boards—it’s a work of art not destined for the floor—I imagine there will be a lot of these front and center—or maybe a little off-center to leave room for a MIDI controller of some sort—on desks, and with serious staying power. It’s beautiful to look at, incredibly fun to play and has a ton of possibilities in which to explore. I do wish the modulation could go a little faster so there could be audio rate modulation, and of course, CV control would be great (though you can use the MIDI to control the parameters), but overall I’m very into this pedal. Yes, there are plenty of delay pedals out there, some with many more features and tweakable parameters, but I’m not sure there are any that I enjoy playing as much as Polyphrase. I’ve spent plenty of time with an array of delay pedals and if I could only have one delay to sit on my desk (thankfully that’s not the case), this would be the one, without question. Polyphrase may be my favorite Vongon release yet.
Wherever Vongon finds their inspiration, whether it be from vintage effects or in the water they drink, they inspire others through their pedals.

Price: $449