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The Dust Collector - Finegear

The Dust Collector - Finegear

by Ellison Wolf

Finegear’s The Dust Collector is an interesting device. It’s kind of a throwback to effects like Roland’s various Space Echoes, but it forgoes the former's main attribute—tape delay—for instead, a curated selection of various vintage effects. It’s like a cheese dome, charcuterie platter, and antipasti dish all in one.
Consisting of two LFOs, two channels of a tape saturation effect, a spring reverb, digital delay, and a phaser, The Dust Collector covers a lot of bases and has a pretty interesting makeup. Housed in a sturdy metal enclosure, The Dust Collector takes up some serious real estate, measuring about 13.5” x 12.25” and 2.25” in height. To be sure, you won’t forget you have it—or forget to use it—when it’s sitting on your desk as it’s big, and actually a tiny bit larger than the SOMA Lyra 8—which it looks like a distant cousin. It’s been a good friend to the analog synths in my studio that don’t have any/many built-in effects, and has paired especially well with the Teenage Engineering POM-400 that I reviewed for this issue.
The build of The Dust Collector is sturdy, and it’s a nice looking piece of kit with its black and sliver fluted knobs, legible text, and nice clean modular-mixer style graphic separation between the effects. This makes sense since one of Finegear’s other products include a very interesting looking modular mixer!
Right away there is what could be thought of as a strange implementation if you can’t manage to see your way out of anything but Eurorack-colored glasses, and that is that each effect has an IN and OUT found on the back of the unit, and that they are not normalled together. This means that you need to patch them like you would a guitar pedal, or to chain them together if you want to use multiple effects in one channel. I rather like this as you can use the various effects for separate channels, and it makes the unit more versatile, but it can also be a bit of a hassle. Along with the necessary patching, the patch connections are un-Eurorack and use ¼” cables, not the typical 3.5mm found in modular. Most of us have cables from all walks of life lying around, so this isn’t an issue, but just be warned, and/or prepared. On the flipside—well, the topside, rather—all of the modulation INs and OUTs all use traditional, good ol’ Eurorack cables. Whew.
Going from left to right, the two LFOs are what you encounter first. Both are selectable between a sine, triangle, and square wave, and both have CV inputs with attenuation for modulating the modulator. Both LFOs also have two outputs and one inverted output—a nice addition—which give plenty of opportunities to patch out of them, and even more so since the LFOs operate at different ranges, for more modulation variation. LFO 1 goes from 0.17 Hz to 7.5 Hz while LFO 2’s range is 0.56 Hz to 25 Hz, with both going from +5V to -5V peak to peak. Both LFOs also have two bi-color LEDs, one for the CV input and one for the LFO output, which signify the polarity of the voltage. Having internal LFOs with multiple outputs really lends itself to, well…using them! It was helpful to have the attenuation to dial the perfect amount, and helped make this a pretty self-sufficient device.
Next are the two tape saturation effects. There is no actual tape in the unit, so this is a simulation of the saturation found when using tape in certain ways, and it’s through a series of diodes that this is accomplished. Each channel is identical, with a TYPE selector for choosing out of five options, the amount of effect you’d like. Everything from subtle [TYPE I] to squashed [TYPE V] can be accessed and I found each to be useful/helpful depending on the situation. Each channel also has a LEVEL control for mixing in the perfect amount of the effect, as well as a BYPASS rocker switch. There are no patch points on the top for either of these, and they can only be utilized by patching in the ¼” jacks on the back, each channel being patched separately. This might seem a bit weird, but it allows for mono or stereo use—potentially as an end-of-chain type of effect—and also to use with two separate tracks if desired. I really liked using them in series and driving both of them hard before hitting the other effects. It gave some grit to otherwise flat sounds and did wonders for running drum tracks through them, tightening them up some. That, coupled with a fast 3 ms delay and just a little delay feedback…so good. Well, we haven’t gotten to the DELAY section yet, but we shall soon enough.
Next we move on to the main heft of The Dust Collector, the spring reverb. There are controls for the IN and OUT levels, a MIX control, a TONE control, which sets the tone before the output VCA and which is a shelving filter. This type of filter works by reducing the bass frequencies while amplifying the treble when turned from 5-10, and doing the opposite when the knob is from 0-5. Under the Slinky-ish spring image at the top of the section we find two CV INs, one for the input signal, and one for the output, both with CV level controls a little below and bi-color LEDs for visual indication of signal polarity. Being able to modulate the internal VCAs for the in and out is a great idea, and using the LFOs to do so was pretty powerful. Using a slow square wave from LFO 1 and patching it into the CV IN for the reverb out with the OUT level at 5 and the CV OUT level at 10, turned the reverb on and off but letting the signal still flow, which is different than patching a VCA before and/or after the reverb, which opens and closes the gate, thereby shutting off the signal from the reverb, resulting in no sound. Lastly, the most visible and obvious thing to talk about concerning The Dust Collector—and the spring reverb section in general—is the fact that you can see the spring reverb itself through a plexiglass cover held on by four thumb screws. Depending on your input level you can watch the springs vibrate a bit, and that’s swell, but the real fun begins when you take the cover off, put the screws and cover in a safe place, and play the springs. You can scrape them with any manner of plectrum, lightly and carefully exert some deeply held frustrations with the odd household tool or eating utensil, tickle the springs with feathers, and anything else you can think of to touch, lightly mangle, or boing the springs is fair game. You can mess with sounds going into the machine or use The Dust Collector as the instrument by itself, striking, scraping, and shaking the reverb, just like back in the day when you’d kick your guitar amp to make it rumble. [You shouldn’t have done that.]
Next in line we’ve got the PT2399-based delay channel, which has a CV IN with an attenuator for modulating the delay time and a bi-color LED supplying the flashy visual indication of voltage polarity. Manual controls over the TIME and FEEDBACK, a MADNESS toggle for descending immediately into infinite feedback, and a MIX control round out this section's controls. Most of the delays I seem to come across using the PT2399 chip have a warm, slightly murky lo-fi sound, but The Dust Collector manual states that they’ve cleaned up the circuit a bit, and it does sound a little clearer to my ears, though it still retains the dirty characteristics that this chip is known for. I found myself really playing the DELAY a lot, twisting knobs, descending into MADNESS, and messing with the MIX level, and it reminded me of how I used to play my Roland Space Echo before I got too precious with it. It was superb on snare, and drum tracks in general, and maxing everything in the DELAY section with the speed at 3 ms, I patched a sequence from the PO-400 into the CV IN and got some really cool sci-fi angry robot sounds; very vocal and expressive, like something you’d get if you did incoherent spoken word with a vocoder through a distortion unit. Patching in audio rate CV also yielded some cool results and along with the MADNESS switch that lets you descend into repeated 2399 chaos, you can really get some interesting sounds. There is also an INSERT input on the back of the unit to use as a SEND/RETURN for the delay line and I patched in a bunch of guitar pedals—everything from distortion to tremolo to a sitar sounding pedal I built years ago—to see what I could get out of it, and came across some interesting tonal irregularities. Some of the pedals, like the sitar emulator, brought out [or created] notes that weren’t otherwise there, and others, like the Vongon Ultrasheer, just brought the whole thing up a notch, kind of taking over the whole delay sound and creating new worlds in the repeats.
Last in line is the PHASER, modeled after a vintage 70s unit that has FEEDBACK and DEPTH controls, a CV IN with level control, a MIX level control and a SOURCE switch where you can select the modulation source. You can either use LFO 1 or LFO 2 as the modulation source, and you can use both LFOs at once by selecting one LFO and patching the other into the CV IN. If that’s not enough modulation possibility for you, The Dust Collector sports a surprise third source of modulation: you! Finegear puts you to work by having you pitch in [literally] for a bit of one-off phasing by lending a hand [also, literally] and some light. By taking the small black plastic panel off the right side of the unit and exposing the part of the circuit board that contains the LDR [light dependent resistor] and LED groupings you can flood or deprive the circuitry of light, whereby altering the modulation and creating your own unique phasing effects. For the most part I just used my hand and the flashlight on my cell phone, but any and all types of external light will work. It’s another feature on the Dust Collector that makes this such a fun and highly playable machine. It seems there could have been a better way to expose the circuit without resorting to removing screws, thereby potentially offering them up to the great Lost Component God, but the effect and thoughtfulness of this idea is great, and the implementation is as well.
The manual makes a couple of mentions of taking off the cover to do some mods to the unit; altering the TAPE saturation effects by swapping out different diodes and changing the LED colors in the PHASER for different reactions in the circuit, but I didn’t feel like digging into the machine for those changes—which I imagine to be slight tweaks and maybe not even that noticeable. I would, however, be willing to get out my soldering iron if there’s a way to mod one [or both!] of the LFOs to cycle at audio rate with a switch to go between audio rate and LFO rate. It’s one thing I really wish The Dust Collector had onboard, as it not only would it be cool to modulate the effects with audio rate CV without having to go external, but would also mean you could use The Dust Collector as a standalone synth by patching out of the LFO/s [at audio rate] and into any of the inputs. Since there’s already CV INs for both LFOs, you could ostensibly play it somewhat melodically, and even if it doesn’t track well or perfectly I’d be really down for this. I’ll have my soldering iron on standby just in case I hear that this is possible.
Other than the lack of audio rate LFOs, the only other drawback is the size of the unit. I like the size in terms of playing it and how it functions as an instrument, it’s just large, and, unlike a guitar, keyboard synth, or module, you can’t hang it on a wall, add another tier to your ceiling-high keyboard stand, or put it in your modular case. It needs its own space, and a pretty substantial one at that. If you can find that space, though, you’ll be rewarded as the Dust Collector makes a great analog effects processor, noise source, and a great performance tool. The combination of effects, the flexible routing, the ability to use the effects singularly or chained together, and of course, all of the hands-on tweaking, modulating, and sound shaping you can do make this so different than just a bunch of effects, whether in your rack, rig, or on your pedal board. Processing drum tracks through it was most excellent, adding spice and vibe [never thought I’d use those two words in a sentence together] to sounds worked well, and feeding sequences into the DELAY was worth the price of admission alone. You can use the REVERB for one channel, the DELAY for another, the PHASER for another, and the TAPE 1 and TAPE 2 for a stereo effect or end-of-chain mastering effect. Modulate them all with the onboard LFOs and you’ve got a really handy [literally] effects instrument. You could also patch each effect into a mixer or matrix mixer so that it’s easier to route and chain the effects and send more than one channel into one effect. I’m pretty sure one thing: the Dust Collector won’t collecting dust in my studio. Super fun machine!

Price: $529

finegear.net