Today, 483 days after they announced it at NAMM 2015, I finally received my Hotone Xtomp stompbox simulator. Or ‘portal to infinity’ as they style it.
So after all this time, how is it?
Well the packaging is promising for a start. A solid and very tidy matt black box with a very discreet stamped gloss Xtomp legend opens to reveal an equally matt black and tidy interior, containing an instruction leaflet, some identification stickers and beneath a dividing bulkhead, the Xtomp unit itself.
They’ve clearly taken some pointers from Apple, because it looks and feels like a Mac. Solid, smooth to the touch, silver all over and slim. Very easy on the eye and at 472 grams it’s also reassuringly hefty, not flimsy.
It doesn’t come with any leads, so you’ll need your own 9v DC power supply – and later, for firmware updates or computer-based editing, a usb to micro usb cable.
Like any stompbox, it’s very simple to fire up, you just give it some power, plug in a guitar, feed the output to an amp and you’re ready to go…
…and you will of course also need to have downloaded the app containing the library of effects from whichever app store supports your phone and/or tablet.
I used my ’72 Tele and my ’60 TV Junior, a reissue ’64 Deluxe Reverb and two Hughes and Kettner Switchblade 50’s, all set completely clean, to test it out.
The preloaded model was one of the combo models – ‘Chorium Dist’, which comprises models of a Boss DS-1 drive and CE-2 chorus. Straight away it made a pretty nice sound, though the drive sounded a bit clanky as if the chorus was still engaged even when dialed right down.
I like drives, so I moved on by loading the Hermida Zendrive model, which was much more like it. Similar sound and control to the venerated original. From there I went quickly through all the drive models before moving on to the modulation and ambient fx.
Each model takes about 20-30 seconds to load wirelessly and as is the way with bluetooth, connection sometimes gets lost. I found my iPad was rather better than my iPhone for connecting (both are recent top-end models running the latest IOS). Sometimes I had to close the app and even reboot the pedal by powering down and up again. But generally, it worked pretty well.
If 20-30 seconds sounds like a long time, don’t be deterred. I noticed that this was only for the initial loads, the times being considerably shorter, like a few seconds, when I went back to effects that had already loaded earlier. And you can still noodle away on the previously-loaded effect during long loads.
I also have the excellent Digitech iStomp, which uses a (now outdated 30-pin) cable to load sounds in about 20 seconds, and some TC pedals which cleverly load their ‘Toneprints’ almost instantly via an electronic ‘chirp’ which you play from your phone into your guitar’s pickups.
The quality of the fx in all of these pedals is good and the Xtomp is right up there, probably better. I found myself dialling back the top end on my Deluxe slightly on the Xtomp’s drive models to sweeten them up a bit, but this was not to the cost of my direct clean sound.
There’s no point is detailing which models appealed to me most in this initial exploration because everybody will have their own tastes. Suffice to say that everything I tried with both guitars and all three amps, the H&K’s in stereo, sounded very good.
The drives also clean up nicely as you roll the volume back, which you can’t always say even for some pretty high-end stomps. I didn’t spend much time in the four amp models as I was already playing though tube amps.
The unit has six adjustment knobs in two staggered rows of three, but only the ones in use in each patch light up, so it’s surprisingly easy to figure out what does what. Easier than the Digitech iStomp – it only has four knobs but because they’re in a straight line and don’t light up, so it’s much more difficult to tell what’s on and which knob controls what.
Given the intrinsic upgradeability of the Xtomp and the promise of ‘300 models to choose from’, what would I like to see next?
…a spring reverb model. There are currently only two revebs, ‘Hall’ and Room’, both quite ‘digital. By the way, the predelays on which are really severe…
…a looper model with a decent length loop, like a TC Ditto
…tap tempo in the delay models, activated by holding the footswitch down for a couple of seconds
…a model of one of the modern clutch of drives in the wake of the Klon Centaur, which can mix clean and driven signals (eg Rockett Archer. EH Soul Food, )
…opto trem, Univibe
…compressor and drive combo and several drive and echo combos
…and for fun, a decent, flexible ringmod
… regular firmware updates
…and an editor, preferably one that works on laptop and tablet like TC’s, Fractal’s Kemper’s, line 6’s…. Hopefully one that enables control of colour of illumination so you can tell what an effect is without having to listen to it (eg red for drive, blue for chorus, or whatever)
So was it worth the wait? Hotone will probably be relieved to hear me say yes, this is a great product even if the price has risen rather steeply since launch. I’m likely to buy three more so I can build a powerful, compact repurposable board comprising four.