Electro Harmonix Mainframe Review

To all the space invaders, dungeon crawlers, and 8-bit heroes everywhere, it's time to put down the controller and pick up the axe for a new kind of digital quest.

The Electro-Harmonix Mainframe is a bit crusher and sample rate reducer with maximized functionality that only the experts at EHX can provide. The Mainframe sets out to deconstruct signals to produce tones reminiscent of video game systems from the 1980s and 1990s. Any fan of retro Nintendo consoles or arcade cabinets are sure to be instantly familiar with the distorted and crushed tones the Mainframe is capable of. Though there is no cartridge to insert or memory card to load, the spirit of video games is alive and well within the stompbox and it is not one to underestimate.

Sample rate reduction is the specialty of the Mainframe. Players will instantly notice the digital buzzes and crushes when plugging in, and while the Mainframe can come off as a noise machine, some fine tuning and experimentation can yield humble harmonic tones. Between the two main functions of the Mainframe, there is plenty of room to explore.

Sample rate reduction degrades an audio signal from high quality to low, where high fidelity is compromised by a lower rate of sampling. This process results in a distorted signal, that is, in this case, reminiscent of 16-bit video game sounds. Players will be able to fine tune the parameters of the crushed tones with control over bit depth and sample rate for extensive bit-crushing possibilities. Alongside the basic bit-crushing capabilities, the Sample Rate Tuning Mode of the Mainframe can be used to set the sample rate to match the key of a song that is being played or to adjust to it automatically in real time. When used in tandem with the bit-crusher effect, the Mainframe's additional filter functions warp audio signals even further. A selection of a High Pass, Low Pass, or Band Pass filter provides different warped voices with control over input gain and filter strength. Capable of producing voices close to a pseudo-wah effect, the filter function of the Mainframe adds extra character and quirkiness to an already unique tone.

With extra functions enabled by an external expression pedal, the Mainframe's effect parameters can be adjusted on the fly for warped filter sweeps and wild bit-crushed transformations. Using the expression pedal control button, players can program in two presets to be rolled through with the heel and toe positions of an expression pedal. This hands-on, real time adjustment of the Mainframe's effects allow the pedal to truly bloom in all its retro and quirky glory. Deeply interactive digital buzzes and bleeps will bring out the best from the Mainframe and the inventive players who pick it up.

EHX Mainframe Conclusions

Synthesized 16-bit sounding guitar leads and bass lines have never been more in reach than with the Mainframe. A warm homage to a classic era of video gaming, Electro-Harmonix has crafted an accessible means to tap into the music familiar and dear to gaming guitarists. Though early video game music was limited by the technology of the time, the crew at Electro-Harmonix clearly recognized the musicality of Nintendo and Sega soundtracks to produce a pedal that can make the noisy and crushed nuanced and musical.