by Brandon Ivers
Meris, a company out of Ventura, California, are making some of the best sounding, deepest pedals out there right now. The core of their staff are made up of former Line 6 and Strymon engineers, and it’s clear they are focusing on taking the rack-mount effects of old and re-imagining them into a more playable, fun context. The Polymoon, their latest DSP-based pedal, was apparently inspired by musicians like Frank Zappa’s 80s-era digital delay experiments, and while that’s not really a frame of reference I’m familiar with, I know a sound similar to this due to my love of overproduced electronic music from the same era. Imagine taking two or three digital rack delays, cascading them, and maybe adding a few flangers and phasers into the mix and you have something that approaches the Polymoon.
Like other Meris pedals, the Polymoon feels well-built and capable of living on the road. The top panel has a clean layout with six main controls: time, feedback, mix, multiply, dimension, and dynamics. The first three controls listed are pretty standard for any delay effect and are mostly self-explanatory. Worth noting is that as this is a digital delay, the time parameter can get very short, well into metallic, almost flanging territory.
The pedal can be configured to deal with instrument or line-level signals via a slightly arcane configuration mode that also lets you change bypass modes, reverb trail behavior, mono vs. stereo input and output, and other settings you probably don’t need to set in a live situation. Unless you have an incredible memory for largely pointless things, you will need the manual when changing these settings.
Although the Polymoon is a guitar pedal with only a handful of controls, it’s interesting how ‘macro’ the design of it is and how well the signal flow is explained in the manual. From what I gleaned, the first stage of the pedal is a pair of “dynamic flangers”, which can be modulated by either a peak follower or a sine wave. Depending on the modulation source you pick, holding down the ‘alt’ button and turning the Dimension knob will either set the peak follower’s attack time or the sine wave’s modulation rate.
Next, the signal runs through a multi-tap delay network. You can control how many taps are employed with the ‘Multiply’ knob, with up to six individual delays. Each of these delay lines have their own feedback network that is mostly controlled by the ‘Dimension’ knob, effectively blurring the delays. These delay taps run in series and are modulated by six triangle LFOs that can do everything from tuned, diatonic modulation to FM-rate speeds. Finally, the signal finishes with “barber pole” phasers, which have selectable speeds and run opposite each other to create extra width for stereo signals.
The simplicity of analog effects will always have their place, but when I’m looking for a digital delay, having all this extra DSP alongside is generally a good thing. The Polymoon is like three [or more?] effects packed into one, with really well- tuned interactions between each layer of effect. As such, it saves space, it saves time, and you can ignore the bells and whistles if you want and just get to playing.
In typical fashion, I wanted to play, so I ignored the manual on my first outing. I love using pedals like this for slightly unintended purposes, so I tried the Polymoon as a DJ mixer effect. In this setup, I hooked the Polymoon up to a Pioneer DJM-900NX2 via the mixer’s analogue output and brought the return back on one of the mixer’s main channels. This allowed me to do a little more tonal shaping of the effect with a hi-pass filter, although I later discovered the pedal has an adjustable tilt EQ in the feedback path that made my “clever” routing a little pointless.
Although the Polymoon can accept MIDI for delay syncing purposes, I opted to use the tap button while DJ'ing. I kept the pedal set to high feedback right before self-oscillation with high multiply and dimension settings. In this mode, the Polymoon made for great reverb-like “bursts” that smoothed over transitions and added a bit of punctuated drama to impactful sounds when quickly cranking my mixer send. This type of ‘delay’ was so smeared and sustained that it really doesn’t seem like a delay at all, instead reminiscent of the fizzy reverb trails from Art of Noise’s “Moments in Love” [which was apparently a Lexicon 224]. The fact that this pedal can get that close to 80s-style reverb AND do more typical digital delay is pretty crazy.
My next use case for the Polymoon was as an effect send in Ableton Live. Using the ‘External Audio’ device in Live, I had to adjust the outgoing gain to the pedal, as the maximum input gain is roughly +12.5dBu according to the manual. Once the Polymoon was gain-staged properly, using the pedal within Live was easy and sounded fantastic. Instead of more reverb-like sounds, I opted for isolating the flange and phaser effects by setting the ‘Multiply’ and ‘Dimension’ parameters to ‘1’. In this setting, the Polymoon really reminded me of one of my favorite VST plugins, Valhalla UberMod, in that the added stereo width and interaction between the flange and phaser effects added a beautiful, swimming texture to everything that passed through. A simple white noise signal into the pedal became an ever-shifting, breathing ocean that reminded me a bit of my Juno-106’s noisy chorus, but actually controllable.
A cool thing I noticed about the Polymoon at this point: it was hard, if not impossible, to make it crackle or pop with hot signals despite the manual’s stated max input level. I’ve had other DSP pedals similar to this in the past, notably the Strymon El Capistan, and it was very easy to make it sound horrible and crackly if you attempted to drive too hot of a signal into it. By contrast, the Polymoon seemed to break up the signal nicely and even added a subtle overdrive. Although it’s not explicitly called out in the manual at the time of writing, it turns out there is a JFET at the input stage of this pedal, which is a really smart idea.
The one thing I didn’t get a chance to explore was the pedal’s MIDI implementation, which can control just about every parameter via CC messages. This was mostly due to the fact that I didn’t have a MIDI to ¼” adapter, the later being the connection type the Polymoon accepts. Obviously it would have been easier [for me] to have a normal MIDI jack, but I realize a lot of guitar players are using patch cables to distribute MIDI to their pedals, so I understand this design decision.
Although the Polymoon is marketed as a delay, I thought of it more like a combination reverb / modulation / delay effect. It’s immediately useful as a way to blur and sustain the lines of an instrument and/or as a mixing tool for placing things to the edges or back of your mix. Despite being a guitar pedal, the Polymoon is a great studio tool and I think it’s a fantastic alternative to the rack effects it emulates. I have no doubt it would be even more beastly coupled with MIDI automation, which I will definitely be exploring as there’s no way I’m giving this thing back.