Val Drive II has found a home on my pedalboard. With a drive that ranges from mild to moderate, it provides a good ‘zing’ to clean channels, so that you have something between clean and dirty.
So far, so good, and the quality of the drive is excellent with its mild grain that also has a hint of smoothness and warmth in its character. When it comes to dirty channels, particularly those dark in quality (or perhaps a tad muddy, particularly when combined with speakers or guitar pickups that are on the dark side), Val Drive II is incredible sounding. It not only adds a bit extra hair to the dirt, but it clears the signal so that it cuts through the mix even better. That may sound redundant, in that it adds dirt and clears up the signal, but that’s exactly what it does, and without sounding trebly. In one sense it has a slight treble booster character in how it gives that perky spark or clarity to a guitar tone, yet its effect is more robust throughout the entire EQ spectrum. Interestingly, the Tone knob sounds very different (in scope) on my clean vs. dirty amp channels. On the clean channels you get a lot of bass or a lot of treble while dialing all the way back or forward. Conversely, on my dirty channels the entire EQ spectrum on the pedal is usable without sounding like there’s too much bass or too much treble. I’m uncertain why the Tone knob behaves differently in different instances, but it’s easy to dial in a good sound regardless.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: Based on the legendary sound of the JRC4558, Val Drive II has an asymmetrically clipping circuit with silicon diodes on one side and a silicon diode in series with germanium diode on the opposite side (giving it a more modern vibe). The JRC4558 integrated circuit was designed by the Japan Radio Company and has been used in a number of famous effects, including the Orange Squeezer, DOD YJM 30, Boss OD1 and the Tube Screamer. Val Drive II carries on that tradition as it merges incredibly well with other pedals and preamps by respecting their nuances – in sum, it’s like you’re hot-rodding gear without losing the characteristics of that gear. What you hear is a clean channel with warm, crunchy attitude while a dirty channel perks up and cuts through the mix like never before. Doc Music Station, the creator of the Val Drive II, also suggests that this pedal works very well with bass (up to 5 strings) – its smoothness and signal improvement certainly suggests as much.
GENERAL USE: Even up full on a clean channel you would be pleasantly surprised as to how smooth and natural the Val Drive II sounds (being a low to moderate gain pedal). It adds a warm grain with some headroom when on low (e.g., 10-o’clock) with a very acceptable drive and modest breaking up quality when up full. Obviously the cleaner the amp the more you can crank the Drive, which also depends whether you want to add some glassiness to your tone versus making it more of a crunch. With a dirty channel the Val Drive II shines incredibly well, although how much Drive you want will depend on how nasty your dirt channel is (or how much nastier you want it), and for the most part I’ve been keeping it at 10-o’clock, which seems to enhance the dirt channels on my Victory V4 Preamps (I have all three, The Countess, The Sheriff and The Kraken) in a positive way with no added saturation (in fact, the preamps sound even clearer and cutting edge). As for the Tone knob, you can get a lot of bass or treble for those clean channels, but with dirt channels (as least with my gear) the signal becomes more pronounced on the high end that I keep the Tone knob on the Val Drive II dialed back to about 9-o’clock… and on The Kraken (which has a more harsh tone) I dial back the Tone knob all the way to full bass. I’m surprised I had to do this since on a clean channel dialing all the way back made the tone sound dark and slightly muffled.
OTHER DETAILS: A standard sized pedal, Val Drive II measures 113 mm (L) x 67mm (W) x 48mm (H) or 4.4 x 2.5 x 1.88 inches, and weighs 230g/8oz. The heavy-duty metal chassis is powder coated dark blue on sides and underneath with multiple colored graphics on top (of a woman’s face… it must be Val), white lettering and purple knobs. The three knobs (Level, Drive and Tone) are heavy plastic and will withstand normal use and abuse. All knobs have exceptional quality pots (smooth and very solid when turned without any static or noise). The footswitch (on/off) produces a solid click when engaged or disengaged without any unusual popping or noise. The chassis is a Hammond 1590B aluminum case that provides shielding of the electronic card. As well, Val Drive II also includes high-end audio components (carbon resistors and Panasonic, Wima and Silver Mica capacitors), true-bypass Neutrik jacks, Alpha 16mm faders, and is protected against overvoltage and reverse polarity. The cable input/output and power supply all are located along the sides, and so some modest care is to be taken when used (to prevent foot slippage and possible chord input/output/power output damage). Val Drive II does not run on batteries and requires a 9VDC power supply.