Envelope filters! Those things that make your bass or guitar go “quack” or “bow”, that sound at times like you were playing underwater, but mainly make you feel as if you were dressed in a full-sequined outfit and playing a bass shaped like a glittery star while wearing platform shoes. Bootsy Collins, we’re looking at you!
But seriously, apart from being a staple for any funk musician, these pedals can be definitely used for lots of other purposes and genres. You can find them as Q-Wah pedals, or Auto-wah, but they are mainly variations of the same thing.
In a nutshell, a device that filters out certain frequencies from your signal, and emphasizes others. Usually, sounding a bit like what Flea had going on during this jam session:
Our Top Choices For Bass Envelope Filter Pedals In 2021
- Our Top Choices For Bass Envelope Filter Pedals In 2021
1. MXR M82 Bass Envelope Filter
This is truly a classic envelope filter pedal built for the modern age, and specifically for bass! What we love about this thing is that apart from featuring some crisp-sounding all-analog circuitry, it gives you tons of control over the sound.
You get 5-knobs to play with, out of which the ones that truly set this boy apart are the separate dry and effect controls. This means you get to decide how much of the original signal is left after the effect is applied, which definitely helps with preserving your low end. The size of the filer is adjusted with the Decay and Q controls, and it’s got the much-needed sensitivity knob.
The M82 comes in a sturdy case that won’t cause much of a problem if you’ve got decent pedalboard space to spare, and it’s got a beautiful space-style paint job. Funky as the sounds you’ll get. You can listen for yourself.
No wonder this pedal has gotten so popular over the last few years. Some notable users include Justin Chancellor from Tool, Marcus Miller, and none other than funk veteran Bootsy Collins.
2. Source Audio SA143 Bass Envelope Filter
Now, if the classic envelope filter sound isn’t enough for you and you’re looking for something more spacey and processed, this pedal is notorious for producing crazy sounds that are reminiscent of dubstep and electronica.
When it comes to edgier sounds like that, words don’t usually do them justice, so here’s a complete demo where you can hear both the classic auto-wah sounds from this pedal, as well as the other crazy settings.
This is a very versatile pedal, but it definitely comes with its set of quirks. It’s all digital, the encasing is almost completely made of plastic, and the size of it only would make think twice.
That being said its variety of filter sounds are definitely second to none on this list. If it’s about expanding your filtering options, however, I’d also consider the Line 6 FM4 or even the Moogerfooger MF-101 if you’re looking for an analog filter that can also make some craaazy sounds.
3. Mooer Audio Micro Envelope Analog Auto Wah
And now for the tiny option! If pedalboard real estate is your main concern and not even an M82 would fit your current setup, this is probably the one.
Mooer pedals are made in China, with efficiency and cost-effectiveness (nice way of saying cheap eh?) in mind rather than a very unique sound or boutique qualities.
That being said, this thing just delivers amazingly for the price. Here’s what it sounds like with bass.
It’s surprising that it has four controls in a pedal as small, but it features decay, tone, and Q controls, along with a big sensitivity knob in the middle. It would be nice if there were a nice version, or if it had a dry/wet option for low end preservation, but for less than $90 bucks it’s hard to ask for more.
Also, if you’re into Mooer pedals you should also consider their Bass Sweeper. It’s also an envelope filter, but it features a clean/fuzz switch that adds a certain character and dirtiness to the funky effect… AND it’s like $50. Listen here.
4. Electro Harmonix BassBalls Envelope Filter Pedal
And at last, we come to the adequately-named “BassBalls” from New York’s Electro Harmonix. What we love about this one is its minimalist approach to the filter, since it features only one big response knob as the sole control upon the two filters that are simultaneously engaged.
What people praise about the BassBalls is its “vocal” sound, great for bass solos, and bottom line quite a unique filter. Here’s how it sounds with bass.
The new version features a built-in fuzz that truly enriches the harmonic quality of whatever is being filtered. It would be nice it you were able to control the amount of fuzz though, but this thing is like $70.
But even if it’s a one-trick pony, its signature sound has made it very popular with a wide spectrum of pros over the years. Some of its praises come from Jack White, Flea, Cliff Burton and Roger Waters.
The Digitech Bass Synth Wah has long been discontinued, but it’s a true legend even outside the circle of bass guitar players. It is said that most bass lines on Daft Punk’s album Human After All were processed through one of these, and it’s also (along with the moogerfooger MF-101) how Thundercat makes his bass sound so funky on tracks like “Them Changes” and “Wesley’s Theory”, his collaboration with Kendrick Lamar.
Finally, the DOD FX25B was also a widely used during the 80’s, most notably by Flea himself. We guess it was what he favored before he picked up the M82 from MXR, but it’s definitely the one he’s using during that jam session we showed above.
These pedals are mentioned here for your consideration, but since they’re discontinued that means they are a little hard to come by, and thus were not fully reviewed. If you have the time and patience to pursue on of these, however, more power to you, but you can rest assured that most of the options we mentioned would cover most of your envelope filter and synth sound needs.
What Does A Bass Envelope Filter Do?
In audio, a filter is any circuit or algorithm that adjusts the shapes of the frequencies that pass through it. In doing so, it is effectively altering the relative levels, and thus the sound of each frequency.
There are several types. A low pass filter, for example, lets the low frequencies pass through but cuts the highs. The high-pass filter is the exact opposite. A band-pass filter lets only the mid-frequencies pass. In this sense, filters are used for EQing.
As filters get more complex, they become more noticeable effects. Such is the case of the envelope filter, which also has certain variations in tone, as it uses resonance (a type of feedback) for the emphasis of some frequencies. The “envelope” in this case, is the changing in the levels of each note played, going from an initial spike to when the note dies off.
How To Use An Envelope Filter Pedal For Bass
So the envelope filter not only alters which frequencies pass through, but the shape of that “hump” that occurs when a note is played. Understanding this, will help you make better use of the controls that are inherent to most filters.
“Attack”, for instance, is the time that elapses from when the filter is triggered, to the moment when it peaks, reaching its maximum level. The time from that high point to when the note dies is the “Release”, also found as “Decay”.
Then you have the “Sensitivity”. This is the degree to which the envelope filter will react to the notes you play. This is probably the most important and expressive knob in any envelope filter, as it really opens or closes the frequencies, so it has a much more noticeable impact on the sound.
When you trigger your envelope filter, down on the sensitivity knob usually means open, and the filter closes more and more as you turn the knob up, causing a more dramatic and accentuated effect. Some pedals also feature a “Q” knob. This usually controls the gain of the filter, so it messes with the intensity of the effect regardless of the original signal.
Getting to the point where you love what the filter is doing to your playing, is all about messing around with these controls, but also modifying your playing as well. When testing out one of these pedals, or checking them out on Youtube, you’ll notice that the filter reacts very differently depending on how hard or soft the instrument is played, or whether the musician is doing low or high notes.
Naturally, you can also accomplish very varied results with a filter depending on whether your original signal is compressed, passing through a preamp, or any sort of processing.