REVIEW > ALAIREX
BY JORDAN WAGNER
to hear audio clips of the pedal
Whether you’re a high-profile artist or a guitar hobbyist, there’s a good chance
you’ve had reason to pay attention to the
work of Alex Aguilar. From his time building bass amps at Aguilar Amplification to his
work as a guitar columnist, Aguilar has been
chasing great tone for more than 40 years.
His newest company, Alairex, is thus far
a fairly small outfit, with the H.A.L.O. overdrive reviewed here being the company’s first
and only product so far. But what the Alairex
line may lack in quantity, it makes up for
in terms of thoughtful design and engineering, because the H.A.L.O. is hardly another
run-of-the-mill overdrive. Aguilar designed
the H.A.L.O. to get natural amp overdrive
but with more touch sensitivity and response
than you typically get from a stompbox.
Impressively, the unit achieves many of those
aims, giving you tone-crafting power that
you don’t often get from an overdrive.
The robust little H.A.L.O. weighs in at
almost 1 1/2 pounds, and you’ll definitely
notice how sturdy and stage ready it feels.
But you’re more likely to be struck by the
myriad ways you can tweak its tones. The
all-analog circuit controls two footswitchable gain modes, each with its own dedicated gain and master volume controls. Three
smaller knobs at the top edge let you boost
or cut sub frequencies, midrange response,
and upper mids. There’s also a master tone
control that sweeps through a range of voicings from super bright to dark and mellow.
You can also power the pedal with an 18V
power supply to increase headroom if the
tone is too congested for your liking.
The pedal’s 3-way shape toggle enables
you to switch between two diode-clipping
modes or a clean boost mode in the middle
position. Most analog overdrives use either
symmetrical (Ibanez Tube Screamer-
style) or asymmetrical (Boss SD- 1 Super
Overdrive-style) diode clipping, but the
H.A.L.O. attempts to give you the best of
both worlds by opening up access to the
smooth, natural response of even-order
harmonic distortion that’s a hallmark of
power-tube overdrive, or the more fluid and
compressed odd-order harmonic distortion
that’s common in gained-out preamp over-
drive. Its 3-way saturation toggle adds the
option of piling even more distortion and
compression on both gain modes, or on the
second gain mode exclusively.
3-way shape and saturation toggles
The H.A.L.O.’s control layout looks daunting at first, but it’s actually very intuitive
and responsive once you’ve done a little
homework.. There are a lot of different
tones on tap, and really the only hurdle
you’ll face is deciding which of the many
flavors works best.
With a Vox AC30 and a Stratocaster, I set
the H.A.L.O. for asymmetrical clipping and
the gain and tone-shaping controls at noon.
Even at these relatively conservative levels,
there was a very obvious jump in volume.
Turn the asymmetrical mode’s gain control
up to about 1 o’clock, and you get even more
Bass, contour, and presence mini knobs
PREMIER GUITAR JUNE 2012 159