With superb cleans, increased functionality, and stereo sounds will the Walrus Audio ACS-1 be my ideal pedal platform?
With my month long trip to Chicago underway, I’ve had to fully commit to going without my Vox AC15. One of the pedals I brought along for the ride was the Walrus Audio ACS-1, a part of their Mako series that was unveiled in early 2021. Now the Strymon Iridium is obviously a big point of comparison here, but the ACS-1 is a unique take on this format that has surprised me quite a bit.
Most importantly is the ability to dial in stereo amp sounds using the L-R toggle switch. You can dial in a single amp when the switch is in the middle, the “+” setting, but you can set the left and right side of your headphones or signal to each be a different amp. So while I’m not a big user of stereo rigs, it is a really cool feature. In fact, I’ve been having a blast mixing dirty and clean Vox AC30 sounds on top of each other for my pedal demos and song scratch tracks. Don’t forget the mono and stereo output jacks as well.
Your standard 3-band EQ is a wonderful touch, as is the room reverb setting which really helps add a dimension of reality into your dialed-in amp sounds. You get three amp voices to choose from including Fullerton (Fender Deluxe Reverb), London (1962 Marshall Bluesbreaker), and Dartford (’60s Vox AC30). The choice of the cleaner Bluesbreaker Marshall amp instead of a higher gain Plexi is quite interesting to me, and furthers the slight limitations of the onboard gain on this pedal.
A built-in boost footswitch someone rectifies this, allowing you to keep your same tonal footprint but with the volume and gain increased to your liking. It also comes stock with 6 cab IR’s which are controlled via the ABC toggle, simply hold down the bypass switch while toggling them to go from the first 3 to the second 3 options. You can even save up to three presets as well!
Review & Opinion:
As you can see, there is quite the impressive spec sheet attached to this Walrus Audio product. The ACS-1 clearly set out to impress the tone tweaking side of the guitar world a bit more than comparable products have. For me, a lot of these features are not necessarily useful though I appreciate the detail put into this product. What really struck me though is how fun and natural these amp sounds are, particularly the Vox AC30 settings. While the onboard gain could use a little bit of tweaking, it still nails those edge of breakup tones and light overdrives. Activating the boost function does kick the amp into overdrive a good bit, and it stacks surprisingly well with other drives and distortions.
Fuzz pedals seem to be a little more touchy and require an extra minute to dial in. But I loved how the Blues Driver and Klon Klone I have interacted with the ACS-1. And the ability to dial in two amps on each side is quite frankly, awesome. Tracking song ideas and pedal demos was sick with both a clean and dirty Vox AC30 running side by side. You can hear a good bit of dynamics too, not quite as touch sensitive as the real deal, but way closer than I expected.
The true sonic highlight here though might be the pristine and rich clean sounds. With the room reverb control employed, this Walrus ACS-1 is a pedal platform dream come true. While the lack of onboard gain is disappointing, the fact that this takes pedals so well makes me think it would be a killer studio or gigging amp solution. The Fender and Marshall amps also sounded good, though I’m not as familiar with those amp models as I am with the Vox. So if the Vox was this well done, it is safe to assume the others are fairly true to form. When using the Bluesbreaker mode, it did have a really subtle but sustaining overdrive characteristic that was awesome for fingerpicking and lead lines too. Overall, I have no doubts this pedal could do anything I would need in a live or recording setting.
Final Conclusion & Rating: 9.3 out of 10
While my review may seem relatively short for such a complicated pedal, that is more a reflection of how easy it is to pull great sounds out of this Mako Series stomp box. While there might be a bit of options paralysis if you’re like me and prefer a stripped down amplifier, many of these features are not required to get your money’s worth out of the pedal. It’s been cool to mess around with running two amp voices, but mostly I’m just delighted to get high quality tube amp tones out of a pedal. Think of this as a $400 tube amp with multiple channels instead of a $400 pedal. Because personally, $400 for a pedal is something that would lose major points in my book.
This can no doubt replace my Vox amp and it already has for the pedal demos I’ve done while in my temporary apartment. If anything, I think this may sound better in the pedal demos than my mic’d up Vox AC15. While the Vox amp wins in the room while pushing air, this is quite transformative for late night practicing and quick recording.
My genuine first reaction to this pedal was “huh, Walrus is ripping off Strymon”. Really, I can see that they instead wanted to improve on that idea and make it a little more appealing for a different section of the guitar market. And most importantly, they executed these ideas really well. I think I would prefer the more simple Iridium for my personal needs, but objectively this is probably the slightly better product on the market.