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LiberaToe-4 Pedalboard System (routing & switching) demo/review

Late 2022, I saw an advertisement, likely in my Hotmail feed, for a ‘system’ that involved pedals, a pedalboard-type concept, as well as a switcher. I was intrigued immediately and looked into the LiberaToe-4. The LiberaToe-6 is an expanded version (six integrated units/pedals vs. four), along with more features, e.g., built-in amp/cab sims. I highly recommend you look into the larger unit if you think the 4-module unit is not large enough. Then again, you can link more than one of these units (via a USB cable) for future expansion. There’s a lot of technology in the LiberaToe-4, and so, I’ll cover the basic functions and offerings. I suggest watching the accompanying video for a clearer visual on what this system offers.

The LiberaToe-4 is a highly versatile pedalboard and it works in a few different ways. You can plug-in modules, which are proprietary pedals direct from LiberaToe. Before talking about the convenience and quality of these pedals, be aware that you can buy these modules separately for your own pedalboard. A module plugs into a ‘shell,’ which permits typical pedal functioning, power requirements, etc. In other words, they look and function like regular pedals. What is cool about these pedals (and the switch system that’s part of the shell) is that they are dual-channel. When the pedal is on, you can click between green and red channels (hold the footswitch down for a half-second and it turns off completely, then resumes on the channel you last left and when turned back on). This permits you to set two different channels, such as a modest drive for crunch rhythm and then a higher-gain setting for lead soloing being an obvious example. Different gain, volume and EQ controls. Very cool.

The pedals/modules are excellent and some of the best I’ve tried. I’ll be reviewing each one that’s in my LiberaToe-4 system (an OD, a distortion, a spring reverb and a warm tape-echo). All these pedals are analog, and you can hear it. I really don’t mind digital effects, and some of my favorites are digital, but there’s something very real with these pedals and the company (Canadian-based and manufactured in S. Korea) did a great job on their development. And, as stated, these are dual channel, meaning you don’t have to bend down to adjust settings if you’re working with two different flavors that need no further adjustment. Obviously, you can make knob adjustments and if you prefer the LiberaToe-4 system on top of your amp or another location for easy access, there is an optional switcher, which includes a global tap-tempo switch (great for coordinating delays with tremolo or other time-based effects). I also should mention that LiberaToe has a very wide range of pedals in several different categories, e.g., gain, time-spacial, dynamic and bass.

The LiberaToe-4 unit itself, is of very solid metal construction. Fully loaded, it weighs about 2kg or just over 4lbs. Because you can pull out and insert modules quickly (unless you screw the units in with the accompanying thumbscrews) it takes far less time to rearrange your board. The modules do fit in rather snugly, and screwing them in likely is unnecessary with little to no travel. As well, there is no cabling, which saves time, money and space. And for pedal purists, you can run regular pedals with this system. There’s a Pedal Connection that LiberaToe offers, which has two loops or in-outs that integrate two outside pedals ‘somewhere’ within the chain of LiberaToe modules. The footswitch on the optional Pedal Connection is dual channel, which means switching between the two external pedals or shutting them off altogether.

The LiberaToe-4 has a built-in Buffer, that you can switch on or off. As well, there is a quick two-button function for the last two pedals in the chain, to operate in serial or parallel. This means running a delay into a reverb, or having each run parallel individually, or the same can be done with stacking dirt pedals. Serial vs. parallel produces a big difference in sound, making this a great feature.

The other a most prominent benefit of the LiberaToe-4 is the switching system, offering three modes of operation. The Improvisation Mode functions like a typical pedalboard. You can switch any pedal on/off without it affecting the other pedals, and each footswitch changes between channels, as explained. Exclusive Mode means exactly that, only one pedal is on (and you can switch channels of that pedal). However, once you click on a different pedal, the previous pedal shuts off. This means not having to click one off then click one on, thus making it fast and convenient if using only one effect at a time. The Ambidextrous Mode is where the switching capabilities really shine and it combines the typical ability to control each pedal individually, but also to create patches or presets for multiple-pedal control. In effect, there are four footswithes, and each footswitch controls one or more pedals and their channels (FYI, the optional external foot switch has the same functionality as the switches on the LiberaToe-4 system). For example, you can create one preset to turn on a crunch drive with modest delay and a hint of chorus. Another footswitch/preset (which turns off the previous preset) may be a high-gain distortion with more delay and a touch of reverb. And since each pedal is dual channel, once you are on one preset, you still can move between the green and red channels via each pedal’s channel buttons, or click between external pedals with a Pedal Connection module, since it connects two pedals under one footswitch. If you’re looking for maximum flexibility, the LiberaToe-6 offers 100 banks x 4 patches, or 400 presets. The LiberaToe-4 has more limitations, but still a lot of ‘live’ flexibility, as James from LiberaToe explains in this example:

“Let's set up just two presets – set 4th foot switch (from the right) to turn on our Brever Reverb (enhancer funcion only at this moment) as a clean preset, and set the 2nd foot switch for Distortion, Delay and Reverb (reverb only) as a solo preset. When the clean preset is engaged, you can control Delay, Overdrive individually. If you set ‘double-clicked’ Overdrive button as part of this preset, whenever you push the 1st foot switch, it can switch between the two channels under this preset. When you load the solo preset by pushing the 2nd foot switch, you also can control Overdrive, Delay individually since those two slots are not assigned a foot switch/preset. Thus, while playing the solo preset, you can turn off the delay, or otherwise turn on the overdrive (maybe red channel with minimized gain) as a gain boost.”

Overall, there should be some obvious advantages to this technology. There is a reduction in cost and time, fundamentally, and there is a reduction in overall weight when compared to traditional pedalboards with all their pedals, cables, and a switching system. Time-wise, unplugging and plugging modules without the cable hassle is fast (you do have to unplug the unit first). Cost-wise, equipping yourself with a LiberaToe-4 (or the larger LiberaToe-6) is far more cost effective. Now, this does not preclude those expensive boutique pedals or those that can do multiple things, although typically digital in nature, but when comparing a set of analog pedals, together with the pedalboard platform and a switching system, the LiberaToe-4 is about 60% of the cost and weight; and you’re getting dual channel capability (4 pedals = 8 different sounds/functions). Heading out to a gig means easier and lighter transportation, and all the amazing features under one hood makes it ideal for home studios wanting to save on space. Again, the quality of the pedals is excellent, and I’m blown away by the Fire Sword (distortion) and Darwin (overdrive). When people claim ‘amp-like,’ LiberaToe fits the bill – robust, dynamic and with wonderful sounding grainy growls. Watch for those reviews/demos. And if concerned about the power connection/adapter, it’s 2.5m or a little over 8ft long.

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