Xotic Guitars and Effects was founded in 1996 and began by manufacturing high quality bass guitars and bass preamps, such as the Tri-Logic Bass Preamp, and later the Robotalk1, an envelope filter and random arpeggiator pedal. Later, they started to build electric guitars and other kinds of effect pedals.
Some of their best known and most appreciated pedals include the EP Booster, SP Compressor and SL Drive, which can be seen on the pedalboard of many professional guitarists around the world.
This review will focus on the Xotic EP Booster, a pedal that is small in size, but huge in tone. It is no wonder that so many people have one (sometimes even more!) of these on their boards. They occupy almost no space, and you can use them for several purposes, despite being a clean boost pedal with a single knob.
Essentially, it is a FET preamp pedal with a low impedance output. It was originally released in 2009 as the first “mini pedal” that Xotic released. The EP Booster followed a very successful release of what Xotic called their “Tremendous Trio” of pedals, which consisted of the AC Booster, RC Booster and BB Preamp, which came out between 2002 and 2005.
I will talk about its main features, some of the scenarios in which I think it shines the most, and also provide you with a few other suggestions of pedals that could potentially have a similar role on your rig, but with a different approach.
Bear in mind that the pictures that you will see throughout the review feature a red EP Booster and not the usual color. This is because this pedal in particular is part of a limited edition, but the changes are only aesthetic.
You can generally find the Xotic EP Booster for a price of around $130.
Xotic EP Booster: What Kind of Pedal is it?
The Xotic EP Booster is essentially a clean boost pedal. It is as simple as you can expect, with its minimal enclosure and a single knob that controls how much of a boost you apply to your signal when you engage the pedal.
It features a simple FET preamp circuit that resembles the one that can be found on the EP-3 Echoplex, an echo processing unit that was famous in the 70s for its preamp section and tape delay sounds. You can get up to a 20dB increase with this small secret weapon.
Even though you only have a single knob that controls the amount of boost applied to the signal, you also have dip switches inside the pedal that allow you to slightly adjust the boost level and the EQ curve.
This can come in very handy to help you match the pedal with an amp that might get too bassy when you engage the pedal, or to tame down the amount of gain you get as you turn the main knob.
In the owner’s manual, there are a few suggestions of how you can set these dip switches to obtain a few different boost profiles, but you should experiment as much as you can to find out what works best with your rig.
This pedal can be operated with a 9V battery, and if you choose to feed it using a power source, you will be happy to know that the EP Booster can run at 9V and at 18V, which gives you a lot more headroom and dynamics.
If your power source does not have an 18V input, you can also get the Xotic Voltage Doubler to achieve the same effect. I personally run mine at 18V all the time, because I believe it sounds better, and I can take advantage of one of the two 18V inputs that the MXR Iso-Brick has.
Maestro EP-3 Echoplex, the Inspiration for the Xotic EP Booster
The inspiration for the Xotic EP Booster came from a legendary piece of gear that many famous guitarists have used throughout their careers. Interestingly, it is not an overdrive, distortion, fuzz or preamp pedal of any kind.
We are talking about the classic Mastro EP-3 echo processor, also commonly known as the Echoplex. While this is actually an echo effect circuit, it also has a preamp section. Many guitarists that were active in the 70s found that just running your guitar signal through this circuit would enhance their tone substantially, giving it a characteristic warmth and harmonic richness that played a big part in designing historical tones during recording sessions at studios.
Because of this amazing feature of the EP-3, some players even went as far as having it engaged all the time, but with the knob that controls the echo repetitions all the way off, so that they were still getting their guitar signal processed by the EP-3’s preamp.
Many people also use the Xotic EP Booster as an “always-on” pedal, that can be placed in the middle or the end of your signal chain to give your tone a bit more color and body. I have used it like this for hundreds of hours, with the pedal’s knob at minimum, and I really like how it enhances my sound in a subtle but interesting way.
Some of the guitarists who have used the EP-3 for its preamp include Eric Johnson, Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen. They obviously also used it for the tape delay sound, which can be heard on countless records from the 70s.
Many pedal companies still try to emulate the tape delay tone today, and there are excellent options on the market that save you from having to maintain and frequently repair a big unit with real tape inside. The Strymon El Capistan delay is a great example of this concept.
Possible Applications and Signal Chain Placement
Even though the EP Booster comes in a very small package, it can be used in a plethora of scenarios, helping you obtain a substantially better tone in almost any situation. I like to play around with the placement on the signal chain and also the dip switches inside that help you craft a sound that is closer to what you hear inside your head.
The first and most obvious way of using this pedal is as a regular clean boost. For this, I like placing it after all of my drive pedals, and I generally don’t need to turn the pedal’s only knob past 12 o’ clock, as it boosts my signal enough to make my amplifier break up at a decent volume, giving me a lot of added harmonic content, sweet compression and a little more drive.
I also love using the EP Booster as an “always on” pedal, meaning that it is engaged all the time, regardless of whether I am playing with a clean tone, heavy modulation, distortion, etc. In these circumstances, I tend to keep the pedal’s level knob at minimum, or occasionally I might increase it just a little bit. When I want to do this, I’ll either place it after the drive pedals and before my modulations.
Alternatively, I have also tried to place it at the very end of the chain (after delay and reverb) and I was also pleased with the results. I originally got curious about this approach after watching a video of the British guitarist Chris Buck, in which he explains how he uses his EP Booster most of the time.
When deciding where you will place any pedal in your signal chain, you should try to think about how you want to have your signal processed. Do you want to boost your signal and then hit it with your overdrive pedal, or do you want to boost your already overdriven tone?
The EQ is also going to be different depending on which pedal goes first, which is why it is always so important to try out every possible position, even those that some people might think that it won’t sound good.
Many signature sounds were obtained by using uncommon techniques that unexpectedly work really well.
Personally, main reason why I usually keep in between my drives and modulations is because in this position, it is extremely easy to stop using it as an always on pedal and start using it as a regular clean boost by adjusting the single knob.
In any case, Xotic designed this pedal with such a high quality standard that you almost can’t go wrong with it. All of the recommended experimentation will help you find your favorite setting and choice of placement in the signal chain, but it generally sounds good in any context you try it in.
Complete Specifications of the Xotic EP Booster
Here, you can find the full specifications of the Xotic EP Booster.
- Dimensions (W/D/H): 3.5″ x 1.5″ x 1.5″ (89mm x 38mm x 38mm)
- Weight: 0.57lbs (260g)
- Bypass: True Bypass Switching
- Power Consumption: 9V DC/5mAh
- Battery Type: 9VDC (006P)
- AC Adapter: 9VDC-18VDC, Negative Tips
- Input Impedance: 1M Ohm
- Output Impedance: 1k Ohm
What I like the Most About the Xotic EP Booster and How I use it
In this section, I will summarize what are the aspects of this pedal that I like the most. These are the reasons why it literally never left my pedalboard from the day I bought it.
Since rigs involving several effect pedals are becoming increasingly more popular, people are more conscious about their pedalboard real estate more than ever. My pedalboard has more than 10 pedals on it, and the EP Booster is the smallest pedal on it. It is even smaller than my TC Electronic Polytune Mini, which I think is amazing!
Because of this huge advantage, I can place it anywhere without having to worry too much about it getting in the way of other pedals or cables. I even have it sideways, occupying just a small strip of the pedalboard, between the two main rows of pedals. Since it is always on for me, I don’t have to worry too much about where I place it, as long as it is in the desired position in the signal chain.
As I have mentioned before, this pedal can be used in several different ways, depending on the objective you have in mind for it. I typically use it as an “always on” pedal, meaning that I have it engaged all the time. I have the knob at minimum, but this depends on what you want from it.
Alternatively, I have used it in a Pedaltrain Nano setup in which I had it for a boost during solos, and it worked perfectly for that, I could not ask for more.
I have never felt the need to adjust the internal dip switches frequently. I experimented with them when I first got the pedal, but I haven’t done it again for years now. Even though it only has one knob, it can excel at various tasks with minimal effort, making it an excellent purchase for any guitar player.
Like all pedals made by Xotic, this thing is built like a tank, and I am sure that it will last me for several years of constant playing. This is without a doubt a huge advantage and one of the main selling points for those who are constantly travelling and playing in different venues.
Other Pedals to Take into Account as Alternatives to the EP Booster
Since the effect that the EP-3’s preamp has on a guitar signal is coveted by many players, several different brands have released products that aim to give you the same kind of tone housed in a pedalboard friendly size and useful tone shaping features such as the dip switches seen in the interior of the Xotic EP Booster.
Here are a few examples of pedals that you should also check out if you are in the market for a Xotic EP Booster.
The Jackson Audio Amp Mode Boost is a MOSFET transistor boost. Having this one is like having a fraction of their most famous pedal, the Prism preamp. That pedal features 3 different modes (Color, Trans and Amp), and this pedal features only the Amp mode, which generally is the one that people like the most.
The Keeley Mini Katana Clean Boost is a downsized version of their well known “Katana Boost”. It is quite similar to the EP Booster, since it has a very small enclosure and a single knob. It is slightly cheaper as well, so you might want to try it out before making a decision.
Mooer is known for making fairly priced pedals that are well worth their price. The Pure Boost follows the formula of the small footprint pedals we’ve been looking at so far, but this one still manages to include a a 2 band EQ on the outer side of the pedal. Apart from those two controls, it features a volume knob and a gain knob.
The Emissary Parallel Boost by Walrus Audio is a very insteresting pedal because it actually includes two different circuits inside the same enclosure. One of them is a JFET boost whih has a lot of headroom and emphasizes your higher frequencies.
The other one is a mid boost that you can control with a switch on the center of the pedal. This will make it target the frequencies around 1kHz or 800Hz.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions about the Xotic EP Booster
Question: Are there any differences between the normal Xotic EP Booster and the limited edition?
Answer: Aside from the normal, black Xotic EP Booster, you might find a limited edition which features a red housing. This is an example of a commemorative edition that only differs in the color, maintaining the exact same circuit. This makes it a collectible for some players, but sounds the same as any other EP Booster. Be on the lookout for knock off pedals from China, as they sometimes appear in second hand sales websites or guitar forums.
Question: Where should I place the Xotic EP Booster in my signal chain?
Answer: One of the most interesting aspects of the EP Booster is the fact that you can place it in several different places in your signal chain, and achieve great results every time. For instance, you can place it before any other overdrive and distortion pedals, or you can place it directly after your drive section. You can also place it at the very end of your chain, which is the preferred spot for many people who use it as an “always on” pedal, beefing up the entire signal.
The best approach is to try it out everywhere for yourself, since the rest of your rig also plays a big role in your overall tone. This will help you figure out which position you like the most in.
Question: Can I operate the Xotic EP Booster at more than 9v?
Answer: Yes! The Xotic EP Booster sounds great when you operate it at 9V, but you can also use 18V to slightly change the pedal’s responsiveness. At 18V, you will notice an increase in your headroom. Your dynamics while playing will come through more expressively, and the overall tone should be less compressed than when you run it at 9V.
You can do this by either plugging it in to a power supply that features a 18V input, or by using an accessory such as the Xotic Voltage Doubler.
Question: Which guitar pedals can be an alternative to the Xotic EP Booster?
Answer: Nowadays, there are countless different pedals that can be used in the same ways that you can use the Xotic EP Booster. Some of these are cheaper, more expensive, have more or less features, but it ultimately comes down to what you enjoy playing with the most.
Here are a few examples of pedals that might be worth trying before buying the Xotic EP Booster:
- Jackson Audio Prism Boost
- Walrus Audio Emissary Parallel Boost
- Electro-Harmonix LPB-1
- Xotic RC Booster
- Xotic AC Booster
- Keeley Katana Boost
- Rockett Pedals Archer Clean Boost
- Pigtronix Class A Boost
- Mooer Pure Boost
- MXR Micro Amp
Question: Is the Xotic EP Booster worth it?
Answer: The Xotic EP Booster usually costs around $130. For a pedal which is extremely small, packs a huge punch and allows you run it at 9V or 18V for increased headroom, it is definitely a pedal that is worth considering adding to your pedalboard. The best part is that since it can fulfill a variety a functions, you might end up using it in different ways throughout the years as you experiment with it.
Try using it as you would use a clean boost pedal, or see if you like to have it always on at the end of your signal chain, like many guitar players do.
7 Closing Considerations about the Xotic EP Booster
The Xotic EP Booster is one of Xotic’s most popular pedals, and it is no wonder that it is so successful. Nowadays there are many crazy expensive boutique pedals, even if we are talking about simple circuits and humble features.
However, this one is almost a bargain, taking into account how much it can improve your sound, whether you use it for an added kick when you need to play a solo, or as an always on pedal that gives your tone a little more body and warmth.
You should experiment with different voltages, since the EP Booster takes anything from 9V to 18V, and with the latter, you should notice more headroom, as well as more accentuated top end and less overall compression, which sounds more similar to a real tube amplifier being played at a high volume.
You can usually find this pedal new for around $130, and even cheaper if you search for a second hand deal, making it an excellent addition to your pedalboard that you should be able to take advantage of in any situation.