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TC Electronic Flashback X4 Delay DIP Switch Settings & Simple Case Mod

Which DIP switch does what? Plus a simple case mod to make the switches more accessible.

November 7th, 2015 | Technology | , , , , | Comments: 0
Photo of top panel of the pedal.

The TC Electronic Flashback X4 Delay/Looper effects pedal.

The Flashback X4 is one of the delay effects pedals in the Flashback series by TC Electronic. It features their famous 2290 delay along with quite a few other delay modes and a looping function. In addition to the X4, the Flashbacks come in several different packages: Flashback Triple, Flashback, and Flashback Mini.

I own both the X4 and Mini. The pedals sound great, have lots of features, and are generally really easy to use. I also like the TonePrint stuff that TC Electronic is putting into all of their newer effects. The pedals can be customized for the exact sound you are looking for.

The Flashback X4 has the ability to change some settings on the pedal using internal DIP switches. By flipping these tiny switches hidden inside the pedal, users can adjust the bypass mode to either True Bypass or Buffered Bypass (terms which really only make sense to guitar junkies and audio engineers) and turn the “dry” signal on or off (which can be useful if the pedal is used in an effect send/return scenario).

While I love the X4, there are a few issues with these DIP switches.

  1. They are inside the case. Removing 7 screws takes time. It makes it hard to quickly A/B test the bypass modes or toggle the Kill Dry.
  2. The screws are Torx star drive, not standard or phillips. Good luck finding the right bit when you need it.
  3. The switches are not labeled. The manual tries to explain them, but it’s still confusing.

The DIP Switch Settings

Here is the explanation of the switches from the user manual.

Screenshot of the manual showing DIP switch settings.

These are the cryptic instructions found on page 32 of the user manual.

It kind of seems like that section was written during the prototyping stage of the pedal development because it doesn’t make it any clearer which switch controls what or which direction they should be flipped to. Even after re-reading it several times I still couldn’t make sense of it. Using the power jack as a orienteering guide isn’t very helpful. I figured out what was what by just flipping the switches. Here’s what you need to know:

Interior photo of the Flashback X4's PCB.

The green circle shows the location of the DIP switches on the main PCB.

Here is a close up of the switches with labels for what each switch controls.

Close up shot of the DIP switches.

DIP switch 1 controls the Bypass Mode and switch 2 controls the Kill Dry On/Off. The numbers might vary from unit to unit, so go by the location and direction, not the labels on the switch.

Be careful when flipping those little switches. They are delicate plastic components.

The DIP Switch Hole Mod

Instead of fiddling with the back panel every time I want to adjust these settings, I figured I would modify the pedal to make it easier.

I could’ve gone the route of desoldering the DIP switch and wiring in a pair of new switches mounted externally. But that seemed like a lot of work.

Instead I simply drilled a hole in the bottom panel.

How to drill the case

  1. Flip the pedal over with the jack panel away from you.
  2. Once you find the right T10 Torx star bit, you can take the 7 screws out. Be careful not to mess up these screws. They are made from a soft metal and are easily damaged if roughly driven or over tightened.
  3. Remove the bottom panel.
  4. Measure where the center of the DIP switches are located. Mine was 41mm (~1 5/8″) from the right edge and 72mm (~2 13/16″) up from the bottom edge. This location may vary from pedal to pedal, so make sure to take your own measurements on your specific pedal.
  5. Mark the location on the bottom panel. It should be somewhere in the area where the label is.
  6. Drilled the hole. I used a 5/32″ drill bit because that was the only size bit that I had on hand that was not too big and not too small. You might want to go for a little larger diameter drill bit to give yourself more room to toggle the switches. The metal is fairly soft, so you shouldn’t need any drilling oil.
  7. Clean away the metal shavings. Make sure you didn’t get any into the pedal. Metal shavings could cause electrical shorts in the circuit.
  8. Test fit the bottom panel, adjust if necessary, and replace it.

The result should look something like this.

Hole drilled through case and label.

This is the 5/32″ hole drilled into the bottom panel.

As you can see, the hole is nearly invisible with that label there. To adjust the switches, use a small screwdriver or paperclip. Again, be careful when toggling the delicate DIP switches!

Back panel of the Flashback X4 with the DIP switch hole modification.

The hole is barely visible, but the DIP switches are easily accessible with a small screwdriver, paperclip, etc.

I might print up some labels to put on the bottom panel so I can remember which switch is which.

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Dummy Head

How to Make a DIY Binaural Baffle

I made a dummy head baffle to test out binaural recording techniques on an upcoming session. The baffle was super simple to make, looks sleek, and works quite well, so I thought I’d share how I made it.

animated GIF of the binaural baffle mounted on a stand with microphones

Note: The microphones shown here are not the same brand or model. I recommend using a matched pair of omni mics for the best stereo imaging results.

Before we get into the nitty gritty details, let’s get some questions out of the way first.

What’s a dummy head?
Dummy head is either an insult you used in third grade while playing kickball at recess or the term you use for the baffle placed between two microphones while making a binaural recording.
What’s binaural recording?
Binaural recording is a technique that attempts to record audio in a way that replicates the way our human ears encode three-dimensional audio information. This is done by simulating a human head by arranging two microphones (the ears) in relationship to an acoustic baffle (the head). The result is recorded audio with a stereo image that when played back through good headphones is supposed to sound exactly like “being there.” The dummy head acts like a proxy for your own head in whatever environment it is placed in. You get to hear whatever the dummy head heard.

One of the best known binaural recordings is the inconspicuously named album Binaural by Pearl Jam. Note: If you click that link and buy the album, Amazon will give me a little kickback, which I would totally appreciate. I’m sure Amazon and Pearl Jam’s label would appreciate it too.

What’s a baffle?
In audio jargon, a baffle is an object made of sound absorbing and/or acoustic dampening materials used to block or reduce transmission, reflection, or propagation of sound waves. Baffles are like shields that can prevent or impede sounds. They can be used to isolate a particular sound source from other sound sources in the same room. Baffles are often placed around loud things like drums or guitar amps. Sometimes engineers will place small baffles on the back side of microphones to reduce early reflections and room sounds or give more directionality to an omni microphone.
Shouldn’t a dummy head look like a head?
Binaural purists say that a binaural dummy head baffle must closely resemble a human head to capture all the nuances of how sound reflects off our faces, is absorbed by the mass of our heads, tickles our nose hairs, and gets caught by those biologically amazing curvatures of our outer ears.

The purists might be right, but if we’re going to replicate a human head down to the smallest details, whose head should we use as the model specimen? When I last checked, human heads still come in all kinds of neat shapes and sizes. Sure, we could build something will all sorts of exacting specifications, but I say a board roughly 20 cm by 25 cm that’s covered in felt is Good Enough™.

If you build one and test it out, I think you’ll agree. All we really need to get a decent binaural recording is something roughly head-sized that blocks reflections between two quality microphones.

How to Make a DIY Dummy Head Binaural Baffle

Materials Needed for This Project

  1. Wood Board – Solid or plywood, roughly 20 cm x 25 cm, whatever thickness you want. I happened to have a piece of solid oak lying around. Good enough!
  2. Thick Felt – Enough to cover the board on both sides. You can use multiple layers to get the thickness you want. I had enough thick black felt left over from another project to do three layers on each side. I suppose you can buy this stuff at a fabric store or directly from your local feltsmith.
  3. Microphone Mounting Bar – I used this On-Stage stereo bar from Sweetwater Sound. You could probably make something instead of buying something, but you will need a way to mount the baffle and two microphones on a microphone stand.
  4. Short Screws – Pan head wood screws, quantity 8, long enough to secure the felt to the wood without poking out the other side.
  5. Longer Screws – Pan head wood screws, quantity 3-4, for securing the mounting bar to the bottom of the wood.

Before Getting Started

You’ll need a few other things to build this baffle. I used a circular saw to cut the wood, razor blade to cut the felt, power drill/driver with drill bits to pre-drill and drive screws, clamps to hold things together, and a bandage to put on my finger.

This is probably a good time to give the obligatory reminder to be careful when you use power tools. Really that applies to any time you do anything in life. I find it silly that from a legal stand point it’s necessary to post a disclaimer about the dangers of power tools when writing about them. Cars kill people all the time, but to my knowledge articles about using cars don’t require disclaimers. Anyway…you should probably wear gloves, eye protection, ear plugs, and a respiratory mask. Maybe put on some pants too.

Putting it Together

  1. Measure and cut the board. It should measure about 20 cm x 25 cm. That’s the approximate size of a human head when looking at one from the side. Yes, I used the metric system, because it’s way better than imperial. And no, that does not make me an anti-American, unpatriotic traitor. If you want to use imperial dimensions for human head size, may I suggest starting here?
  2. Cut the felt. The felt should be the exact same dimensions as the board. A razor blade works well for making nice clean cuts. A sharp knife or strong scissors could probably work too.
  3. Make a sandwich. Stack up the layers of felt with the wood sandwiched in the middle. I clamped this together to keep everything in place for the next step.
  4. Attach the felt. Pre-drill through the felt into the wood approximately 2-3 cm in from each of the four corners. Try not to let the wood dust get embedded into the felt, which would look bad. Do this on both sides, but offset the location slightly on each side so the screws from the back side don’t end up hitting the screws from the front side. Drive the short wood screws in deep enough to hold the felt taut, but not too tight. Puckered felt looks unprofessional.
  5. Drill holes in the Microphone Bar. Figure out where you want the long screws to be. Mark those spots on metal bar and drill holes just slightly larger in diameter than the long wood screws. When drilling metal, a little oil helps to cool the drill bit, making the drilling process easier. You can use cooking oil from the kitchen; it works just as well as anything else. Also, be careful with the metal shavings this produces, which can cause trouble if they get into electronics and/or your body.
  6. Attach the Microphone Bar. Once the holes are drilled in the microphone bar, align the bar to the bottom of the baffle. Mark where the holes are and pre-drill the wood deep enough for the long wood screws. Again, avoid getting the wood dust on the felt. Screw the microphone bar to the baffle.
  7. Ready to Use. Mount the baffle on a microphone stand using the center mounting hole. Use the shorter adjustable arms to place the microphone shockmounts or clips so the microphones’ capsules are approximately in the center of the baffle vertically and horizontally. The microphones should be about 20 cm apart from each other, which is about an average distance between most human ear pairs.

Final Notes

So does it work? In testing the dummy head I made, I was really surprised at how accurately the stereo field mapped sounds to the real world. I was kind of expecting it not to work very well. I had two different brands and models of microphones for my test. For the record the microphones you use to make binaural recording should be a matched pair with an omni pattern. Other patterns can sort of work too, just not as well.

I’m not posting audio samples here just yet, as I didn’t have the rights microphones on hand. But I did build this for an upcoming session, so once that session is done, I’ll post some clips for you to hear just how well a DIY dummy head can work.

Update (2013-08-18)

I somewhat coincidentally stumbled across an article about a thing called a Jecklin Disk, which is a lot like this dummy head baffle only larger. Check out this Wikipedia article for more about it.

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Overcoming Musical Gear Ignorance – Part 2: Excuses

Are we making excuses for why we aren’t better musicians?

Overcoming Musical Gear Ignorance” is an article I wrote that was published as a guest blog on my friend David Santistevan’s site. If you haven’t read it yet, go read it now.

In that article, I gave 50 technical questions as “homework” for the musician that wants to get better at being a musician. The broad list covers a lot of little things that musicians really ought to know, but think they don’t need to know.

While we could easily get sidetracked judging ourselves based on whether we can answer those specific questions or not, the real issue I’m hoping to address is our attitudes about learning.

Learning is tough. Really tough. It takes dedication, willingness, and humility to learn new things. It’s not surprising that we make a lot of excuses to avoid it.

Excuses, excuses, excuses

Over the years, I have cited lots of reasons for why I wasn’t progressing as a musician, but they were simply excuses. Here are a few of my mental blocks.

1. My fingers are too fat.

Back in high school I picked up the guitar because I wanted to write songs. After a year or two of trying to learn how to play, I told Nathan Hamlin, my trusted friend and songwriting partner, that my fingers were too fat to play guitar well. His response?

bratwurstsScott, my dad Vance has huge sausage fingers and he can play guitar better than I can. You have no excuse.

Nathan was right. I stopped making excuses and learned how to play guitar. Now people ask me to play guitar for them.

Still want to make excuses? Phil Keaggy has only 9 digits, Chad James has only one hand, and Mark Goffeney has no hands, but it hasn’t stopped any of them from playing guitar.

2. I need a better guitar.

For years I was convinced that if I just had a more expensive guitar, I too could play like a pro. Wrong.

In college I met Ben Albright, a guy who was known for his guitar prowess. Time and time again, I watched as he would pick up the same crappy instrument I had just laid down and play something inspiring. Clearly the guitar was not the problem.

The roadblock was in my mind. There was a reason I couldn’t make a guitar sing like Ben could. Besides not putting in the many hours of practice that he had, I had already decided that I couldn’t make great music without great instruments.

screen capture from It Might Get LoudIn a previous post called “How to Get Perfect Guitar Tone,” I included a video clip from It Might Get Loud of Jack White building and then playing a makeshift guitar on his front porch. The improvised “guitar” he makes proves his point that great music is possible even if the instrument is not very good.

I can’t blame my guitar.

3. I need better recording equipment.

We live in such a wonderful time. Recording has never been more accessible, affordable, or high quality.

My soon-to-be released album All Is Sideways was recorded in locations all over the U.S. over the past 3 years. Some of the songs have more than 50 layered tracks. I was privileged to be able to record with talented players on great instruments with really nice microphones and preamps into a sweet computer.

cover of Sgt. PeppersThe funny thing I have to remind myself is that some of the greatest albums of all time have been made with much less. The Beatles recorded their highly complex Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with a pair of 4-track tape machines.

Compared to the tools we have available to us today, musicians and engineers of the past worked with sticks and stones. Men have flown to outer space and back in rocket ships with computers on board that pale in comparison to the iPods in our pockets. Yet somehow we’ve convinced ourselves that to make an album like Led Zeppelin’s IV today, we need million dollar systems with all the latest technology.

Sorry, kids. Your gear can’t be the scapegoat here. Garageband is more than adequate.

Who’s left to blame?

Excuses don’t make me a better player. Better gear doesn’t make me a better player. Only my determination to learn, practice, and actively become a better player makes me a better player.

In my signal chain, sadly, I am the weakest link.

I want to fix that and it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get there.

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