Where does the phaser fit in the hierarchy of effects pedals? If we are to put the MXR M290 Phase 95 in its correct place, we need to know that. To some, it is a vital piece of equipment. But to many, it is more of an added valuable extra. If the Delays, Reverbs, and Overdrives are the first choices, the Phaser will be one of the second choices.
Its importance has increased over the years, with help from Eddie Van Halen and Dave Gilmour. They showed us what the pedal was capable of and what it added to the sound. And ‘sound’ is the operative word here. All effects pedals add sound, but the phaser adds more than just ‘sound.’ It creates an atmosphere, a different kind of mood.
Just what kind of sound and atmosphere does it create? We’ll find out all about it in our in-depth MXR M290 Phase 95 Review. But first, who are MXR?
Formed initially by a couple of school friends in 1972, they arrived on the scene very quickly. Of course, getting some support from a big name at the time didn’t hurt their reputation. So, when Eddie van Halen used their four-stage Phase 90 pedal on his first two albums, an icon was born.
History in the making…
The Phase 90 was followed with another excellent pedal, the Dyna Comp, and suddenly MXR were on their way. Another Phaser, the two-stage 45, followed along two years after the Phase 90. The MXR brand was acquired by Dunlop in 1987, and they have continued to reproduce the originals and add some new models to the MXR range.
MXR earned a reputation for knowing how to build Phasers, and quite rightly so. So when a Phaser has the MXR stamp on it, you can bet it’s going to make a case for the best phaser pedal available. So, let’s take a look at this Phase 95 edition…
MXR M290 Phase 95 – Overview
With this pedal, MXR has decided to try and combine two of the most popular phaser pedals ever produced. The Phase 90, which we have already talked about, was a pedal that set the standards for phasers.
It was a hugely popular pedal and still is. But it could be argued that it didn’t suit all styles of music. It could be a little harsh at times. The original 4-stage phaser was developed in London in 1961 by Decca and was featured on a lot of their recordings during that period. But it was in the 70s that it really attracted attention and came to prominence.
The Phase 45…
A follow-up pedal in some respects, but also offering something a little different. It was a two-stage phaser that produced a much smoother sound. That made it more suitable for certain musical and guitar-playing styles. Therefore, it didn’t take a lot of imagination to consider putting them both ‘under one roof,’ so to speak.
The MXR M290 Phase 95 gives you both sound options in one compact little stompbox. And they have added a few extra control options. More on those a little later. A classic pedal and its cousin under one roof seem like a good idea to us.
So, let’s take a closer look…
At first, of course, we had a pedal or two on the floor. Then as we got more, the pedalboard became a necessity rather than a luxury. But even that got filled up quite quickly.
To compensate, a few companies started to produce mini size pedals. Some of these were manufactured by the more budget-conscious companies. Usually, those that were manufactured in Japan, China, or other Asian countries.
However, these mini effects pedals were often met with disdain, not by the users but by other manufacturers. Some of whom out-right ridiculed them. But, as we all know, compact pedals are nothing to scoff at.
This could easily be called the best mini effects pedal you can buy. Being small doesn’t mean it is weak or vulnerable. But it does mean it is more practical size-wise. This compact pedal measures 3.6 inches long by 1.5 by 1.5 inches. So, if you are strapped for space on your pedalboard, this is a good answer.
Apart from the control knob, it has an all-metal construction with a very strong footswitch. As a result, there are no issues with it being stomped on more than just a few times. The inputs and outputs are both ¼ inch sockets, which are also quite rugged and offer no problems. Easily one of the most durable effects pedals out there today.
Being so small, there was always one problem with these ‘mini’ pedals. They were not large enough to be able to fit a battery. Therefore they are mains only. In some cases, that can be a problem by itself. However, this pedal is supplied with its own AC adapter.
The layout of the controls of this pedal couldn’t more basic. One control knob for the speed of the effect and a couple of buttons is all you have and all you will need.
There is a 45/90 switch that toggles you between both sound options. You can move easily between the four-stage Phase 90 and the two-stage Phase 45. When you do, the indicator light will change from blue to red to indicate which mode you are in.
Set phasers to stun…
One of the little added extras we mentioned earlier is the ‘Script’ control. The script option will remove any feedback, and that will give you a better phased ‘swoosh.’ A more ‘old-school’ and subtle sound that is less over-powering but still gets your attention.
The script control takes you between script mode and Phase 45 sounds. As we said, the speed control just sets the rate at which the effect is applied. All very simple and easy, but also all very effective.
If there is one thing that MXR knows about, it is how to build a Phaser. The original Phase 90 effects pedal established their reputation. In some respects, it became the industry standard for what a Phaser should sound like.
The Phase 90 was in your face and for those guitarists who placed themselves at the front of the action. The Phase 45 blended into the mix of the band much better. Putting both pedals in one little box was never going to be a risk, providing you got it right. And they seem to have done and with the added bonus of not taking up too much space.
The real thing…
Unlike with some other pedals and phaser copies, when you use the Phase 90 setting, you are using the real thing. By that, we mean the exact same circuits. This is no emulation. Likewise, the same applies to the ’45 setting. You are playing a Phase 45, not an emulation.
Is there a difference?
Yes, and the difference between four-stage and two-stage phasing is pronounced. We have already described it, but the 45 offers far more subtlety in the sound. Essentially it is a 90 that is not quite so intense. The 45 has a greater depth in the sound rather than the volume of the 90.
Switching between the two allows you a higher performance level. You can blend into the sound of the band, and then when you want to get out front, it is just a flip of a switch. Being able to remove the feedback to a certain extent using the Script control is also an excellent option that creates a gentler sound.
If you like Phasers, then this will be a pedal that offers plenty for you with its performance options. And we should mention this is also one of the best budget phaser pedals you can find.
MXR M290 Phase 95 Review – Pros and Cons
- Compact housing that will not take up too much pedalboard room.
- A strong metal build.
- Simple to use controls.
- Offers you the choice of two well-known Phaser sounds.
- Original circuitry for both Phasers.
- An attractive price point.
- No battery option.
Looking for Something Else?
Find the sound you’ve always wanted. Simply check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Digital Delay Pedals, the Best Boost Pedals, the Best Analog Delay Pedals, the Best Noise Gate Pedals, and the Best Fuzz Pedals you can buy in 2021.
MXR M290 Phase 95 Review – Final Thoughts
For someone looking to buy a Phaser for the first time, then it will be a simple decision. This pedal offers you the sounds that it could be said, defined the very sound of the Phaser.
With those two original phasers, MXR created sounds that encapsulated a certain style of music. As well as enhanced the sound of the guitar. We have read that it is a ‘dated’ sound today. But we don’t go along with that. How you use it will create a range of new sound options. If sounds are what you are looking for, then this is a great option.
Until next time, shine on you crazy diamonds.