Manufacturer's Site: http://tech21nyc.com
Reviewed by: A. Dorian
The TRI-AC comes in a sturdy metal box and it looks like it can survive the rigors of heavy touring . The unit can be powered via a 9 volt battery, changeable via a compartment on the bottom of the unit, or via an adapter (not supplied).
The TRI-AC has one 1/4 input and one 1/4 output, 3 stomp-type switches, each illuminated by a corresponding LED to indicate when activated.
This unit has a voicing switch that can select between three distortion types - CALIF, BRIT, and TWEED. The unit has one DRIVE control and 3 tone controls (bass, mid and treble) and an output level control.
The TRI-AC is more than a mere distortion box - it is a floor preamp with 3 user editable presets that can be switched seamlessly with the tap of a button. Like the Double Drive 3X, this unit runs on a 100% analog signal path but uses digital switching and knob memory to "remember" 3 user settings. This results in the ability to store 3 preset sounds and seamlessly change between them by stomping on the corresponding switches. In order to save a setting the player needs to select one of the three channels by its corresponding switch, then dial in a sound that he/she likes and quickly tap twice on that pedal's switch, thus saving that patch. The LEDs also let you find your preset patch's parameters by the blinking rate going solid when the parameter corresponds with the one saved. This is extremely helpful when you need more than 3 sounds in the studio. The TRI-AC can go into bypass from its active preset switch by pressing it again.
The TRI-AC also has another patented Tech21 function - the LAZY POT. This basically prevents you from zapping your ears by boosting the signal suddenly when tweaking a preset. Instead of going full blast, when tweaking a patch the sound gradually increases in volume so you can correct any volume issues before you hurt your ears. Now I wish I had one of these for every guitarist I've recorded!
The TRI-AC sounded best when going through the fx return on my solid state amp (Fender Princeton), a clean sounding Laney AOR tube head, or through the clean channel of a darker sounding tube amp, like the Ashdown Fallen Angel. SansAmp suggests that this pedal sounds best when used through a clean power amp or a PA system, so the results showed exactly what the manufacturer suggested. I felt that the TRI-AC sounded somewhat brittle on single coil mode, so I ran it mostly on humbucker-equipped guitars. The eq on the TRI-AC could easily get harsh so very little eq tweaks seemed to work best. This unit seemed to suffer from an annoying pop when switching from a TWEED to another type of voicing for the first time. Strange enough this pop disappeared after circling through the presets again. As far as the sounds are concerned I can't help but feel a bit disappointed. As an owner of an older SansAmp TRI-OD unit I was surprised that the TRI-AC actually was tamer in gain when compared to the TRI-OD. The distortion that can be dished by the TRI-AC at maximum can best be described as "hard rock". Although there were some settings in the manual that were labeled "Pantera" and "Metallica" I felt that they didn't quite get there. This unit can definitely use more gain, which in essence could be rolled back a bit if unused. In my case I had a few overdrive pedals handy and when I put a DOD YJM-308 in front of the TRI-AC I got some face-melting metal tones. I wasn't crazy about the speaker emulation on this unit - I have certainly heard better from SansAmp on their PSA-1. Some other distortion pedals like the Digitech line seemed to be doing much better in that department. I also felt that the battery lid might not hold up well over time.
As far as the sounds are concerned, the TWEED setting seems to emulate some vintage class A amps. On this setting I was able to get some very convincing clean tones, mild crunch for blues, jazz and classic rock. The BRIT setting offers more biting and brighter crunch tones akin to something like a Marshall JCM800. This setting sounded great on some Van Halen-inspired runs and some rhythm work in the style of AC/DC . The CALIF setting is voiced closer to a Mesa/Boogie sound and that setting is perfect for lead work or for fuller sounding rhythms. I was able to get some very good fluid lead runs on CALIF with my amp's spring reverb on 4.
In conclusion I'd certainly recommend the TRI-AC pedal for players that need versatility and could use 3 sounds at the touch of a button. I'd say that Tech21 could've squeezed more gain out of this pedal and included the metal crowd in the game as of now this pedal seems to be more geared towards blues, classic rock and hard rock players.