It has been a little over 2 years since I wrote a summary comparison between the Headrush and MOD offerings. With my Dwarf in hand for the last couple of months, I was curious to see what if anything has changed. Here are my impressions:
I know there are a few improvements like being able to save pedalboards and snapshots on the device but overall the Headrush experience as I described it still remains a standout. I don’t expect this to change significantly in the near future given the engineering required to address some of my points, but there could be opportunities for incremental improvements. For example, maybe a plugin option to “replace with” could bring up a list of other plugins in the same category so you could select one and have it placed and connected at the same location for quicker swapping.
There’s definitely been progress on the amp/cab simulator offerings with a number of quality options appearing over the last few years (Red Apple, Titan, Roamer, Rambler, Eng, Marshall…) as well as some new boost/distortion options.
Adjusting / Exploring
This is another area where Headrush has a big usablity advantage and I don’t expect significant changes on the MOD side. A suggested future improvement would be having an option to automatically display the device mapping dialog whenever a new plugin is connected on the board, with a suggested mapping to a free footswitch for at least the “on/off” setting of the plugin.
File Manager / Firmware Update
There’s been significant progress here with the addition of the File Manager, Audio Player, MIDI player, and Recorder! The collective set of capabilities available here surpass what’s possible on the Headrush. The main thing I’d like to see improved here is for the Audio Player to honor sub-directories instead of presenting a flat list.
Some progress has been made here. I know I’ve seen that a few of the newer modulation plugins supports this though I can’t remember which ones at the moment. Some users have also demonstrated the ability to achieve this using a clever combination of CV controls and while it’s not exactly a user friendly solution, it’s workable if that’s what you need.
There’s no direct option to move automatically move a looper to the beginning / end of a signal chain, which is of course just a user convenience. One could still achieve this with a switchbox as needed. However, it’s worth calling out the quality of the LP3 plugin, which makes the Dwarf capable of operating on feature-set parity with most hardware loopers on the market while simultaneously providing all the other audio capabilities.
Production build quality
There are regrettably still noise problems with the Dwarf stemming from the included power supply, USB connection, and possibly the underlying hardware design. Motivated users have been able to work around these to achieve quiet setups but it may require significant trial-and-error, additional purchases, and some patience.
Compared with the Duo, the quality of the Dwarf in hand feels much more professional overall. It looks great and feels sturdy which shows a lot of progress and maturity in manufacturing.
Cohesive set of effects
My original observations still feel valid, that the output levels and noise levels of various plugins can vary quite a bit, requiring some adjusting and careful attention to gain levels at each step. However, there has been a significant increase in plugins developed either specifically for the MOD, or with the MOD as a first-class option.
Originally, the open source roots were something that attracted me to the MOD platform, but I found the discussions around the potential detriments of this model as it relates to retail agreements illuminating. There were some drawbacks too for how this related to the user experience. I made suggestions in the past that browsing the store was similar to being in a consignment shop where the quality of offerings could seem to vary widely. There was sometimes tension when users would ask for better documentation or UI improvements for plugins and receive the standard response that “it was up to the developers”. It feels like recently MOD is being more selective with introducing plugins into the store and indeed with the growing number of professionally developed commercial offerings it does feel more like a marketplace.
Yet, even though MOD is transitioning away from advertising itself as an “open source” company, the platform is still documented and open for developers of all levels to be able to participate. This is in contrast to Headrush and other offerings where you have to choose from what they prioritize and you have to potentially wait for occasionally released software updates to get new options.
Routing overrides / Alternate outputs
The Headrush options here are still an advantage, but I’ll mention the recent addition of the Auto Input / Auto Output plugins as a great addition for being able to use pedalboards with different combos of input devices and output options without having to rely on snapshots or switchboxes.
Audio interface / Re-amping
No change here, but I never used either feature on my Headrush, and I do like the ease of turning on the Recorder or Looper and being able to capture my audio without having to be connected to a computer and setting up new DAW sessions.
When I decided to purchase the HRPB, I knew I would miss some aspects of the MOD ecosystem, especially in the realm of modulation effects, for which MOD has a varied and unique set of options. I also underestimated how much I would miss the overall creative flexibility and the “band-in-a-box” capabilities. The HRPB is an absolute beast of a device and though I specifically wanted to have more than enough footswitches and a built-in expression pedal, transporting the device around for rehearsals / gigs was daunting, even with the additional awesome backpack I purchased. I love the portability of the Dwarf, and being able to power it off a portable battery makes it even more compelling. The HR MX5 was released after I bought the HRPB, and for me that seems like a fairly ideal form factor. I’ll keep hoping that the Expression Pedal can see the light of day, and that Morningstar can do a future production run because for me, a few more switches and an expr. pedal make for a sensational small and powerful rig.