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Noise Gate

Review: Boss NS-2 Noise Gate

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Gone are the days when high gain meant lots of feedback and noise to contend with. Not only are amps being designed to handle the additional stress of boost pedals and high output pickups, but the noise gate has become somewhat ubiquitous, especially in metal. Whether you’re going for classic tones like that of EVH, to the more modern “djenty” sounds of Periphery and Animals as Leaders, tossing a noise gate in your signal chain can help clean up your sound by eliminating feedback and amp hiss. Originally designed to be more of a transparent effect, the noise gate is now experiencing something of a renaissance thanks to the current state of modern metal. You know that crisp, clean, chug sound that cuts off with extreme clarity? Noise gate. Another way of thinking about it is that this tool allows you to use an all tube amp for that warm, responsive tone, while getting the tightness and responsiveness of a solid state amp. As a result of this trend, the market has responded with an influx of new noise gates, designed specifically for heavy music. Some of these are more effective than others, but through all this, the Boss NS-2 seems to be standing the test of time. It can be seen on the pedalboards of players across a breadth of styles, and like many Boss products, is just an all around good pedal.

Features

The NS-2 has a clean and simple interface that features three main control knobs: Threshold, Decay, and Mode. The threshold knob controls the level at which the gate will kick in. The higher this knob is turned, the greater the signal needs to be to keep the gate open. The decay knob controls the speed with which the gate closes. The higher the knob is set, the quicker the gate closes. Theoretically, threshold at minimum and decay at maximum will give you the most natural sound, while the opposite will give you an extreme and djenty sound. Of course, you have to decide what kind of sound you are going for, and what best suits your particular rig.

The mode knob allows you to toggle between the pedal’s modes. Reduction is the standard mode, meaning that when the pedal is engaged, the gate is on, and when the pedal is disengaged, the gate is off. The mute mode functions slightly differently: when the pedal is engaged, your input signal is completely muted, and when the pedal is “disengaged” the noise gate is on. So actually, in mute mode, the pedal is actually always engaged, and the red light at the top of the pedal does not indicate that the pedal is turned on, but rather that the mute function is engaged. To help clear some of this up, this pedal features a second red light, labeled “reduction.” As long as this light is on, the gate is on and working. Now, you will notice that the reduction light fades off and on as you play. What’s happening here is the light is giving you real-time monitoring on the status of the gate. When you play, the gate opens to let the signal through, and the reduction light dims. As you stop playing, the reduction light fades back on as the gate closes again.

Unlike many noise gates that have one input and one output, this one has and input and output, as well as a send and return, meaning that the NS-2 essentially has its own loop, in which you can put all of the effects that you would like the gate to act on. The most straightforward scenario here would be Instrument–NS-2 Input–[anything that boosts the gain that goes to the front of the amp, i.e. Compressor, Distortion, Overdrive]–NS-2 Return. Then place anything that you do not want to be gated after the NS-2 Output. This system allows for a pleasing amount of flexibility, and can also be particularly handy if you are using an amp that does not have an effects loop. By keeping the gain effects separate from the modulation effects, you can achieve great levels of precision and finesse with your signal path.

Like some of the other “utility” pedals from Boss, the NS-2 comes with a 9v OUT in addition to the standard IN, which allows you to pull power straight from this pedal and route it into something else in your board. It is a nice feature to have if you are looking to save space on your power strip, or if you are wanting to reserve the 9v outs on your power supply for pedals that need the full amount of juice. Those of you who have the Boss tuner pedal will likely already be familiar with this feature.

Spectrographic Analysis

Telecaster Style Guitar [Maple Fingerboard, Dimarzio D-Activator Humbucker (bridge position)] – Cable – Scarlett 2i2 Interface – MacBook Pro 15” 2012 – Logic Pro X

Powered by a grounded Voodoo Labs Pedal Power unit via 9V input.

No pedal in signal path

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NS-2 Bypassed, placed between Guitar and Interface

There is a little bit of frequency gouging here, from ~6kHz, up. Middle of the road for a pedal without true bypass. Also some signal added across the spectrum at attack points. Nothing too major, but remember that noise gates tend to be heavy handed in general.

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NS-2 ON, Threshold: Minimum, Decay: Maximum. (“Lowest/neutral” setting)

This is to give you an idea of the lowest possible setting for this pedal. Everything is slightly attenuated in comparison to the bypassed image. The upper frequencies receive the greatest amount of attenuation, but remember that it is within the upper frequencies that unwanted noise typically resides. This is something to take into consideration when evaluating your total signal path. If you are using a noise gate you are likely trying to eliminate noise, and some “tone” (that is, desirable signal) will be lost. Sometimes a compressor is all you need to put some life back into your signal, as it fights against the gate. Other times you can try and use an EQ pedal. Remember though, that in a live environment there are many other acoustical factors to contend with, and sometimes losing a small amount of tone in exchange for an amp that isn’t so hissy is a small price to pay. Recording environments are completely different arenas, and there will likely be many more options for gating and reduction in whichever DAW you or your engineer is using.

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Conclusion

Reliable performance, and just enough features have made the NS-2 a go-to pedal for over three decades. Throw in Boss’s five year warranty and budget friendly price, and you’ve got a winner. As is the case with most of Boss’s pedals, the NS-2 can be powered by 9V battery or via 9V adapter (sold separately).

If you are looking to tame the noise in your rig, consider giving the NS-2 a go.

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Specs

True Bypass: No (Buffered)
Battery Cavity: Yes
DC in: Yes (power supply sold separately)
Input(s) 2 x 1/4” (Input, Return)
Output(s) 2 x 1/4” (Send, Output)
Output Impedance: 1 k ohm
Recommended Load Impedance: 10 k ohms or greater
Current Draw 20 mA


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