Before we begin, there’s something you should know: I am not a Klon expert. I’ve played a few of the more notable Klon-inspired pedals out there, but to my knowledge, I’ve never seen an original Centaur pedal in person. As such, I shouldn’t be considered an authority on the subject.
So what you’re going to get here is a straightforward review of the newest release from J. Rockett Audio Designs—the Archer IKON. The Klon isn’t a tone I’ve spent much time chasing, so sitting down with the Ikon (and its twin, the standard Archer pedal, for the sake of comparison) was something of a new experience for me.
Just wanted to get that out of the way before we venture down this rabbit hole together.
For those who don’t know — and I assume there aren't many of you — the Klon Centaur was one of the original “boutique” overdrive pedals. Designed and hand-built by Bill Finnegan starting back in 1994, the Centaur gained widespread acclaim and eventually made its way onto the pedalboards of such heavyweights as Nels Cline, John Mayer and Jeff Beck. The pedal was eventually discontinued in 2009 though, which sent resale soaring toward the $2,000 mark and paved the way for attempts by the DIY community to conjure up the same magic found in the original.
Some have, for the most part, succeeded in capturing the tonal nuances of the original Centaur. Others have failed. And though Finnegan has downplayed the mystical nature of the glass diodes used in his original design and the KTR version he released in 2012, these particular components are widely considered to be the missing link in obtaining full-on Klon synthesis.
The IKON makes a big claim — that it’s loaded with parts from a newly discovered cache of the same “magic” diodes found in the original and a tone that’s 100% indistinguishable from a real Klon Centaur. And at a fraction of the price of an original, the IKON promises to be the closest you’re going to get to authentic Centaur tone without breaking the bank.
Upon learning that I was reviewing the IKON and had an original Archer to compare it to, the first thing a buddy of mine asked was: do they really sound different?
In my opinion, the answer to that question is yes. They’re understandably close, but there are subtle differences that, to the discerning ear, are quite evident. But let’s start with how the two are similar.
First, they’re both outstanding as a clean boost. True to form, with the gain knob rolled off, they both nail the high-headroom transparent boost that the Klon circuit is known for. Depending on how you set the volume control, this is perfect for pushing a tube amp into overdrive. And in the right scenario — it’s glorious.
Second, they’re both a bit midrangey, especially as you increase the gain. And it’s here where I found the most significant difference between the two pedals.
The standard Archer pedal has a midrange profile that’s more focused on the upper mids. This comes across as an overdrive that’s more raw and open sounding comparatively, and with a bit more sizzle at higher settings on the treble control. Conversely, the IKON has more of a low mid grunt going on. And I mean that in a good way. The IKON sounds smoother, slightly more compressed and a little softer at similar settings, but these qualities are most likely due to the mids being shifted a little less forward in the mix than the silver Archer. Both still have plenty of midrange, but the tonal focus is quite different.
Whether or not you’ll be convinced that the IKON delivers on its promises is up to you, but judging with just my ears — it sounds damn good.
That said, using the IKON as a clean boost or low gainer is fantastic in most applications. But with much gain dialed in, it needs to be in front of the right amp to really shine.
For instance, plugged into a Vox AC platform I tested it with, the IKON easily bested one of my go-to drive pedals. In front of a more balanced amp like a Dr. Z M12 though, the drive tone was a bit too honky for my taste — but might be just the ticket for your setup.