Xotic Effects SL Drive Review

The SL Drive is a distortion pedal from Xotic Effects aimed at recreating classic lead amplifier tones known throughout the world of rock -- but is it up to snuff?

In the last few years Xotic pedals have found their way into a lot of rigs. It seems like every pro or tone obsessive we talk to has an AC or RC Booster or a BB Preamp somewhere in their arsenal, and they rave about them with little or no provocation. Recently Xotic introduced a new micro-sized line of pedals, including the SL Drive, which recreates the overdrive qualities of two legendary Marshall amps, the Super Lead and Super Bass.


The Features and Sound of the SL Drive

The SL Drive is even smaller than I’d expected. Needless to say, the control panel is pretty streamlined. It consists of two cool-looking clear knobs for tone and drive, and a smaller black knob for volume. At a glance, it’s easy to assume that this three-knob OD is a one-trick pony, but there’s more going on than meets the eye. To fit a pedal this powerful into to such a tiny footprint, Xotic put four DIP switches inside the enclosure, expanding the range of tonal options. The manual offers several sample settings to get you up and running.

Super Lead is the pedal’s default mode, and from about 6 o’clock to 8 o’ clock on the drive knob, you get a gritty but clean-ish tone. From around 9 o’clock on, though, the grunt kicks in, and things get dirty from here through the end of the drive range. But even there, the SL Drive had an inherent definition that’s perfect for classic rock leads or ringing distorted chords à la Free’s “All Right Now.” It also cleans up without any loss of detail when you reduce the guitar’s volume.

Changing to the Super Bass setting via the DIP switch adds a touch of compression and darkens the overall output a touch for a more liquid, less in-your-face sound. Another DIP switch setting engages a +6dB boost. This kicks things up a gear while adding noticeable presence, harmonic breadth and openness for an almost three-dimensional sound.

While there are many sounds available via the DIP switches, the only viable approach onstage is to set and forget. You can’t really flip the pedal over and unscrew the battery compartment to adjust the DIP switches mid-gig! In that sense, the SL Drive isn’t so much a multi-mode pedal that gives you instant access to different sounds on the fly as a drive you can tailor to your style and gear, provided you’re willing to get under the hood and tinker.


Final Impression

Xotic has hit another homerun with the SL Drive. I won’t be surprised if it becomes a fixture on pro pedalboards. The tiny footprint makes this incredible-sounding pedal even more appealing—you could literally show up to a gig with nothing more than a gig bag and the SL Drive in your back pocket, and that alone have a totally commanding tone. It’s a pedal that rewards investigation. In fact, getting the most out of it means exploring how the DIP switch settings alter the way the pedal interacts with your rig. If you’re looking for an amazing OD that captures Marshall-like tones in an ultra-compact package, it’s hard to beat this tiny wonder.

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