Arion SAD-1 Review and Demo

My beloved Arion SAD-1 delay pedal. From the looks of it, this pedal really shouldn’t work; it’s like the Keith Richards of my pedals……it sounds great, but how in the world is the body still held together? But somehow, it still works. This is the black box version from the ’80’s. The black box tends to be a bit darker and less pronounced than the grey box version. I’ve owned 3 or 4 of these over the years, but only one of the grey box versions; so I’m guessing, from my limited experience, that those are the more rare versions.

This particular has been on my board longer than any other pedal. It was with me back in the days when I was just discovering that strange and wondrous idea of actually sounding good while playing guitar. I got it at Future Music during one of my many excursions to Hollywood; right off Sunset in guitar ghetto. So this pedal embodies a lot of memories for me. And even the sound of it brings me back to those rainy days with friends up in Hollywood, drooling over vintage gear, discussing Edge’s tone, and basically feeling like rockstars because we’re eating at a two-story McDonald’s. Not much has changed. But this is a pedal. A piece of plastic (ya, Arion’s weren’t constructed very well). And I’m talking about it as if it were a former lover. And here’s the sad thing……I’m okay with it.

This pedal just can never seem to get kicked off of my board. Nothing sounds like it. I’ve got delays that sound better, but nothing that can imitate the sound of this one. It’s so warm and decays so harmonically, that it almost has its own modulation to it. Very tape-ish. And you’ll notice in the videos that it has no battery cover, the knobs are harvested from other pedals, and it has to get power from a battery clip adapter because the jack in the back works only sporadically. And yet it has stayed on my board through hundreds of other pedals coming and going. (And that’s a literal statement. ‘Hundreds’ is not an exaggeration. That’s bad. I’ve gotta stop those long, romantic, rain-filled walks on Sunset Boulevard with these pedals. Little bit of creepiness. And a little bit of joy.)

So here’s the two demo videos. The first one is of the pedal acting as it was meant to, as a delay. The second is how it does as more of a finishing effect on swells and other pedals.

Delay Demo:


Finishing Effect Demo:


So, obviously this can only be your main delay if you’re just looking for some ambiance, or backdrops for leads, or a little something extra once in a while. The maximum of 300 milliseconds of delay time (some people clock it at 250 milliseconds, even), and the absence of tap tempo, take away a lot of the rhythmic options. But as a simple delay, this one is one of the best I’ve heard. And that cool, tape-like quality and the low time count actually help it to be a great washy, chorusy finishing effect on other delay pedals.

An interesting thing: in all 3 or 4 of the SAD-1’s I’ve owned, both the stereo output jacks give off both a dry and wet signal. And if you switch the little switch to direct, you just lose delayed sounds. Kind of weird, but worth mentioning in case you want a ping pong effect in two different amps. This one won’t do it. But, it can be really cool if you happen to want the same thing out of both amps.

It’s also a major tone sucker. Hopefully you can hear that in the video. You’ll want a bypass loop for this. Plus, it’s built in the weakest plastic box ever, so you don’t want to step on it too often. Looks like it might disintegrate. At least mine does. And my apologies for the use of George L cables in the video. I know I’ve railed on those, and this pedal is really hidden on my board; so I guess I just forgot about those George L’s and haven’t changed them for Lava or EA’s yet. Nothing wrong with George L’s……except for the sound. hehe Kidding, kidding! I’m not a huge fan of the sound, but some people really dig it. My main thing is that the ground connections always get fizzy-sounding for me.

So, definitely some cons to the SAD-1. But I’ve yet to hear another delay do what it does……even my expensive ones. Props to Arion. Well, in the ’80’s.

And yes, there is a very large amount of people that I love less than this pedal. And probably a larger amount than you’re picturing right now. 🙂


26 thoughts on “Arion SAD-1 Review and Demo

  1. Larry–including the SAD-1, it’s 4 delays. I’m going volume pedal into a Timeline set for a long time with a lot of repeats, into a Memory Lane for warmth, into another Timeline set on the multitap function with a lot of repeats and sitting a good deal behind the dry signal in the mix for spaciousness, and then into the SAD-1.

    Mike–thanks, brother. The pedals basically do the playing for me. hehe 😉

    Kenrick–haha That was funny. Both videos seem to be running now…I know youtube’s been having some issues lately.

  2. Darn you Karl – Not 30 seconds after reading this I had another window open doing ebay searches for the SAD-1.

    I then suddenly realized that it is me who is the sad one. Like I need another pedal. sheesh.

  3. Hi. Really good demos you got there. Btw, I want to ask you about the Output 2 of SAD-1. Is it supposed to be dry? I’m going to buy an SAD-1, but the seller says no delayed sound coming out of the Output 2. Regards.

  4. Thanks, bro. Good to have you here! And no, the second output should have the ability to have delayed signal as well, depending on where you have the direct/stereo switch set to. What I have experienced with the few of these that I have owned, is that you cannot get one output to do delay, and the other just dry signal. They both do the same thing. Which is odd, and maybe my units just had problems.

    But I would think that that particular SAD-1 had a problem, if there’s no delay from output 2.


  5. Hi, bro. Just wondering. When you say “An interesting thing: in all 3 or 4 of the SAD-1’s I’ve owned, both the stereo output jacks give off both a dry and wet signal. And if you switch the little switch to direct, you just lose delayed sounds.” Do you mean when the switch is set to direct, there is no delay sound from both outputs? Or just Output 2?

    What happens when the switch on stereo is both outputs have delay and dry signal, right? Thanks.

  6. You know, it’s been so long since I’ve actually checked those outputs, I just went over to my rig and tested them. It seems that with the first output (the one closest to the actual pedal switch), the direct/stereo switch makes no difference. In both positions, there is dry signal and delayed signal coming from that output. The second output (the one closest to the knobs), gives only dry signal when the switch is set to ‘direct.’ When the switch is set to ‘stereo’, the second output gives both dry signal and delayed signal. And this happens with cables in both jacks, and with only one cable in one jack. I tried all the combinations.

    So I guess you can get a pseudo-stereo effect with both jacks connected and the switch on ‘direct’. One output will give dry and delay, and the other just dry. A true stereo would have one giving just dry and one giving just delay. Or you can have both jacks giving dry and delay on the ‘stereo’ setting. Which is kind of cool because most delays won’t do that.

    Hopefully that helps. Sorry for the confusion. I haven’t tested that in a few years.

  7. Hey man, was just considering one of the SAD-1 in a trade when I saw your video. And I’m intrigued!….

    In the 2nd video before you do the swell you have some atmospheric bits going on in the background.. It sounds great! How do you get that? I’m guessing they’re from one or two delays on an infinite loop? Do you think you could share your secret recipe for such sweet tones?

    I’m working with a nova delay at the moment. Sounds great. but i’m wondering if I need another delay to bounce that off? =)


  8. Hey Ivan,

    I re-watched the video and tried to listen for sounds that came before the swell. I think what you’re hearing is the parts that continue to decay even when I start talking through the next parts of the video? Some of that decay is from one of the Timelines, set with a lot of repeats and a long time setting. So when you place it after the volume pedal, then hit a chord, go up on the volume pedal, it will sound like a synthy swell, and the Timelines decay pretty naturally. And then to add some more atmosphere to the decay I have another Timeline after the first Timeline that is set on a multitap setting with a really fast delay time, lots of repeats, lower in the mix, and really filtered, to give that dirty-ish, atmospheric decay.
    I hope that helps, and that I picked up on the right part you were talking about. If not, just let me know and I’ll try again! hehe 😉

  9. Wow! two timelines? 🙂 haha.. it’ll take me a while to build up a rig like that! But I kinda get what you mean: have a second delay to feed of the first. pretty darn cool sir! Will try to get my hands on another delay shortly and see what I can do with that! Thanks once again for the tip! so much here I’ve got to learn and go through.. just found your website. Rest assured you’ll hear more from me in days to come! Cheers! 😉

  10. Good times, Ivan. It’s great to have you here! And ya, having more than one delay just tends to open up some new avenues. 🙂 Let me know what you land on! Nothing better than searching for new gear. hehe

  11. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of the SAD-3. A friend of mine got it one time after I told him there probably wasn’t much difference between the 1 and the 3. And it sounded so much different, and so much more sterile and non-musical, that we at first thought something was wrong with the pedal. Granted, this was a few years back, but I remember thinking that the SAD-1 sounded worlds better than the SAD-3. I always could be wrong, though! 🙂 Cheers, Ben!

  12. If I were you Karl, I’d get someone (and by someone I mean you) to make a schematic of the pedal. Then rebuild it in a brand new housing and that way you can compare the two to make sure you did it right. It’d be something you should do before it dies so you can make sure you’re right! Just an idea.

    You’re right though, this thing has such a special sound to it!! It’s amazing!

  13. No worries man, hope that works out. Don’t forget, once you get the schematic you can always toss in some things. You can add a tone knob, true bypass, tap tempo, etc. Might be a good idea to brush up on electronics! You could build your own favorite delay pedal. 😉

  14. Oh man. I always tell myself I’m going to do exactly that, and then I just never seem to find the time. hahaha I really, really need to, though!!

  15. Haha same! I’ve been dying to learn how, save myself some money so I can build a clean boost, kill switch, all that. Well good luck, I hope you do because I don’t want you to lose that delay you love so much! Heck I might ask you to make me one, gotta admit it’s something special. 😛

  16. Just set up an appointment to visit the new store when I’m in KC over Thanksgiving. I’m pretty pumped, to see what they’ve got going.

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