Sound — 6
Sorry, I'm just a bit of a tube snob these days. In my experience, the realism of direct-inject pedals like this drops significantly as the distortion increases, and the Utopia falls victim to this trend as well. The Clean channel can convincingly do any sound from crystal-clean to a Bassman with a bit of hair on it. The Texas Distortion channel steps it up a bit and the British channel gets into JCM800 territory. The Mega channel is a sound in and of itself, very distorted and very edgy. The British channel sounded a bit muddy when I got the distortion to the level I wanted, and I couldn't seem to get enough chunk and thickness out of the Mega channel. The effects, however, are stellar. The chorus and flange are wide and lush, the reverb is spacious and warm and the phaser is ultra-thick. The speaker simulator is pretty natural sounding, and gives you the option of speaker size and mic placement. The Hush is easy to use and whisper-quiet. It is quick and simple to get a setting that keeps it quiet and doesn't chop the end off your notes. Also included is a global function to raise or lower the setting for all presets. I didn't get a chance to plug the Utopia into my power amp and 4x12 cabinets, so this rating is based on the direct signal alone.
Overall Impression — 7
As a stand-alone unit, I just wasn't able to get the Utopia distortion to sound the way I wanted it to. I really missed the separate pre- and post- distortion EQ (both parametric) that is in my Chameleon, and I think this would have helped me get a tone I like from the Utopia. As a practice or backup recording/performance solution, it is a great combination of features for the price. I think if I used it long-term I would use a separate pedal in front of it for my distortion tones, and only use the Utopia's sweet effects. Also, the lack of a USB port and GUI computer editor hurt my impression a bit. These features are available on similarly-priced products by other manufacturers, and can make preset editing much easier than scrolling through menus while kneeling on the floor. However, at $199 street price, the Utopia is undeniably a great buy. Thanks to Rocktron tech guru Jim Chowning and www.geartree.com for help with this review.
Reliability & Durability — 9
Rocktron is known for their high-quality products, and the Utopia is no exception. Build quality was very good overall, and I experienced no problems at all with the unit. I have owned a Chameleon for eight years and counting now, and it has never let me down.
Ease of Use — 8
The Utopia is laid out pretty clearly. With four knobs on the front panel (Preset Select, Parameter Adjust, Parameter Select, and Function Select), you can easily access and adjust any one of a multitude of settings for each preset. You can add or subtract a compressor, phase, flange, chorus, tremolo, delay, reverb, speaker simulator, wah, pitch shift and Hush noise reduction with just a few knob twists. The volume style pedal on the right can be easily assigned to adjust almost any parameter, and the default setting is volume for most presets. Preset changes are made by selecting a patch with the Up or Down buttons, then pressing Recall. It is a slight drawback that two buttons must be pressed to get to a different preset, but at least you don't have to change presets one at a time to get to the one you're looking for. It would be a bit more useful to have, say, bank up and down buttons, but this system is relatively useful given the small footprint of the pedal.