Review: Maxon Compact Series OD808X Overdrive Extreme

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Review: Maxon Compact Series OD808X Overdrive Extreme

maxon 0d808x review
Words by James Callanan

EGM Distribution | RRP $279

Since their widespread introduction in the 1970s, overdrive pedals (and effects pedals in general) have evolved with developments in available technology – often incorporating multiple channels, gain stages, and multi-band EQs into increasingly smaller packages. With the ‘OD808X Overdrive Extreme’ however, Maxon, with a modified version of their trusty OD808 Overdrive, have stuck with a more simplistic and timeless approach, resulting in an overdrive that just plain works. 

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The OD808X comes elegantly housed in a lightweight yet sturdy aluminium chassis, which features a nifty door on the underside so the 9V battery can be replaced without unscrewing the entire backplate. The potentiometers and switch are both tactile in feel and precisely fitted, ensuring that the OD808X offers the reliability that you would come to expect from a Japanese-made product such as this one. Though the red LED is small, its brightness ensures that it can be properly seen, even in bright conditions.

Though minimalistic in its feature set, the success of the OD808X is a product of its quality components. It has a low-impedance buffered electronic bypass, which aims to reduce the level of signal loss when the pedal is disengaged. It should be noted that this pedal does not feature true-bypass, however, no significant reduction in tone or signal level was noticed when the pedal was bypassed. Bearing many similarities to the legendary OD808 released in 1979, the Extreme OD808X shares much of the same circuitry, albeit with some vital tweaks to the internal components, and as such, a concurrent increase in versatility.

While the OD808X shares the same three controls (Level, Tone, & Drive) as its predecessor, the range of each of these parameters has been increased, as the ‘Extreme’ label would suggest. The updated model offers an increased output of +5dB compared to the original, in addition to an extended tonal range, and a harder clipping pattern; all of which contribute to an effect that has more drive in the tank, more versatility, and more level to cut through the mix.

The flavour of the drive itself is one that is quite organic in nature – adding saturation and drive to the sound, yet allowing the natural characteristic of the amplifier to shine through. The pedal had a nice presence that made individual notes within chords clearly audible, yet the treble levels never rose to a harsh extent. In terms of the frequency response, this pedal was quite balanced across the spectrum, with controlled low end, slightly increased middle range (as is standard for a tubescreamer-like pedal), and highs that sang without being too bright.

Overall, engagement of the effect did not drastically alter the frequency response to dry sound. It was found that the OD808X emphasised the natural harmonics produced by the guitar, without ever becoming too dark or muddy in tone. Even when playing open chords on the neck pickup of a semi-hollow guitar, the Extreme Overdrive never got out of hand, maintaining an articulate overdriven sound, without accumulating lower frequencies to an unpleasant level.

One thing that stood out when using the OD808X, was that no matter the position of the Drive or Tone dials, it still sounded brilliant. While it could be argued that the Tone control could have a larger range – particularly in the lower frequencies – it’s comforting as a player to know that it’s seemingly impossible to get a bad overdrive sound out of this pedal. This characteristic contributes to the many possible musical uses of the OD808X, which has a role at the multiple levels of drive that it offers – from mild crunch through to high-gain.

Acting as the source of drive to a clean amplifier channel, the Maxon Overdrive Extreme does a superb job of providing a highly musical sound – one which would have many a listener fooled for thinking they were listening to a classic valve amplifier. With the effect engaged and the drive turned up, the sweet harmonics add liveliness to the previously sterile sound, and the pedal does a remarkable job of responding to playing dynamics – cleaning up nicely when the guitar’s volume knob is turned down. As a result, the OD808X can absolutely be used in a ‘set and forget’ manner, with the amount of bite dictated by the guitarist’s hands.

Another use case which the OD808X excels at is as a boost to an already driven or crunchy amplifier. When engaged, this pedal increased the sustain and saturation of the guitar signal, yet was transparent enough to let the underlying characteristics of the amplifier be heard. When stacking the drive from the OD808X with the driven sound of a tube amplifier, the result was an interwoven smooth and creamy tone, with no observable jarring from the juxtaposed drive sounds.

Within the context of a band setting, the OD808X was clearly audible among the rhythm section, yet refrained from reaching ice-pick like levels of treble. Additionally, the overdrive was nicely complimented by various modulation and time-based effects; with the addition of a subtle flanger and long delay making for a fantastic lead sound. While it isn’t packed to the brim with features, the OD808X is bloody good at what it does do – making it a perfect fit for a myriad of guitarists and their respective uses.

The OD808X is truly a plug-and-play package, which offers a great sound with minimal dialling in to achieve this feat. This pedal is a great choice for guitarists looking for their first high-quality overdrive, and seasoned veterans alike. With its superb, saturated sound, it’s not hard to imagine Maxon’s Overdrive Extreme becoming a mainstay on the pedalboards of an expanse of guitarists.

Head to MaxonFX for more information. For local enquiries, head to EGM Distribution.