I haven't got the Afterburner long enough to do a very in detail review but I'll share with you guys my impressions so far:
Amazingly versatile pedal
Very, very amp like in its sound and especially in its touch sensitivity!
Build quality is over the top. I wouldn't be afraid to drop it from the 3rd floor of a building. Everything looks super well done, it's heavy and guts look highly accurate soldered. But I do expect that at this price for sure.
It has got too many sound possibilities to even slightly discover all of them in any short period of time. It sounds overall good but not in every setting awesome (well is there actually a pedal that does?).
It's a better than average clean booster and it definitely doesn't emphasise the mids but it's not a 500 $ clean boost. What I'm trying to say is: it's pretty good doing a clean boost but it would be a waste to only use it as a clean boost. E.g. a Durham Electronics Sex Drive can do the job as well but is way cheaper (they sound different though) .
It sounds stunningly amazing in low - mid gain territory and has an amazing amount of variations there with its high cut filters, different diodes etc.
You can do pretty much anything "modern" with it. It definitely does not sound vintage. Tweed amp style OD won't be done with it... But it does everything a Marshall JCM can do for example. It's got its own sound though. It's not a amp in a box copy.
I'm thinking about a pedal I can compare it to but I know none. The only comparison I have - as the Afterburner actually doesn't sound like a pedal - would be a Mesa Boogie Mark V. Especially in its versatility. That's a great compliment for a pedal.
I lack for words describing all the possibilities with it but you definitely get AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top rhythm tones out of that thing.
I don't play much high gain but it does that too if you want it to and it does it fairly well. You definitely can use it to get a thick, muscular lead sound out of pretty much any amp. You even could use it for metal which is totally weird. I never thought you could actually do something like a massive Laney stack in a pedal.
My personal verdict:
If you want a vintage 50s and 60s sound in a pedal (like a Fender Tweed in a pedal) this is not the one for you. If you want a TS-type pedal look further.
Everything else pretty much can be done with this thing without any exaggeration.
This pedal seems to be hugely underrated and under-used. It does everything from very subtle to very mean.
Is it worth 500 Bucks? Depends...for me it is. I'd definitely rather have this one than pretty much any other pedal I can think of (Vintage TS, Klon, Zendrive, KOT, you name it...) if I had to choose one.
Rockett chimed in in this thread later. I'm gonna quote their clarifications here for easier access in case you guys care.
Ok, so I have to pipe in.....we realize that both the Afterburner and Rockett Boost are expensive units now. They were both introduced about 5-6 years ago and were the only pedals we made. Since then we have introduced the Pro Series line and the Signature series line which are far more affordable and frankly a better value. At the time the Master Built series were hand wired labor intensive units with expensive parts like Auricaps and several hi fi components. The cases were also custom made by Hamilton Metal Craft in Pasadena, then were actually copper plated, polished and clear coated....not cheap.
They originally sold for $299.00 (AB) and $349 (RB). We got so busy with building the other lines that we limited production of both units eventually. As anyone knows small quantities drive prices up. Subsequently we ended up retiring both units to concentrate on the other lines.
For a period of time we received multiple calls asking to build just one more and just one more that we paid even higher prices for one off's so to speak and had to charge for the extra costs not only for materials but for labor and labor lost on the other lines as well.
Are they worth $500.00? that is up to the buyer but we did ask ourselves the same question about not only our pedals but many others as well. Why are some expensive and some not, there is not that much diff in any OD or boost to justify pricing that high. Some pedals are rare, some pedals are back ordered and some just charge high prices.
An interesting point of view comes from Mark Sampson, we will be introducing 4 of his new pedal designs at NAMM this year. Mark told us that if he were to hand build these units in limited quantities he would have to charge well over $500.00 per unit. I am sure people would probably pay that since he is such a brilliant designer however, we are able to build in larger quantities thus bringing parts costs down and limiting labor. The pedals are still built the same and will sound the same but Mark does not have to sit at his kitchen table and build one at a time.
I wish I could say that we have magic pixie dust and diamond plated switches in these pedals but we don't. They do have some special features and they do sound great but we just could not continue building them without the higher costs.
I hope that clears it up but more so I hope that if any of you have a chance to play either the AB or the RB that they bring something unique to your sound.
One thing to note is that the RB is really more a of a preamp based on an old RCA radio circuit...it makes for a great acoustic guitar preamp, harmonica preamp, bass preamp and even a vocal preamp....really whatever you can throw at it. I know that Peter Stroud uses it as simply a preamp straight into his DAW.
Cheers, come see us at NAMM if you are there.