Is the Boss DS-1 an analog pedal?
Yes, though a simple one with an op-amp
The Boss DS-1 is technically an analog pedal, though with an extremely simple circuit. In particular, models built after 1994 have used much cheaper op-amp voltage amplifiers, which only cost a few cents in some cases. This is partly how the DS-1 has been able to maintain such a low price tag over the years.
Nothing seems to work people up like the Boss DS-1 pedal.
Even worse is the debate about its "analog-ness" which is what I'll try and address. Admittedly, I've made the mistake of presuming this was a digital signal processor because of its cheaper price tag and because of the fact that Boss makes absolutely zero mention about the nature of this pedal's circuit.
Though, the Boss DS-1x is the digital version of the DS-1.
But the real story is one that technically puts the DS-1 into the analog camp, yet without some of the good reputation that more expensive analog pedals enjoy.
Before I get too far into the weeds, I'll summarize:
The Boss DS-1 is analog because it uses an op-amp voltage amplifier, which replaced the Toshiba TA7136AP pre-amplifier (not an op-amp) in the original made-in-Japan version. While there are several types of op-amps, the cheaper ones cost as low as a few cents, which is likely what we have in the post-1994 Boss DS-1. The same could be said of the clipping diodes used in the Boss DS-1.
To paraphrase Axion FX: It's a good circuit - but suffers from cheap components.
Read more: Comet Legacy PCB
The Toshiba Preamp Version (made in Japan)
The first release of the DS-1 was in 1978 and it did not use an op-amp. Instead, it used a Toshiba TA7136AP pre-amplifier, which is widely considered by the community to be more desirable and a better option than the op-amp that is currently being used in the DS-1s.
I would argue that most of what makes this version of the DS-1 desirable is simply that it's rare.
It's getting harder to find made-in-Japan Boss pedals, so people are willing to pay more money for them, particularly on used markets like Reverb. I think from a psychological perspective, this makes you feel like you're getting a better and more pure product.
But is it that different?
I'd argue that it's not.
In 1994 Boss created a new version of the DS-1 that broke from the original's preamp design, replacing it with an op-amp. There have been several changes to the DS-1's op-amp since then. You can read more about those changes here.
Read more: Boss DS-1 distortion analysis
I don't want to get into the weeds of the differences between these op-amps, because the prevailing theme is that they're cheap. If you look around, you can buy them in bulk on Amazon for just a few bucks.
Here's a look at some info for the NJM2904L, which is the op-amp used in the DS-1 after 2006.
Read more: NJM2904L op-amp
And this is not to say that other pedal builders don't do the same thing, but I think it's important to understand that the DS-1, while technically analog, is cheap for a reason.
Boss and Roland never mention analog and DS-1 in the same sentence
Never once have I seen Boss or Roland promotional material that mentions anything about the DS-1 being analog. If most agree that an analog circuit is a desirable trait in a guitar pedal, why would they avoid using that terminology? My guess is that they do not want to draw attention to the internals of the pedal. And that's not to knock Boss or Roland, because it's honestly just smart marketing.
But this is why I still have trouble putting the DS-1 forward as an analog pedal.
Again, this is no fault of Boss or Roland. They're doing the right thing by not exaggerating their product.
But I do think the community exaggerates the DS-1 and - at times - elevates it to the status of far nicer and more expensive analog pedals.
There's a reason it can often be had for $50 or less.
References and Resources
I'm not into pedal mods and I'm not some kind of DS-1 expert, so I'll defer the rest of this topic to others that are way more in the weeds than I am. Here are several references I recommend checking out on the topic.
Conclusion and Comments
To wrap all this up, the DS-1 is an analog pedal but it's a cheap one. Price points matter and are never arbitrarily set. It should also be considered that Boss does not market the DS-1 as an analog pedal, while the Waza Craft series is clearly marketed with the analog label out front.
As I mentioned earlier, this seems like one of the most "fussy" and potentially argumentative community topics I've ever tried to address (albeit, imperfectly).
Leave comments down below and I'll nervously read them and respond accordingly.