What is buffered bypass and how does it work?
Buffered bypass is when part of a pedal's circuit stays in the signal chain.
Buffered bypass is a system built into a guitar pedal where your signal passes through part of a guitar pedal's circuit. This creates a buffering of your signal whether the pedal is on or off. Additionally, it helps keep your tone consistent and pure while mitigating noise issues from longer cables and/or pedal chains. As a prime example, all Boss pedals are built with buffered bypass.
Buffered bypass is one of the more common methods of internal guitar pedal connections, perhaps most notably employed by all Boss pedals currently in production. This is different than true bypass and Boss explains the difference in this article:
Predictably, Boss puts a somewhat positive spin on buffered bypass pedals in this article. Though a more objective take is that buffered connections have some advantages and disadvantages.
Buffered bypass makes more sense in some contexts and not others.
We'll cover a basic definition first.
Watch an Article Summary
Definition of Buffered Bypass
Buffered bypass is where a part of the circuit stays in the signal chain. This prevents signal loss and tone change. It also helps address the problem of high impedance, which becomes more of an issue with increased cable length between your guitar and pedals and with a higher number of pedals.
As a general rule, the longer your signal has to go, the more you risk signal loss and tone change. Buffered bypass addresses this issue whether the pedal is on or off, similar to the impact of low capacitance instrument cables.
We can conclude that buffered bypass pedals may actually be better for pedalboards with a larger number of pedals and longer cables.
Buffered bypass is where a part of the circuit in a guitar pedal stays in the signal chain.
Quality of Buffers and Circuits
The problem with comparing this directly to a true bypass connection is that all buffers and circuits are not created equal. There are quality differences that can vary significantly when dealing with this type of connection.
Generally speaking, the nicer the pedal (and the more expensive), the better the quality of the buffers and circuits.
True bypass connections are a little simpler and not as susceptible to deviations in quality.
However, they do lack some of the advantages of buffered bypass, which we'll cover below.
Advantages of Buffered Bypass
At this point we can identify a few of the advantages of buffered bypass connections. As a very general rule, we might say that buffered bypass is better in live performing situations where you have longer cables (or wireless connections) and more pedals to use.
In the studio it's much easier to use shorter cables and to only use effects that you need, one at a time. In that scenario, a true bypass connection might make more sense.
- Mitigates accumulating capacitance with long cables and multiple pedals
- Helps prevent signal loss and unwanted changes in tone
- Switching is often much quieter and smoother
To that last bullet point:
Switching in buffered bypass pedals is far better than true bypass connections. Buffered switching is usually noiseless and smooth, like you might be familiar with from Boss pedals. True bypass switches feel heavy and are usually louder. In some cases they're even a bit difficult to press.
Disadvantages of Buffered Bypass
Now for some of the disadvantages of buffered bypass. As we've already pointed out, their most comfortable context is in a live performance, while true bypass might be preferred in the studio. Even then, we might be splitting hairs.
But here are some concrete cons of buffered bypass that should be noted:
- Buffered connections are always on even if the pedal is off
- Can cause issues with pedal order depending on how your board is arranged
- You lose the one factor that makes true bypass appealing...true bypass
- If pedal loses power your signal dies. That's not the case with true bypass
- Introduces some complexities into your rig depending on which pedals you have and how you have them arranged
What really matters
All of this needs to be taken with a grain of salt, because when the dust settles it's your ear that's going to be the deciding factor. Sure, it helps to know some of the technical intricacies of your pedals, but you can trust what you hear and what kind of sound you prefer.
To be honest, I rarely care about whether a pedal is true bypass or buffered bypass. Standard bypass (another topic entirely) has its issues, but you're not going to run into that unless you get into much cheaper pedals.
Personally, I would land on the side of preferring buffered bypass pedals, based on the bypass switch clicking feel alone.
For what it's worth:
I've never made a decision about buying a pedal based on its bypass type.
That might be kind of simplistic, but that's where I'm at.
I'll list my references below. There's lots of fantastic information there on this topic, especially if you want to get into the more technical details. You can also leave your questions in the comments section and I'll do my best to help out.