TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion Review
Verdict and Review Summary
Though high gain settings can in some instances present crackling and noise issues, the Dark Matter has an incredible tone and lots of versatility, able to make the leap from heavy to softer styles. For what you pay it's one of the best value distortion pedals on the market.
We bought, tested, photographed, and recorded the TC Electronic Dark Matter distortion pedal. This is a first-hand account of the product.
This pedal costs less than $50 even if you're looking for a new one. Used options can get into the $30 - $40 range.
I should also mention (as the above text indicates) that I bought, tested, and rated this pedal first-hand. This is not a rehash of someone else's experience. I actually used the pedal with my own rig, playing through multiple amps, and this is simply a record of my experience.
Up front, this pedal is remarkable, given the price tag.
From a tone-quality perspective, it's extremely good, with a few wrinkles that I want to mention.
I'll start with a weighted rating:
Point Value (%)
Dark Matter Score
1. Overall Tone Grade
3. EQ Comprehension
5. Noise Control
6. Additional Filtering
7. Build Quality
8. True Bypass
9. Tone Quality Bump
Compare the Dark Matter to Similar Pedals
In this table I've highlighted the TC Electronic Dark Matter along with some similar distortion pedals. This is helpful if you're looking for something to compare it to and a way to browse pricing. Please note that we support Guitar Chalk by linking to Sweetwater products at no extra cost to you, and may receive a commission if you shop through the orange buttons. Thank you for your support.
TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion
Boss DS-1 Distortion
Fulltone OCD Overdrive
EarthQuaker Devices Plumes Overdrive
IDEAL FOR: Lower budgets, versatile playing styles, heavy distortion, and amps without a dirty channel
Tone and Features
Out of the box you get four typical distortion controls and a voice switch.
While the gain, bass, and treble knobs were extremely responsive, the voice switch didn't really seem to change the tone significantly. I think it's some kind of an adjustment to the midrange (since there are no mids knob), but I'm honestly not sure.
My advice is to rely on the gain knob for most of your variety, while leaving the bass and treble at a setting you like, perhaps as a universal EQ.
I immediately noticed the distortion sounded really good and full. In fact, I played it through a Mesa Rectoverb combo and it was hard to tell the difference between the amp's onboard distortion and the Dark Matter. Tone quality, both on low and high gain settings of the pedal, is exceptional.
It does not sound like a $48 distortion pedal.
The Dark Matter also sounds really good both as a low-gain, vintage-style distortion and as a smooth, saturating modern distortion. In my experience, it's the only distortion pedal in this price range that can handle both of those style camps.
Things I Didn't Like
I already mentioned that there is no mids knob, which is a tough pill to swallow for a pedal that could potentially be a good fit as a metal distortion source. Also mentioned was the response of the voice switch, which didn't seem to do much.
The other issue I noticed, particularly when the gain was turned up high, was some noise and buzzing.
To be fair to TC electronic:
I've noticed that Garageband, which I ran my signal in through a DI box to test the pedal, can have problems handling high gain.
However, I also took everything out of my Mac and just listened straight through the amplifier. Even then, I could still hear the hiss from the Dark Matter when I turned the gain up really high. I tested it running straight into the Mac, straight into the amp and then through the amp then into the Mac with no other pedals connected and a Voodoo Lab ISO-5 (isolated) power supply.
In every instance, I had the same subtle amount of noise to deal with, which only responded to the Dark Matter's gain knob.
It wasn't overbearing, but definitely an issue that might show some of the cracks in a distortion pedal priced this low.
Best Fit and Context
The noise issues weren't nearly enough to ruin this pedal for me. With gain lowered around 50-60 percent, noise was hard to notice and the sound quality was just so good that it didn't really matter.
I would recommend this pedal for just about any situation where you need a versatile and affordable distortion source. While the noise limits its usefulness in a recording context, it's a great jam box and/or performance distortion, able to handle a wide range of musical genres and playing styles.
In this price range you won't get anything better.
How do I power the Dark Matter?
The Dark matter can be powered by a 9V battery or a single 9V adapter from a power supply. For testing, I used a Voodoo Lab ISO-5 with a 9V power cable.
Does it include a power supply?
Some deals on Amazon for the Dark Matter actually ship with a single power adapter (wall wart), though by default, I believe TC Electronic ships the Dark Matter without one.
Is the Dark Matter true bypass?
Yes, the TC Electronic Dark Matter is wired for true bypass according to the manufacturer's website and the Sweetwater entry.
Is the Dark Matter a good fit for bass guitar rigs?
Though I didn't test the Dark Matter with my 5-string bass, the tone is smooth and thick, which could be a decent bass pairing, especially since the control scheme is a bit simpler.
Is it compatible with an expression pedal?
The Dark Matter distortion does not support any kind of expression pedal connection.
The only place where the Dark Matter started to lose me a bit was when I graded EQ Comprehension and Noise Control. If they added a mids knob or even just tweaked the voice switch to make it a bit more effective, I would automatically grade that portion higher, probably in the 80s.
But again, this is just my take on the pedal. I think it's a great value and possibly one of the best budget guitar pedals overall, regardless of effect category.
Your Questions and Comments
If you've got questions about the Dark Matter, my experience testing the pedal, or anything else related, feel free to drop me a note in the comments section below and I'll do my best to assist.