Which noise gate is best?
A noise gate is one of the less exciting pedals in most guitarists’ effect arsenals. However, they play an important functional role, especially if you like to have things turned up to 11. Noise gates attenuate audio signals when they go below a predetermined threshold, eliminating the hum, hiss, and feedback between played notes. This cleans up your output significantly, especially if you play with plenty of overdrive. If you are looking for a reliable and intuitive noise gate, the Boss NS-2 is an industry-standard pedal that is remarkably effective.
What to know before you buy a noise gate
Know your rig
Many factors can contribute to unwanted noise from an electric guitar and amplifier. If you understand where the noise is generated, it is easier to fine-tune any persistent issues once the noise gate is activated. For example, valve amps are known to create significant amounts of hum as compared to their solid-state counterparts. Overdrive or distortion pedals are known to generate lots of noise when active, and on guitars, single-coil pickups are generally much noisier than humbuckers.
Position in the signal chain
The placement of your noise gate can greatly affect the behavior of your other pedals and the way that the noise gate itself operates. Many guitarists place it between their pedalboard and amplifier and leave it switched on. However, this can impede the performance of ambient pedals such as reverb and delay units. In this instance, it is better to place the noise gate after any overdrive pedals and before any ambient effects in the chain, or use an effects loop if the pedal has sent and return options.
Most noise gates feature two or three controllable parameters with a rotary knob for each. The most important of these is the threshold control. On some gates, this is the only controllable parameter there is, as it sets the level at which the gate opens and closes, relative to the signal. The decay is a dynamic control that alters the time that it takes for the gate to close after kicking in. Some pedals also feature a reduction control that alters the amount of noise that is cut, once the gate kicks in.
What to look for in a quality noise gate
All guitar effect pedals should have a positive action and be easy to depress, with effective switches and clear indicators to tell their on/off status. Noise gates should be intuitive to use. Once settings are dialed in and you are happy with the result, you should be able to leave it as is, making only a few tweaks here and there, should the occasion demand it.
Inputs and outputs
All noise gate pedals have a main input and output through which the signal is processed. Some also feature a send and return. These allow you to create a loop in which you can place those effects that you wish to attenuate, such as distortion pedals. This takes some strain off the noise gate and leaves your dynamic and ambient effects untouched.
As the name suggests, stompboxes are designed to be trodden underfoot. They are therefore designed to be durable and able to stand a few knocks and scrapes. With that said, some are sturdier than others and Boss pedals, in particular, are renowned for their relatively indestructible build quality.
How much you can expect to spend on a noise gate
A budget noise gate can cost as little as $35. The average mid-range model should cost around $100 with a top-of-the-range option costing as much as $150. A midrange choice should be more than enough to suit most guitarists’ requirements, as a noise gate is a dynamic tool and not a tone-shaping device that colors your overall sound.
Noise gate FAQ
What is a software noise gate used for?
A. Just as a noise gate pedal is used for live performance and pre-production recording, a software noise gate can be used during production to clean up a mix. These often come as part of a music production software package, like Logic or Pro Tools, or can be bought separately as a standalone plugin.
Is it best to choose a basic or an advanced model?
A. Some of the more expensive options have very limited functionality. The high-end MXR Smart Gate, for example, only has a single potentiometer that controls the threshold. While some players favor multiple controllable parameters for fine-tuning their signal, other players prefer plug-and-play simplicity. It simply comes down to personal preference.
What are the best noise gates to buy?
Top noise gate
What you need to know: This rugged industry-standard model has been the choice of many professional guitarists since its first incarnation was released in 1979.
What you’ll love: The NS-2 is intuitive to use and pleasing results can be obtained with a little experimentation. Its threshold, decay, and mode controls allow for fine-tuning of its dynamics and tone-reducing capabilities, while its send and return jacks add to its versatility.
What you should consider: This pedal may not produce the desired results unless it’s properly connected. It is worth researching connectivity options and ensuring you have enough cables before use.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top noise gate for the money
What you need to know: The NR300 is both simple and effective, with a reduction mode for noise suppression and a mute mode to kill your signal.
What you’ll love: This highly affordable unit is surprisingly effective and even boasts a send and return loop for external effects. It has a nice positive switching action and two indicator lamps for activation and noise suppression.
What you should consider: The body is made of plastic, which, although sturdy, is not as durable as some high-end counterparts.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: This compact offering from MXR is a high-quality unit that performs very well, despite its few controllable parameters.
What you’ll love: With three selectable types of noise suppression, the Smart Gate gets to the root of the issue quickly and effectively. Once you have chosen the mode, simply adjust the dial to control the threshold. The pedal offers true bypass when inactive.
What you should consider: This model lacks effects send and return jacks, which may deter some users, especially considering its high price tag.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Luke Mitchell writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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