4 Best Bass Envelope Filters (Updated 2023)

best envelope filter for bass guitar

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The envelope filter is one of my most recent and exciting musical discoveries. I’m a multi-instrumental producer, and every day I layer guitars, bass, keyboards, drums, percussion, and vocals while working on song arrangements. Gradually, my sonic palette started to feel stale, limited, and a little bland.

Meanwhile, I had always been aware of the wah-wah pedal, but I honestly thought of it as a novelty. Sure, the flamboyant and influential wah in Tales of Brave Ulysses sounds pretty great. But it’s so over-the-top that using a similar effect would feel like an imitation to me, a one-trick pony approaching talk-box status.

Only relatively recently did I come to appreciate the power of envelope filters. An envelope filter works kind of like a wah pedal but at the end of the day, you are shaping your tone with a dynamic equalizer effect. By using envelope filters more subtly, and on a variety of instruments like the bass, you can inject your music with a healthy dose of funk and soul and we’ll look at plenty of examples in this article.

But the world of pedals usually has a guitar bias and finding the right envelope filter for your bass can take a little effort. I’ll explain everything you need to know about picking out the right one but if you just want to skip ahead and see what made the list you can see my favorites here:

Best Overall For Bassists
MXR M82 True Bypass Bass Envelope Filter
9.9
  • A true bypass envelope pedal specifically made for bass players
  • Separate dry and FX knobs give bassists tons of control over their sound
  • Won't break the bank
Easiest To Use
Electro-Harmonix Micro Q-Tron Envelope Follower Pedal
9.8
  • Three simple knobs but with plenty of flexibility
  • Unique history with connections to the first envelope filter ever made
  • Easy on the budget
     
Most Advanced Pedal
Source Audio SA143 Soundblox Pro
9.7
  • A seriously massive list of features with 22 filter modes, three stomp pedals, and much more
  • Ideal for the experienced or advanced bass player that wants a ton of flexibility from their envelope filter but there may be too many features for newer bassists to keep up with
     

Now let’s take a closer look at the power of the envelope filter and the bass guitar.

Are Envelope Filters Good For Bass Guitar?

In short…yes! And even though we’re going to be focused on bass, envelope filters work great with a variety of instruments. Just check out the envelop filter on the clavinet in Stevie’s Higher Ground:

Then the Red Hot Chili Peppers came in and added even more funk to the track by using an envelope filter on the bass. Pay attention to the right channel starting at 0:07 when the drums enter to hear what I mean:

And for some really fabulous and inventive use of the envelope filter, try Unknown Mortal Orchestra tunes like Multi-Love. (Incidentally, everyone should hear this song and see this music video for unrelated mind-bending reasons anyway.)

Bassists, take note. If you’re not convinced how much an envelope filter can add to your playing, check out this list I found which includes legends like Flea, Bootsy Collins, and Jamiroquai.  If you’re playing bass with an envelope filter, you’re in good company.

Understanding The Difference Between Wah-Wah Pedals, Auto-Wah, and Envelope Filters

Wah, Auto-Wah, Envelope Filter? These terms get confounded a lot. I’ll take the liberty of untangling them before proceeding. Let’s start by explaining the Wah-Wah pedal.

Wah-Wah Pedals

Wah-Wah pedals are the “original” pedal of the bunch and are still the ones with the most player controls. They’re also a very large pedal and usually one of the largest on stage. Wah-Wah pedals don’t have a simple on-off button instead, they can be opened or closed to any point across a smooth range, and the tone will follow accordingly.

Some guitarists rhythmically open it back and forth in time with the music- such as in the Cream song I mentioned at the start of the article, or in a lot of funk rhythm guitar playing. However, guitarists can also slowly open or close them at any time. If you like, you can spend the first couple of measures of a solo slowly opening the pedal. The effect will be of a guitar slowly coming to life.

Auto Wah Pedals vs Envelope Filters

Unfortunately, these two terms are frequently used interchangeably. But they actually work very differently. Both are automatic- that is, after setting the parameters, you typically play into the pedal without interacting with it during the performance.

Auto-Wah is very literally named. It behaves just like a wah pedal that is being rhythmically opened in time. The player sets the rate (often with a tempo tap), and the pedal does the rest. Just like in Tales of Brave Ulysses, this is useful for rhythm guitar in funk and disco.

Envelope filters (which are sometimes referred to as “Dynamic Auto-Wah, to further the confusion) are activated by the amplitude of the player’s notes. The harder the playing, the more dramatic the effect. This pedal pairs extremely well with percussive-attack instruments such as bass, guitar, and keyboards. Each note strike activates the filter, and as the note decays, the filter backs off.

So instead of a percussive “pah” the note sounds with a soulful “waaoow.”

True envelope filters are perhaps the easiest effects to use, because they are not tempo-dependent like auto-wah. Whatever tempo you play at, the envelope filter will naturally follow, because it affects each note as it is played. But this also makes them somewhat less versatile.

A traditional wah or auto-wah allows notes to sound different and contrast with each other, depending on what part of the envelope they are played on. But an envelope filter gives each individual note the same tone.

Listen again to the Stevie Wonder version of Higher Ground– it’s a textbook example of funky envelope filter playing. And check out Multi-Love at the 1:47 mark. That sitar played through an envelope filter sounds… let’s face it, dope as hell.

To further muddy things up, devices like the Boss AW-3 Dynamic Wah actually have auto-wah and envelope filter modes. But really, that’s the best case scenario- you can find the effect and settings that suits your style best.

So What Does This Mean For Bassists?

Even though the terms are a little muddy, it is clear that true envelope filter pedals (aka “dynamic auto wah”) are probably the most useful effect for bassists, so I’ll focus on them for this list. You can try some of the other options but they’re a little better suited to guitar or other instruments.

Best Bass Envelope Filters

Now that we know what we’re looking for let’s look at some of the best options bass guitar.

Best Overall For Bassists: MXR M82 Bass Envelope Filter

Best Overall For Bassists
MXR M82 Bass Envelope Filter
  • A true bypass envelope pedal specifically made for bass players
  • Separate dry and FX knobs give bassists tons of control over their sound
  • Won't break the bank

MXR is another proud (verging on legendary) pedal-maker. Their Phase 90 rocketed them to stardom and is featured all over Van Halen’s records. I personally own an MXR Dyna-Comp, a great little solid-state compressor pedal.

Unlike most envelope filter pedals, the MXR’s M82 is designed for bass foremost. You can find reviews from happy bassists all across the internet. You’ll hear a lot of them raving about how the low-end is more solid compared to playing through other envelope filters. And the presence of the “dry” knob is an excellent and unique touch that makes it very clear this envelope pedal was designed with bassists in mind.

Once you dial in your tone, you can choose the exact mix of wet and dry signals to blend with your band. I’ve also done a little experimentation and combined it with a fuzz pedal for “maximum funk vibes.” But even without a fuzz pedal, this pedal really brings the funk:

Not only does that video show off the power of this pedal but it really highlights the benefits of the dry and FX level control knobs. These really are game changers and make it much easier for bass players to find the perfect effect level to match the rest of the band.

That’s really just scratching the surface and the 5 knobs on this pedal give you a huge range of sounds to work with. You can take a closer look at the simple design, read more reviews and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Easiest To Use: Electro-Harmonix Micro Q-Tron Envelope Follower Pedal

Easiest To Use
Electro-Harmonix Micro Q-Tron Envelope Follower Pedal
  • Three simple knobs but with plenty of flexibility
  • Unique history with connections to the first envelope filter ever made
  • Easy on the budget
     

The original envelope filter was the Mu-Tron III and it has a long and legendary history. You can hear that on Bootsy Collins’s “Space Bass,” Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” clavinet, Flea’s bass in “Sir Psycho Sexy,” and recordings by Jerry Garcia and Larry Coryell.

But this filter hasn’t been manufactured since Musitronics went out of business in 1979.

Meanwhile, Electro-Harmonix has a resume of its own. Perhaps you’ve heard of their classic “Big Muff” fuzzbox? You may not know that they are also responsible for the first stomp-box flanger (“Electric Mistress” which is also a great flanger for the bass), the first analog echo/delay unit with no moving parts (“Memory Man”), and more.

I know, that’s a bit of a long intro but it’s important and it takes us to 1995 when Electro-Harmonix teamed up with Mike Beigel, the designer of the original Mu-Tron III, to develop the Q-Tron XO. Electro-Harmonix then went on to produce several other variations on this exceptional pedal and I’m recommending the Q-Tron Micro.

The micro version is smaller (and easier on the budget) compared to the Q-Tron XO and I also think it drops just as much funky goodness as its larger cousin. It’s also hard to argue with that pedigree!

This pedal has the involvement (and therefore endorsement) from the man responsible for the most classic envelope-filter bass tone. It’s honestly hard to argue with this sound: 

As you can see in the video, it’s got an excellent range of functionality while still keeping things simple. There are three knobs: drive, Q, and mode. 

Cranking up the drive knob will increase the frequency jump of the filter. That means turning the drive knob up can help create those really funky basslines that require some higher frequencies. The same ones that Flea was making on some of the early Chili Pepper’s albums. Lowering the knob still brings the funk but retains a more classic bass guitar sound.

You can also select between Low-pass, High-pass, Band-pass, and mix modes. Choose whether the envelope will travel up or down and whether it will have a low or high range- which is especially good for bass.  The “Q” knob controls the peak value (how narrow or wide across the filter is). If this is all making your head spin, just buy it and try it. Only through that obligatory “messing around” process will you find your magic setting but this true-bypass envelope pedal has plenty of flexibility for the bass player. 

You can read more reviews, take a closer look at the funky design and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Most Advanced Pedal: Source Audio SA143 Soundblox Pro

Most Advanced Pedal
Source Audio SA143 Soundblox Pro
  • A seriously massive list of features with 22 filter modes, three stomp pedals, and much more
  • Ideal for the experienced or advanced bass player that wants a ton of flexibility from their envelope filter but there may be too many features for newer bassists to keep up with
     

It’s hard to describe or review the Source Audio SA143 without simply listing its functionality. I’m willing to bet that this single pedal has more features in it than the entire music studio where “Louie Louie” was recorded in 1956. Yeah, music production technology has advanced that much.

The top center knob allows you to select between 22 (yes, you read that right) different filter modes. Below that, a clever interface allows you to shape your own envelope. With three stomp pedals, you can switch between six presets on stage. And it goes further.

Honestly, it’s hard to call this just a “bass pedal” because it can be so useful when creating dubstep and other diverse types of music. I mean it barely even looks like a pedal and you can see exactly what I mean (along with a long list of the features) in this video:

Even though this pedal is already advanced on its own, I spoke to another bassist that said it sounds really good when paired with a distortion pedal, just in case you want to add another layer to the mix.

Honestly, just from looking at this pedal, you instantly know whether it’s for you or not. Just be prepared to go deep as you learn to navigate it as this pedal. While the Micro Q-Tron sits on the simple side of the spectrum, the Soundblox Pro is definitely on the other side and has plenty for the advanced user.

If that sounds like you, you can read more reviews and check the latest price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best Budget Envelope Filter: Mooer Audio Micro Envelope

Best Budget Envelope Filter
Mooer Audio Micro Envelope
  • Easy on the budget and simple to use
  • Sound quality may not be high enough for a more experienced bassist but it's still great for a budget pedal

Mooer hit the pedal scene with the subtlety of a tornado. This Chinese company has no “classic rock credentials” as they did not exist before 2010. Yet, suddenly their extensive line of micro pedals is ubiquitous.

And with good reason- the pedals are inexpensive and the quality is great. Mooer is the default “great for the price” option in every fight they pick. I’m not someone who typically recommends sacrificing quality in the name of price- I usually stay clear of Behringer, and Korg is on thin ice as far as I’m concerned. But I own a Mooer pedal personally, the “Soul Shiver” with chorus, vibrato, and faux-Leslie effects. It was inexpensive, it feels solid, and it sounds good!

The Mooer Micro Envelope takes the approach of the Micro Q-Tron, and takes it further. It’s tiny but packed with all-analog circuitry. It has dials for Sensitivity, Q, Decay, and Tone. That means you’re going to get a lot of the same functionality as the Micro Q-Tron but without the pedigree behind it and at a budget price. You can hear a good sample of how this sounds (and compare it to the Q-Tron in this video:

Is it going to be 100% equal to some of the more premium envelop pedals? No, but it’s going to be very close at a great price. If that sounds like a good fit, you can read more reviews, take a closer look at the simple design and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Conclusion

If you make funk, psychedelic, or spacey music- or if you want to add a slight edge and depth to your bass tone- grab an envelope filter! I’d compare the use of envelope filters in music to the use of vinegar in cooking. Only chefs who really know what they are doing, know to add dashes of vinegars here and there.

Yet these touches add a shocking amount of depth to the other flavors. It’s the element you didn’t know you were missing. Keep working, and feel the joy of the music!