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Boss - Chorus Ensemble

The Boss Chorus Ensemble has during its long history achieved an almost epic status and is in one form or another known to most musicians, especially guitar and bass players. Countless famous artist have used and endorsed the chorus ensemble during its over thirty year history, the most famous users of the CE-1 being arguably Andy Summers (Police), John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Pete Andersson and Peter Marchese (Voyager One). Also many famous hammond and synth players have found a trusted sound in the CE-1, the most renowned being Herbie Hancock, Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks.


The Chorus Ensemble CE-1 was published June 1976 and it is based on a circuit which Roland used in their JC-120 Jazz Chorus amplifiers from 1975. Roland had founded Boss in order to specialize on effects, and the CE-1 was their first effects pedal and at the same time the first commercial pedal sized chorus. The CE-1 can thus be easily accredited to be the "mother of choruses". Since then, Boss has sold over 7 million pedals, being one of the biggest companies in the business. The CE-1 was also the first effect pedal to utilize the BBD (Bucket Brigade Driver) chip, an analog delay line in an integrated circuit. The IC (originally designed by Philips ) had just been licensed to Matsushita and thus was available for mass production. The CE-1 is a mains powered unit that features both chorus and vibrato modes, and also the stereo outputs were features not common in effects pedals at that time.
          The sales of the CE-1 were slow at the beginning until at the end of the '70s its popularity started to grow especially among hammond player's, led by the example of Herbie Hancock. Slowly its favor grew also among guitar and bass players, but since it was a relatively large sized and expensive pedal, it did not sell to the big markets. Thus, Boss developed smaller and more affordable versions housed in the cast iron shells (known as the compact pedal series) in order to target larger market shares.
          In October 1979 Boss released the significantly smaller follow-up CE-2, a mono version with strongly reduced features compared to its predecessor. In 1988 Boss moved the fabrication of their pedals from Japan to Taiwan to increase productivity, and also many of the components used in the CE-2 were changed to similar parts from other vendors - most likely cheaper ones.
          Boss released the next pedal in this series in 1982, the CE-3, which was marketed as the stereo version of the CE-3. Alongside the familiar Rate- and Depth- controls this pedal had an added control to chose the formation of the output signal in mono/stereo-setup (more details in the technical part later).
          The CE-5 was released November 1991, and the circuit differed already strongly from the original, now with added equalizer/tone control (Filter) and balance control between the dry (no effect) and wet (with effect) signals (E.Level). The CE-5 was still based on the BBD chip, until in 2001 Boss started using surface mountable devices on the circuit board, the board being now labeled CE-5A. At this point the circuitry was completely restructured and the BBD chip was replaced by a digital design. On the outside the CE-5 and CE-5A pedals are completely identical, only the serial number will show which version the pedal contains - all the CE-5:s made before October 2001 should still have the old board.
          The latest member of the Chorus Ensemble family was released in 2005, this time a completely digital design with modeled sounds. This chorus contains modelled sounds from CE-1, the Dimensions DC-2 chorus and many other chorus models. It also contains an added reverb (Ambience) and Tone (Brilliance) control as well as an added EQ for the effect. The programmable memories, stereo inputs and outputs and the output for headphones add to its usability.


Comparison: Sound and usability

CE-1: It is extremely hard to stay unbiased when comparing the different chorus ensemble pedals, since the 'mojo' around the CE-1 tends to color the opinions more easily than the sound, but I'll try to...
The sound of this unit is simply sweet - it has a soft, rich and full-bodied character that broadens and enlarges the sound beautifully. Unlike in some other choruses, where the effect is kind of an add-on to the original sound, the chorus digs deep in the sound creating an organic and musical end result. The pitch shifting vibrato mode sounds very smooth and wet.
          The CE-1 gives the sound its own flavor, slightly decreasing the high end and boosting the midrange slightly. The input is rather sensitive and the input signal gets compressed easily thus slightly decreasing the dynamics. It has nevertheless adjustable input level that lets you set the level of compression.
The Vibrato mode has both rate- and intensity-controls, but in the chorus only the intensity is adjustable. The unit contains two footswitches and two leds - one of the footswitches toggles between the vibrato and chorus-modes, the other switches the effect on and off. One of the leds shows the mode by blinking with the rate of the chorus/vibrato, the other indicates when clipping of the input signal occurs.
All in all the CE-1 is a great sounding unit, which will surely uphold its position and value also in the future.
  Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-1 Pedal Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-1 Pedal Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-1 Pedal Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-1 Circuit Board Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-1 Circuit Board  

CE-2: (Japan/Taiwan) The sound of the CE-2 differs greatly from its predecessor. The sound is much brighter and stronger, with more pronounced high end. The input circuitry has been altered (input impedance changed from 1MOhm to 470kOhm) and the signal does not compress that easily, enlargening the dynamics of the signal compared to CE-1. Although the sound is clearer and brighter, a part of the warmth of the sound found in the CE-1 is gone.
The Japan and Taiwan versions have some changed components (same values but different manufacturer), but sound wise they have only very small differences. The Japan version has a slightly stronger low end and midrange compared to the Taiwan counterpart, bringing some smoothness into the sound, but the difference is really very small making the two units sound wise very hard to tell apart.
  Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-2 Pedal Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-2 Pedal Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-2 Pedal Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-2 Pedal Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-2 Circuit Board  

CE-3: Although this unit was advertized as the stereo version of the CE-2, the CE-3 has also other modifications apart from the stereo part. The BBD delay circuit and the clock generation circuit have been altered to the low voltage versions MN3207 and MN3201, respectively. The sound of this pedal is clearly different than in the previous unit. The chorus has a cold and sterile character with a slight metallic ping added to the tone. The Stereo-mode is a nice feature and the mode selection is useful also in mono operation giving slightly diverse flavors to the sound in the different modes.
This is not a bad chorus, but in my opinion the weak link in this series. This pedal is the first metallic colored Boss pedal and at the same time the only Boss pedal with three knobs in a row. Later Boss three-knob-pedals have the knobs positioned in a V-shape, since the middle know tends to block the led on the CE-3.
  Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-3 Pedal Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-3 Circuit Board Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-3 Circuit Board  

CE-5 / CE-5A: The basic sound of the CE-5 is again a little bit closer to what it was on the CE-2 - the BBD delay circuit and the clock driver are again the same MN3007 and MN3101. The circuit level implementation nevertheless is quite different from its predecessors, which becomes also apparent in the sound. Added EQ-controls add versatility and by controlling the ratio of the direct signal and the effect, the pedal can be used to create soundscapes from a slight shimmer to strongly vibrating sounds. Although this unit has a beautiful and bright sound, it fails to capture the warmth and depth the CE-1 and CE-2 had, leaving a slightly sterile aftertaste. Although the circuit and circuit board implementations of the CE-5 and the CE-5A are drastically different, they are sound wise practically identical. The differences are so small that it is impossible to tell which one is which. This is actually quite surprising considering how different the boards in these two units actually are.
  Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-5 and CE-5A Pedals Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-5 and CE-5A Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-5 Circuit Board Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-5 Circuit Board Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-5A Circuit Board Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-5A Circuit Board  

CE-20: The last addition in this series is a clear step into a new generation. The implementation is practically completely digital and the sounds are modeled sounds. Although the warmth and depth of the analog circuitry is not quite captivated in these models of this unit, the sounds are rather good and the additional features like the programmable memories make this a very useful unit. It is quite simple to find a satisfactory tone from this unit and there are plenty of options for those musicians who like to use a variety of different chorus sounds without kneeling down to turn the knobs of the pedal.
The modeled sound of the CE-1 is quite close to the sound of the original, although it lacks in depth and warmth, and is missing the sweet flavor from the slightly compressing input stage.
          The extreme settings on this pedal go far beyond the intensity of the smaller stompboxes in this series, making very extreme and bizarre sounds possible, which could not be achieved with the other pedals. Although many of the sounds in this unit sound somewhat hollow, sterile and cold, it is still a very useful pedal from which surely most musicians will find a satisfactory sound.


The Chorus Ensemble has throughout its long history been through a lot of revisions and changes. As the first commercially available chorus in pedal form the CE-1 can in many ways be regarded as the "mother of all choruses", giving a sweet and natural sound that can be used as a reference sound for other choruses. Nevertheless, because of its size, availability, price and its limitations, this unit is not the right choice for many. The CE-2 has also a great sound, but is also somewhat rare and costly. The CE-3 is usually very affordable but does soundwise not stand up to the rest of this series.
The CE-5 is a very good compromise between price and sound, its diversity making it easy to find a satisfactory tone. For those musicians seeking after a modern hi-fi tone and for whom one chorus sound simply is not enough, the CE-20 might be a good choice with its great versatility.

All in all the Boss Chorus Ensemble is an excellent chorus that will surely satisfy the needs of most musicians who seek after a chorus sound. For vintage collectors and musicians who appreciate vintage sound, the CE-1 is already through its legendary status a pedal with a 'mojo' that is hard to equal.

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