Underappreciated Gem of the Character Series
I've been irrationally obsessed with Tech21 products for awhile - I owned a Tri A.C. and Trademark 30 (amp) briefly, and have a few of the Joyo Sound pedals, which are more-affordable clones of some of the early version Character pedals. But I never actually owned a pedal from the Character series until pulling the trigger on the Tech 21 Leeds. I feel that Leeds is sorely underappreciated, and arguably the most versatile pedal in the Character lineup.
I hadn't paid any attention to the Leeds for a long time because I don't have any particularly affinity towards the "Hiwatt" sound, which is the entire inspiration behind the Leeds. I'm not a huge fan of The Who or David Gilmour, and tend to prefer Fender, Vox, and (to a lesser degree) Marshall amplifiers. So does the broader public, by the way, which is probably why the Blonde and Liverpool seem to be the most popular Character pedals.
But the Leeds is just fantastic, particularly as a direct box. Hiwatts are known for having TONS of clean headroom, and are considered excellent pedal platforms. Same with the Leeds - it has full and beautiful clean tone with substantial low and articulation and punch. Turning up either the Character or Drive knob (or both) produces some great distorted rock sounds. In fact, if you covered up the artwork, I bet you could confuse a few people into thinking that the Leeds was the better "British" rock sound versus the Marshall-inspired Character pedal.
The speaker emulation button, which they added to the series after 2010, is a huge benefit. Technically speaking, it's basically a very specialized high-end roll-off/shelf that simulates the sound of a large cabinet for applications where you are skipping that step (such as plugging direct into an interface, mixer, or recorder). If you are running the Leeds into the front of a combo amp (or, arguably, even through the amp's effects loop), you can disable the speaker emulation, since you have an actual speaker involved in that setup. Tech21 explains that the pedal is brighter with the speaker sim engaged, since many guitar preamps have circuitry that emphasizes treble. But there are no set "rules" as to how you use the pedal, and the EQ controls are active and extremely powerful. I was amazed how much tonal flexibility I had with a simple setup (Gibson guitar w/ humbuckers -> Tech21 Leeds -> Reverb pedal -> Mixer -> Headphone monitoring).
I'm likely to check out other Character pedals somewhere down the road. But as much as I like the Leeds, I'm a little skeptical I'll like the others as much as I like this one!