AF’s Weblog

July 25, 2012

Diagnosing and Fixing a Tube Amp

Filed under: Amps — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:23 am

To read the full detailed article see:  Diagnosing and Fixing a Tube Amp

Guitar amps are, no matter how you cut it, black boxes. You may think you have control over them, but when it gets down to it, you can’t really see inside the black box, and even if you could, there aren’t any moving parts. Electricity is largely non-mechanical. Or in other words, magic. And when the magic stops, most people think all they can do is resort to prayer. Or an amp technician.

Fig. 1. My trusty Fender Vibro-King was on the fritz, and the suspects were the output tubes and the speakers.

When your amp isn’t performing up to snuff, there’s still a lot you can do without having an EE degree, or even knowing how to operate test equipment. Here are some holistic approaches—and solutions—you can try yourself, as I did when my tube amp went on the fritz. Warning: Some of the following procedures involve messing around with the components of the amp, so be careful. Electricity can kill you. Proceed at your own risk.

Creeping Death

Failure in a tube amp is often creeping and insidious, more like the wearing of the tread in your tires than a light bulb blowing. Because the changes generally occur over time, you can become inured to little degradations in performance. Then one day, maybe after you’ve been away and come back to it, you realize something’s not right. Such was the case with me and my favorite tube amp, my Fender Vibro-King (see Fig. 1). The following procedures, though, will work on many tube amps. Just swap out the specifics or make the necessary adjustment for your model accordingly.

Testing….is this thing killing?

The first test I made was just to see how loud my amp got, and if it was ear-splitting—as nature intended—at its highest volume. The Vibro-King has no master volume, so this is fairly easy to determine: wind the lone volume knob up to 10, stand the hell back, and play your guitar with the controls full out. Disappointingly, the amp, in its maxed-out state, did not rattle the windows, disturb the neighbors, and risk injury to my eardrums. I knew the amp wasn’t firing on all cylinders even without the benefit of test equipment or knowing which link in the chain was falling down on the job (if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor). Next step: Just how is it not delivering full power?

Let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

It’s a fine line to determine what you should monkey with and what you should leave alone when something goes wrong in a tube amp. Amps are much more difficult than guitars for two reasons: 1) They’re all electrical and not mechanical and electrical; and 2) you’re dealing with high voltage, which is dangerous to you and your amp. But that doesn’t mean that you should be afraid of your amp, just that you need to take the necessary precautions. If your amp doesn’t work and you find out it’s because of a user-replaceable blown fuse, you’re going to feel pretty foolish if you have to learn this from the tech at the shop. That’s perhaps the simplest example, but even being able to swap out tubes and diagnose problems can help you understand better your amp and even lead you to solutions—even if they’re incomplete and temporary. But that’s sometimes all you need to get you through that last gig before you can pay a visit to the shop.

To read the full detailed article see:  Diagnosing and Fixing a Tube Amp

July 2, 2012

Fender Super Champ X2 Review

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  Fender Super Champ X2

In the world of guitar amps, war is raging. The transistor forces from the digital world are fighting the tubes army. Turning itself into a peace dove, Fender tries to put an end to this war by introducing a hybrid concept: the Super Champ X2. This new amp made in Mexico combines digital technology with tubes has finally seen the light of day. It’s on neutral ground so I can start examining the beast. Hopefully this leads to a peaceful co-existence.

What a Cute Combo

Fender Super Champ X2

I thought I would break my back carrying this new amp. But surprise, surprise, the newcomer is light (considering it’s an amp!), so I was able to climb up the stairs carrying it single-handedly. Aesthetically, it is very Fender looking: black vinyl covering and silver grill cloth with Fender logo. The front panel in Blackface style is not what I’d call original, but it still looks very nice. Manufactured from 1964 to 1967, the Blackface is part of Fender’s legend. Insiders will understand that I refer to the Princeton Reverb, Deluxe Reverb and Vibro champ. The dimensions are somewhat small (9.2″ x 17.5″ x 15″) and the weight reasonable (24 lbs). It will match a vintage environment perfectly. Under the hood, you’ll find all you need to have a blast! You get a pair of 6V6 power tubes for a total output power of 12 watts, one 12AX7 tube in the preamp stage and several transformers matching the tubes. The speaker is a 10” Fender Special Design allowing the combo to stay compact.

Too Much for Beginners?

Doctor J.’s minute!

Vibratone? This effect was conceived in 1941 by Donald Leslie. The Leslie cabinet (better known as Leslie Rotary Speaker) includes its own tube amplifier. A Leslie amplifies the signal and sends it to the speakers. The sound of the low-frequency speaker is sent to a closed baffle through a rotating drum while the sound of the high-frequency driver is sent to a rotary horn. This speaker cabinet creates interesting sound modulations. The source seems to move forwards and also from left to right alternatively while the loudness varies.

One of my worries with digital technology is that you have to turn and push a lot of different controls and you can’t understand anything without the user’s manual. But don’t fear this Super Champ X2: it provides only a few, easy-to-understand controls. The amp provides two separate channels based either on tube or digital technology. Both channels share the EQ section with Treble and Bass controls, the FX selector, the Tap Tempo switch, and the FX Adjust control. Each channel has its own volume control. Plus, there’s a channel selector and a 16-way Voice selector. The rear panel is even more simple: a mains power socket with On/Off switch and fuse. You also get a speaker out, a line out, a footswitch connector (unfortunately, a matching footswitch is not provided), and a USB port. When it comes to effects, we’ve been spoiled: Reverb (Large Room, Concert Hall, spring reverb, delayed reverb), Delay (130 or 300ms), Chorus (fast sweeping, deep sweeping, chorus+delay, chorus+reverb), Tremolo (slow, normal or fast speed), Vibratone (slow or fast speed).

Now let’s take a closer look…

….

Nobel Peace Prize?

The Super Champ X2 is a nice surprise. The amp models sound very good, the tube power amp adds natural warmth and compression to your tone, and you get a dedicated, easy-to-use software. Considering the wide range of amps provided, you’ll easily find your own tone, regardless of your playing style (blues, rock, ska, metal, etc.). Unfortunately, the output power (15 watts) won’t allow you to use the amp in all situations. It’s perfect for playing at home or in a recording studio, but it’s not powerful enough for rehearsals if you have to compete with a drummer. Fender won its bet with this small combo sold for $300 — and this small jewel is also available as an amp head for $250. Unfortunately, the matching footswitch is not included…

Advantages: 
  • Compact size
  • Weight
  • Voicings
  • Effects
  • Tube power stage
Drawbacks:
  • A mid setting on the front panel would be nice!
  • We wish there was a version with more output power
  • Footswitch not included…

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  Fender Super Champ X2

June 11, 2012

Fender Machete Review

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Machete Review

The Fender Machete represents a new direction for the manufacturer. It’s not like they want to start to making cutlery but rather they want to enter the heavy distortion world. This strategical decision caused many reactions in the guitar world. So, with mixed feelings I leave the sandy roads and whiskey smell of Mississippi to enter the country of tattooed, long-haired musicians.

A Weapon for the Strong!

Fender Machete

I receive the weapon under seal. It hardly fits the trunk of my car with the rear seats folded (for insiders, the JeyMobile looks a lot like the GarthMobile). I come to my place of destination and ask for help to take the cardboard box out of my car because it’s twice as large as me… Right after unpacking you’ll discover that the amp is much smaller than the box (big foam protections inside!) but still not lighter. The physical specs: 24.5″ x 11.5″ x 22″ and 71 lbs. The manufacturer had mercy on us and decided to add clipable casters so we won’t break our backs when transporting the amp. The two-color combo is protected by a black vinyl covering with white edging and a center stripe in the style of a roadster steering wheel. The front plate is made out of black steel and offers nice-looking, brushed-aluminum Telecaster knobs. The overall roadster look is faithful but it might not be everyone’s favorite.

Swiss-Army Knife or a Classic?

Fender Machete

Let’s have a brief tech talk. Under the hood you’ll find five 7025 tubes (also called 12AX7), a pair of 6L6GC and a 12″ Celestion Vintage 30 speaker that matches the roadster look perfectly. The front and rear panel are fully packed. The engine offers two separate channels with Gain, Volume, Bass, Mid, Treble, and Notch controls each. The front panel also includes three selectors: a 6dB pad (for active pickups), a channel switch and a speaker damping selector (damping is the interaction between power tubes and speaker). Finally, the amp offers one reverb for both channels. A small disappointment is that the reverb is not a tube but a digital one…

Fender Machete

On the rear you have Power and Standby switches, an effect loop with send and return level controls, a line output on XLR connector, MIDI in, footswitch connector, and a pair of speaker outs with impedance selector, as well as a pair of PA Mute (mutes the power amp) and Cab Emul (adds the speaker emulation to the line out) mini-switches. The included footswitch provides four options for channel selection, gain boost (ch.1), FX loop, and reverb. It is equipped with two connectors: one for the amp and a second one to chain an additional Machete footswitch (can be useful on large stages). Something tells me it’s time to plug my axe now.

Let’s take a closer look and a listen…

Happy?

Fender’s goal was to offer an aggressive sounding combo to the tattooed, hairy metal community and they have succeeded! The amp is sturdy, so it can be taken on stage and to the studio or stay at home. Moreover, it offers a wide range of clean sounds plus everything from crunch to heavy distortion, while the Notch control allows you to fine-tune your tone. Unfortunately, the amp’s street price of around $1,900 is quite high. Quality has a price, and if you like it, you’ll pay for it…

Advantages: 
  • The sound!
  • Both channels
  • Notch control
  • Reverb
  • FX loop
  • Damping control
  • Footswitch provided
Drawbacks:
  • Price
  • Weight

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Machete Review

June 4, 2012

Mesa Boogie Mini Rectifier Review

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Mesa Boobie Mini Rectifier Review

We are living in an era of miniaturization, and guitar amp manufacturers aren’t an exception. Many of them already offer compact amps and now Mesa Boogie presents its second small sized (and with reduced output power) amp head. Let’s see if the Californian brand still sounds as proud!

Everything is Smaller in our Lives

Mesa Boogie Mini Rectifier

Remember the 60′s? It wasn’t that long ago… In the past, the size and the output power of an amp were crucial to the sound of our favorite guitar players. But things change a lot. Housing shortage, noise restrictions… It’s not easy to live the rock ‘n’ roll way of life. Even Lemmy from Motorhead lives in a 54-square-foot apartment… But to take the best out of the 100W power of your nice Dual Rectifier, the famous amp of the US manufacturer, you need to play on large stages… In spite of this, the Dual and Triple Rectifier series were very successful… and unfortunately they are normally used with the master control set to 2! And no amp with less output power was able to produce this typical Recto sound coming straight from California.

So, when Mesa/Boogie presented the Transatlantic some of our was hope restored. But this amp doesn’t deliver the huge sound the manufacturer got us used to: a fat US tone with detailed highs and tight lows.

However, today, all fans of this typical sound can rejoice — the US manufacturer has finally presented the Mini rectifier, an all-tube amp head with switchable output power. The compact version of a Dual Rectifier. Literally.

Mesa Boogie Mini Rectifier

Sold in a small cover, this nice and compact amp head doesn’t have anything to envy its big brothers from an aesthetic point of view. It’s obvious that it’s part of the same family that has been praised by most rock musicians for 10 (20?) years. Black vinyl, aluminum front plate in truck-step look, small transport handle… At first glance, everything seems to be in place.

Taking a closer look, you’ll find the exact same design and settings as in the Dual and Triple Rectifiers. Besides a 1/8″ instrument input and a footswitch connector, the front panel features two independent channels. Each channel offers two different voicings (Clean/Pushed and Vintage/Modern), a gain control, a three-band EQ (Treble, Mid, Bass), and presence and master controls. The Mini Rectifier includes five 12AX7 preamp tubes and two EL84 power tubes, unlike its big brothers that use EL34 or 6L6 tubes.

But the main difference is the possibility to select a different output power for each channel on the Mini. A small switch allows you to choose between 25W and 10W for each channel independently. A clever idea: the technical documentation explains that there is a real sound difference between both output power modes. The 10W mode produces a slightly more vintage and round tone than the 25W mode. The latter comes much closer to the modern Rectifier sound (it would be a mistake to think Mesa/Boogie makes amps for deaf rockers only).

Mesa Boogie Mini Rectifier

On the front panel you’ll also see a couple of power and standby switches.

But it is in the rear panel where you’ll find everything you need: FX loop with hard bypass (sweet!), two four and eight-ohm speaker outs, power socket. Considering the dimensions of the amp, don’t expect much more. Straightforwardness and space saving are the maxims. And that’s a good thing. But let’s listen to what comes out of the beast…

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

With the Mini Rectifier, Mesa succeeds in preserving the typical Rectifier soul and spirit in a compact amp with less output power. The competition is hard in this market segment and many brands already offer all-tube amps for home musicians. However, Mesa has the advantage of offering a faithful variation of its top-range products.

The other side of the coin is the price! Sold for $1,000, the Mini Rectifier isn’t accessible to everybody. Add the matching 1×12″ speaker cabinet for $450 and the bill turns quite high for a 25-watt amp! In spite of the high manufacturing quality, only some additional features (a third, higher output power setting, all four voicings accessible via the footswitch, etc.) would justify the price gap with competitor products that are half as expensive! So Mesa stays clearly above its competitors when it comes to price. Bummer!

However, the design and manufacturing are excellent and this new small beast keeps its promise… it rocks!

Advantages: 
  • Two separate channels, two voicings per channel
  • Rectifier look
  • Nice red glow coming from inside the amp…
  • Comprehensive connections
  • Finish
Drawbacks:
  • High price…
  • The dot on the knobs is not easily readable
  • Footswitch a bit too basic considering the price…

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Mesa Boobie Mini Rectifier Review

March 1, 2012

Yamaha THR10 Travel Amp Review

Filed under: Amps — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 9:22 am

Yamaha’s new amplifier range now includes a brand new product: the THR10. It looks like a standard compact amp head. But in fact, this product holds some surprises…

Yamaha THR10

It weights 6.2 lb and has the following dimensions: 14.2″ x 7.2″ x 5.5″. Its cream finish and metal housing with vintage-style knobs give the THR10 an old-school touch although the amp design is definitely modern. The effects hosted in this small amp are based on Yamaha’s VCM modeling technology (Virtual Circuitry Modeling) you’ll find in many other products of the brand. The goal of this technology is to reproduce the behavior of old analog circuits to produce a classic warm sound.

The sleek design of this amp is ideal for musicians who are looking for a simple but effective tool.

Baby let’s play house!

Yamaha THR10

The amp is provided with an external 100/240V (50/60Hz) power supply and some accessories including a comprehensive product manual with lots of images, a USB2 cable to connect to a Mac/PC, and a stereo minijack in/out to connect the amp to a recorder (MD, MP3, etc.). If you want to record your guitar with your Mac/PC, Steinberg’s sequencer Cubase Al is provided for free on the DVD-ROM.

The rear panel of the THR10 includes a DC IN connector for the external PSU and a USB port to communicate with your computer. Later on we’ll tell you about the settings provided by the THR interface. The front panel is a perforated metal grill with stripes that protects two 5-watt speakers. So the “head” can be used alone without the need of an additional speaker. Sweet! The four screws on the front panel contribute to the sleek and classy look of the amp. All settings and tuner LEDs are placed in front of the handle, making access to all features of this small sound machine easier.

Yamaha THR10

Setting up the THR10 is almost “plug and play.” After powering on the device, a soft orange light (recalling the lights of tubes in standard amps) shines through the stripes of the perforated grill. The amp is equipped with Yamaha’s new “Extended Stereo Technology,” which offers a wider stereo image by simulating a greater separation between both speakers. This feature can be disabled with the TAP/TUNER key.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

This small amp surprised us with its compact size and good sound quality. The THR10 meets the needs of both beginners and experienced guitar players looking for a small practice amp. Thanks to its design and sturdiness, you can use this amp at home or even outdoors with batteries. We couldn’t test the battery runtime but the manufacturer states an estimate of 6-7 hours of operation. The price is a bit high, but the product is really appealing.

Advantages: 
  • Great vintage design
  • Light weight and compact size
  • Very good overall sound
  • Internal tuner and effects
  • Manufacturing quality
  • Battery operation
  • Integrated USB audio interface
  • AUX input for play-along applications
Drawbacks:
  • A bit expensive
  • ACO mode is a bit disappointing
  • EQ sometimes ineffective

To read the full detailed review see:  Yamaha THR10 Travel Amp Review

February 23, 2012

Ampeg GVT52 112 & GVT15H Review

Filed under: Amps, Guitar reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 6:41 am

The name Ampeg makes bass players’ ears stand up and tails wag. There is a good reason for that: launched during the 1969 NAMM, their SVT amp still has a leading position in the hearts and minds of most bass players. However, today we won’t review a bass amp, but an amp conceived for six-string players. Focus on the GVT52-112 & GVT15H.

Even though Ampeg has released guitar amps in the past, they are still pretty unknown and even underestimated. What’s more, bass products clearly take the lion’s share in the manufacturer’s catalog: bass heads, bass combos, Heritage Series, SVT Pro, Portaflex… So we were surprised to discover a brand new guitar amp range at the Musikmesse 2011! Called GVT, this series looks a lot like the old SVT monsters (300 watts in those days…) and will seduce Ampeg and vintage gear fans.

With their chrome control panel, buttons evoking a time most people under 40 didn’t know, and old-school logo, these new GVT amps have an appealing look and ride the wave of vintage gear for guitar players. One can easily imagine the sound coming out of the speakers just by looking at them and immediately feel nostalgic.

Let’s start with simple things: the small 15-watt head and its speaker cabinet.

Small But Tough

Ampeg GVT52 112 et GVT15H

I don’t know about you, but personally I can’t resist tiny stacks! They look lovely, don’t they? With its compact size (9.8″x18″x10″) and light weight (27.4 lbs), this amp head is perfect for home use while being easily transportable. The speaker cabinet is equipped with a Celestion Vintage 30 12″ woofer, weights 30.8 lbs and has similar dimensions 16.5″x18x11″. Both devices together weight less than 60 lbs, plus they are easier to transport than the combo: just hold the amp head with your left hand and the speaker cabinet with your right hand, stand upright and you are ready to go.

The two devices look pretty sturdy: 15-mm plywood, thick leather handle and metal front panel. The knobs feel very firm and inspire a lot of confidence, the switches feel pretty tight as well.

And what’s inside?

A Well-Furnished Mind in a Small Head

Ampeg GVT52 112 et GVT15H

The GVT15H features only one all-tube channel (class-A push-pull technology). The preamp stage has a pair of 12AX7 tubes while the power amp uses two 6V6GT tubes. You can halve the output power and get 7.5 watts instead of 15 (15 W = tetrode; 7.5 W = triode).

The Baxandall three-band EQ provides standard Bass, Middle and Treble settings. On the front panel you’ll also find the gain, volume and reverb controls. The Treble setting allows to cut/boost up to 12dB @ 5kHz, the Bass control is set to work on 80Hz, while the Middle knob allows you to cut up to 6dB @ 800Hz or boost up to 10dB @ 2kHz. The spring reverb and the rear FX loop can be disabled with a footswitch. You can connect 4, 8 or 16 ohm speakers to the amp using the appropriate rear output.

And that’s it for the overview of this extremely straightforward amp head. But how does it sound?

C-c-c-c-combo Breaker

Same look, same manufacturing quality, so let’s move on to the interesting parts right away.

Ampeg GVT52 112 et GVT15H

This time, you get two channels, 50 watts of output power and an all-tube class-AB amplifier stage. The amp uses three 12AX7 tubes at the preamp stage and two 6L6GC tubes for the power amp. The triode operating mode is still available and allows you to halve the output power (25 watts). Weight (52.2 lbs) and dimensions (19.5″x24″x11″) are still reasonable. The internal speaker is a 12″ Celestion Custom Design. A good-quality footswitch is provided and it allows you to select a channel and activate the booster. Notice that it is possible to add a second footswitch to enable/disable the internal spring reverb and the FX loop.

The first channel produces only clean sounds and bears a lot of resemblance to the 15-watt head: same three-band Baxandall EQ, gain and volume controls. To switch to channel 2, you can use the small switch on the front panel or the footswitch.

Ampeg GVT52 112 et GVT15H

The EQ in channel 2 is slightly different: the mid boost is set at 1kHz, instead of 2kHz like in channel 1. All other controls are identical. The reverb setting and (of course) the master volume are common to both channels. Even if the combo offers a bit more than the head, it’s still pretty straightforward. There’s an LED that lights up red in standby mode and green when the amp is ready to be played — nice little detail.

On the rear panel you’ll find an effect loop (TS jacks), two footswitch connectors (only one is provided), and the outputs for 4, 8 or 16 ohm speakers. If you’re not sure about this last point, the user’s manual clearly explains the impedance to be used depending on the number of speakers and their impedance. Before listening to the sound samples, notice that the booster is accessible only from the footswitch and is common to both channels.

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  GVT52 112 & GVT 15H Reviews

January 5, 2012

Hiwatt T20 Review

Hiwatt has launched its tube series, a full range of compact amps presented as offering the typical British sound of their legendary brothers in spite of their small dimensions and their more affordable price. You can currently choose between three different output powers: 40, 20 or 10 watts. Every amp is available as a combo or head. Let’s check out if their bet is successful by reviewing the T20 combo.

Hiwatt to Know More

Hiwatt T20

From a technical standpoint, the T20 is based on a pair of EL84 power tubes plus two 12AX7 and one 12AU7 preamp tubes. The amp provides you with two channels (clean and overdrive) switchable via the dual footswitch provided (OD/clean and Reverb on/off). You can also select the active channel from the front panel, which also offers a gain control for each channel plus a master control (meaning there is no dedicated output level setting for each channel). The 3-band EQ is shared by both channels. Notice that the mid-band control is a push-pull potentiometer allowing you to shift the mid boost towards higher frequencies. This can be quite useful, for instance to have a slightly brighter sound when recording lead parts. The front panel also features a reverb level control and a couple of Standby and Power switches… and that’s it with the front panel! On the rear panel you have a connector for the dual footswitch (channel selection & reverb on/off), a line out (to feed a mixer or a power amp with the T20 preamp signal), and an 8-Ohm speaker out. This way, you have the possibility to use the T20 as an amp head feeding an external speaker cabinet. The 12″ speaker in the T20 is a Fane Medusa 150. Hiwatt has been using Fane speakers for almost 40 years…

As a summary, the T20 has all features of an amp conceived for recording applications, for playing at home, and for gigs in small clubs. I tried out the T20 with three different guitars: a Les Paul Custom, a Tom Anderson Strat and a Gretsch Billy Bo.

Now let’s take a closer look and a listen…

Conclusion

The T20 is a very good tool! You get the typical Hiwatt sound in a compact and easily transportable amp (only 35 lbs). Ideal for playing at home, small club gigs (unfortunately not in larger venues) and especially for recording applications… As a summary, this amp offers you an amazing and versatile clean channel and a (too) typical lead channel that you should consider as an extra. For about $625 (street price), it is the ideal choice for a first high-quality amp or for a professional musician who wants to add another sound to his tone palette. For about $100 less you can get the T20 amp head, and for about $200 more, the T40, which will allow you to play on larger stages while having the possibility of reducing the power to 20 watts via a simple switch on the front panel. Yeah!

Technical notes:

The sound samples were recorded with a Shure SM57 in front of the speaker and a Brauner Phantom V as room mic (about 6 ft from the amp). Both mics were connected to a MOTU 896 audio interface. No audio processing was used on the recordings, except for a 120Hz low-cut filter on some distortion sounds.

The other AF samples were recorded with a Shure SM57 and a Sennheiser e906 in front of the speaker.

Advantages: 
  • Clean sound
  • Legendary sound in a transportable format
  • Right output level for recording applications
Drawbacks:
  • Very peculiar distortion
  • No FX loop (…is this actually a con?)

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Hiwatt T20 Review

 

 

November 28, 2011

Orange Dark Terror Review

At AudioFanzine, we are acutely aware of all the small terrors unleashed by Orange. We already reviewed the Tiny Terror (the first model), the Dual Terror (two channels) and the Bass Terror (four-string player version) — now comes the Dark Terror.

This time, the orange ripened in a cellar and didn’t see the light of day for a long time — the orange is very sour. Behind its black look, the design is based on the Tiny Terror with a metal housing and three controls. It also has the same features: a 15 watts power stage and only one single channel.

But, apart from the color, where is the difference with the Tiny Terror?

We will come back to this later, but let’s have a look at the product first…

Black is Black

Orange Dark Terror

No need for a detailed hardware description: everybody knows what it’s all about. It still looks very rough, the small gig bag with the Orange logo is also there and we were lucky enough to get an Orange speaker cabinet with the same dark finish. The latter uses a standard 12″ Celestion Vintage 30 speaker. The speaker cabinet weights about 44 lbs and has the following dimensions: 20.5″ x 17.7″ x 11.8″. The amplifier head weights 15.4 lbs, versus the 11 lbs of the Tiny Terror (is black paint 4 lbs. heavier than white pain?). The dimensions are compact enough (11.8″ x 6.7″ x 5.5″) to allow an easy transportation in the subway, on a hot-air balloon or on foot.

The front panel is not surprising and it features the exact same controls as the Tiny Terror: Guitar input, On/Off and 15 Watts/Standby/7 Watts switches, a nice red lamp indicating the unit is on, and the three controls for Volume, Shape and Gain. As you might have noticed, the EQ section still includes only one single control. And we will see below that this is not necessarily a disadvantage…

Orange Dark Terror

The rear panel allows you to connect three speakers: a pair of 8-ohm speakers and a single 16-ohm speaker. Orange had the brilliant idea of adding an FX loop (with a 12AT tube), which was dearly missed on the Tiny Terror.

Under the hood you’ll find not two, but three 12AX7 tubes in the preamp stage. This is the main difference with the Tiny Terror, which uses only two preamp tubes. On the other hand, the power amp stage with a couple of EL84 tubes is exactly the same in both amps. Orange doesn’t provide more information in this respect. So, let’s have confidence in our ears!

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

With the Dark Terror, Orange offers us a more nasty Tiny Terror for fans of dirty and dark music. The head has the same assets as its older brother: sturdiness, ease of use, gig bag, and a hard rock/metal ready sound. We really liked the Shape control and the fact that we had enough gain to get very a fat tone. Musicians who love clean sounds shouldn’t bother trying this amp out — we even ask ourselves why on earth have they read this review up to here! For all others, the price is somewhat high ($650 for the head plus $380 for the speaker cabinet) but true love doesn’t know any limits…

Advantages: 
  • More gain!
  • Easy to transport
  • Gig bag included
  • Ease of use
  • FX loop
  • Really convenient Shape control
Drawbacks:
  • Not really suited for clean sounds!
  • Rather expensive for 15 watts

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Orange Dark Terror

July 19, 2011

Fender Super-Sonic 100 Review

We reviewed the Fender Super-Sonic 22 combo in September 2010, and it seduced us with its numerous positive features. A few months later, the American manufacturer decided to complete its range and launched the 100 Series including a 100-watt amp head, two speaker cabinets and a combo amp. Today, we want to examine the head closely…

The new 100 Series brings not only more output power, but also some very welcomed changes like an additional clean channel and a Notch Tune control in the lead channel. But let’s start at the beginning…

Unpacking

Fender Super-Sonic 100

Unpacking is rather painful because of its weight: 53 lbs. are no joke! Later on you’ll understand why the Super-Sonic 100 head is so heavy… The design is very nice and the head is available in two different finishes: Black/silver or Blond. We received the Blond version, which is a good thing because we like it better. However, the finish presented a minor problem: on one of the corners of the birch plywood cabinet, a small piece of vinyl covering was not perfectly glued. It’s a small detail but it’s a pity for an amp in this price range. The amp isn’t what you’d call compact (10.53″ x 26.25″ x 10.5″) but it includes many accessories: a nylon protection cover, a very rugged 4-button footswitch and a comprehensive user’s manual with diagrams.

Under the hood we discovered seven 12AX7 tubes for the preamp stage (the Super-Sonic 22 had only five preamp tubes), four 6L6 power tubes (twice as much as in the 22), and a pair of 12AT7 tubes for the reverb. This makes a total of 13 tubes — hopefully this won’t bring any bad luck! In short, this head is fully packed with valves, and also with a solid-state rectifier and a big transformer! Now you know why it is so heavy…

Now, let’s have a look at the front and rear panels.

Front

Fender Super-Sonic 100

The front panel provides controls for the two clean channels (yes, there are two, didn’t I mention that before?), for the lead channel and for the reverb. The controls of the clean channels are very simple: 3-band EQ (bass, mid, treble), gain and volume controls. A switch to the right of the gain allows you to select either the Showman circuitry (Twin Reverb Blackface) or the Bassman circuitry (Tweed Vintage). Note that if you crank up the volume of the clean channel, the gain acts as a single volume control like old vintage Fender amps did. Another switch turns the lead channel on. The latter offers more settings than the clean channel… First of all, it has two gain controls — primary and secondary gain — allowing you to set respectively the distortion amount and sustain. In fact, the second one allows you to thicken the sound and make everything sound fatter. You also get a 3-band EQ and a volume control. But the main new feature in this channel is the Notch Tune setting, which gives you the possibility to choose the frequency affected by the mid band of the EQ. This allows you to go from a typical American sound to a more “British” response and everything in between. As you can hear in the sound samples, this control changes the tone radically and allows you to freely shape your sound. We had already seen similar features in competitor products (Blackstar) and we are happy to find it again on Fender’s Super-Sonic! Let’s close this front panel overview with the reverb, a spring Accutronics system like on the small 22-watt combo we already reviewed: Why change a winning team?

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

There is no doubt that this amp will make many 6-string addicts green with envy after they read this review. This amp head is very close to being perfect: it provides a wide range of clean tones, it can deliver a good crunch sound and offers a very versatile lead channel thanks to its Notch Tune control. Add the spring reverb, the effect loop, the auto-bias facility, the damping control, the 25-watt mode, and the 4-button footswitch and you get a perfect amp… if you can afford it! In case you like Fender’s clean tone (but not only) and have the money, don’t hesitate and go for it!

Advantages:

  • Look and reliability
  • Available in black or blond finish
  • Two complementary clean channels
  • Crunch sound
  • Very effective lead channel
  • Notch Tune control that increases the possibilities greatly
  • Accutronics spring reverb
  • 100 or 25 watt selection
  • Perfect 4-button footswitch
  • Auto-bias
  • Damping control
  • FX loop

Drawbacks:

  • Rather expensive
  • Rather heavy

To read the full detailed review see:  Fender Super-sonic 100

February 11, 2011

Capturing Guitar Amps in the Wild: Multi-Channel Micing for Live Sound

There are almost as many ways to capture guitar amplifier sound with a microphone as there are for a piano. And as with piano (and kick and snare drum, for that matter) single-mic approaches can’t always provide the best solution for guitar amps – we must also explore multiple-mic approaches.

A Vox AC30 with a Shure KSM32

(above) and an Orange 4 x 12

with an Audio- Technica AT4050.

 


About four decades ago, at the “dawn” of modern live sound reinforcement, there was the Shure SM58 for vocals and the SM57 for instruments.  This eventually included mic’ing guitar amps, because as the PA got bigger than the backline, there was a danger that the guitars wouldn’t be heard over the vocals (causing the sound guy’s credibility to be doubted by the guitar player’s girlfriend behind his back).  In the golden days of rock, tuning the PA consisted of saying “check, one-two” into an SM58 and manipulating the faders on a Klark Teknik DN30 graphic EQ until the voice sounded as natural as possible.  Because the SM57 and SM58 have nearly identical response, this led to natural sounding instruments as well.

 

Over the years, sound systems have become increasingly full-range and high-fidelity, with modern systems exhibiting smoother, more even response.  At the same time, today’s large-diaphragm condensers have become more rugged and sturdy than their tube-based ancestors, and have made their way out of the studio and onto the stage.  “Big Mick” Hughes, Metallica’s engineer for a quarter century, is credited with putting Audio-Technica AT4050 studio condensers on stage and introducing their use in stereo pairs on guitar rigs.

One popular approach is to deploy a pair of matched studio-quality large diaphragm condensers, each on a separate cabinet of a stereo guitar rig, that also act as a pair of stereo “ears” for in-ear monitors (IEM). They also provide redundancy to the PA, and can be panned or doubled as needed.

Desired Response

Dual Shure SM57s – one for each

speaker cone – on this 65amps

Monterey 2×12 combo.

Most guitar amps don’t achieve their proper “sound” until the onset of clipping, producing that warm, yummy crunch, but yielding high-decibel sound pressure.  Strategies include using a “power soak” to draw some of the power off, going with lower-powered guitar amps, or remotely locating the amp or just its cabinet and isolating it from the performance stage.

 

Dynamic mics produce a contoured response, with warmth in the lows due to proximity effect, and often, a highmid presence.  Besides the Shure SM57, perennial dynamic mic choices for guitar cabinets include the Electro-Voice RE20, Sennheiser MD421 and MD409 (replaced by the 421 II and e609), AKG D 112, joined by a relatively new contender, the Audix i5.

Condenser mics offer extended highs and lows while providing a flatter frequency response.  The Neumann U87 is the gold standard for large diaphragm condenser mics, rarely seen outside of studios. It’s heritage also includes the TL103.  The AKG C 414, in all its variations, has been crossing over to the stage for many years, popular in particular for drum overhead and grand pianos.  Audio-Technica’s AT4050 is the largeformat condenser that first broke into live sound specifically for guitar cabinets, followed closely by the Shure KSM32.

Ribbon mics, with a bi-directional figure-of-eight pattern, have a transparent sound that allows the amplifier’s character to be clearly heard with a natural roll-off in the highs.  They re-entered recording studios several years ago when manufacturers began making them more rugged to withstand normal handling.  The Royer R-121 was the first modern ribbon to find widespread acceptance, and two years ago the company released a ruggedized “live” version with a thicker ribbon.  Recently, the new Shure KSM313 ribbon has earned its place on national tours, as has the new A-T AT4081 ribbon mic.

Now let’s take a closer look at other solutions…

The Direct Route

A Radial JDX DI can capture the

warmthof tube guitar amps while

addingresponse that emulates a

guitar speaker.

In the world of live hard rock or heavy metal, it’s common to find amplifier DIs which take their signal from after the guitar amp and in parallel with a speaker cabinet.  The original is the Hughes & Kettner Redbox, and Radial Engineering makes a modern JDX “amplifier DI” that’s active and employs Class A discrete electronics. These devices capture the warmth of tube guitar amps, while adding response that emulates a guitar speaker.

 

Redbox DIs eliminate inconsistencies from mic selection and placement, accidental misplacement of the mic and speed up changeovers on multi-band concerts by requiring only a re-patch of an XLR – no mic to move.  They employ electronics to emulate the response of a guitar cabinet’s speaker cone, rolling off the highs like a real speaker.  They’re specially equipped to take the higher voltage of a guitar amp’s output, but the big warning is they don’t act as a speaker load and must be used with a cabinet, or the amp will fry them.  When used in combination with a single microphone, the results can provide a wide range of creative options, and their relative distances are only determined by the one mic’s position.

 

This is a personal favorite for in-ear monitor mixes learned from Meredith Brooks, with the DI

The desired mic position can be clearly

marked on the cabinet’s grill using

gaffe tape. (That’s a Royer R-121L

ribbon mic, by the way.)

panned away from the rest of the band and the mic towards the band, but it’s a stereo effect and works best with a stereo IEM mix with both ears in.

The distance from the speaker cabinet is considered important in most studio recording applications, but in live sound, the inverse square law dictates that placing the mic right against the grill cloth reduces bleed from adjacent sound sources.  That said, when guitar amps are placed next to each other, use of gobos can increase their isolation from each other.

 

With modern in-ear monitoring, guitar players no longer need their cabinets on-stage with them, so it’s common for the guitar tech to set them up off stage (hopefully on the opposite side of the stage from the monitor console).  This gives the guitar tech full access to the amps during the show, and keeps them from muddying up the sound in the venue.

Today’s live sound systems provide opportunities to easily make multi-track recordings that allow engineers to compare various approaches to many sound reinforcement applications by swapping different combinations of inputs and auditioning them in the PA, without having to annoy the band to play the song over and over.  It also allows the engineer to demonstrate mic choices to a guitar player while he’s standing at the console and listening instead of playing.  Do this, and it leads to better communication and collaboration, and you may even become friends for life.

To read the full detailed article see:   Capturing Guitar Amps in the Wild

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