AF’s Weblog

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

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October 24, 2011

Roland CB120XL Cube Bass Review

Filed under: Amps, Bass — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 1:27 pm

If Ikutaro Kakehashi named his company with this typical European name, it wasn’t to honor the famous traditional song of heroic deeds. Since its inception the company has been committed to export, and the first goal of its founder was to find a name that was easy to spell and original enough to attract attention.

Ikutaro Kakehashi chose a brand name beginning with an “R,” which is quite rare in the music industry and thus allowed the products of the manufacturer to distinguish themselves from competitors during international trade shows.

We all know the company for its electronic products: synths, drum machines, effects (under the name Roland as well as under the brand name Boss for guitar effects), electronic drums, and other MIDI gear. But I know only a few bass players who play a Roland amp. This doesn’t mean that Roland amps don’t perform good, but we must admit that the manufacturer doesn’t belong to the most renowned brands among four-string players. With the present review, we want you to discover the Roland Cube 120 XL bass combo that saw the light of day after the introduction of the guitar version.

It Was the Year That…

13 demonstrators were shot during the Irish Bloody Sunday while 16 men survived the crash of their plane in the Andes where they had to eat human flesh until rescuers arrived. In 1972, bass players Christian Mac Bride, Mike Dirnt and Mark Hoppus were born. And in Japan, two major events marked the year: on a national level, Okinawa finally returned to Japanese hands; while, on the musical level, the company Roland was created. I would love to write about Roland’s history and share with you some delightful anecdotes about it. But with its 12 controls, 9 switches and 8 connections, this small Cube gives me enough material to write two reviews.

So, I won’t lose any more time and I’ll start by describing the amp.

A Cube? Not Exactly…

Roland CB120XL Cube Bass

In school they taught me that a cube is a volume made of square sides. It doesn’t really add up in this case…! The actual dimensions of the amp are: 20.5″ (length), 18″ (width) and 12.5″ (depth). I know, I quibble a little bit, but that’s what is expected from me.

If the Rubik Cube had had uneven dimensions, users would have called it misleading publicity a long time ago. I hope this brief remark made it more enjoyable to read about the Cube’s physical dimensions… And let me add another figure: the amp weights almost 44 lbs, which is not so heavy considering the output power of 80 watts, but also surprising considering the dimensions. In this respect, I guess the first request of the normal user would be for Roland to add casters to the amp. The younger and more athletic readers will surely laugh, but my back doesn’t. It’s old and has had plenty to withstand already. The single handle is also not the best solution, maybe Roland should rethink the design to improve the ergonomics.

If the amp won’t move a lot and will stay in the studio, this is certainly an insignificant detail. However, it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to my lumbar vertebra. Just try to play three gigs with a 5-string bass and an aching back and you’ll become as demanding as me! I know those of you familiar with osteopathy will agree with me. But let’s go on (don’t let my digressions distract you), and talk about the finish. Even if there’s not much to say.

Although it doesn’t look really nice, the CB120XL has the advantage of being simple and rugged. No carpet covering but a simple black Tolex one, reliable protection edges (where shocks can have bad consequences) and a strong protection grill. Finally, the combo is equipped with a 12″ woofer and huge coaxial tweeter horn. Two front bass reflex ports allow the air moved by the woofer to circulate. The product is made in China. By the way, did you know that China and Japan restored diplomatic relations exactly the year Roland was founded?

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

A tester must know how to put things in perspective instead of reviewing a product only from his point of view as an experienced musician. If I put myself in the shoes of a young bassist having only a fistful of dollars in the pocket looking for a first rehearsal amp that offers versatility and some effects, I think I would seriously consider the Roland Cube. For $736, this amp is very appealing.

Used without an additional speaker, the small combo provides enough output power to play in a band with a drummer. The tone is good, not kicking but good enough to make your first steps with a band. Personally, I find the effects are dispensable. But if I put things in perspective, once again, I guess they can be useful for some beginners interested in effects. And I cannot reproach the manufacturer for making use of its knowhow by adding many electronic features, even if it’s a bit useless from where I stand. Moreover, this trend is noticeable on many similar products… So Roland also has to appeal to these young musicians who like new technology!

Note that Roland’s catalog, which includes only combo amps, also features two smaller versions: a 20-watt amp and a battery-operated amp with four 4″ speakers. I would like to invite you to read my next bass amplification review with a colorful brand that’s following a completely opposite direction.

Advantages: 
  • Price, even though a bit high still affordable
  • Integrated tuner
  • Nice sampler
  • Compact size but enough output power to play in a band
  • Good sound
  • Good finish
Drawbacks:
  • Not really ergonomic (only one handle in spite of its heavy weight)
  • Maybe too many effects with not enough editable parameters
  • Looks like a copy of the available guitar combo version
To read the full detailed article see:  Roland CB120XL Cube Bass Review

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 21, 2011

Fender Rumble 150 Review

Filed under: Amps, Bass — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 12:11 pm

I got a bit nostalgic when I wrote this review. I was 16 when my first amp was waiting for me under the Christmas tree. Not a 15-watt amp but a big one. To play in a band, do live gigs and be cheered by a wild crowd. In short, I could stop playing by myself in my room. The amp was almost more bulky than the Christmas tree: it was a second-hand Fender BXR 300, a huge combo with casters. I played my first live gig with it — this 15″ amp brings back lots of memories.

Sixteen years later, I’m reviewing the Rumble 150. This descendant of the BXR is conceived for bass players looking for a first amp to play in a band — like I did at that time. Let me wipe a tear… And now, let’s get on with the review!

Workhorse

Fender Rumble 150

64 lbs, impressing size (13.4″ x 22.8″ x 23.6″) and 150 effective watts. A big 15″ woofer, a tweeter for high frequencies (it was missing on my BXR) and enough volume to provide a big and deep sound. The manufacturer kept the front port for the bass-reflex (it’s the third generation), and removed the bright LEDs and the carpet covering. The latter is replaced with a black textured vinyl covering. Carpet or vinyl? It’s all a matter of taste. Personally, I don’t like to dust nor vacuum clean. On the other side, Tolex is easily marked. It’s an aesthetic or practical choice.

The front side is sleek and simple, which is a good thing: just a black protection grill and a black panel with white silkscreen. As for controls and connections, everything is on the front panel. Nothing on the rear panel except the power connector. The connections are quite comprehensive: instrument input (with active/passive switch), effect loop, RCA aux input (for connection to a PC, MP3 player…), phones output, footswitch connector (for overdrive control), and XLR line output.

Fender Rumble 150

The amp also provides numerous settings: gain control, overdrive section (with gain, balance and bypass), two shape switches (punch and scoop), four-band EQ, and an on/off switch for the tweeter.

As mentioned in the headline, the Rumble 150 is equipped with four rugged casters. It also has two recessed side handles with springs, which are a bit too thin for my taste. However, they do their job. I love casters! What would be of our backs it it weren’t for them? Considering the price, it’s not surprising that the amp and preamp stages use solid-state technology. A big fan on the rear panel ensures cooling, and it also makes a bit of noise. This noise is not deafening but it is clearly audible when you aren’t playing.

So, what’s new? To make it short, the Rumble 150 has more output power than its predecessor. Indeed, the whole product range got more watts, except for the Rumble 15. I guess nobody is going to complain for getting 50 watts more, plus overdrive. The manufacturer doesn’t offer the 2×10″ alternative, which is a good choice considering that users of this amp want to play loud and heavy rather than gently.

The product is made in China. The overall manufacturing and finish quality is good. Ok, now let’s plug a bass guitar! For this review, I used my American PB deluxe 5, a Boss RC-20 (my faithful sampler on stage) and a Zoom H2.

As well as a pair of cables — never forget the essentials!

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

My impression at the end of the review is that the combo provides a wide sound range, in spite of its rather sophisticated sound character. The sound samples show that the user can shape the sound easily to find the tone he wants. A very good point if this is your first amp. If you are a beginner, you probably don’t really know what kind of music you’ll end up playing.

It’s always important to stay open and have the possibility to become an all-round bass player and have fun with any music genre. Considering its price, the Rumble 150 is an interesting product for musicians who start playing in a band and want enough output power for that. The quality and value for money are good. Give it a try and compare it with competitor products.

Advantages:

  • Value for money
  • Actual output power
  • Easy setting
  • Versatility
  • Casters

Drawbacks:

  • Tweeter distorts at loud volumes
  • Neutral sound character, especially when the tweeter is off
  • I’m too old for such gifts under the Christmas tree… I want my youth back!

To read the full detailed article see:  Fender Rumble 150 Review

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

November 10, 2010

Speakers, Amps & Impedance Feature Article

Filed under: Speakers — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:39 am

Considering that speaker/amp connections, impedance, the different combinations, and incorrect wiring are a recurring source of confusion for audio heads and musicians, we decided to try to clear things up a little.

We will try to explain the most common cases and you’ll have the possibility to post your specific questions in the forums.

The two most common notions that we will use here are impedance (stated in Ohms, Ω, and which has a value from 2 to 8 or even 16 in most cases) and output power (stated in Watts, W, with a value ranging from 1 to 1,000 or even more, since some bass amps produce over 1,200 watts of power!). Following, we will briefly refer to the efficiency of a speaker, which is stated in decibels (dB) in most manufacturer spec sheets, and shouldn’t be confused with the output power stated in the same unity; don’t worry, we will explain you why.

An Ohm Story

So, we will focus on impedance and power, both for speakers and amps, and explain how to combine them for the best results and to avoid any problems. The output power delivered by an amp, regardless of whether it’s a tube or solid-state amp, is given for a certain impedance. If you fail to follow the indications given you could damage your amplifier more or less seriously, which will surely be detrimental to your wallet. Besides this tutorial, you should read the product manual of your amp first to know how to connect the system the best way.

From now on, we will use the term “amp” for “power amplifier.” In most cases a so-called “amplifier head” combines a preamplification stage (gain, EQ, compression, FX loop, one or more channels, etc.) and a power amplification stage (including the volume control and a presence parameter on some tube amps). Thus, when we speak of tube or solid-state amps, the term applies to the power stage. The fact that a preamp stage features tubes has no consequence on the behavior of a solid-state power amplification stage.

On the other hand, a combo amplifier system includes an amplifier head (preamp + power amp) plus a speaker — all within the same cabinet. But from an electronics point of view, each element has to be considered separately. The internal speaker of a combo has its own impedance and has the same electronic behavior as an external speaker cabinet. Everything that we state here applies to an amplifier head with one or two external speaker cabinets, or to a combo — an amplifier head with a speaker plus an eventual additional speaker cabinet.

We address guitar and bass players from the point of view of a musician. P.A. amplifiers work under the same theoretical basis, but they show a specific behavior. To answer your specific questions about P.A. systems, please refer to the P.A. forum.

Faithful to our “from musicians to musicians” philosophy, we will simplify everything, which will result in electronics specialists thinking our descriptions are inexact. Our goal is to explain to you how to connect your gear, and although it is always nice to understand how it works it is not necessary to know every single detail!

Let’s start with some easy theory: what is impedance?

An Ohm Story

The impedance of a speaker is the “electrical resistance” to the flow of current for a given frequency. The symbol for impedance is “Z.” The higher the impedance, the more the speaker opposes the current being delivered, and the less it develops output power for a given initial power. The resistance of an 8-ohm speaker is two times higher than that of a 4-ohm speaker. In other words, a 4-ohm speaker will let more current pass through the circuitry than an 8-ohm speaker. The lower the impedance, the more the load increases for the amp feeding it, up to the point where it could short circuit.

The impedance of an amp refers to the resistance it can handle (or it expects to experience) when a speaker is connected. In fact, the electronic circuit is conceived to work with a given impedance, which is often very low according to its construction (about tenfold less than the speaker’s), making output stages very vulnerable to excessively high loads. That’s why manufacturers state the impedance the amp can support in the user’s manual. If the resistance is too low or too high the amp could suffer damages.

Serial, parallel…

In electronics there are two ways to wire a circuit: in series and in parallel. A serial connection means that the components are wired successively in the circuit like in a string of pearls (or like stomp boxes connected one after another). A parallel connection means that the circuits is divided in several branches that feed different elements and are later on brought together again.

An Ohm Story

In the case of an amp with speaker cabinets, most connections between the amplifier head and the speaker cabinets are made in parallel. For example, the great majority of bass amplifier head manufacturers offer amps with two parallel outputs. The signal is common in the beginning, but it is divided among the two connectors, it goes through one or several speakers, and comes back (via the same cable) into the amp where it meets again with the ground/earth. The same applies to the great majority of guitar amps with two parallel outputs.

It might happen that inside the speaker cabinet some speakers have a serial wiring (i.e. they are directly connected to each other) while the others have a parallel wiring… But then again, if you already open or wire the speakers of a cabinet, you don’t need this tutorial!

Except in some rare cases (for example if you have to connect together a lot of speakers or you have weird speaker cabinets), guitar players will usually find only parallel connections, and will have to connect the amp output directly to the speaker.

 

Some speaker cabinets provide pass-through outputs that allow you to chain several speaker cabinets without coming back to the amp. Although such wiring is electrically correct, it’s better to avoid them in practice. To avoid any potential problems, don’t leave room for doubt (“which connector should I use to link my two speaker cabinets?”). Regarding such pass-through outputs on speaker cabinets, some manufacturers choose parallel wiring while the others use serial wiring. In short, it’s a headache. Use such connectors only if you know exactly what you’re doing!

Instrument cable, speaker cable…

An instrument cable is a small-diameter wire that includes a single isolated conductor surrounded by a shield. A speaker cable includes two isolated conductors and no shield. It can be an actual risk for amps (especially tube amps) if you don’t use the proper cable: to connect a speaker, you must always use a speaker cable. If you’re not sure, don’t do anything: the conductor of an instrument cable has a very small diameter, which can lead to overheating and destruction of the conductor. As a consequence, the full power cannot be transmitted anymore, which can cause damages to the amp’s output transformer.

Now let’s dig in deeper…

Conclusion

After this brief subjective digression, let’s come back to more objective things. When you choose an amp head and matching speaker cabinets or a combo plus an additional speaker, pay attention to the output power of the amp and its output impedance, as well as to the power handling and the impedance of the speakers to be sure it’s a safe system. Afterwards, it is also crucial to pay attention to connections: a wrong wiring can damage your speakers, your amp or both. So, read the specs of the product carefully and connect the right speaker to the right amp with the right cable… and make your sound rock!

To read the full detailed article see:  An Ohm Story

September 28, 2010

Mesa Boogie Transatlantic TA-15 Amp Head Review

We have recently seen the birth of some tube amp heads for electric guitars sporting a reduced size and weight, such as the Vox Night Train. This amp head format allows guitarists to enjoy their sound without breaking their back lugging gear to and fro. So now it is Mesa Boogie’s turn to launch its own portable version of a tube amp head, the Transatlantic. It’s up to us to test all of this and see if Mesa Boogie has succeeded …

Let’s Unpack

Mesa Boogie Transatlantic TA-15

First thing we notice out of the box, the very small size of the machine: 12 3/8”W x 6 3/4”D x 5 7/8”H, weighing only 12 pounds.

A “carry on” is provided with the head, just to remind us that this is a transportable amp head format. There are pockets everywhere for storing goodies found at the bottom of the box:

  • A footswitch with a button (Channel ½)
  • An HP cable long enough (about 5 meters)
  • A conventional AC power outlet

The head has a retractable iron handle iron gives it a “Lunchbox” look.  This is not the best example for ergonomics in action, but it deserves to be there (after 45 minutes in the crowded subway, my hands longed for a plastic handle). The Design and the buttons “gas cooker” style provide an unusual looking product, a bit out of time, vintage, but at the same time utilizing modern materials such lots of metals.   Finishes are well cared for and we don’t notice any defects, the “Made in USA” has its effect.

Mesa Boogie Transatlantic TA-15

The highlight of the show is when the head is turned on: a blue light emanates from the bowels of the beast to dazzle the eyes.   Question of taste, I think it looks a little Jacky-tuning, but this sensation disappears when the sound comes out of the speaker.  We would have liked the option to disable the effect of “Neon 205 GTI”…oh well!   Let’s forget this episode in bad taste (which may be felt only by me) and move on to the bowels of the head.

The Mesa Boogie Transatlantic TA-15 is equipped with 4 preamp 12AX7 type tubes, and two EL84 type tubes for power amplification.  Patented technology provides three power modes for the amp section, selectable via switches on the front. In the 5 Watts mode, the head is working on a Class A tube power, 15 Watts mode, two tubes are used in Class A mode Push-Pull, while in 25 watts mode 2 tubes operate in Class A / B power .

Now let’s get to the settings …

Conclusion

It was a pleasure to test the Mesa Transatlantic amp head, once I passed the halo of blue neon light. We like the sound it delivers, rather vintage type, bluesy or rock, as one wishes.  However, we lament the lack of extreme sounds with gain galore for playing a proper palm mute. With all the little options that the amp front panel and independent channels offer, we come to find a pleasant sound very easily.  It can also be well used both during rehearsal, as well as in concert with 25 Watts and a footswitchable channel.  In short, if it did not cost the modest sum of about $900, the average guitarist would be in heaven and it would have been easier to swallow this pill.  Apart from that, the guitarists looking for a portable head with a distinctive sound, yet with many options, will be delighted!

Advantages:

  • Successful design
  • 2 Channels
  • Tweed Sound
  • Small size
  • Convenient carry bag
  • Quality Manufacturing
  • Palette of sounds through the front panel switches
  • Adequate power for rehearsals and acceptable to neighbors
  • Footswitch included

Drawbacks:

  • Neon Blue “Jacky tuning”
  • No FX loop
  • Push / pull for the master / cut
  • A bit expensive
  • No extreme sounds

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Mesa Boogie Transatlantic TA-15 Review

July 2, 2010

Marshall JMD501 Review

Every guitar player knows Marshall and its cult amp series that has been manufactured for over 40 years now. Sometimes praised, sometimes criticized – everyone has certainly heard about the Marshall Plexi, JMP and JCM800, some of which even became reference products. After the launch of a new all-tube series (JVM), a solid-state series (MGFX) and a tube/solid-state hybrid series (Valvestate), Marshall only lacked a tube/digital hybrid product range. Thanks to its cooperation with Softube (well-known for its software amp simulations), Marshall has now launched the new JMD:1 series entering the semi-digital area. Today, we’ll take a deeper look inside the JMD501…

Unpacking

The JMD501 is the 50-watt combo version of the JMD:1 product family. As soon as you take it out of the box, you’ll immediately recognize the typical Marshall look: golden front, classic knobs, logo, typography… Nothing new on this amp! The dimensions are standard for a 50-watt combo (25″ x 20.7″ x 10″) and it weights 50 lb. It features a 12″ speaker, two EL34 power tubes and one ECC83 preamp tube.

Front panel

Marshall JMD501

On the front panel, you’ll find an input for connecting your guitar and a knob for selecting one of the 16 amp models available. You’ll have to read the user’s manual in order to know which hardware is being emulated: there are no “I’m a JCM800” or “I’m a JMP-1 with a Guv’nor” labels. You’ll have to settle for ambiguous descriptions like “Clean natural” and “Lead Classic”! Perhaps Marshall didn’t want to push it too far. Just read the user’s manual to find out the topology of each model.

Marshall JMD501

The front panel also includes a standard gain control, a 3-band EQ (bass, middle, treble) and a channel volume knob. All five controls work in different ways depending on the selected preamp model.

You have four channels to which you can assign any setting. And it also features a manual mode, which is very convenient to get an overview of the amps’ sound possibilities. There is also a foot switch included that allows you to toggle between channels/presets.

Like on Line 6 amps, a single control allows you to select and adjust one of the modulation effects. You can choose between gate, chorus, phaser, flanger, and a tremolo controlled by the Mod Depth setting; the speed rate is defined by the position of the Mod Adjust knob. Unfortunately, it is impossible to mix two effects. The amp also provides a delay effect with tap tempo and different modelings that affect repetitions (Hi-fi, Analogue, Tape and Multi). Apart from that, the JMD501 includes a digital reverb. All in all, thanks to its effects and control possibilities, the amp proves to be a very comprehensive tool. The presence knob is placed at the end of the signal path, just before the master volume control. Finally, also notice that the amp is equipped with power and standby switches.

Rear panel

Marshall JMD501

The JMD501 is generous when it comes to connections! You have additional speaker outs at your disposal: one 16 ohm out, one 8 ohm out and two 16 ohm outs, plus an effect loop with send/return connectors, a +4dB/-10dB level selector and a mix control.

Marshall JMD501

The preamp output allows you to connect the JMD501 preamp to an external power amp. This connector also works when the amp is in standby mode (Silent Recording mode). The same applies to the phones output which allows you to play guitar with the sound of your amp without disturbing your whole neighborhood (in standby mode the speaker output is muted).

A line input adds the possibility to connect a line-level source (MP3 or CD player) to play along with your favorite songs. The amp also features an Emulated Line Out on XLR that emulates the miking of a 4×12″ speaker cabinet. Just like the headphones and preamp outputs, you can use it silently in standby mode.

Marshall JMD501

The Footcontroller input is dedicated to the supplied foot switch, but the amp can also be controlled via its MIDI in and out. By the way, using the foot controller is somewhat complex in the beginning. I had already tested the foot controller of the Marshall JVM210H, which is a bit unpractical (pressing a switch for the second time allows you to change mode — green, orange or red — without changing channel). The JMD501 foot controller includes six switches and allows you to store up to 28 presets directly in the Preset Store mode. You can also assign some switches of the front panel to the foot controller: manual, channel 1-4, modulation on/off, delay on/off, tap tempo, FX loop, and compare.

Now, the time has come to experience the sound of this unique amp!

Conclusion

Marshall promised to revolutionize amp technology by offering a sort of summary of their legendary amps in a single combo – and everything for just under $1,200. Reality looks very different: the price is a bit high compared to it competitors and the amp is not very versatile because the modelings are limited to Marshall amps. The cheap character of some presets disappointed me a bit (especially the clean sound), although the crunch presets sound very good and the modulation effects are quite convincing.

Advantages:

  • Crunch sound!
  • Good modulation effects
  • Comprehensive rear-panel connections
  • Supplied with a foot controller
  • 16 different simulations

Drawbacks:

  • Price
  • Clean sound a bit too cheap
  • The “war-machine” foot controller

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see: Marshall JMD501 Review

June 23, 2010

Vox AC15VR Valve Reactor Combo Amp Review

Filed under: Amps — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 2:31 pm

A few years ago, Vox launched their legendary AC30 as an amp head or as a combo, all made in China at an affordable price. This year, VOX is spoiling us with a hybrid series, using a special amplification technology mixing transistors and tube. This 15 Watts model is what’s on the menu for today.

Hybrid Technology

Vox AC15VREveryone has heard of Marshall’s hybrid series (Valvestate) or Fender’s. It was often a mix between a transistor amplifier and a 12AX7 tube as a preamplifier.  This technique allowed them to smooth out a little transistor stiffness and also to allow these amps to properly take on the pedals’ full power. (reminds me of my Marshall 8080 First series).

VOX uses here a different technology in the VR series: The preamp section is provided by transistors and the op-amp, while the amplifying part is based on a single 12AX7! What ?!  This can’t be right!   I admit, I myself second guessed this specification, but it is correct and verified.  It is the same technology that was used in the Valvetronix series. This “amplification” tube has even been renamed “Valve Reactor” for the occasion.

Explanation: A 12AX7 tube is a dual triode, which is present in the circuitry only to give color to the sound. It is then connected to a solid state power amplifier where the transistor amplifier is more powerful and neutral than the tube amplifier. The tube therefore serves to color the signal, the bulk of the amplification being provided by the transistors.

Autopsy

Vox AC15VR

The amp features separate channels: a clear controlled by the “normal volume” and a channel focused more crunch / distortion with two gain levels (OD1 and OD2). The “master” section includes the overall volume of the amp. It is best to adjust the volume of the channel used to get the desired sound (gain level) and then raise the master meter to increase the general level, being careful not to push too hard, otherwise saturation is inevitable (but if you want to, go ahead!). In this same section, there is also a digital reverb that quickly becomes rough when you push a little volume. But it is enough to give a little life to clean sound if you do not exceed 9 o’clock on the dial. You can manually engage it the by raising the potentiometer or by using the optional foot switch. The latter also allows you to switch between channels.

The VOX AC 15VR is equipped with a two band equalizer bass / treble, like almost all VOX amps if I remember correctly. Pushing the bass potentiometer, it overwrites the signal to unravel the inherent charm of VOX amps. Try the setting Palm Mute pushed, and you’ll understand. As for the treble, the sound tends to become a little aggressive after 12 o’clock both on its clean and distortion channels.

Vox AC15VRWe notice a control panel that runs essentially unadorned or without any funky colors.  But don’t laugh at VOX, in this model there is no amp simulation, no useless effects, no loops effects, no direct output. You just plug and play!

On the rear panel, it is possible to connect an external speaker to the amplifier and to bypass the internal speaker.  Be careful to respect the 8 Ohms impedance and perform the operation when the amplifier is off!

Conclusion

Vox AC15VRTo conclude, this little amp found for less than $400 in the USA, is sufficient for guitarists who want to play at home with the master volume that can push the gain without making enemies in the neighborhood.  It has no Speaker output, but output to an external cabinet is possible. We appreciate the ease of use, the little time it takes to find good quality sound.  In short, unless you hate the sound philosophy and VOX itself you can buy it with your eyes closed.

Advantages:

  • Good value for the money
  • Construction Quality
  • Nice crunch
  • Output to connect another Speaker

Drawbacks:

  • A little heavy for a 15 Watt
  • The overdrive type 2 too dirty
  • Channel switching not very smooth

To read the full detailed review see:  Vox AC15VR Combo Amp

June 1, 2010

IK Multimedia Amplitube 3 Review

Filed under: Amps, Software — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 11:11 am

IK Multimedia was one of the pioneers in guitar amp simulation software with their famous Amplitube launched in 2002. The Italian company comes back eight years later with the third version of their flagship product. And what’s new you ask?

Amp simulation software manufacturers have been fighting their battle over the last eight years offering more models, new GUIs, new algorithms, and new functionalities. The advantages of amp simulation software are plenty (direct recording, reamping, huge sound possibilities, etc.) and a lot of guitar players and home studio owners already have one of them or are seriously think about getting one. So, what are the advantages of this new Amplitude over its competitors? We’ll try to answer that question in this detailed review…

No Need to Go Out Anymore

Amplitube 3The first good news (specially for lazy people) is that the full software can be downloaded from the IK Multimedia website so you don’t need to go out to start playing with your new toy right away. You’ll have to pay $349.99, which seems a bit expensive compared to similar products available for under $300 (Guitar Rig 4, Revalver). This fact makes Amplitube 3 start out on the wrong foot, but maybe its sound justifies the price difference…

Once you download the product, the installation under Mac and Windows goes very smoothly and the GUI is displayed after only a few seconds. The first step is the software configuration: set up the audio and MIDI interface you want to use and the buffer size, which will have a direct influence on Amplitude’s latency. With a small buffer size (256 samples or less) the latency, i.e. the time gap between the moment the signal goes into your sound card and the moment you actually hear it through your monitor speakers, will be pretty low or even imperceptible. However, your computer will have to stand a very high processing load and some artifacts might appear if it doesn’t have enough CPU power. You’ll have to find the right setting depending on your system. Once the configuration is made, you are ready to concentrate on the GUI…

A Look Through the Window

Amplitube 3The GUI of Amplitude 3 is divided into five sections: the area on the top allows you to directly load presets sorted by amp or style (clean, crunch, extreme, etc.) or to activate the preset browser that provides a short description and indicates the sound character and instrument. Do notice that the preset browser not only monitors the preset names but also their description and sound character. Thus it is very easy to filter all jazz or metal sounds… A nice feature to quickly find presets that might be useful for your particular needs. Of course, you can also save your own presets and delete them later. Also notice the X-Change feature that allows you to share your presets with the rest of the world — you might even find interesting sounds, who knows!

The software works with three quality modes: hi, mid and eco (from most to least demanding in terms of processing power). This will allow you to reduce the system’s load if you use a lot of effects at the same time. The audio quality is slightly reduced with the mid and eco modes, but not dramatically so the software remains useful. To help you make yourself an idea, a preset requiring 25% CPU load in hi mode will require 19% in mid mode and only 11% in eco mode. This can be a big advantage if your system is not very powerful or if you work with several instances of the software simultaneously.

Finally, you can also select here an IK Multimedia StompIO ($900) or StealthPedal ($200) controller — if you are among their lucky owners.

Amplitube 3Right underneath you’ll find the section for signal path selection. You can choose among eight paths going through two pedalboards, two amps, two speaker cabinets, and two effect racks. For example, you can chain two pedalboards in series, route them to an amp head feeding two different speaker cabinets and passing through two effect racks. This system is probably not as intuitive and comprehensive as Guitar Rig where you can drag & drop any module wherever you want, but it will certainly fulfill the needs of most guitar players and it has the advantage of preventing the user from making mistakes (for instance, inserting a fuzz effect at the end of the chain!). Moreover, you can use two fully independent paths to enjoy Amplitude 3 with two guitars. In this case, each instrument has its own pedalboard, amp, speaker cabinet, and effects rack. A very good point!

Simply click one of the elements on the signal path to display it in the main section of the GUI…

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Amplitube 3The third Amplitube version brings some interesting new features along, including new modelings (the list is getting longer!), an integrated 4-track recorder and the possibility to use two pedalboards/amps/speakers/effect racks at the same time. This is good news for users who like to jam with friends because each musician plays his own guitar and his own rig! The large mic and speaker selection multiply the possibilities, even though we regret the lack of convolution technology. The three quality modes available allow the software to match the computer depending on its resources, while the pedalboard drag & drop feature, the preset browser and its tagging system add a lot of comfort.

Nevertheless, we do have to criticize the background noise that is always present as soon as you increase the gain, and also the higher price compared to competitor products (can we expect a price reduction anytime soon Mr. IK?). However, there’s no doubt that Amplitude remains one of the top products out there and it will delight guitar players looking for a comprehensive and powerful software.

Advantages:

  • Plethora of amps and effects
  • Overall quality of the modelings
  • Independent preamp stage, power amp, and EQ
  • Comprehensive and convenient integrated 4-track recorder
  • Simultaneous use of two amps
  • Two mics per speaker cabinet
  • Three quality modes
  • Ability to chain up to twelve stompboxes and eight rack effects
  • Preset browser with tag management

Drawbacks:

  • More expensive than competitors
  • Some poor quality modelings
  • No convolution technology
  • Background noise with high gain settings

To read the full detailed article see: Amplitube 3 Review

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