Houston Bands Network

Gear Reviews by Alexander Dorian

Taylor 2012 110 Dreadnaught




The Bottom Line

Even while built to budget, this entry in the Taylor brand manages to stay one step ahead of other guitars in this range.

Pros

Playability
Sound
Build

Cons

Laminate back and sides
Body top grain not always appealing


The Taylor 2012 110 Sapele/Spruce Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar is one of the cheapest entries in the Taylor brand. It features a solid sitka spruce top, sapele laminate back and sides, mahogany neck, and ebony fretboard and bridge. The 110 comes with enclosed die-cast chromeplated tuners, 25-1/2" scale, tusq nut. A robust Taylor gig bag is included with purchase.

The Tonewoods

Sitka
According to Acoustic Guitar Magazine, "a strong fundamental-to-overtone ratio gives Sitka a powerful, direct tone that is capable of retaining its clarity when played forcefully. Sitka is an excellent choice of topwood, then, for players whose style demands a wide dynamic response and a robust, meaty tone. On the other side of the balance sheet, the lack of a strong overtone component can result in a "thin" tone when played with a relatively light touch-depending, of course, upon the design of the guitar and the other woods used in its construction. The break-in period for a new Sitka guitar can also be longer than that of other spruces."

Sapele laminate
According to Taylor, they use interior and exterior veneers of sapele with a filler layer between them. They claim extra resilience in changing humidity, but I honestly doubt the benefit vs a solid piece of wood as veneer tends to separate along the glue lines in warmer and more humid climates.

In use

While this is an entry/mid-level guitar that is built on a budget ($599 street price), the feel and playability are superb. The Taylor I played came with perfect factory setup. The neck is fast and comfortable. The guitar has a bright, well balanced tone that cuts well through a mix. The model that I played did not have an acoustic pickup, but it is an option in this model range.

I was impressed with the overall craftsmanship of the instrument and considering that this instrument came from South of the border (Mexico), I'd have to say that it put to shame some more expensive USA-made guitars. The budget build was noticeable in the sitka spruce tops selected for the guitar body, as some of the wood grain patterns that were not appealing. When purchasing this model, my advice would be to personally select it based on looks as well as playability, as I rejected two due to the look of the grain alone. Regardless of these issues, this is one of the better if not best guitars in this price range.


Link: Taylor Guitars

Reviewed by A. Dorian more reviews at HoustonMusicReviews.com

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Traveler Speedster Guitar




The Bottom Line

Definitely built to a budget quality, but it is easy to carry, sounds decent and is airline friendly.

Pros

Size
Airline friendly
Innovative design
Full scale neck

Cons

Budget feel and electronics
Lack of sustain
No locking tuners
Detachable armrest gets loose after longer use


Thanks to new airline rules and regulations and their ever changing nature, musicians are often left to the mercy of airline employees when it comes to carrying a guitar. On a particularly bad day you might be forced to put check in your prized axe, and what happens from there is well described in the song "United Breaks Guitars". You just might also be contributing to the musical education of airline employees or putting them on shady moral grounds as they apply the five finger discount.

Seeing this problem as an opportunity, guitar brand Traveler Guitar built a whole product line with the traveling musicians in mind. Their guitars are shorter and fit the airline requirements, so it is guaranteed that you won't have to deal with surly airline employees... well, at least as far as guitars are concerned.

The model that will be the focus of this review is the Traveler Guitar Speedster Travel Electric Guitar, current selling at around $379.

Features

Neck Through Body - Eastern American Hard Maple
Fingerboard - Ebonized Rosewood
Frets - 22-medium
Scale Length - 24 3/4 in.
Fingerboard Inlays - Pearloid
Neck Width at Nut - 1 3/4 in.
Body Width- 7 1/2 in. (Arm Detached)
Body Thickness- 3/4 in.
Overall Depth - 2 in.
Length - 28 in.
Weight - 4 lbs. 7 oz.
Pick-ups - Dual-Rail Humbucker
Hardware - Chrome 14:1 Gear ratio (closed gear)
Electronics - Volume/Tone
Finish - Gloss Black, Candy Apple Red Metallic, Black Metallic

If you haven't seen these guitars, they do look a little bit like the Steinberger guitars, as there is no headstock and the guitar is almost a little square chunk of wood built around the hardware. Unlike the Steinberger designs, these guitars have an attachable top wing that can be assembled for further comfort. The guitar also has 6 full blown tuners and the company has solved the tuning issue by providing an innovative string tension guide that wraps around the body for increased sustain. For all intents and purposes, the Speedster is a real guitar. The neck feels normal and if you close your eyes and don't see the odd shape the feel is almost the same as on a real big boy guitar.

In Use

I was given this guitar to take on a recent overseas trip that was going to take me through several climate zones and altitudes. Checking in with the Speedster was no hassle - it was properly inspected and passed, and once I boarded it also fit comfortably in the overhead compartment. As a side observation I'll have to say that American airline employees are more used to dealing with instruments than their European counterparts. In France, for example, the guitar received a very thorough inspection and I was deemed something of a star by the security personnel for traveling with an instrument. Unfortunately, my newfound celebrity status only got me a prolonged security check, no first class upgrade.

The second part of my trip involved a lengthy car trek with changing weather temperatures and altitude. The guitar did have some issues keeping in tune due to the changing temperatures. Switching from hot to mild weather and mountain altitude rendered the Speedster almost useless as it could not hold its tuning on the first day. After it settled a bit and had a healthy dose of string stretching and retuning, things returned to normal. I am not sure whether it would be fair to blame it on this particular brand of guitar as probably any instrument would've behaved the same way. Maybe locking tuners could've helped, but I missed that impromptu jam.

Putting the guitar in "ready" mode was usually a breeze. The extra "flap" (attachable armrest) attaches to the body with a pin and a hand tightened screw. The parts got a little loose after a while and there was some play as the flap didn't attach as solidly to the body as I would've liked. The pin could also easily get lost and is not something that could be found in your local hardware store.

The one pickup and volume and tone controls on the guitar are adequate. The pickup is a single space humbucker and it sounds middle of the road - not too cold and not too hot. Acoustically, the guitar doesn't have an incredible sustain as it has a rather short body, but I couldn't honestly expect much considering the minimum amount of wood used in the construction. The neck felt good and the action was decent. The volume knob did get banged up due to the amount of trips and didn't feel very solid as there was some play in it as well. Both knobs had the feel of budget pots.

The Speedster plays and feels like a budget instrument and honestly I probably would've gotten a better performance and feel by unscrewing a bolt on neck on a $250 budget guitar, taking that in the case and assembling it upon landing. Still, it would've been as effortless as the Speedster.

Overall

Honestly, I got out of this guitar what I expected - a throw around axe for my trip. It is easy to carry, sounds decent and is airline friendly. I would have to say that for the price I thought it was a bit much. When you consider the alternatives - traveling without a guitar or getting one of your good guitars banged up or stolen, the Speedster looks like the smart choice!


Link: Traveler Guitar

Reviewed by A. Dorian more reviews at HoustonMusicReviews.com

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Blackstar Amplification HT-DUAL




The Bottom Line:
 
The HT-Dual offers tube goodness, two channels, innovative tone and voicing controls, line out and recording out in one sturdy package.

Pros:
 
- Tube tone
- Voicing control (ISF)
- Two seemlessly footswitchable channels
 
Cons:
 
- Second channel gain and level knobs a bit wobbly
- One eq and ISF shared by both channels
 
Features:
 
The HT-Dual has one tube, two channels, Channel 1 (Clean or Crunch), Channel 2 (crunch to high gain), two push down switches, one guitar input and two outputs, one direct out with speaker emulation,  and one amplifier out.

Controls:
 
Gain: Sets the gain level for channel 1 and 2.
Gain 1 push button: Sets channel 1 gain type to clean or crunch.
Bass
Middle
Treble
ISF: Controls voicing from �British� to �American�
Level 2: Output volume level.

The HT-Dual is powered by a 16 V adapter which is also included.


The Blackstar HT-Dual is basically a two channel tube preamp in a floor pedal. My initial impressions upon unpacking the pedal is how sturdy and solid it is. The HT-Dual comes in a metal box that feels solid as a brick. Only complaint about the construction is that there is a bit of play on the gain and level second channel knobs which might have come loose during shipment, but it is definitely something of concern, especially if you plan to gig with this pedal. The HT-Dual sports a vented metal enclosure on top to allow for the tube to breathe. The single 12AX7 tube is lit by a blue LED behind the tube. The box contains an adapter for the unit and a manual with suggested settings which come in handy when you are getting started. 

In Use

To get a feel for the sound of the pedal, I ran it through several amps: a clean Fender Priceton solid state amp, Orange Tiny Terror, Peavey Classic 50 power amp, Marshall JCM900 and direct into the board via its speaker emulated output. On each on of these amps and running direct into a recording interface, the HT-Dual retained an unique pleasantly analog character. I was able to dial in great sounds on all of these amps and probably the biggest surprise to me was that the HT-Dual sounds great plugged in the input as well as the fx return on a tube amp. 
This is essentially a 3 channel pedal, since channel 1 can be switched between clean and crunch by pressing down the channel voicing selector. When it is set on clean, the pedal produces a sparkly clean that moves towards a little breakup with the gain set to the right. When the crunch is on, gain settings on the left provide clean sound with a little breakup, similar to slightly pushed blues amp. Moving the gain to the right gets more in British rock sound territory, similar to an AC30 and towards 60s and 70s hard rock sounds (think Thin Lizzy, AC/DC). Channel 2 overlaps with the crunch channel on lower settings and it goes into further gain when moved to the right. Whether you need a �woman tone� or a Santana lead tone, this channel has it. If you need a punishing high gain tone - it has that as well.  Channel 2 dishes out Brit Rock, sustaining blues lead tones, hard rock rhythm, mid to high gain lead tones and can take you all the way to thrash and speed metal (think Anthrax, Slayer). If you need to tweak the tone further, the 3 eq controls (shared by both channels) are responsive, yet musical and the voicing control knob (ISF) could provide a range of voicings that can further customize your pedal�s response. The HT-Dual retains its tube character at all settings, and even in extreme gain settings there is enough definition to the attack that the sounds don�t get mushy or washed out, but remain punchy and solid. Fans of the most brutal of black and death metal will probably find that the gain of this pedal is a bit subdued to their taste but there is plenty on tap for all the other genres. 

For direct recording I found the HT-Dual�s speaker emulated output to be one of the better voiced ones that I�ve heard. It transferred the tube quality of the pedal to tape. For recording I still prefer to capture the sound of a speaker being pushed in a room, but as far as emulations go, this one is very good!

When it comes to live performance, the HT-Dual has two switches, each one of these turning its corresponding channel when pressed once. When pressed twice, it bypasses the pedal. The switching on this pedal is smooth as butter. Blackstar designed this pedal with buffered switching as there were no pops or cracks when engaging the channel switch, just an instantaneous sound change, like it should be done. The shared eq and ISF settings might be a problem for some in a live setup as you will have to compromise by finding a common ground for both channels. It didn�t seem an issue for me as I usually like to set my amp on clean and dial in a crunch and gain that tones that are similar in voicing. An extra switch with a lead boost would also be welcome addition as it would cover more ground live. Considering the price and features, the HT-Dual covers a lot of ground and could easily be the only overdrive/distortion pedal that you�ll ever need.

Overall
Whether you are looking to increase your amp�s current channels, get a guitar preamp for direct recording or add some tube flavor to your sound - the HT-Dual has all that covered. This pedal has lots of great tones, it is unique in both design and sound.


Link: Blackstar Amplification HT-DUAL

Reviewed by A. Dorian more reviews at HoustonMusicReviews.com

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Sony Sound Forge 10




Bottom Line:

Sound Forge adds some newer features and improvements that make it a worthwhile purchase or upgrade. 

Pros

Streamlined interface
Very powerful editing and mastering tools
Multi channel recording and editing capabilities
iZotope Mastering Suite plug-ins
Noise Reduction 2.0
CD Architect 5.2
Zplane �lastique Pro time stretch
Acoustic Mirror Environment Simulator
Low PC machine requirements 

Cons

Price might be steep for audio editor/mastering package


When it comes to Windows platform digital audio editors, Sound Forge has always been at the top of the list of audio professionals. I've used Sound Forge for audio editing pretty much since its inception and have followed it closely up to version 7. Upon hearing the news that Sony has version 10 out ($399.00 street price/$250 upgrade) I've been rearing for a chance to see what's has changed and what improvements have been introduced since then.

Some of the new features in Sound Forge 10 include iZotope SRC (sample rate conversion) and MBIT+ dither (bit-depth conversion), Zplane �lastique Pro time stretch and pitch shift plug-in. Sony have also added editing and work flow enhancements such as precise event-based editing, customizable window layouts, floating docks, musical instrument file support, and integrated disc-at-once CD burning capability. The effects section has also been beefed up by the Mastering Effects Bundle 2 powered by iZotope. This new version of Sound Forge also supports multichannel recording (originally introduced in Sound Forge 9). Packaged with Sound Forge 10 is also Sony's Noise Reduction 2.0 software and CD Architect 5.2 CD creation/ burning software. The list of new features and upgrades is extensive, so for full list of features and upgrades, please visit Sony online.
Installation

Sound Forge installed within few minutes and upon providing serial number and registering through their web site I was up and running. The iZotope Mastering Suite plug-in registration was a bit more cumbersome as I had to create an account, wait for an email and then register the software.

In Use

Upon starting Sound Forge I was greeted by the familiar screen and regardless of the many changes and additions that touch of familiarity remained. As with their other applications - I enjoyed the straight-forward utilitarian approach and the functionality that is usually one click away from the main menu. If you're used to doing things a certain way in its older versions - here you will feel right at home and go on working without skipping a beat. I decided to first test some of the new features in this package and incidentally had some older analog tape recordings that needed a bit of cleaning up. The Noise Reduction package was up to the task and managed with some minor tweaks to clean up most of the tape hiss from the tracks. Since I needed to bring up the volume of these files I also fired up the Mastering Effects Bundle by iZotope. The Mastering Limiter did an admirable job with little fuss and I also felt I could use a little sweetening so I tried the Mastering Exciter on its "Subtle Mix Color" setting which after a little tweaking was just perfect. I previewed the tracks with plug-ins via the Plug-In Chainer and ensuring that they were satisfactory I committed them to the tracks. I then proceeded to load them in CD Architect, where I selected gaps between songs, dithering and proceeded to create the final CD. I also discovered that one of the new features is that music can be written to CD directly from within SF 10 by selecting regions or material within markers and selecting the Track- At-Once command. Disc-at-once functionality has also been added to Sound Forge 10, so you can burn straight to disc without even leaving the software.

On the navigation side of things I enjoyed having being able to create customizable window layouts for different functions, like for example CD editing and mastering. The Multitask Background Rendering capability (introduced in previous versions) also proved very effective as I could work on a new file while Sound Forge was applying changes to another one in the background. Sony has also added  iZotope 64-bit SRC� (sample rate conversion) and the iZotope MBIT+� Dither (bit-depth conversion) algorithms for better quality file conversion from higher rates. Regardless of the changes, the mastering process remains for the most part as in the earlier versions, with the addition of the iZotope mastering suite providing more options in terms of plug-ins. The Zplane �lastique Pro time stretch plug-in also added the flexibility to speed up/slow down samples without changing pitch - a tool handy when learning songs or stretching loops. 

Sound Forge 10 builds upon the strengths of its previous releases and adds some extra goodies and refinements. If you need a dedicated audio editor for mastering, cutting music to video, stretching and editing loops, burning to CD, file conversion, audio restoration - you can't go wrong with this one!


Link: Sony Sound Forge 10

Reviewed by A. Dorian more reviews at HoustonMusicReviews.com

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SansAmp TRI-AC




The Bottom Line:

The TRI-AC is a great pedal for rock players looking for 3 distinct sounds at their feet.

Pros:
Revolutionary switching and preset memory system
3 programmable preset sounds
LAZY POTtm technology
100% analog path
Made in USA 
in-depth manual

Cons:
hard to dial eq
could use more gain
loud pop when switching from "Tweed" to other amp styles for the 1st time 
speaker emulation subpar compared to other units
battery lid fragile


The TRI-AC comes in a sturdy metal box and it looks like it can survive the rigors of heavy touring . The unit can be powered via a 9 volt battery, changeable via a compartment on the bottom of the unit, or via an adapter (not supplied). 

The TRI-AC has one 1/4 input and one 1/4 output, 3 stomp-type switches, each illuminated by a corresponding LED to indicate when activated. This unit has a voicing switch that can select between three distortion types - CALIF, BRIT, and TWEED. The unit has one DRIVE control and 3 tone controls (bass, mid and treble) and an output level control. 

The TRI-AC is more than a mere distortion box - it is a floor preamp with 3 user editable presets that can be switched seamlessly with the tap of a button. Like the Double Drive 3X, this unit runs on a 100% analog signal path but uses digital switching and knob memory to "remember" 3 user settings. This results in the ability to store 3 preset sounds and seamlessly change between them by stomping on the corresponding switches.

In order to save a setting the player needs to select one of the three channels by its corresponding switch, then dial in a sound that he/she likes and quickly tap twice on that pedal's switch, thus saving that patch.

The LEDs also let you find your preset patch's parameters by the blinking rate going solid when the parameter corresponds with the one saved. This is extremely helpful when you need more than 3 sounds in the studio.

The TRI-AC can go into bypass from its active preset switch by pressing it again.  The TRI-AC also has another patented Tech21 function - the LAZY POT. This basically prevents you from zapping your ears by boosting the signal suddenly when tweaking a preset. Instead of going full blast, when tweaking a patch the sound gradually increases in volume so you can correct any volume issues before you hurt your ears. Now I wish I had one of these for every guitarist I've recorded! 

The TRI-AC sounded best when going through the fx return on my solid state amp (Fender Princeton), a clean sounding Laney AOR tube head, or through the clean channel of a darker sounding tube amp, like the Ashdown Fallen Angel.

SansAmp suggests that this pedal sounds best when used through a clean power amp or a PA system, so the results showed exactly what the manufacturer suggested. I felt that the TRI-AC sounded somewhat brittle on single coil mode, so I ran it mostly on humbucker-equipped guitars.

The eq on the TRI-AC could easily get harsh so very little eq tweaks seemed to work best. This unit seemed to suffer from an annoying pop when switching from a TWEED to another type of voicing for the first time.

Strange enough this pop disappeared after circling through the presets again. As far as the sounds are concerned I can't help but feel a bit disappointed. As an owner of an older SansAmp TRI-OD unit I was surprised that the TRI-AC actually was tamer in gain when compared to the TRI-OD.

The distortion that can be dished by the TRI-AC at maximum can best be described as "hard rock". Although there were some settings in the manual that were labeled "Pantera" and "Metallica" I felt that they didn't quite get there.

This unit can definitely use more gain, which in essence could be rolled back a bit if unused. In my case I had a few overdrive pedals handy and when I put a DOD YJM-308 in front of the TRI-AC I got some face-melting metal tones. I wasn't crazy about the speaker emulation on this unit - I have certainly heard better from SansAmp on their PSA-1.

Some other distortion pedals like the Digitech line seemed to be doing much better in that department. I also felt that the battery lid might not hold up well over time.  As far as the sounds are concerned, the TWEED setting seems to emulate some vintage class A amps. On this setting I was able to get some very convincing clean tones, mild crunch for blues, jazz and classic rock.

The BRIT setting offers more biting and brighter crunch tones akin to something like a Marshall JCM800. This setting sounded great on some Van Halen-inspired runs and some rhythm work in the style of AC/DC .

The CALIF setting is voiced closer to a Mesa/Boogie sound and that setting is perfect for lead work or for fuller sounding rhythms. I was able to get some very good fluid lead runs on CALIF with my amp's spring reverb on 4. 

In conclusion I'd certainly recommend the TRI-AC pedal for players that need versatility and could use 3 sounds at the touch of a button. I'd say that Tech21 could've squeezed more gain out of this pedal and included the metal crowd in the game as of now this pedal seems to be more geared towards blues, classic rock and hard rock players.  Similar products: AMT DT-2 , Sansamp GT2, Tech21 Double Drive 3X, Digitech DF-7, Hughes and Kettner Tubeman II.


Link: SansAmp TRI-AC

Reviewed by A. Dorian more reviews at HoustonMusicReviews.com

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Orange Tiny Terror Combo




The Bottom Line:

The Orange Tiny Terror combo is a no frills amplifier that plays well with pretty much anything you plug into it. 

Pros:

unmistakable Orange tone
no frills design
guitar character remains transparent throughout gain range
plays well with pedals
7 watt / 15 watt power option
external speaker connections

Cons:

no effects loop
only one tone control


Features:

The Orange Tiny Terror (TT) combo is essentially the Tiny Terror head, coupled with a Celestion G12H-30 30 watt speaker in a square enclosure, with a carry on handle on the side. The amp is covered in the traditional unmistakable Orange tolex color. On first view the amp seems very stylish and the feel of workmanship screams quality.

For a small single speaker combo the amp weighs at 37.5 pounds (17kgs) which is not on the light side but it is to be expected considering the fact that it is all tube, with two EL84 in the power section and two 12AX7 tubes in the preamp section.

Controls are placed at the top and are labeled "Gain", "Tone" and "Volume". There is also one 1/4 inch guitar input jack, an "On/Off" switch, a "Standby" switch which also selects from two power modes, either 7 watt or 15 watt operation and a ruby color LED indication when the amp is on.

The built-in Celestion G12H-30speaker is connected from a 16 ohm speaker output jack which can be unplugged if an external speaker connection is desired. The TT can power (1) 16 Ohm cab, (1) 8 Ohm cab, or (2) 16 ohm cabs at the same time and the built-in speaker has an option to be taken out of the chain.

In Use:

While diminutive in size, the Orange TT combo packs a hefty 15 watt tube punch which is enough to power a recording session or small to mid size gig. The no frills controls are designed for musicians that rely on their guitars and pedals for tone shaping.

The "Tone" eq is responsive and dials in some midrange grit as well as treble when moved clockwise from the center. Counter-clockwise it provides a smoother, more bassier tone, reminiscent to a Santana solo. 

The amp tone by itself ranges from a clean, slightly hairy tone to an overdrive crunch. In the middle there is enough territory with useful tones for all sort of rockers. Pushing the gain to the right gets some serious Malcolm Young rhythm snarl. With the help of an overdrive pedal I managed to get some screaming hard rock rhythm and lead tones reminiscent of Van Halen or early Metallica.

The Tiny Terror also took really well to other pedals - I tried my Sansamp TRI-OD, AMD DT-2 distortion pedals and they both had tons of great setting to choose from. Chorus, flange and other pedals fared well but I found their use limited due to the lack of effects loop.  

For studio sessions the Tiny Terror turned out to be a real champ. I personally like my guitar tone to be as pure as possible with fewer effects in the signal chain so I just used the Tiny Terror with an overdrive in front (in this case DDyna Thinman or Voodoolabs Sparkle Drive).  The 7 watt setting allowed me to get power tube saturation earlier without having to crank the amp in full, which in effect resulted in less signal bleed and fewer complaints from studio B which had a drum tracking session going on. The sound was meaty and throaty, with a midrange that is unmistakably Orange.

Some amp manufacturers are happy enough to go for a Marshall or Fender approximation when they voice their amps, but as is the case with Orange, they have gone after their own sound. Considering their pedigree this choice totally makes sense. The difference is that their tone when pushed is  raunchy  and smooth in the lows and has an unmistakable throaty midrange growl that is its signature.

The Celestion G12H-30 speaker handled well almost anything I threw at it at 7 watts. At 15 watts when pushed too hard (volume over at 3 o'clock) it started to overload but it transferred well on the recorded track as some extra fizz which I liked.

Just to try how the amp will handle an external speaker I connected it to a 2x12 cab I have loaded with Greenbacks and that turned into one mean practice package. Not to brag but I managed to overpower a competing guitarist with a 100 watt solid state amp next to me, so I felt that the Tiny Terror would definitely be at home at a small or mid sized gig, even with just its built-in speaker. 

The guitars each exhibited their own character when plugged into the Tiny Terror so I really enjoyed hearing more nuance from the instrument than I am used to with other amps. I tried the amp with all kinds of distortion pedals in front, even with some effect processors and it handled everything really well, especially when set to clean or maybe slightly crunchy gain settings. It could be used as a clean amp for distortion effects and digital effects processors and it performs this job rather well, bringing some extra tube feel to otherwise somewhat clinical digital sounds.

Overall  I felt that the Tiny Terror was one well built British tone machine. With 15 watt tube power, I'd be happy to take it on the road, in the studio or as a practice amp at home - it has its own character and it is one that I really like. While the effects loop and eq might be missed at first, the tone is so sweet and so easy to dial that I quickly lost myself in the amp's magic. 


Link: Orange Tiny Terror Combo

Reviewed by A. Dorian more reviews at HoustonMusicReviews.com

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Sony Acid Pro 7.0




The Bottom Line:

I am very impressed by Acid Pro7.0. For the price ($149 Upgrade, $314.95 Direct Box) I believe that Acid Pro 7 is a must have upgrade that makes it a worthy competitor in the DAW market. Its simplicity and ease of use, and at the same time overall robustness are a reminder that a no frills design can increase productivity as I found myself happily zipping along and having everything on the same screen only a click away.

Pros:

Uncluttered interface

Best loop stretching in the biz!

Tempo Curves

Real time rendering    

Plug In bundle with Garritan, iZotope, etc.  

Can use any 3rd party audio editor

Price

Cons:

Midi editing not very intuitive
No dedicated audio editor


As a long time Acid user (since ver. 2) I was very interested to see what the software had in terms of updates and improvements. Acid's time stretching and looping tools have always been flawless and in version 6 Sony added multi-tracking capabilities, thus making Acid Pro 6 a recording workstation.

According to Sony, version Acid Pro 7 offers improvement of the midi and tracking sections of the software as well as some welcome additions in terms of plugins such as Garritan Aria, Acid Pro Effects Rack by iZotope, Native Instruments Guitar Combos and Submersible Music KitCore.

Sony have added an audio and midi mixing console, input busses, real time rendering and midi track freeze, features that a lot of users were hoping to see in version 6. There are also a few features under the hood that enhance the user experience as well and we'll get into these details later. Installation Acid Pro 7 requires the user to register online and to obtain a key code via a challenge and response system.

Fairly straightforward and after registering I got my codes and was good to go in under 5 minutes. The software plugins take a bit longer to load, especially the Garritan Aria for Acid since it has quite a few sample files. Overall the installation was pretty forward and streamlined, no surprises there and I was good to go in almost no time.

Features:

Sony has kept the standard features of the older versions, so right away it feels familiar. The standard Acid layout is still there, the looping portions are also still there with Beatmapper and the Chopper. They come with some new enhanced capabilities such as elastique time stretching and pitch shifting, which adds some extra level of detail and quality to tracks that require that treatment.

The Beatmapper also has some new enhanced features which allow users to edit clip properties and Beatmap songs with varying tempos and time signatures. Acid has also introduced a new feature called Tempo Curves which allows users to set the type of transition between two tempo changes, for example slow buildup to the new tempo. These features are controlled by fade types.

As earlier Acid Pro users were complaining of the lack of metronome, Sony has added a robust metronome feature in version 7, with multiple configurations and countoff settings. On the audio side Sony have added the much needed signal level meters missing from previous versions, track/clip/event switches including Normalize, Invert Phase, Mute and Lock.

A much needed Mixer window has been added with customizable views. There has also been some improvement to the Plug-In management window, allowing for customizable categories, also displaying by brand and a few other views, thus making it easier to navigate.

Acid Pro 7 has added support for additional file formats such as FLAC, AAC, AC-3 Studio and MPEG-2. Acid 7 is Windows Vista certified so it is guaranteed to work on Vista. The package comes with vast assortment of loop content, MIDI samples with over 3,000 ACIDized music loops, over 1000 MIDI files, 90 DLS instruments and 25 DLS-based projects.

The bundled software includes the Garritan Aria player sample library which alone retails for about $250, an iZotope Effects Rack with plugins such as flanger, phaser, analog delay and dynamics, Native Instruments guitar emulation software valued at about $100, and Submersible Music KitCore drums for beat creation.

In Use:

To test Acid I loaded a few raw .wav tracks of unmixed material, lined it up in the software and gave it a spin. The mixing process was already familiar since I've worked in Acid before. Version 7 of the software comes with a dedicated mixer, which in previous versions the user had to create from scratch and it took some time.

Acid felt natural to use for mixing and in no time I had good working mixes of the material. Compared to some other DAWs I felt that Acid was more immediate and its layout was no-nonsense crisp and utilitarian, no cheesy color gimmicks like some of its competition, everything on one screen in front of the user all the time. Everything that I needed was there at a touch of a button.

Tracking was also a breeze as now the software has tracking meters and several options when it comes to monitoring with effects and without effects. In some cases I used Amplitube 2 VST guitar plugin which ran without a glitch in real time, thus allowing me to record a clean DI guitar track and reamp later if needed. The built-in plugins performed well with little CPU overhead and the new additions to the bundle by iZotope and Garritan also added some needed depth to the package.

I felt that Acid could use a better reverb plugin but that was easily supplemented in my case with 3rd party reverb plugins and my outboard effect which integrated nicely with the real-time rendering function. Real-time rendering can mix external sound modules in real time with your DAW's tracks and add that input into your finished mixdown files. So far I can't think of any other DAW that has this feature, so big kudos to Sony!

I enjoyed using the Tempo Curves feature and it did create a far more pleasant transitions and buildups than me having to program them in real time or in small chunks of tempo changes like I did in the past. In this case the tempo changes became smoother and more refined, and let's not forget - less time consuming!

When I had questions regarding some of the new capabilities of the DAW, Sony's tech support forum turned to be an invaluable asset. All my queries were solved rather quickly by tech. support and unlike some other software forums that are abandoned to the mercy of the user, Sony's techs were there helping users with a very impressive response time.

There were some minor things that seemed to be missing in comparison to other DAW software. For example the midi support could be better. I could get my job done with MIDI in Acid, but compared to the ease and effortlessness of Cubase and Digital Performer's midi editing it felt very backward. It has definitely improved from previous versions but still it is not very pleasant to work with.

Compared to other DAW's there isn't a dedicated file editor so if you want to draw and alter the track audio files directly like in Sonar and Cubase - it can't be done in Acid but it isn't hard to open the file in a 3rd party audio editor or Sony's Sound Forge, which for some users could also be a blessing in disguise as you can use your audio editor of choice.

A little quirk that I found annoying was the fact that I couldn't get the tracks to scroll with cursor when playing and recording as I was forced to keep the screen smaller sometimes than what I would've liked. Sony have managed to improve on the file saving algorithm.

Whereas old versions of Acid will jump mass dump files in one directory now the user has the option to do per project file folders, this saving file when you need to back up and no need to bundle files as in previous sessions. I am particularly impressed by the wide media support in Acid. I didn't have a problem getting any possible file format imported or exported.

A nice touch is the bundled mp3 encoder, something that one has to pay in order to get in other DAWs. I didn't need to render files for surround projects at this time but it is good to know that this capability is also available at no extra cost to the user.

I am very impressed by ACID Pro 7.0. For the price ($149 Upgrade, $314.95 Direct Box) I believe that Acid Pro 7 is a must have upgrade that makes it a worthy competitor in the DAW market. Its simplicity and ease of use, and at the same time overall robustness are a reminder that a no frills design can increase productivity as I found myself happily zipping along and having everything on the same screen only a click away.


Link: Sony Acid Pro 7.0

Reviewed by A. Dorian more reviews at HoustonMusicReviews.com

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IK Multimedia AmpliTube 2




Bottom Line:

While I might not be ready to quite give up my tube amps just yet, I feel that AmpliTube 2 is a very well built software and has a huge array of useful sounds for both bass and guitar.

Pros:

Good useful sounds for any style
Standalone or plugin option
Easy to use

Cons:

Only one noise gate
Pedal FX can't be put in the signal chain after the amp
Rack effects can't go before the amp.


Whether you're trying to go fully in the box or add some extra color to your guitar and bass sounds - AmpliTube 2 delivers!

With the advent of computer recording and DAW's one expects to do more and more "in the box" as opposed to hauling gear around. This applies to guitar gear as well, with guitar software modelers offering unprecedented amounts of options to the home and studio recordist.

This brings us to IK Multimedia's award winning guitar plugin software, AmpliTube 2. Installation AmpliTube 2 requires the user to register on their website for authentication, so I had to create a username and password, wait for an email from IK and validate the software. Fairly easy and straightforward process, I was done in about 5 minutes.

The website also keeps you informed of downloadable updates to the software, you can browse the forums for help and swap preset patches with other users. Since the software installed painlessly on my 32-bit Windows XP system and was recognized straight away by my applications (Cubase LE4, Sony Acid 7, Sonar Producer 7, Riffworks 2) I was good to go. 

Features: AmpliTube has several options - it can run as standalone app, providing some phrase training and functions to help the guitar player get better at a riff. You can load in a song file and then work on it with the included learning options. There is a pitch changer for transposing the file, metronome and the ability to slow down the file without changing the pitch.

For the rest of the application the standalone mode is pretty much identical to the vst plugin mode where AmpliTube loads as a vst plugin in your DAW. When you load it as a vst plugin it is missing the phrase training options seen in the standalone. The software comes in a comprehensive manual and getting started guide, which was very well written and shouldn't be a problem for beginners to get started.

Here is a list of Amplitube 2's  features:

5 separate modules: tuner, configurable Stomp pedal board, Amp head, Cabinet + Mic, and Rack Effects
21 Stomp effects;
14 Amp models
7 Power Amp models
16 cabinet and 6 microphone models
11 post-amp FX Racks
2 fully configurable rigs
Digital tuner
Stand-alone and VST/AU/RTAS plug-in for all popular DAWs
Includes SpeedTrainer™ for playing along with your favorite recordings
Includes AmpliTube X-GEAR for seamless integration with all the other “Powered by AmpliTube” products, MIDI control and StompIO/StealthPedal integration 
Powered by AmpliTube® with exclusive DSM™ (Dynamic Saturation Modeling) technology for award-winning sound & realistic feel
Mac OS X (including Leopard) and XP/Vista compatible
In Use: In order to go in depth on this product I loaded it on my recording computer and tested AmpliTube on several mixing and recording sessions. 

The default install of the application had almost indiscernible latency with very little lag. The more tracks I kept adding up in Cubase, the more I had to increase the latency and real time playing through Amplitube became too slow during tracking, but this is common fare for any amp simulation software and other plugins.

There is an option in the "Preferences" on the program to go to lower quality by turning off "High Resolution" and "Oversampling", and I had to do that while tracking a DI guitar part during a song that was about 48 tracks strong, with a heavy load of midi and virtual insturments and external samples so I needed to conserve resources. No problem there as during mixing I put the "High Resolution" settings back on since I didn't have to worry about latency.

Overall I had latency between 2ms to 6ms during tracking so that was nothing to worry about. My first use of AmpliTube was as a reamp device. I had recorded a budget demo for a friend's band. There wasn't much time to work on the guitar sounds and the amps we used were lacking, so we decided to take a safety DI signal of each tracked guitar for reamping it later.

During mixing I discovered that the original tracks didn't sit well in the mix and I used AmpliTube as one of the replacement options. It essentially became the left channel of a dual rhythm guitar recording, with the right channel being a tube preamp via H&K's Redbox speaker emulation DI.

Both tracks sat very well together and the one created by AmpliTube wasn't inferior to the other chain by any means. As far as I am concerned AmpliTube passed the reamping test with flying colors - I managed to get excellent high gain sounds.

The noise gate was excellent as well as it was clamping down on the noise. What I ended up using essentially was an "Overscream" stompbox (emulation of a vintage Tubescreamer) in the "Stomp A" section, and a "Modern Hi Gain" amp which is essentially modeled after a Mesa Boogie Rectifier. I also picked in "Cab A" a closed modern 4x12 cab, condenser 87 mic and dialed in a little room ambience.

The sound was reminiscent of a well recorded Mesa Rectifier and it was exactly what the client was after. On the same project I also used the plugin for most of the lead sounds - this time "British Tube Lead 2" (reminiscent of Marshall JCM900) for the amp and some delay from the rack effects. I felt that I wanted to modify that sound a bit, thus I  opted to separate the amp from its matching power section and chose to choose 50watt 6L6 configuration instead.

Again - easy to dial in and in this case I ended up with a configuration that can't be done in real life. I also ended up using the software for sounds on quite a few of my own collaborations when I didn't have amps handy and/or didn't want to use what was on site. AmpliTube 2 worked admirably on everything, from jazz to death metal, both for guitars and bass.

There were enough sounds on tap and with the right amount of tweaking and I was able to create a convincing tone. In some cases I felt that the layout was too rigid - for example I wanted to use some of the rack effects in the chain before the preamp and in other cases I wanted to use some of the stomp boxes after the amp (as in fx loop) but the software didn't allow me to do that. I felt that I'd like to have more than one noise gate, or at least the option to place them in different locations as it is in real life.

I managed to use some external fx pedals such as overdrive, eq and compressor in the same manner you would in front of a real amp. The results worked out great! I also built some more complex rigs by using a dual chanel parallel mode. These worked especially well for some bigger sounds reminiscent of Pink Floyd and Steve Vai. I wasn't afraid to leave these sound on record as they felt very organic and realistic, something that I didn't always associate with this type of software. 

I did have some trouble dialing in a gutsy blues sound, clean amp on the verge of breakup as these are usually the hardest to do when it comes to amp sims. I managed to get around this by using a Fender sim with an external overdrive pedal in the chain.  Some of the effect plugins on tap were so good that I ended up using them on other sound sources, such as piano and vocals. Any part of the chain can be bypassed so in the case of vocals I only used the rack effects' delay and reverb.

As far as operation - the software is very easy to use and if you are familiar with amps and stompboxes, which as a guitar player you should be, it is very intuitive to dial in the right sound for you. AmpliTube 2 offers presets based on some famous performers, which could be further tweaked to your liking and again saved as an user preset.There are plenty of options when it comes to amps, effects and even cab and mic options, that with the right amount of care you should be able to just plug in the guitar in your interface and go.   While I might not be ready to quite give up my tube amps just yet, I feel that AmpliTube 2 is a very well built software and has a huge array of useful sounds for both bass and guitar. Whether you're trying to go fully in the box or add some extra color to your guitar and bass sounds - AmpliTube 2 delivers!


Link: IK Multimedia AmpliTube 2

Reviewed by A. Dorian more reviews at HoustonMusicReviews.com

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ProCo Rat 2




The Bottom Line:

Classic sound and transparency that works pretty much with any amp and guitar you hook this into. The design is somewhat outdated, especially as far as eq control is concerned.

Pros:

transparent sound
simplicity
full bypass

Cons:

limited eq


The Pro Co Rat has been around since the early 80s and according to their website little has changes from the original design. The Rat boasts a wide list of celebrity musicians as its users, with Metallica rumored to have used it on their first few albums as well.

The Rat is very simple in design - a sturdy black metal box, with 1/4 input and output sockets, a control for "Distortion", "Filter" and "Volume". It has one full bypass on/off switch and a LED that shows when the unit is engaged. It can be powered via a 9 volt battery or a power supply (not included).

The distortion control dials in the amount of distortion, "Filter" acts as an eq control in reverse - the more you go towards the right the sound smooth out more. The "Volume" control lets you dial in the desired amount of volume. The big surprise to me was that the unit sounded at ease with any amp that it was plugged into.

While I wouldn't call this a distortion box, but more of a overdrive/fuzz box, the unit definitely could cook up some very well rounded saturated lead sounds. I found this unit sounded the best when the "Distortion" was between 39 and 2 o'clock positions. On those settings it provided a very well rounded semi distorted blues and rock sounds. By moving the "Filter" to the right past 12 o'clock it produced some capable chunky sounds, and easing off on the dial of the "Filter" control towards 9 o'clock gets you some very nice crunch rhythm tones.

This unit could also provide nice lead boosts and a little dirt for a blues solo and it is probably most capable for slightly overdriven or mild distortion sounds. When the distortion dial is all the way to the max the Rat gets muddy and fuzzy, probably close to sounds found on some Smashing Pumpkins or Nirvana leads. I wouldn't use this pedal for my main distortion as it gets too muddy at high settings.

Probably the best placement for the Rat would be for blues or rock players that need a little extra crunch or a smoother lead tone. I feel that although a very capable unit, especially due to its transparent sound, the Rat definitely shows its age and could use some fine tuning, especially in the eq section.


Link: ProCo Rat 2

Reviewed by A. Dorian more reviews at HoustonMusicReviews.com

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MXR Doubleshot Distortion




The Bottom Line:

Great idea on paper but a totally failed product as far as I am concerned.

Pros:

Ruggedness
Power supply is built-in

Cons:

lacklustre sounds


The MXR's Doubleshot specs:

2 independent footswithable distortion channels, with Contour switch for each and full eq (Bass, Mids, High) gain and overall setting.

The switching is true bypass.

Power supply (18 volt) included.

Upon arrival I unpacked the unit and I noticed its weight. This thing is built like a tank and could possibly survive quite a few years of road abuse. The included power supply (18v) seemed strange at first but it makes sense - you're running 2 distortions at 9v each, so it needs twice the power. Good idea but replacing this down the road will be a huge hassle if it breaks down somewhere in the middle of say your US tour. Also there is no battery backup for this thing so those of you that want to run this while in outside of the US - tough luck!

Now on to the testing - I grabbed two guitars, one a cheap Dean Z with pickup upgrade (Joe Satriani PAF) and the other being a mid stock Ibanez with Seymour Duncan Distortion pickup. I then lined up some amps to test it with - Fender Princeton 112 (clean amp), Marshall VS100 Valvestate head and a tube mid-80s Laney. The distortion pedal displayed pretty much the same characteristics on all of these amps.

Channel 1 is more of a traditional blues, rock to metal distortion, the contour switch turns it into thrash metal/death metal distortion with tones reminiscent of mid career Metallica but lacking the definition. This is the more useful of the two channels but yet it seemed like it was lacking something, the sound was more like a cheap solid state amp distortion.

By varying the gain from low to high I was able to get some convincing blues sounds out of this channel (with contour disengaged) but still nothing to write home about.

Channel 2 can go from blues to fuzz and techno type of overdrive which to me sounded like total mud. In my opinion the voicing on this channel was a total engineer's mistake. There was no way I could coax even a semi-useful distortion sound out on this channel. The countour switch doesn't help matters much either - just provides a mid range dip. While this is a totally useless distortion sound for me I can see where some players might be interested in providing a totally crapped-out tone which is found in the work of some of some techno metal bands, like Nine Inch Nails for example.

Again rolling on the gain the distortion clears out and you have a somewhat useful semi-distorted blues sound. A little better than Channel 1 on lower gain setting, but nothing really that great either.

The eq knobs are very sensitive so little eq changes go a long way - something I really liked about this pedal. Still, with all this eq I wasn't able to get a quite convincing tone.

I think MXR had a chance to create a really good product and they blew it. With the right distortion voicings this could be a great product but as far as I am concerned they missed on both channels. They could've taken some of their older overdrive and distortion designs and stuck it in this box, for example overdrive on one channel and a good distortion on the second would've gone a long way.


Link: MXR Doubleshot Distortion

Reviewed by A. Dorian more reviews at HoustonMusicReviews.com

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Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive




The Bottom Line:

Great for anyone that needs an overdrive / clean boost in one. Tons of tonal flexibility, great build, low noise operation. Best warranty and support in the business!

Pros:    

organic overdrive sounds
responsiveness
clean boost, sturdy
great warranty/support
full bypass
USA-made

Cons:

top input / output jacks
hard to get to battery


The Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive is an overdrive pedal for those players that need an organic sounding overdrive to either achieve a little bit of blues "breakup" or to push a tube amp harder into high gain territory.

The Sparkle Drive comes in a sturdy metal enclosure and has 4 controls: Gain, Tone, Clean and Volume. It has Input and Output connectors on the top of the unit, unlike standard pedal designs that are usually on the left and right side so that might fit a little awkward in some pedalboards that rely on the more usual left and right side input/outputs.

The unit can be powered via 9v power supply adaptor (not included) or by a 9v battery which in order to install one has to remove 4 screws at the back of the unit. That is a bit of a hassle, especially when you're in the middle of a gig but as most of my pedals end on a pedalboard it really wasn't a huge concern for me.

Voodoo Lab weren't sure on approximate battery life but they assured me that the Sparkle Drive is not a battery vampire and according to my tests so far it has performed favorably compared to the competition, probably one of the most energy efficient designs out there as well.

The "Gain" control is self explanatory - turning it to the left to right increases the amount of gain. On a clean amp you don't really notice that as much as the gain all the way to the right offers maybe something I'd describe as mild blues breakup, something akin to a B. B. King lead sound. The "Tone" control offers tone brightness from left to right, so the more you go to the right, the more cutting the tone gets. The "Clean" control offers amount of clean boost to be dialed in and the "Volume" control controls the overall volume output of the unit.

What is unique about this pedal is the fact that it also comes with a clean boost which can be dialed in at the player's discretion. This pedal can also serve just as a clean boost for solos when the "Gain" knob is turned almost all the way down.

I personally have used this amp quite successfully to get something like a Metallica "Kill 'Em All" or Megadeth "Peace Sells..." sound from a Marshall JCM900 tube amp that was in crunch mode and needed a bit more help to break up. With a little bit of drive at about 3 and boost at about 5, I was able to get the amp screaming into thrash metal territory and still maintained the overall authenticity and percusiveness of the amp's sound.

On an Ashdown Fallen Angel tube head with darker gain channel character it managed to dial in some great early Black Sabbath tones that were pure heaviness. On some of the cleaner blues amps, like Fender Princeton it managed to deliver a slightly overdriven blues sound and some clean chicken pickin' sounds that were totally organic and transparent. In other words - this box does wonders through pretty much every amp we've put it through! Opposed to some other pricier stalwarts on the overdrive scene I'd have to say that the Sparkle Drive performed quieter and delivered more tonal nuance.

There are all kinds of tones on tap here but like any other overdrive unit - this one needs a tube amp at a crunch level in order to goose it up to metal territory so results may differ due to the difference of amps used. It is definitely not the gainiest overdrive of the bunch but it definitely offers pristine sound quality and an extra boost option which can goose an amp's channel further than some of the higher gain options, or in some cases it turns out you just needed a higher guitar output to get there so the clean boost does the job by itself without the extra drive.

This is probably the most versatile overdrive pedal I've ever used. Having the clean boost though begs asking the question why Voodoo Lab didn't add an extra switch to turn on/off that as well? Now this would've been pure heaven as the boost function can work as a solo boost on top of an already overdriven sound but at this price point this is hardly a huge issue and the design would've most likely become more expensive.

Earlier reviews of this unit offer the opinion that this pedal is not for the metal players but I beg to differ. I have suggested this as an Ibanez 808 Tubescreamer replacement and it has so far always been a winner. Compared to that "classic" pedal the Voodolab sounds more organic, doesn't suffer the low frequency tone loss, performs quieter and on top of that can drive the amps harder due to the added clean boost.

At this price point, made in U.S.A., full bypass, top grade electronics components, built like a tank, 5 year warranty, and backed by the wonderful personal care customer support of the Voodoo Lab staff (you need to experience it to believe it!!!!), this pedal is a total no brainer. Get not one but TWO TODAY!


Link: Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive

Reviewed by A. Dorian more reviews at HoustonMusicReviews.com

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Carl Martin Plexitone




The Bottom Line:

The Plexitone is a great pedal for those players that need the boutique sounds found on Marshall Plexi heads plus boost without the hefty price tag of owning one.

Pros:

Very "tuneful" effect    
Boost included
Built in power supply    
Styling, ruggedness

Cons:    

Could use more gain  
Manual / operation confusing
Only one tone knob
Built-in power supply


The build is amazing – really strong metal chassis with “chickenhead” retro style knobs. This pedal is full bypass so it doesn’t degrade your sound when not in use. Another useful extra is that Carl Martin has built the power supply inside the box itself, so you will never forget your adapter last minute before the gig.

The downside of this design is that the unit has to be used on US electricity alone and cannot be taken to say Europe while you’re on tour. If your power supply blows up due to a clubs’ power failure (happened to me before) you’re toast. You cannot use batteries due to the fact that this pedal requires higher voltage to run. With these cautions aside I find the benefits outweigh the cons and it is more likely that I’d forget the power supply than blow the pedal so I am happy in regards to the design.

The CM Plexitone has a guitar input and output ¼ in. jacks, 5 chickenhead knobs labeled “Boost”, “Level”, “Tone”, “High Gain”, “Crunch” and 3 on/off momentary switches labeled “Boost”, “Select” and “Drive”.

To test this unit I used an Ibanez mid-grade guitar ($500) with Seymour Duncan distortion pickup upgrade and a Dean Z with PAF Joe Satriani humbuckers.

The amps I tested it with were: Fender Princeton 112 (clean solid state amp), Marshall VS100 head amp, Laney AOR 50 Head (tube) running into a 2x12 speaker loaded with Celestion greenback speakers.

To top it all off I also ran it into an H&K Redbox (speaker emulation device). On all tested the CM Plexitone had a very distinct sound to it and one thing that always came through in the sound was “quality”.

The pedal has 3 switches – “Drive”, “Select” and “Boost”. The manual provided with the pedal was too busy boasting Carl Martin’s other products and offered little insight on this pedal, besides showing some presets. It took me a while to figure out why the “Select” button by itself did not change the sound. It turns out “Drive” has to be first on in order for “Select” to work by adding the second distortion section!

It would’ve been nicer to at least have a diagram or a simple explanation on how this ting works – I was about to ship the unit for servicing until I remembered the usual operation on the Plexi amp, which required you to hot patch one channel to the other in front of the amplifier itself.

So in essence, “Drive” engages the “Crunch” section, which can be described as ranging from bluesy Clapton sounds to AC/DC distortion. By engaging the “Select” button while “Drive” is on, the player engages a second overdrive channel on top of the first one adding yet more gain which brings the sound closer to Van Halen 70s and 80s sounds.

The “Tone” control basically changes the tone of the unit and the contour as well. From the left you can dial in a smoother bassier sound with the highs rolled off and as you move towards the right the sound gets grittier and the high frequencies start to become more predominant.

The “Boost” pedal engages a signal boost which is very useful for soloing, and the “Level” knob controls the output of the pedal. There are lots of useful sounds to be found on this pedal, by playing with the two OD sections (“Crunch” and “Drive”) and varying the “Tone” control.

One thing that I missed on this unit was a dual eq for each channel or at least a bass and high eq control for the whole pedal. Regardless of that omission the pedal sounded great with pretty much anything I threw at it. It kept is character on all amps but sounded best on the solid state units, where it got almost identical to a cranked Plexi.

I tried to also run it as OD pedal in front of the tube amp but it didn't work in that capacity . The boost can still be used in the fx loop for your leads so that is an extra bonus if say you needed the Plexi sounds for the studio but also need a boost pedal for another amp. Another setback was the fact that the distortion was voiced on the cold side – basically high gain shredders and back and death dealers need to look elsewhere for their sounds.

It was a bit of a disappointment that the unit could do gainier sounds, because it would’ve been great to be able to get a raging shred distortion sound out of this unit, because it is voiced so well. As far as I am concerned, CM could’ve added more gain to the second knob and made the pedal more versatile. As of now it strictly stays in the retro category and it doesn’t deliver higher gain sounds than say Metallica circa “Kill ‘em All”.

If you’re looking for a great blues, classic rock or hard rock distortion with the true sound of a Plexi amp – this thing totally delivers. For the money it might seem expensive at first but for around $200 you get CM “Made in Sweden” durability, 2 gain channels and a boost. When you compare it against boost pedals nowadays running at $120 alone this stomp box at its current price is a steal.


Link: Carl Martin Plexitone

Reviewed by A. Dorian more reviews at HoustonMusicReviews.com

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AMT DT2 Distortion Factory




The Bottom Line:

Lots of tonal options make this unit an interesting option for guitarists looking to expand their tonal palette with more than one aggressive rock sound.

Pros:

Versatility (lots of sounds)
Speaker emulation

Cons:

Build
Price
Volume mismatch between slider settings
No manual


Features: The DT-2 is housed in a metal enclosure and sports the following controls - four rotary knobs (Level, Low, High, Dist) and three sliding switches (Mic, Mod, Amp Selector). It has a 1/4 jack IN and OUT connectors and can be powered via 9 volt battery or a power supply adapter (not provided).

The DT-2 is a bit on the light side compared to the typical distortion box from most of the competition and the build doesn't quite inspire confidence. At the current price range one can't help but wonder why AMT have cut costs by putting in plastic IN and OUT jacks instead of the industry grade metal connectors.

The unit has a power LED on the top right showing on/off status and is switched via a metal on/off switch. The rotary knobs and the sliders for Mic, Mod and Amp Selector have a bit of a cheep feel to them. The unit comes with a 1 year warranty as opposed to the traditional 3 year warranty from most other manufacturers, so this also doesn't build up my confidence.

As far as the design of this unit is concerned, it looks to me like a different take of the Sansamp idea - you have bunch of amps, voicings and speaker positions. In the case of the DT-2, on the "Amp" selector you get "Tweed", "British" and "California" selections via a slider.

The "Tweed" sounds like a Vox on crunch settings, "British" is typical Marshall grind distortion, and the "California" is voiced similarly to a Mesa Rectifier amp. The "Mod" slider lets you pick the hotness of the amp, with 3 settings: "Classic", "High Gain" and "Hot Wired". Next you can pick the mic positioning with a 3 settings slider - "Classic", "Center" and "Off Axis".

According to the printer on box manual this pedal could be used to record direct as it has speaker emulation or it can be hooked in a traditional way to a powered amp. The DT-2 also has 4 rotary pots that control sound level (Level), EQ (Low, High) and the amount of distortion (Dist).

In Use: The DT-2 is a very useful distortion box with lots of configurable sound options so in most cases on a single amp you'd be able to fine tune and get several settings that work well in the style you're looking for. In my case I was looking for a main distortion sound, so after having my cleans dialed in, I plugged in through the clean channel of an Ashdown Fallen Angel 60 watt head and started punishing it with the DT-2. I settled on the California setting, High Gain Mod, Center position. This provided a sound reminiscent of a Mesa amp with maybe a little more grind than the usual.

The same settings but with British voicing on the first slider provided a sound closer to a JCM2000 amp at full blast, so I had two high gain sounds that I liked so I could pick what I need according to the application, which in this case was a speed metal/thrash type of sound. I found the Tweed setting to be usually tamer, more suited to classic rock and blues, although it was a little grindy for some of these sounds and it felt a little rough.

The Mic settings worked best on Classic and Center as I discovered that the Off-Axis provided a sound that was akin to pickups wired out of phase. I wouldn't call it realistic to Off-Axis mic sound but it does have its uses if you want a bitier tone with less bass and mids. I found this pedal to cover most hard rock and metal territory well, although it could get a bit rough at times.

The pedal doesn't match volume levels well within changing settings so you have to be adjust each time you change a slider. This didn't affect the overall sound but you couldn't compare two sounds equal in volume to choose which one was better without playing the volume level.

The eq is okay - I can't say that I am impressed as the controls were kinda loose and not very focused, especially the Lows. It is serviceable but I was hoping for a more responsive eq section with a better voicing. This unit also could use a mid eq, which could've been priceless considering the tonal options on tap.

To get better control of the mids I did patch in an eq pedal before the DT-2 and that worked well, but I do see that as a miss on the manufacturer's end, especially considering that this unit costs two times the price of most distortion units. Stomping on the unit is a bit tacky as it is on the light side, so when you step on it it feels a little wobbly.

Recording direct provided a decent sound although this unit probably wouldn't be my first choice for that. Still - quite serviceable if you want to just patch in and jam or make a portable rig, which is what I did during a recent power outage - I plugged in the DT-2 to a portable stereo and got some pretty decent jam sounds.

Overall the DT-2 is an interesting multi-sound option that could possibly suit any guitarist looking for more than just one sound in a distortion box, especially in the metal and hard rock genre.

Value: A little pricey but for the multitude of sounds it is worth it.

Similar products: Sansamp TRI-AC, Sansamp GT2, Tech21 Double Drive 3X, Digitech DF-7, Hughes and Kettner Tubeman II.


Link: AMT DT2 Distortion Factory

Reviewed by A. Dorian more reviews at HoustonMusicReviews.com

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