New Arrivals For February 2020

Winter NAMM 2020 has been and gone, and now we wait for announcements to become shipping product … and then to reach the UK, which can sometimes take months longer.

I’ve pre-ordered a couple of things that were announced at (or around) NAMM. They’re going to take up most of my gear budget this year. The PRS S2 Singlecut McCarty 594 might arrive by the summer. We already know that Neural DSP’s Quad Cortex won’t arrive until the autumn at the earliest. At least I don’t have to wait as long for the Lark (Rhett Shull’s new signature pedal from Mythos Pedals); that should ship in March.

I’m still keeping an eye out for interesting bits of gear, but it’s got to be pretty special – and at a special price. By and large, I’m only looking to pickup pedals to help me fill in the gaps in my collection, or provide complementary tones for recording with.

Finally, I may have finished my planned revamp of the home studio, but now I’m sitting down to use it, I’m finding that a few things need sorting out, and that there’s a few gaps that are nagging at me a bit. I’m going to be tackling those, but not all in a single month πŸ™‚

Here’s what arrived this month.

Two Notes Torpedo CAB M

Impulse responses (IRs for short) are a godsend for recording guitars in a home studio. I just want to move them off of my computer, so that the guitar cab emulation happens before the preamp and any plugins I want to use on the way in.

I thought about waiting for the new Two Notes Torpedo Captor X. It looks fantastic, especially in a live setting. I’ve already got the original Captor – which I’m very happy with – and the CAB M is the cheapest way to add an IR device right now.

I had a lot to say about the CAB M – not all of it positive – in my First Impressions blog post. I’ll also say this: after moving IRs onto the CAB M, I’m happy with my guitar tone in a way that I’ve never been before.

Lewitt MTP 440 DM Microphone

One thing that I want to do this year is to make impulse responses of my own cabs. I just don’t have the space to keep my cabs mic’ed up all the time, and it isn’t easy to recreate guitar tones when you’re having to tear everything down on an evening.

I’ve read quite a few reviews where people reported that the Lewitt MTP 440 microphone was a great choice for getting a recorded tone that sounded like the amp and cab. That sounds ideal for making IRs. They’re about the same price as a Shure SM57 too. It should also help me with my Kemper profiles too.

To be honest, I’ve been enjoying the Two Notes Torpedo CAB M so much, I just haven’t done anything at all with this microphone yet, other than unbox it to make sure it arrived.

Lovepedal 4-Knob Brownface Deluxe Overdrive Pedal

Lovepedal is one of those pedal brands that I’m quietly really enjoying. The Amp 11 is one of my favourite drive pedals of all time, and the Tchula Black Mamba is the pedal I always take with me whenever I’m going to try out a new amp or guitar. I’ve also really liked pedals like the JTM, Jubilee, Champ and Blackface Deluxe that aim to emulate classic amp tones.

As the tweed / vintage American amp sound seems to be my thing right now, I’m keeping an eye out for any Lovepedal pedals that fall into that. They’re pretty rare on the second hand market in the UK, and often go for more than I want to spend on them. It’s going to take me quite a while to collect them.

I’m not expecting the Brownface Deluxe to push the Sweet Honey Overdrive (SHOD for short) or Fender MTG off my pedal board. By all accounts, it’s not really a standalone overdrive pedal. I’m hoping it’ll go nicely into my Blackstar Studio 10 6L6 to give me a different flavour of clean tone. I love seeking out complimentary tones for recording guitar. If it gives me that, I’ll be happy enough.

Turns out, it was a little better than that …

Danelectro Cash Cow Distortion Pedal

I’ve had a couple of the pedals from Danelectro’s Billionaire series so far, and I’ve been very impressed with just how good they are. They’re not just good pedals for the money, they’re simply good pedals. I would like to try them all.

Despite the big promotional push when they first launched, they rarely turn up second hand. When they do, sellers tend to ask too much for them. I guess they’re not aware that here in the UK, whoever distributes these pedals dumped their stocks through outlet stores a couple of years or so ago. I guess that didn’t go too well, or I’d have seen a more regular supply of them by now!

The Cash Cow promises to be the series’ first (and, so far, only!) proper drive pedal for clean amps. Outside of YouTube, I couldn’t find any decent reviews of this pedal … so I’m looking forward to when it arrives πŸ™‚

It didn’t turn out to be quite what I was expecting …

Fender The Trapper Fuzz Pedal

What the hell am I doing, buying a fuzz pedal? I’m not a fuzz person at all. The electricity here is full of the kind of noise that fuzz pedals can’t wait to amplify and shove right back in your face. Why, why why?!?

I’m a huge fan of Fender’s drive pedals. Every one of them has a sound inside them that I want to use. And, just like the early Mad Professor pedals, I’ve been collecting them all. With The Trapper, I’ve now got every Fender drive pedal (for guitar) that’s actually made it to market.

It was a good purchase.

First Impressions: Fender’s The Trapper Fuzz Pedal

I’m really not a fuzz kind of person. They pickup and amplify all of the noise on the dirty electricity we have here. I don’t enjoy playing through spitty, broken tones. And about the only time I use the bridge pickup on my Strat is to make sure it’s still there.

So what am I doing with one? And what do I think of Fender’s latest fuzz pedal?

Continue reading “First Impressions: Fender’s The Trapper Fuzz Pedal”

First Impressions: Danelectro Cash Cow Drive Pedal

Earlier this week, I picked up a second hand Cash Cow drive pedal from Danelectro’s Billionaire range. How have I gotten on with it? Here are my first impressions.

tl;dr

The Cash Cow is a good low-gain option in some circumstances. It offers plenty of snap, clarity, articulation and warmth. It’s also got plenty of volume boost available if you’re looking to goose your amp.

The higher-gain tones weren’t for me. It sounds quite different on its own vs in a mix. It didn’t sit that well in a mix without help or careful planning. A little bit of post EQ goes a long way with this pedal.

I can’t think of another pedal that delivers the same sound as the Cash Cow. That alone makes it an interesting option to grab and try out.

Why Did I Buy One?

I’ve already had a couple of these pedals:

I liked both of them a lot, and decided to try and get all of the pedals in the range. If it’s as good as the first two, I’m going to be very happy.

Mind The (Volume) Gap!

Don’t do what I did, and start with the volume at 12 o’clock. This pedal has lot of spare output on tap.

Unity volume is somewhere around 9 o’clock, depending on where the gain knob is set. I haven’t tried using it to boost an amp, but I imagine it can do that pretty well.

I wish unity gain was a little higher. There isn’t a lot of room to work the volume when boosting the Cash Cow with another pedal.

What Is It Like At Low Gain?

I don’t want to say it’s thin. I’m definitely not getting thick, fat tones from this pedal, even with the Les Paul. It’s not thin, though. It’s clear and articulate, with a surprising amount of string separation. There’s plenty of attack in each note, with more crunch than growl.

With the Strat, I thought it suited the neck pickup really well. The added snap from the attack really brought out the piano-like way the open low-E string sounds. I did have to dial back the pedal’s Treble a bit, as it was a bit spiky with the Strat.

I thought it would sit really well in a mix. Just noodling, it sounded bright and snappy, with plenty of room underneath for a bass player and kick drum. But when I tried it, I was surprised at how much it clashed with a clean rhythm guitar. I guess it doesn’t have as much of a mid-push as I first thought?

In the end, I thought it worked well in these kind of setups:

  • single Strat over bass & drums, or
  • Les Paul for low-gain bluesy solos over a clean Strat

A Different Beast With The Gain Cranked

I didn’t get on with it at all with the gain cranked. It’s still clear and articulate, but through my rig, I thought it sounded metallic and not very musical.

Switching maps to my Marshall Origin 20H helped a bit, as did switching to some different impulse responses. There was just too much fizz for me though, and it didn’t sound saturated.

Admittedly, high gain isn’t really my thing, and this definitely isn’t a high gain rig. Maybe you’ll have happier results, I don’t know.

What’s It Like To Boost?

I thought it would be a good idea to slam the front of the Cash Cow with the other two pedals from the Billionaire range, starting with the Billion Dollar Boost.

The good news is that the overall signal doesn’t get fizzy. That’s a plus. It’s still a little too metallic for me in a sparse mix. Maybe it’ll work well in a dense mix, where you need a guitar to cut through? I don’t know. The Cash Cow does saturate though.

Switching over to the Pride of Texas as a boost into the Cash Cow, I liked that a lot more. The extra mid-push from the Pride of Texas got rid of the metallic quality nicely. The overall sound isn’t as saturated, and I couldn’t dial in any warmth by boosting the bass, but yeah … that’s a sound with a nice quality to it.

I flipped the pedals around, and ran the Cash Cow into the Pride of Texas. That didn’t do much for me. I preferred the Cash Cow on its own.

And I think that’s where I am with this pedal right now. I prefer it on its own.

What Signal Chain Did You Use?

Here’s the signal chain I used today.

It’s basically a couple of USA-factory guitars (nothing custom shop!), into the Cash Cow, into a cheap blackface-sounding valve amp, and then out to my audio interface via a couple of useful bits of gear.

  • For guitars, I was using both my Gibson Les Paul Standard and my Fender American Performer Strat.
  • For pedals, I used my Korg Pitchblack Advance Tuner, into the Billion Dollar Boost or the Pride of Texas, into the Cash Cow.
  • The pedals went into my Blackstar Studio 10 6L6 for most of the review. I used my Marshall Origin 20H to explore the higher gain range of the pedal, and to explore what the Cash Cow sounds like when boosted.
  • The amp went into a Two Notes Torpedo CAB M and Captor, and then out to my audio interface. The CAB M was running two impulse responses from Celestion: the Celestion Blue and A-Type speakers captured in 1×12 open-back cabs (most of the time).
  • On the audio interface, I ran a UA-610B preamp plugin & Distressor compressor plugin. They’re set with a very light touch just to get a little closer to the sound of my actual 1×12 cabs here in the room.

Final Thoughts

The Cash Cow worked best for me on its own, as a low gain vintage-style lead tone for my Les Paul, into my Marshall Origin with a Celestion V30 impulse response.

I can’t think of anything else in its price range that gives a similar kind of sound, especially at second hand prices.

The two budget distortion pedals I’ve got – the Boss DS-1 and TC Electronic Dark Matter – don’t get that close to the Cash Cow’s sound. All three are clearly distortion pedals, rather than overdrives, but that’s where the similarities end.

The Cash Cow is surprisingly warmer than either pedal – but only when played over a mix. On its own, the Cash Cow sounds like it has less bass.

To help me understand what I’m hearing, I grabbed my Boss GE-7 Graphic Equalizer, and added it to the signal chain after the Cash Cow. Cutting at 400 Hz and boosting at 1.5 KHz really helped to lift the Cash Cow out of the mix without making it sound like a completely different pedal.

So yeah … the Cash Cow seems to be its own thing. It gives me an option that I don’t think I’ve got from any other pedal. I’m warming to it.

Studio Diary #18: Recreating The Sound Of My Speaker Cabs Using Celestion Impulse Responses

Now that I’ve added the Two Notes Torpedo CAB M to my setup, the next challenge is to set it up to sound like my actual speaker cabs do.

One day, I want to make my own impulse responses of my speaker cabs. I want to be able to share them with you, so that you can recreate the signal chain I use for yourself. That’s something I can’t do with any impulse responses that I buy.

I’m going to be using Celestion’s official impulse responses on the CAB M, until I can replace them with my own impulse responses.

Continue reading “Studio Diary #18: Recreating The Sound Of My Speaker Cabs Using Celestion Impulse Responses”

Studio Diary #17: Getting A Better Recorded Guitar Tone By Using Impulse Responses In The Right Place

The whole point of last autumn’s home studio revamp was to get things to the point where I could start recording music again. However, as I mentioned in my 2019 review of the home studio gear, I wasn’t sure I’d got my signal chain order sorted out.

It was a good call.

Continue reading “Studio Diary #17: Getting A Better Recorded Guitar Tone By Using Impulse Responses In The Right Place”

First Impressions: Lovepedal 4-Knob Brownface Deluxe Overdrive Pedal

I’ve just picked up a second-hand Brownface Deluxe Overdrive pedal off eBay. What do I think of it? Here’s my first impressions.

tl;dr

When I stuck the right pedal in front of it to act as a boost, the Brownface Deluxe rewarded me with the nicest Strat bridge pickup lead tone I’ve ever had.

Why Did I Buy It?

There’s a couple of reasons why I’ve bought this particular pedal.

  • I’ve had quite a few of Lovepedal’s Amp-In-A-Box (AIAB for short) pedals. So far, I’ve really enjoyed the ones that I’ve had.
  • As I’m honing ‘my’ sound, it seems to be the sound of old Fender amps. Well, the sound of pedals that are chasing that sound, at any rate.

I haven’t seen too many of these in recent months, so when it turned up on eBay for a reasonable price, I decided to grab it.

I’m glad I did.

Strat Bridge Pickup Heaven

It took me about 10 minutes to work out that this pedal is voiced for the bridge pickup of a Strat. That’s its sweet spot, and it’s very sweet.

No matter how much you crank the gain knob, I couldn’t hear any actual drive until I also ran the bass knob past 12 o’clock. I can’t think of another pedal I’ve tried that works like that. Normally the drive is in the mids or upper mids.

It’s nice to find something that offers a different option.

I Heard That It’s Low Gain?

If you do an online search for reviews of this pedal, you’ll find quite a few forum posts from people who’ve had one, but didn’t hang onto it. They were after the sound of a cranked Fender brown face amp. This pedal definitely does not deliver that.

There is some breakup if you dig in. Once I discovered that, it didn’t take long for me to stop digging in just for a bit of grit. The pedal’s really dynamic, with a significant volume jump whenever I dig in.

This is a pedal that needs to have the frontend slammed.

Pick And Choose Your Signal Chain Carefully

To my ears, this pedal does not like being second in the chain behind anything that’s bright. And that (sadly) includes the Klon with its bright internal buffer.

Part of the problem is that the EQ controls on the Brownface Deluxe don’t take any prisoners. Anything outside the 10 o’clock-2 o’clock range quickly sounds wrong, honky and horrible in a way that my brain just says “nope!” to. It doesn’t leave a lot of scope to adjust this pedal to whatever is hitting it.

The other part of the problem is that this pedal filters the top end and boosts the low end. That’s what makes it sound so good with a Strat neck pickup. Stick a bright pedal in front of it, and the filtering strips out what makes that pedal work. The result varies from flat to uncomfortable.

I found I was much better off running the Brownface Deluxe’s tone controls between 12 noon and 2 o’clock, and adjusting the guitar and pedals in front of the Brownface Deluxe instead. When I did, I thought the results sounded fantastic.

I’d go as far as saying it might just be the nicest Strat bridge pickup lead sound I’ve had to date.

Boosts That Go Well With The Brownface Deluxe

Okay, so I didn’t like it with the Klon. What do I like boosting it with? I’ve tried boosting it with a few other pedals, and got great results out of:

  • Mad Professor Forest Green Compressor (this thing is great for goosing amps and other pedals)
  • SviSound OverZoid OD1 (I love this pedal so much)
  • MP Audio Blue Brit (such a fantastic boost pedal)
  • Keeley Super Phat Mod (Boss BD-2 Blues Driver on steroids)
  • Keeley 1962x
  • Lovepedal Tchula Black Mamba

I’ve also had good results out of:

  • Xotic EP booster
  • Ibanez Mini Tubescreamer
  • Keeley Oxblood
  • Timmy v2
  • JHS Morning Glory v4

The main differences between the two groups were how the upper mids sounded, and how stiff the overall rig suddenly felt.

They’re all very good and very usable, but I’ll be using the Brownface Deluxe with either the Tchula Black Mamba or the SviSound OverZoid OD1.

What Is It Like With Humbuckers?

I’m finding the pedal’s a bit dark for humbuckers. It chops off the highs and boosts the lows, and ends up sounding dull and muddy with humbuckers.

I’ll come back and explore this a lot more another time.

Final Thoughts

I’m currently working on an (overdue!) demo of my Elite Strat, before it goes into the shop for a pickup swap. I’m going to be using Fender’s MTG for the lead parts with my Strat’s neck pickup.

I didn’t have a Strat neck pickup sound for the demo. Now I do.

First Impressions: Two Notes Torpedo CAB M

The Two Notes Torpedo CAB M is a little computer in a pedal. The whole point of it is that you don’t need to mic up an actual guitar cabinet to get a great guitar tone. Instead, it uses impulse responses to emulate what a cab & mic does to the signal from your amp.

I recently bought one to add to my home studio setup. I’m going to be using it to help me record electric guitar. I spent an evening after work getting it setup and dialled in, and then returned to it the following day for several hours.

How did it go?

NB: I’ve updated this article with some corrections. You’ll find the corrections in [square brackets].

tl;dr

It sounds great. I’m using third-party IRs, partly because the included cab models didn’t give me what I want. And I’m glad I don’t need to use the software after building my own presets.

[Since then, I’ve found a workflow for working with IRs and the CAB M that avoids many of the gripes I have about the software. I’ve been able to build over 20 presets without much trouble. Details below!]

Why Did I Buy The CAB M?

I’ve been using impulse responses (IRs for short) for many years now. They’ve been running in a plugin in my DAW – and that’s not ideal (for me) for a few reasons.

  • Makes it harder to share DAW session files, and (perhaps more importantly)
  • It’s in the wrong place in my signal chain

Tess (my musical collaborator and band mate) lives a good hour and a half away from me. For many years, we shared our sessions online via a cloud syncing service. To get the session files to open for both of us, we also needed to share the plugins used in each session. (Oh, and the IRs too!) In practice, that wasn’t always affordable. Plugin and IR licenses can add up quite quickly!

Moving IRs out of the DAW gets rid of that problem for us.

It also moves the speaker cab emulation into the “right” place in the signal chain: after the amp, and before the preamp and outboard effects. To my ears, that just sounds better.

My audio interface (Universal Audio Apollo) can run plugins to emulate different console channel strips and classic outboard equipment. With this revised signal chain, those emulations are being applied to the guitar+amp+cab sound, instead of being applied to just the guitar+amp sound – all before the audio reaches my DAW.

That means that I don’t need to use as many plugins in the DAW itself. I can probably get away with the DAW’s stock plugins for tracking sessions. That’s going to make it very easy to share session files in the future.

The downside is that I’ve got to get the sound right on the way in. If I don’t, it’s much harder to make major changes in the DAW after the recording. Is it actually a bad thing? I’ll let you debate that in the comments πŸ™‚

Why The CAB M, Instead Of Something Else?

The main competitors are pedals like the Mooer Radar, or combined load box and cab emulators like the Two Notes Torpedo Live, Torpedo Studio, or Universal Audio’s OX Box, or Boss’s Waza Tube Amp Expander.

I’ve already got several Two Notes Torpedo Captors. They’re standalone load boxes, with optional -20db attenuation built-in. I’ve been very happy with them. Will the more expensive units sound better? They might, but I’m not willing to spend Β£1100 to find out.

Universal Audio’s OX Box isn’t just disqualified on price alone. It uses its own proprietary modelling; you’re limited to the cab models they provide. By all accounts, they sound amazing, but that’s no good when they don’t model the cabs and speakers that I use πŸ™

Yes, if you buy cabs from Two Notes, those are proprietary models too. You don’t have to use cabs from Two Notes though. You can do what I do, and buy IRs that’ll continue to work many years down the road, rather than get tied into a single platform and a single supplier.

If I was gigging with electric guitar amps, I’d probably go with the upcoming Two Notes Torpedo Captor X. That’s basically a Captor load box + CAB M IR unit in a single device, with some neat tweaks that look great for gigging guitarists.

What’s It Like To Use Without Hooking Up To A Computer?

I found it a lot more awkward than I expected.

It’s easy enough to scroll through the presets, but the moment I wanted to start customising the sounds, I think I gave it about 10 minutes before hooking the CAB M up to my computer via USB.

The controls on the device remain live, even when being controlled by the Two Notes Remote software on the computer. I found that frustrating. I accidentally knocked one of the controls while moving the CAB M between the Captor and my real cab (for A/B testing), and it trashed the preset I was building.

That wasn’t the only time I lost the preset while I was working on it …

What’s The Computer Software Like?

I had some disappointing issues with the Two Notes’ Remote software.

None of the issues stopped me building the sound that I wanted. It’s important to say that. Some of them are frustrating, and most of them distract from the process of getting a good sound out of the CAB M. But, in the end, I did get the IRs I wanted onto the device, and I did build and save a preset out of them.

What issues did I have?

  • The software seems to be registrationware. I couldn’t update the CAB M to the latest firmware version, or use a second microphone on any of the bundled cabs, until I had an account on the Two Notes website and had registered the device. That left a bad taste. You shouldn’t have to register anything you’ve bought to unlock the functionality you’ve already paid for. Additional functionality, that requires an add-on purchase? Sure. But not straight out of the box. Not in 2020. Henning Pauly says you’re good people. Please please fix this.
  • Using the bundled Two Notes cabs, trying to move two mics around on a cab was much harder than it should have been. The graphical representation of the speaker cab took up a tiny corner of the app’s window, making it very fiddly to work with. Please, Two Notes: make the cab nice and big and in the middle of the window.
  • The Remote desktop app renders both mics on top of each other in a flat, 2D presentation. You can’t see which mic is which, or where it is relative to the amp. It’s just too cluttered. I’m guessing the 2D presentation is a hold-over from when Two Notes only supported a single mic at a time? I love the idea of showing the mic positions graphically. I just found this tiny, flat, 2D display didn’t work in practice for me at all.
  • The IR loader can’t work with a folder tree of IRs. When you buy IRs from any of the major vendors, they come already organised into nested subdirectories. That makes it really easy to keep a collection of IRs (which can run into thousands of files) over time. Two Notes Remote’s IR loader can only see files in one folder at a time, and you have to switch screens in order to switch folders. That definitely slows down the process of building your own preset.
  • [The IR Manager screen can work with a folder tree of IRs. When I switch away to another screen and then switch back, it often forgets which folders in the tree were open, sadly – but it’s still far more productive than the IR Loader screen is. Two Notes: please reuse the folder tree code on the IR Loader screen.]
  • When I changed one IR on the preview screen, the Remote desktop software would sometimes change the other IR in use too. [It happens if you’re previewing one IR from your computer, and then try to add a second IR to the preview. This problem does not happen if you use the IR Manager screen to put all the IRs onto the CAB M first.]
  • I also had problems where changing an IR on the preview screen would mute one of the mics too. (It’s easy to miss that one of the mics / IRs has been muted too.) This one was probably the biggest time waster out of all of these issues.
  • I had to load IRs onto the CAB M first to preview them in the mic B slot. No idea why it only affects the mic B slot. It’s a bit weird. To get the IR onto the CAB M (to preview in the mic B slot), I had to keep switching between the “IR manager” and “IR loader” screens, instead of working quickly in one screen. And it causes a major problem when the device is full …
  • The CAB M can hold 21 third-party IRs at at time. (I was surprised that it only took 21 IRs to fill up the CAB M.) Any more than that, and the Remote software told me that I had to delete some before I could preview any more. [I had filled up one IR bank. There’s another 3 banks available. The software didn’t make it clear that I’d filled up only one bank. I’m not sure why the IRs are the only thing that are split up into banks.]
  • When I deleted some IRs I wasn’t using, the CAB M changed which IRs were being used in the preset I was building. It looks like the preset is tied to the slot ID of each IR, and when you delete an IR, the slot IDs get changed. Frankly, that’s crap.
  • There doesn’t seem to be a way to create a backup of the presets in the CAB M onto your computer. There’s no mention of it in the manual at all. For a digital device that can get lost, damaged or stolen when out gigging, that seems like a major missing feature. [There is a Backup feature. It just doesn’t appear in the app’s menu if you’re using a Mac like I am. The app draws its own menu inside its own window.]

[Since I first published this article, I’ve also had problems where presets built in the Remote desktop software wouldn’t save to the device. If that happens, check the device: there’s probably an error message on the device’s screen.]

[I’ve also had problems where trying to use the Remote desktop software to switch from one preset to another didn’t work. If that happens, check the device: there’s probably an error message on the device’s screen.]

I’m surprised that any of these issues exist in an app that’s now up to version 5. I’m disappointed that all of these issues exist in something that’s up to version 5. They get in the way of what is otherwise a really useful product.

(Thankfully!) once you’ve built and saved your preset, you don’t need to use the Remote software again … unless / until you want to build another one.

[The “trick” to working with IRs seems to be to always preload them onto the CAB M via the IR Manager screen, and then preview and build the preset in the IR Loader screen. I.e, don’t load them from your computer when previewing in the IR Loader. I’ve had no real problems when using this workflow.]

How Were The Stock Sounds?

They weren’t for me. To be fair, they never were going to be, and I knew that before I got it. It’s not what I bought it for.

In the physical world, I’ve got a collection of open-backed 1×12 cabs. Each one’s fitted with a different speaker. I can mix and match them to suit whatever amp I’m using at the time. Combine it with a bunch of amp heads, and I find it a really flexible way to explore and enjoy different amps – all without needing a tonne of space.

Most of the time, I’m using two cabs at once. One cab is always the one with the 16 ohm Celestion A-Type in it. It does a great job of beefing up the overall sound. The other cab either has a 15 ohm Celestion Blue, or a 16 ohm Celestion G12-M 65 Creamback. Some amps prefer one, and some amps prefer the other.

There’s nothing like that in the Two Notes stock cabs. (Two Notes publish the list of stock cabs on their website, so you know what you’re getting in advance. Thank you Two Notes!) And even if they had these cabs available to buy on the Two Notes store (I don’t know, because the store isn’t searchable by speaker type), you can’t run two Two Notes cabs anyway. Not on the CAB M.

But you can run two IRs at the same time, which is absolutely perfect for me.

I was able to load up Celestion’s 1×12 Blue in one slot, and Celestion’s 1×12 A-Type in the other slot, and get exactly the sound that I was after. You can blend the two IRs to taste by adjusting their relative volumes, which is an essential feature.

Even though I’m running IRs for two cabs, the output signal is mono. This isn’t a stereo device. You’ll need a Two Notes Captor + CAB M (or a Captor X, which will be about the same price) for each amp and cab you want to use in a stereo or wet/dry/wet rig.

I’m alright with that.

How Are The Onboard Effects?

The CAB M comes with three onboard effects: power amp emulation, multi-band EQ, and reverb.

The power amp emulation is on by default. To my ears, it was adding quite a bit of noise to the signal, so I immediately switched it off, and didn’t try it after that.

I did play with the EQ a bit while building my presets. It sounded fine. I’ve definitely heard worse. I can’t see me making any use of it, but it’s comforting to know it’s there if I need it.

Why won’t I be using it? I got much better results by keeping it flat and fixing EQ issues on the amp itself or by changing which IRs I was using. That’s not a criticism of the EQ on the CAB M. You’re supposed to get it right on the way in, instead of trying to fix it afterwards!

The reverb wasn’t for me. It’s offering environment reverb (halls, cathedrals, that sort of thing), rather than amp reverb (for amps that don’t have built-in reverb). Problem is, I don’t want those kinds of reverb at that point in my signal chain. I prefer to record as dry as possible, so that I can then use reverb right at the end of the mixing stage to put all the tracks into a sonically-consistent environment.

Of the three effects, this is the one that makes the least sense to me. Sorry πŸ™

(Searching the online user manual, it seems that the reverb’s there to help with room mic emulation. If you’re using the Two Notes proprietary cabs, that might be useful? For IRs? They’ve already got the room baked in.)

How Does It Sound?

In a word: great. I’m finally happy with the sound I’m getting into my DAW.

I’m using a pair of Celestion’s impulse responses, one of a Celestion Blue in a 1×12 open-backed cab, and one of a Celestion A-Type in a 1×12 open-backed cab. The IR of the A-Type is set something like 3db less that the IR of the Blue, which mimics the efficiency difference between the real speakers.

It did take me an hour or so to get used to the sound. It’s not a problem with the CAB M, or with the IRs at all. My room gives a false impression of how much bass is coming out of the real speaker cabs. That’s open-backed 1×12 cabs in an untreated room for you!

I found it helped to do a little bit of extra processing on the sound that came out of the CAB M. A tiny bit of compression, plus some tasty delay and reverb, and the sound out of my DAW sounds every bit as good as the real cabs do in the room.

What’s Your Signal Chain?

The signal chain is very straight-forward:

  • Les Paul or Fender Strat
  • into a Korg Pitchblack Advance Tuner
  • into a Fender MTG drive pedal (my current #1 drive pedal)
  • into the Blackstar Studio 10 6L6 (internal speaker disconnected)
  • 8 ohm speaker out of the Studio 10 into the Two Notes Torpedo CAB M
  • speaker out of the CAB M into a Two Notes Torpedo Captor (you need a load box to avoid blowing the output transformer of the amp!)
  • DI out of the CAB M into my audio interface, a UAD Apollo
  • the Apollo is running the UAD 610-B preamp plugin, set with the tube gain turned down one notch
  • that then goes into the Empirical Labs Distressor plugin, set for a very light touch
  • with an EP-3 Echoplex Tape Delay and Ocean Way room reverb on the auxiliary bus

… which goes into my DAW (I use Reaper), and then out to some speakers.

How Is The Latency?

I didn’t notice any latency at all. I was playing for a good 3-4 hours last night, and another 5-6 hours today. Not a single problem with latency, or any audio glitches at all.

I couldn’t be happier with this.

Is It A Keeper?

Oh yes.

I know that I’m pretty down on the software side of the CAB M, but the audio side of it does exactly what I need – and does it well. It’s also great value for money: a Captor + CAB M combination is less than half the price of an OX Box or Waza Tube Expander.

If you want to record real amps at home, like I am, it’s a good-sounding alternative to the hassle of micing up your cabs. And if Two Notes sorts out the software, it’d be hands-down the best solution on the market today.

New Arrivals For January 2020

Almost no new gear for me, this month. The gear budget had to go on some urgent car maintenance instead. I can’t complain; the car’s been almost completely trouble-free until now. It’s just one of those things as it gets older (120,000 miles and counting!)

I don’t feel that I missed out, though. Volumes on eBay are definitely up, but not back to the levels of a year ago. If anything, there’s been more interesting guitars than interesting (to me!) pedals … and plenty of people piling on and bidding hard on those pedals.

A couple of items I’d ordered last year did arrive this month. Here’s what I got.

Spectre Media Group’s Clock Blocker Noise Gate Pedal

Glenn Fricker is a studio engineer / producer who splits his time between Canada and Los Angeles. He runs a popular YouTube channel which has a no-bullshit, no-prisoners approach to recording music well. He does a great job of educating amateur engineers through sharing what does – and does not – work for him.

Last autumn, he announced the launch of a new pedal: the Cock Blocker. It’s a noise gate pedal that supports the 4-cable method, like the ISP Decimator ProRack G that I already have. I ordered one, partly to support Glenn, and partly because a noise gate pedal is a little more convenient for me than a noise gate rack unit.

I’ll write up my first impressions in a separate post.

Quik Lok BS/313 Amp Stand

I don’t like having my acoustic amp flat on the floor. I feel that I have to crank it a bit to fill the room, and that the bass is a little unnatural. It’s even worse if I’m at a gig, and using the amp as a personal monitor. So I decided to get an amp stand, so that I can lift it off the floor. I ordered it sometime last year, and it turned up about a week ago.

When I went round to the shop to pick the stand up, it almost didn’t come home with me. We (the shop staff and myself) were very worried that it wouldn’t hold my acoustic amp safely.

If you look down on my Acus amp from above, it’s a pretty square shape. The amp stand, though, seems to be designed for 1×12 combo amps, which are much more rectangular (longer left-to-right, shorter front-to-back). The bit of the stand that sits under the amp doesn’t quite make it half-way under my Acus amp.

I’m glad to say that my amp does actually fit on the stand – just! Because the amp is tilted back, that moves the centre of gravity just enough to make sure the amp does sit securely on the stand. My amp is about 32cm deep. I definitely wouldn’t try this stand with any amp that’s any deeper than that.

Does it help with projection and boomy bass? I don’t know. We didn’t rehearse this week, so I haven’t tried it.