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 🙂

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 £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 🙁

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 🙁

(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.

#HomeTone Thoughts Before Winter NAMM 2020

Winter NAMM is almost here. It’s one of the most high-profile guitars & gear trade shows in the world, and traditionally, many manufacturers use it to announce or launch their major new products of the year.

YouTube is going to be dominated by NAMM show floor coverage for the next few weeks. If you want to see everything that will be displayed at the show, subscribe to one of the YouTube channels I recently recommended.

From a #HomeTone perspective, what are the gaps in the market that I’m hoping to see filled by new products?

Continue reading “#HomeTone Thoughts Before Winter NAMM 2020”

Studio Diary #15: Revisiting Old Gear

I’m currently getting my home studio more organised, and along the way I’m sharing my thought process, decisions, discoveries and regrets.

One of the benefits of this autumn’s home studio mini-revamp is that it’s now pretty easy to use any piece of gear that I’ve currently got. I’ve been taking advantage of that, by revisiting old pieces of gear that didn’t get much use in the past.

Thanks to the cleaner cabling, I’m finally able to hear this gear at its very best. And – spoiler alert! – I’m rapidly falling in love with a couple of items that I never got on with first time around.

Continue reading “Studio Diary #15: Revisiting Old Gear”

CoffeeAndKlon #22: Who Needs Pedals When You’ve Got A Great Amp?

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

Good afternoon! I’m a bit late with this week’s #CoffeeAndKlon. There’s a couple of reasons why. And one of them does involve the Klon.

I’ve been a bit flat for most of this past week. Delivered a couple of workshops and a talk on the Saturday and Wednesday, and didn’t have much left in the tank after that.

So Thursday and Friday, I’ve mostly been finishing off the home studio revamp. A bit of upgraded gear, and mainly about getting the gear I already have back into use.

Continue reading “CoffeeAndKlon #22: Who Needs Pedals When You’ve Got A Great Amp?”