As many know who’ve frequented this blog over the past couple of years, they know my love for the Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator. It has allowed me to record in my garage till the wee hours of the morning, and not get complaints from my wife or the neighbors about being too loud, as I can get down to conversation levels; but more importantly, I can get down to those levels and still retain my tone and especially my dynamics.
With other attenuators, as you increase attenuation, it’s like putting a blanket over your tone. Not so with the PRX150-Pro. I’ve been using it now both in the studio and at gigs for the last couple of years, and it never ceases to amaze me.
For instance, I shared a song the other day called, “Come Together.” I’ve since changed the name to “God’s Love Will Set Us Free” but what I failed to mention was that the electric guitar parts were recorded, close-miked with the volume level being normal conversation level! Though I was using just a 6 Watt amp, even that cranked up is simply too loud to be playing completely cranked at midnight – at least in my neighborhood.
Here’s the final cut of the demo. The electric guitars haven’t been tweaked except for adding just a touch more highs in the EQ (the original tone was fine, but I wanted the guitars to cut through the mix a bit better because there was lots of overdrive):
What great quality at normal conversation levels!
I know, there are those out there that poo-poo the whole attenuator thing, and that’s fine. But for me, I couldn’t live without it – especially in my studio. It’s saving my ears.
For a long time I was – and pretty much still to this day – an overdrive pedal lover. I have several, and am waiting for my new Paul Cochrane Timmy to be completed and delivered in the next few weeks. I’ve been wanting one of these for awhile now, and finally bit the bullet and got on the waiting list. So excited! But using an attenuator – specifically the Aracom PRX150-Pro – changed the way I use overdrive pedals.
In the “old days” before I used an attenuator, I used an overdrive pedal to get grind through a clean amp. Early on, I was using my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe that was all about loud, clean headroom, and I couldn’t get the volume above 2 or 3 before it would be just too damn loud; not to mention, the tubes weren’t working that much at all at that level. Yeah, I could crank the volume then set the Master to about 1/2 to get some dirt, but the pre-amp only distortion of that amp never really appealed to me. So I used overdrive pedals to get that soft-clipping on the front-end, and especially looked to pedals that provided a bit of color.
But once I got an attenuator, the entire game changed. I was able to crank my amps to get both the preamp and power amp sections saturated. For a long while, I actually stopped using overdrive pedals altogether because I was getting all the drive I wanted. I still sometimes just go to my gigs with only a tuner pedal and just plug directly into whatever amp I’m using, though I’m now starting to introduce overdrives to add gain stages to my chain.
But that brings me to the crux of this post… I used overdrives because I couldn’t get sufficient grind at reasonable volumes. But once I got a real transparent attenuator like the PRX150-Pro (I had an AirBrake and tested several), I could finally hear what my amps sounded like fully cranked. But here are some things I discovered once I was able to crank up my amps that I’d like to share:
I have 8 amps, and with the exception of two, once I cranked them up, I did not like their fully cranked up tone.
A common thing that I found among all the amps where I didn’t like their cranked up tone was a certain harshness or in some cases “fizz” that was not at all pleasing to me.
As opposed to getting rid of the amps, I swapped tubes and speakers until I was able to balance out their tone. For instance, with my Aracom PLX BB 18 combo, which is a replica of a Marshall 18 Watt Blues Breaker, the cranked tone was horrendously fizzy to me. So I replaced two preamp tubes with NOS Mullard and GE tubes, and to tame the natural brightness of the amp, replaced the stock Eminence Red Fang with a Fane Medusa 150 which really emphasizes the low-end. It’s now gorgeous, and I use that amp regularly!
The point to all the items that I shared was that once I was able to crank up my amps, most of them just didn’t sound all that good. Lots of folks who are new to attenuators complain about different artifacts being introduced by the attenuator, but based upon my experience, I think a lot of those “artifacts” have a lot to do with them never having cranked their amps all the way up. To me, it’s definitely a case of “you may not like what you hear…”
So if you ever do get a hold of an attenuator, and you crank your amp up, if you don’t like the tone, don’t immediately assume that it’s the attenuator. Especially with the latest generation of attenuators that are much more transparent than the traditional ones, the likelihood that they’re introducing artifacts is pretty low. Look to your amp first, and see what you can do to adjust it to deal with its cranked tone. Personally, I’d start with tubes first; especially replacing new production tubes with NOS pre-amps. I know, they’re getting more and more scarce, but I’ve gotten the best results in smoothing out my tone with NOS pre-amp tubes.
I swear by my Aracom attenuator as do many others, and it’s great to see people demonstrating it. This demo comes from a guy in Italy who can cop Angus Young like no other. This dude rocks the house and has several vintage amps and guitars. He’s not just a collector, he’s a bonafide player!
Yeah, I mention it a lot, but I thought I talk about it once again, because it truly has had a HUGE impact on how I approach amps. To me, there’s simply no attenuator on the market that can touch the quality of its sound; well, it doesn’t produce sound of course, but it lets all your tone come through, but more importantly, no matter where you set it, you will always have your dynamics. In any case, I recorded a couple of videos this afternoon, talking about this wonderful device by Aracom Amplifiers.
Part I: Discussion
Part II: Demo
BTW, recorded these clips with an Alesis VideoTrack. Nice little unit. Not sure how long I’ll actually use it because I actually do want a better picture. But for now, it’s great to have an all-in-one solution to get some video out!
When you’ve got a guy like Lance Keltner singing the praises of your equipment and calling you a genius to boot, you must be doing something right. Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps is someone I’ve been praising for quite awhile, and I’m glad he’s finally getting the recognition he deserves.
As far as the DAG unit is concerned, that’s available exclusively through Destroy All Guitars. I’ve played through one of those units myself, and the high-cut filter works great, and definitely takes the edge off, without throwing a blanket over your tone and dynamics like many attenuators do that include one. If you have an amp that outputs lots of highs when cranked – or somehow hear high-frequency transients - then the DAG unit is the way to go.
While Jeff has gained lots of popularity with his attenuators, often overlooked are his wonderful amplifiers of which I have three. In the next couple of days, I will be getting a 50 Watt Evolver to test out in my studio. I’m so excited! I’ve played through an Evolver at Jeff’s workshop and that amp has tons of balls! It’s definitely Marshall-esque, but with Jeff’s particular twists. I’m excited to be getting this unit for a full test!
Wow! Who woulda thunk it? The latest issue of Premier Guitar has a great review of the Aracom PRX150-Pro Attenuator. If you receive the magazine, it’s in the latest issue, but here’s the review online. Here’s the reviewer’s final mojo:
Sonically, the Aracom PRX 150-Pro attenuator stayed very true to every amp I paired it with. My tone stayed stable as I lowered the dB level to its minimum amount (the variable control doesn’t turn the sound completely off). Even super-quiet bedroom settings sounded very good and responded to picking and touch extremely well. This attractive, sturdily built unit would be a great addition to any guitarist’s tone arsenal.
PG gave it a 4 out of 5 picks which, for them is a great rating. I’m so happy for Jeff Aragaki that he was able to get a major guitar mag like PG to do a review on the unit. And the reviewer’s positive feedback just affirms what those of us who have one know: No other attenuator maintains the feel and dynamics of our amps at any attenuation level.
The venerable “Destroy All Guitars” shop has teamed up with Aracom Amplifiers to come up with a new version of the fantastic Aracom PRX150-Pro. Sporting a smaller cabinet (sorry, not reduced weight), and a couple of very cool new features, the $785 PRX150-DAG is the answer to anyone who wants to go to the extreme in transparent power attenuation.
Here are the features:
* Proprietary SRT Power Attenuation Technology
* Six levels of step attenuation, plus a continuously variable attenuation control (bedroom mode)
* 40dB of attenuation–attenuates 150 watts down to .015 watt
* 150 watt power rating
* Independent input and output impedance selector switches:
- from the amplifier and into the attenuator, select from: 2, 4, 8, 16 ohm
- from the attenuator and to the speaker cabinet(s), select from: 2, 4, 8, 16 ohm
- uniquely allows 16 possible Input and Output impedance combinations
* Hi Frequency Cut Filter with a True Bypass Switch
* Features a Load setting and is equipped with a Line Out Jack and Line Out Level Control
* Rack Mount Option
* Handwired in the USA
The two notable features are the Hi-Cut Filter, and the increased attenuation down to -40dB attenuation. With respect to the high-cut filter, some people had mentioned that they heard a high-frequency artifact coming through when they hooked up the original PRX150-Pro. I myself have never heard it, though I suppose anything’s possible. In Jeff Aragaki’s (of Aracom Amps) words:
The PRX150-DAG is equipped with a High Frequency Cut switch, that rolls off the highs above 6KHz, that some users might find useful with amplifiers that have a pronounced high end frequency response. Some guitarists go to great lengths to control the high end response of their amplifier, by carefully selecting speakers, tubes, and other components to roll off the highs. Now with the PRX150-DAG, a guitarist might not need to rely on changing these components; the high cut filter switch allows the flexibility of rolling off the high end or not. The true bypass switch allows the filter to be completely bypassed, providing the full frequency response of the attenuated amplifier to pass through to the speakers.
The other great feature is the Min/Max variable attenuation modes Jeff has introduced. Minimum attenuation mode is the traditional -16dB down to about -30dB variable attenuation, whereas the Maximum variable attenuation mode goes from -27dB to -40dB. With a 100 Watt amp, that’s taking down the output power to .015 Watt!!! Wanna have full dynamic response at bedroom levels with your 100 Watt amp? Look no further!
I’ve never hid from the fact that I own Aracom gear, and as I’ve said in My Rig page, I’m a faithful customer who just digs the stuff that Jeff Aragaki, Aracom’s founder, comes up with. I’ve extolled the wonders of his attenuator, the PRX150-Pro, and I’ve mentioned my Aracom amps, the VRX18, VRX22, and PLX18BB several times.
One thing I’ve learned over the years with respect to gear is that you go with what works for you, and my Aracom gear simply works for me! In fact, my Aracom equipment has had a lot to do with me using less pedals, and relying on the raw sound of my guitar and amps; especially when I’m playing straight rock and roll.
I have yet to play a bad-sounding Aracom amp. When they’re cranked to the hilt, they have such an incredible mojo that’s just too hard to describe. Of course, I couldn’t crank them without the PRX150-Pro attenuator. No matter, there’s magic in Jeff’s creations! To demonstrate this magic, I’m going to share an excerpt from a song that I’m working on. I just finished laying down the instrument parts. Give it a listen:
The rhythm part is played with my Squier CV Tele in the middle switch position, and running straight into Channel 2 of the PLX18BB, which was cranked up all the way. Talk about cranked Marshall-esque tones! It sounds even better live! The lead was recorded with my Gibson Nighthawk 2009 into my VRX22. Master was at 3pm and Volume was at 2pm. This setting gives me a sweet, singing lead voicing that sustains for days due to the awesome solid-state sag circuit! Again, the guitar was plugged straight into the amp – no frills whatsoever. I did add some reverb to both parts, but other than that, that the raw sound of the guitars/amps with no EQ. Pretty killer tones!!!
To top it off, both parts were recorded at bedroom level as both amps ran into the PRX150-Pro! We’re talking conversation level, so if you heard some transient clicks in the clip, it’s stuff that was making noise in my garage/studio!
You gotta check this stuff out. Jeff is a true wizard with amps! Both the VRX amps start at $895, while the PLX18BB combo starts at $1750 ($1350 for the head only). If you’re after vintage Marshall tone at a non-vintage price, you owe it to yourself to check out these amps!
This is a hotly debated topic, and there are great arguments for or against using one. I’m of the former group and have used attenuators to great success over the years. To demonstrate how useful an attenuator can be, I put together a quick video. Here you go:
I wanted to be as non-technical about the usage of an attenuator because there are so many attenuator designs on the market. So I kept this video at a fairly high level. I’ll get into more detail in the next video when I discuss the Aracom PRX150-Pro.
The Aracom PRX150-Pro to be exact. I’ve actually known about this for awhile, but Jeff Aragaki, owner of Aracom Amps asked me not to say anything until someone else had mentioned it. Jeff told me the news right after Joe purchased it, but I respected Jeff’s wishes to wait to mention it. So I did. And none other than Doug Doppler, guitarist extraordinaire and author of “Get Killer Tone,” happened to mention it in a thread on the The Gear Page recently about how Joe had told him about the unit. So the cat’s out of the bag! Joe Satriani is a proud owner of a PRX150-Pro, and his words to Jeff were “Great unit. I like it a lot.”
That’s about all the information I know other than how he raved about it to Doug who, in turn, contacted Jeff to get a unit; and since he got it, Doug has been raving about it on The Gear Page, and will be featuring it in his DVD.
This is not so much a plug for the PRX150-Pro as it is meant to underscore that even guitar heroes like Satch see the virtues of using an attenuator. Speaker breakup aside, some amps just don’t hit their sweet spot until they’re cranked up and played wide open. Unfortunately, the volume level at that point is too high to be comfortable for most human ears. With an attenuator – and a great one in the PRX150-Pro – players can crank their amps to their sweet spot, and not worry that their ears are going to bleed.
I know, there are several people who eschew attenuators as being tone suckers. But the new breed of attenuators such as the Aracom PRX150-Pro are so much more transparent than the older attenuators on the market; and yes, they are particularly more expensive than their older counterparts, but how much is great tone worth? We gear sluts think nothing about spending a few hundred bucks on a pedal. For what a great attenuator gives you, it’s totally worth the investment.