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.
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!
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 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.
There’s an unspoken battle raging on The Gear Page forum about which is the best “popular” attenuator on the market. Yeah, everyone claims theirs is the most transparent, and frankly, that’s true for very low levels of attenuation. But for really cranking down on the volume, my money, of course, is on the Aracom PRX150-Pro. To me, not only is it the most transparent attenuator based upon head-to-head comparisons of some of the popular attenuators done by me and others, and also being the safest with its input AND output impedance matching, it is also the most cost-effective attenuator out there. Don’t believe it? Well, the numbers don’t lie. When you consider the versatility of input/output impedance selections vs. cost of the unit that the PRX150-Pro offers, it’s simply no contest.
Let’s have a look at the numbers shall we?
Cost Per Impedance Selection Combination
# Impedance Combos.
Clearly, based upon the number of impedance matching selections, the PRX150-Pro is the clear winner in terms of value. Even if the Aracom unit only had three impedance matching selections, it still will have 9 different available input/output impedance selection combinations, and each combination would only cost $72.11; still far below the competition!
Furthermore, let’s say the PRX150-Pro didn’t have output impedance matching, reducing its impedance matching combinations to 4. It still outperforms the competition in terms of value at $162.25 per selection!
Let’s compare the PRX150-Pro with the Alex’s attenuator for example. People love the Alex’s attenuator, and I understand it works great. But you have to get 4 of those units to match the impedance matching capabilities of the PRX150-Pro. In absolute cost terms, yes, the PRX150-Pro costs more. But with respect to value, well, you can’t hide from the numbers. The same thing applies to the THD HotPlate (though I have other reasons not to like this product). As for the Faustine Phantom, it has more versatility than the Alex’s by far, but it’s also very expensive, and it is unclear whether or not you’ll get one in a timely fashion. Some people have been waiting for theirs for several months.
Sometimes you have to spend more to get much more, and in the case of the Aracom PRX150-Pro, you’re getting A LOT more!
Disclaimer: I will say this again that I am not an employee of Aracom – I’m a faithful customer because of the superior product Jeff produces.
I walked into my garage/studio this morning and looked over to my gear – there’s a lot (though probably not as much as I’ve seen from other gear sluts’ pictures). Peering over my collection, the thought struck me: What if I could only have one of each type of gear… What would I choose? What would be the basis for my decision?
After ruminating on this subject over breakfast and coffee, I decided that I’d choose the gear that gives me the most versatility with respect to tone and usability given the various types of music I play. So based upon that here are my choices:
Squier Classic Vibe Tele 50′s
Aracom VRX22 with 1 X 12 Cab
BOSS TU-2 Tuner
Aracom PRX150-Pro Attenuator
Those four things will get me through any gig or recording session. Not to say that they’re my favorite pieces of gear, but that combination will give me the most versatility with respect to versatility and usability.
What? No Goldie? Man, I love that guitar, don’t get me wrong. But that guitar is so heavy, I don’t gig with it unless I’m at a place where I have to sit down. The Tele, on the other hand, is super-light, and with its pine body, it’s very resonant, so I can get thick, almost humbucker-type sounds to nice trebly tones. Goldie offers that up and more, but she loses on usability in a variety of venues due to her weight.
The Aracom VRX22 happens to be my favorite amp in any case, but it’s my favorite because of its versatility. Once I had Jeff do the footswitch mod so I could switch between channels, and remove the clean channel from the master volume, there’s nary a tone – except for super heavy, high gain – that I can’t produce with that amp.
With respect to my TU-2 tuner, yeah, I know, there are much better ones out there, but it’s what I’ve got. But despite that, I’d rather be in tune than to have a cool effect, so that pedal would stay.
Finally, the Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator will always be a part of any rig I put together because it allows me to set limits to my max volume in any venue. Since I play mostly small to medium venues, this box is essential for dialing in just the right amount of volume for the house. And even if I have to play at super low volumes where the Fletcher-Munson effect comes into play, I can rest assured that when my amp is miked, I’ll get my true tone.
I was actually surprised by my own choice of guitar primarily because Goldie is such a tone machine. But for as much as I move around when performing, lugging a heavy guitar is definitely not my cup of tea; especially if it makes me throw out my back, which I did a couple of weeks back. But it also says loads about that Squier Tele. I’ve got some great guitars, but that little $329 wonder creates such awesome tones and it plays so great, that it’s a clear winner. I might’ve gotten lucky with my particular guitar because I’ve read some user reviews that their tone is inconsistent. I’ll play a few more to see how that holds up.
I wrote “Strutter” a couple of weeks ago. Like many of my instrumentals, it started out as a backing track that I could practice over. I was simply experimenting with doing leads over a dominant 7th chord progression after watching more of Chuck D’Aloia’s “Blues with Brains” instructional video and wanted to try out some of the stuff he talked about. Well, one thing led to another, and I started getting ideas that I started running with. So I laid them down.
I actually completed the recording several times using different guitars and amps for the lead, but every time I listened to it, I just wasn’t satisfied with the lead. I knew I wanted a bright sound tone, either from a Strat or from a bridge humbucker, but I wanted the lead to have some hair as well. My Strat just didn’t work here because of the vintage-style low power single coils I have in it. And the PLX18 BB was just a bit too fizzy with the stock speaker. So I sat on the song for awhile, though I did keep on refining the phrasing. As far as amps are concerned, I have several to pick from, but their tones are very vintage smooth. Even my go-to amp, the VRX22, was just too “nice-sounding” for what I wanted.
The PLX18 BB got me right into the ballpark. It doesn’t have loads of gain, and while the breakup is smooth and expansive – very 3D – it also has lots of balls for which Plexi-style circuits are known. But even then, the speaker I had in it was just too harsh in the highs, with an overabundance of fizz. In earlier recordings with the amp, I had to bleed off highs. I really didn’t like doing that because I don’t like to EQ my guitar parts. So it wasn’t until last night when I swapped out the stock speaker (Eminence Red Coat Red Fang) with a Fane Medusa 150 where everything came together.
Previous versions of the lead track included wah, but I removed the wah and re-recorded that portion of the song mainly because I just wanted a slightly fatter tone. The amp was already dimed, so I just added a couple of stacked overdrives using my KASHA overdrive and Geek Driver. This resulted in a bit brighter, but fatter tone.
Finally, the cool thing was that I recorded the song in two takes. The second take was the ending. I think my hand was getting tired from all the bending, and I made a couple of mistakes. It’s amazing how your playing flows when your tone inspires you!
Ever since I started this blog, I’ve talked about attenuators, and how they’ve enabled me to get tones out of my amp at reasonable volume levels that I could only previously get at super-high volumes. But before I get into the discussion part of this article, take a listen to this clip (it’s the same clip I recorded with my previous article on the Mullard ECC83):
Here are some details about the recording:
I plugged directly into my Aracom VRX22, which then fed into my Aracom PRX150-Pro, then out to a custom 1 X 12 with a Jensen P12N
The amp was in the drive channel with master at 6, volume (gain) at 6, and tone at 6 (the tone on this amp adds a little gain as well as an edge)
The PRX150-Pro was set at maximum attenuation
Volume-wise, this was talking conversation level!!!
No EQ was applied to the guitar – what you’re hearing is the raw tone.
With respect to “maximum attenuation,” I was in variable mode with the variable sweep pot all the way to its left extent. I shared my amp and PRX settings with Jeff Aragaki this morning, and he estimated that the output power was approximately 0.04 Watt!
Many people are apt to talk about how the speaker needs to move air, and that an attenuator doesn’t allow that to happen. But that clip simply demonstrates that with the right combination of equipment – and in my case, also a great set of tubes – you don’t necessarily need that speaker cone breakup to get great tone for recording purposes. Yes, SPL’s do play a big role in your overall tone, but to be able to achieve the kind of tone I was able to get at that very low volume level is nothing short of amazing!
So what about an attenuator being life-changing?
Maybe that’s a bit strong of a phrase, but ever since I’ve been using attenuators, and especially since I’ve gotten my Aracom PRX150-Pro, I’ve been able to explore tonal territory that I could previously only achieve using pedals – and only simulating at that! Take overdrive pedals for instance. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m crazy about them. I probably will still be nuts about overdrive pedals, but there’s one thing an overdrive pedal can’t do that an attenuator allows me to do, and that’s to get the thick, natural overdrive tone of my amp. Don’t get me wrong, I still use them, but I use them now more for tonal accents to my drive tone rather than giving me my drive tone. That’s very profound; especially for an overdrive pedal freak like me!
Here’s a good example that I just recorded. This clip is part of a new song idea I’ve been playing around with. Setup is pretty much the same as above, but for the rhythm, I’m running Strat into my Kasha overdrive pedal to get a jangly, crisp tone. The lead is Goldie plugged straight into my VRX22. I did mix and do a simple master on the recording, but the guitars were all recorded raw, with no EQ. In my DAW, I added some reverb to both parts and a touch of delay to the lead, but that’s it.
Speaking of pedals, since I’ve started using a high-end attenuator (there are others such as Alex’s and the Faustine Phantom), I’ve actually started using pedals in general much less. I’ve really relying on the natural tone and sustain of my amp. For instance, I’ve found that I’ve only been using reverb in the studio. When I play out, I just don’t bother. In fact, for the last few weeks, I’ve only been taking two pedals to gigs with me: My BOSS TU-2 Tuner and my VRX22′s channel switcher. Same goes with my Reason Bambino.
Life-changing? Probably not, but definitely approach-changing. I may personally endorse the PRX150-Pro, but there are others out there. If you really want to hear what your amp has to offer when it’s fully cranked with the power tubes glowing, then you owe it to yourself to get a good attenuator!
Conventional tube-amp wisdom states that you get the most bang for your buck by replacing your pre-amp tubes. I’ve been a believer of this for quite awhile, and have tried out all sorts of pre-amp tubes in my amps over the years. A couple of days ago, I wrote that I had installed a new Mullard ECC83 (12AX7) into my Aracom VRX22. This particular Mullard is a Zaerix-labled ECC83 that probably came from the GDR (I didn’t look at the numbers – I really don’t care, for that matter). All I know is that it made a HUGE difference in the way my amp sounds. The overdrive instantly became smoother and more focused without top-end artifacts, and the notes are still very defined even at high overdrive settings on my amp.
The clip below says it all. I recorded this clip playing in the bridge pick up of Goldie, plugged straight into the VRX22, which then fed into the ever-so-awesome Aracom PRX15-Pro attenuator. The amp’s master, tone, and volume knobs were all set at 6 (about 2pm on the amp), and the clip was recorded at bedroom level!
To my ears, the VRX22 sounds like a much bigger amp than its 22 Watts! I’m really in tonal heaven right now!
Gene has also provided commentary on the recording and how no EQ adjustments were made to the amp – even down to bedroom levels! This is a re-affirmation of what I’ve been saying all along about this awesome device! The PRX150-Pro simply retains the tone you work hard for – no matter how much attenuate your signal; and more importantly eliminating the need to compensate with EQ.