Posts Tagged ‘attenuation’

or… Doc Brown in Back to the Future saying, “I finally invented something that works!” Speaking in reference to the Flux Capacitor. Nah, it’s nothing of the sort, but it is by no means less cool. The Flux Density Modulation Speakers are a new approach to attenuation where the attenuation happens right at the speaker! Giving you up to -9 dB attenuation, while keeping your tone, that is what I call cool, and something I must check out! You know me, I’m an attenuator fan, and something like this has me absolutely GAS-ing! From what I could tell from the videos below, the tone is really preserved. Now, mind you that -9 dB of attenuation won’t get you down to conversation levels, but it’ll sure provide enough attenuation to take the bite off the volume. If you need to go lower, hell! Get an Aracom attenuator, and get it down REAL LOW! Check out the NAMM vids!

and from GuitarWorld…

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Aracom Amps PRX150-Pro AttenuatorAs many know, I’m a big fan of attenuators. In the past I’ve owned a couple and have tried out several. And with the addition of the Aracom PRX150-Pro to my rig, I’ve finally got a device that is helping me realize all the tonal goodness my amps have to offer. But this entry isn’t about the Aracom attenuator. There are a few attenuators that have entered the market in the recent past including the Faustine Phantom and others that are having the same effect on axe slingers and how they approach their tone.

So what’s the big deal? Most folks know how an attenuator operates. It sits between your amp and your speaker(s), and squelches the output signal from your amp which results in a lower output volume, so you can drive your amp to high gain levels and not shatter your eardrums. That’s the basic premise behind attenuators in general. But up until recently, attenuation came at a price, and that is the loss of tone and dynamics, or completely changed tone at higher attenuation levels; to put it simply, loss of tonal quality. I’m willing to bet that this very thing has kept lots of people from using an attenuator.

But with the new breed of attenuators hitting the market, loss of tonal quality is much less of an issue, if it’s an issue at all. Now you can bring your output volume WAY down, and be assured that the tonal quality you’ve worked so hard to achieve is still there.

So how will this change the way we approach our tone? I would venture to guess that many guitarists have really never known what their amp sounds like fully cranked up – at least for extended periods of time. Sure, if you’re a pro and regularly play huge venues, you know what it sounds like. But for us mere mortals who rarely play in more than a dance club, we’ve never been able to fully experience the cranked up tone of our amps, and that’s where a great attenuator comes into play.

When I hooked up my PRX150-Pro, the first thing I did was to set it on load mode and turn the variable to full attenuation, then dimed the master and volume on my amp to see what it would sound like. I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of new tones that were suddenly available to me: rich harmonics, tons of sustain, and incredible touch sensitivity. It was as if a whole new world was opened up to me.

With my old attenuator, I rarely went to real high levels of attenuation because it made my tone sound weak and lifeless.  Plus, I didn’t want to burn out my tubes – which I learned the hard way when I cranked my amp while hooked up to the attenuator. But with the Aracom attenuator, I knew I could crank it as high as I wanted to and still be safe. What this means is that I now have access to a wider landscape of tones and dynamics that I can also safely reach. And that’s another feature of the new breed of attenuators: They appear to be much safer to use than the older designs out there.

Here’s an interesting question I got from a buddy of mine: Will I get rid of my overdrive pedals as a result now being able to get the fully cranked tone of my amp? Not on your life! 🙂 I love how they add color to my tone. But I will tell you this: Now that I can crank up my amp to high gain levels without the concomitant high volume levels, I’m actually not using my overdrive pedals as much. Oh, I still use them because they add certain characteristics that aren’t possible with my natural overdrive tone; just not as much as I used to because when I want just straight amp overdrive, I just crank my amp. But when I want to use them, I run them through the clean channel of my amp that has lots of clean headroom, so I can take advantage of the tone that they offer.

So is it a significant change to how we approach our tone? Possibly. I know of some folks who’ve completely stopped using overdrive pedals altogether as a result of using an attenuator, and use a clean boost or even just their volume knob on their guitar to get the lead volume they want. Me? I like to have a few different “brushes” that I can use to create different textures, but in either case, getting that cranked up tone naturally without shattering eardrums is pretty huge.

I think the folks who will gain the most from these great new attenuators are the home studio musicians. Imagine being able to record a screaming guitar solo, and not have the wife or neighbors yelling at you to turn down your volume! I regularly do my recording into the wee hours of the morning, so having an attenuator has been a godsend. But up until I got my PRX150-Pro, I had to wait to record solos until it was day when I could turn up my amp to a gain level that didn’t get me yelled at, as my other attenuators just didn’t give me the tone I needed at high attenuation levels. Even if I used an overdrive pedal, it doesn’t sound good unless it’s working with your amp and pushing your pre-amp tubes, and that takes juice! With a great, transparent, or non-tone-sucking attenuator, you can push your amp hard, and keep your volume under control!

I know of a lot musicians who poo-poo the use of an attenuator. But an attenuator can do wonders for gigging. Want to make the sound guys happy? Here’s another way to look at it: With an attenuator, you can focus on your tone, and not projecting out to the audience. Get enough volume to hear yourself on stage, then let the sound guys do their thing. PA technology has come a long way since the early days of rock and roll, where amps had to be played loud to get the sound out to the audience. Also, if you think about it, speakers are highly directional. If you want to disperse your sound, use the PA.

There’s been an interesting thread that I’ve been lurking on The Gear Page entitled, “Sound guys think I’m too loud.” Someone suggested early on that the original poster could use an attenuator or a smaller amp to reduce their volume. The suggestion of using an attenuator went largely ignored, but as I followed this thread and read all the various insights, using an attenuator is the perfect solution for this.

I’ve heard a lot of the complaints about attenuators in the past, and I’ve also had my issues with them. But with the new breed of attenuators, tone suck is no longer an issue. And that tonal quality will be sure to change how guitarists approach their performances.

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Aracom Amps PRX150-Pro AttenuatorAracom Amps has just posted a page on their site which features Gene Baker – luthier of the famed Baker Guitars and now of Fine Tuned Instruments producing “B3” guitars – demonstrating the transparency of the Aracom PRX150-Pro Attenuator at various attenuation levels.

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.

Check out Aracom’s Gene Baker audio page here!

Having someone like Gene Baker demonstrate the capabilities of the PRX150-Pro is huge! Gene is an incredible guitarist!

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I’ve often extolled the virtues of a cranked amp here at GuitarGear.org and elsewhere. My belief is that when you’ve got both your pre-amp and power tubes working, you get the real character out of your amp. There’s something that happens to your tone once you get juice into your power tubes that adds a certain dynamicism and complexity that you just can’t get with just your pre-amp tubes. Unfortunately, most mere mortals, like myself, don’t normally play venues that that will allow us to crank our amps to the point where the power tubes of our amp come into play.

Take, for instance, my good buddy Phil. He’s the lead singer of a bar band called Phil ‘N The Blanks. Up until recently he was playing through a Marshall DSL100 JCM2000 100 Watt head into a Marshall 1936 2 X 12 cab. Talk about too much amp for his gigs! I ran sound for him at a gig a couple of months ago, and could only turn his volume and gain controls to about 3 each before he stepped on the band entirely; not to mention peeling faces off! Since he’d owned the DSL100, he’d never played above 5 because it was way too loud.

Recently, I lent him my Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator so he could squelched down the volume but crank up his amp. He couldn’t believe his ears! He was finally able to get the gain up in his amp where his power tubes would break up. It was like a completely different amp once he heard the cranked up tone. I had been telling him for months that there’s really nothing quite like a cranked up amp, and for the first time since he owned the amp he was able to hear for himself what I had been talking about. Before that, he was on tonal training wheels! 🙂

Ultimately, he decided against going with an attenuator, but he did a very smart thing: He purchased a low-wattage amp, the Marshall Haze MHZ15 15 Watt amp. It hasn’t arrived yet, but I’m excited for him because he’ll be able to crank that amp at a reasonable volume level, as the lower wattage amp will break up a lot earlier, and he’ll be able to reap the benefits of the response of his cranked amp!

1 Watt is LOUD!

But here’s the funny thing: 15 Watts can still be freakin’ loud when cranked! The following chart shows SPL at 1 meter vs. Wattage (I got this from the Aracom site where Jeff discusses understanding attenuation).



SPL (db)




Passenger car at 10 (60-80dB)





Vacuum cleaner



Major Road Noise (80-90dB)



Noisy factory







Jack hammer at 1m







Accelerating motorcycle at 5m





Hearing Damage (short term exposure)



Rock concert







Jet at 100 meters (110-140 dB)



Threshold of pain

What’s amazing from the table is how loud 1 Watt is at 1 meter! It’s as loud as a jack hammer! And 0.0312 Watt is as loud a vacuum cleaner! Jeff got this information from a well-known study done in 1933 by Harvey Fletcher and W A Munson about human hearing response. For those people who say, “P-shah” to low wattage amps, just reference this chart.

Granted, there is a certain mojo about a 100 Watt amp cranked up – even a 50 Watt amp. But most people other than those playing large venues can crank their amps to experience that mojo. But in spite of that, there’s been a movement in the industry these past few years towards lower wattage amps. I think a big part of the reason for this is the improvement in PA gear over the years. Want to get your sound out there? Mic your amp. After all, all you need is stage volume so you can hear yourself. Let the sound guys project your sound out.

My buddy Vinni Smith of V-Picks does exactly that. As amazing as he is with a guitar, he gigs with a Roland Cube 30! He just gets his stage volume, then has his amp miked to get his guitar out to the audience. This dude gigs alot, and he’s living proof that you don’t need a lot of power to get perform. As long as you can get your tone, you’re golden!

Circling back to the title of this article, there really isn’t anything like the sound and feeling of a cranked amp. Especially with tube amps, when the power tubes have juice, they add all sorts of things to your tone such as compression, a different kind of breakup and even more touch sensitivity. You can get that in a couple of ways:

  1. Get an attenuator. There are several on the market, including the increasingly popular Faustine Phantom, but my bet is on the Aracom PRX150-Pro, as it takes a completely different approach to attenuation than all others. I’ve never played an attenuator as transparent is this.
  2. Get a lower wattage amp. I’m not even going to list what amps to buy as there are tons of fantastic amps – both boutique and mainstream – on the market. Just make sure you give them a listen.

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Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to the bout of the century! A truly momentous occasion in the vein of David versus Goliath! In the red corner we have a Goliath, the reigning King of Attenuators, the Ultimate Attenuator; self-proclaimed King of Transparency – Guaranteed! In the blue corner is the Aracom Power Rox PRX150-Pro, a virtual David, armed with only a transparency sling ! And here’s the opening bell!

The Ultimate Attenuator strikes first, tongue lolling, with bombastic claims of pure transparency. The agile Power Rox ducks, and moves away, its sling of true transparency whirring rapidly. Wait! It launches! It strikes the Ultimate Attenuator square in the head. It’s going down! Oh the humanity! Oh the humanity! The match was over before it was even begun!

I had the great opportunity this evening of testing the Aracom Power Rox and the Ultimate Attenuator in a head-to-head shootout to determine which was the most transparent attenuator. As you can tell from the somewhat facetious and fictitious pseudo-boxing match, you know who won: The Aracom Power Rox PRX150-Pro. Folks, it wasn’t even a contest. Even at the lowest attenuation levels, the Power Rox swept the floor with the Ultimate Attenuator!

My Test Procedures

Equipment: My test was conducted using a Replica JTM45 equipped with original Mustard Caps and a pair of  KT-66’s, into a 4 X 12 cabinet equipped with (2) Original 55Hz Greenbacks and (2) Custom Weber (75Hz) Greenbacks, with a ‘Gibson 57 Les Paul Historic Goldtop as my test guitar.

Clean Test

First, I started with the amp totally clean. I strummed a simple chord progression to get my base tone. Setting the Ultimate Attenuator at about half “volume,” I activated it. I immediately noticed a distinct loss in both highs and lows, as even at minimal attenuation, the bandwidth of my tone was severely narrowed. The full bottom-end and sparkly top-end of my clean tone were significantly reduced. The tone wasn’t that bad, mind you, but it certainly lacked the richness of my base tone – it sounded flat.

One thing that really bugged me was activating the UA, which required a strumming the guitar, then switching on the UA, as if the UA needed a signal to pass through it to even start working. What a pain! It’s amazing that users would even tolerate this.

I repeated the same test with the Power Rox, setting it at half attenuation on the 6-way switch. The result was a reduced volume, but no loss of bottom- or top-end at all.

Clean Test – Bedroom Mode

Same test as above with both attenuators. With the Ultimate Attenuator, can you say “tone sucker?” The tone was not at all pleasing! Even more narrow bandwidth, and non-existent dynamics. There was nothing even remotely good to like at this level with the UA. How the UA website can claim to be “the most transparent and safest tube amplifier attenuator on the market in the world. Guaranteed” is beyond me. Even my old Dr. Z Airbrake sounded better than the UA. So again, at this level, the Power Rox just kicked ass. Lower volume, but full retention of bandwidth and dynamics.

Dirty Tests

In my dirty tests, I ran the amp in its drive channel cranked up fully. 40 Watts through a 4 X 12 is LOUD!!! Especially when you’re standing right in front of the cab! Actually there’s nothing like feeling the SPL’s with an amp full-out! I ran the same tests as I did with the clean channel with both attenuators, and as expected got the same results: The Ultimate Attenuator really sucked my tone, while the PRX150-Pro retained tone and dynamics at all levels. The Plexi switch just made the tone even worse, acting like a treble booster, which made an already horrid tone even worse by just upping the highs. The tone was akin to an old transistor radio played at the volume of a loud TV. Not pleasing at all, and actually, it was a bit annoying, like cats screeching! YUCK!

The Power Rox, on the other hand, again just reduced the volume. The tone remained rich and full, and all the overtones and harmonics came through. It’s amazing what those subtleties do for your tone. You really miss them when they’re not there, as they provide depth.

It’s evident that the Power Rox’s Speaker Reactance Thru technology is far superior at any application. For me, the Ultimate Attenuator company can make all the claims it wants about transparency, but that’s all they are: claims. And while it doesn’t sound all that bad at low attenuation levels, the marked difference in tone between the UA and Power Rox at any attenuation level relegates the UA – at least to me – to the junk heap. You couldn’t get me to put this in my rig if you paid me.

I realize that the UA was the best game in town for quite awhile, and I am sure that at the time it came out, it outperformed the THD HotPlate, which I have also tested, and didn’t like. I also realize that I’m being fairly harsh – much more harsh than I’ve ever been with a product – but all the claims of the UA being truly transparent are mere exaggerations, and not backed up by any discussion of its technology. In fact, all the hyperbole surrounding the UA is quite irritating!

If you knew what went into a UA, you’d have serious concerns, not the least of which is the 32 ohm fixed resistor, which essentially flattens out your impedance, and creates a mismatch so high that you could fry your amp! Adding insult to injury, the solid-state amplifier is what is really running your speaker. Transparent? Hell no! Not electronically, and definitely not audibly.

And mind you, I’m not the only person who feels this way. One new PRX150-Pro user, who is also a former UA user was so impressed with the Power Rox and disgusted by the UA’s tone compared to the Power Rox, that he bought two Power Rox’s! That says quite a bit.

For more information about the Aracom Power Rox PRX150-Pro, visit the Aracom Amps PRX150-Pro product page!

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