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Aracom Dual Rox DRX Attenuator

Aracom Dual Rox DRX Attenuator

For me, an attenuator was a key component in my live signal chain for many years. As I was playing live mostly in a church setting, in order to get my amp to “growl” levels, I had no other choice but to use output attenuation to control my volume. And for this, I used several attenuators such as the Dr. Z AirBrake, then moved onto a couple of different models from Aracom (which, to me, is the gold standard in transparency). I currently own the Aracom DRX, and I love it. With its dual levels of attenuation, it gives me the ability to use my two-channel amp and set different attenuation levels for it. Very cool.

But since I broke up the church band and joined a classic rock cover band, I haven’t used the DRX – at all. The reason is that most of the songs that my band plays don’t require a lot of distortion; and not that my church stuff did, but output volume is so much less of an issue now than it was with my church band as we play venues where a higher volume is expected.

Plus, once I got the EHX Soul Food overdrive pedal, a lot of things changed for me; when I need overdrive, I just click that pedal on, and I’ve got that great, creamy-smooth overdrive sound that the Soul Food produces. I still set my amp up at the edge of break-up, but most of my distortion comes from my pre-amp tubes – and it’s not that much, as I get the overdrive I need from my pedal. I just don’t have a pressing need to push my power tubes into saturation. That might change, but I’m pretty satisfied with my sound right now.

All that said, I still use the attenuator in my home studio. I couldn’t record my tube amps without one. But even in that case, I’m actually recording at a bit higher of a volume than I have in the past because I’ve realized that there’s a lot to be said when a speaker is pushing air. I use a Sennheiser e609 to close-mic my cab, then I set a ribbon mic about 3 feet away to capture the sound at a distance. With my particular setup, close-miking doesn’t capture the rich tones that issue from my cab. What I’ve found in a live situation is that my speaker produces some wonderful lows that don’t seem to get captured close-in. And that seems to only happen when I play the amp at higher than bedroom levels.

So… To attenuator or not to attenuate? Well… I guess my answer is: It depends…

 

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DualRoxI’ve been using an Aracom DRX attenuator in the studio for the past couple of weeks and I have been absolutely blown away by its ability to tame my volume just as well as my now-retired PRX150-Pro. But this past Friday, Jeff delivered my own DRX that I had him build based upon my tests, and I just had to gig with it to try it out in a live-audience situation.

I do have to admit that the DRX is a little less convenient than the PRX150-Pro in that I have to hook up a couple of more things: The foot switch and power supply (for the footswitch). But that inconvenience becomes negligible when the DRX is in action!

First of all, the boost feature is an absolute god-send! With all other attenuators – and this includes my venerable PRX150-Pro – once you hit the volume limit, that’s it. You can’t go louder. But with the DRX, that’s no longer an issue. It was great to use this feature to boost my volume when I was doing leads and not have to worry if I had hit the limit (or set up my volume so that I stayed under the limit). With the boost feature, which is essentially an attenuation reducer, I can add a few or maybe even several dB of volume with the flick of a switch. It’s absolutely amazing!

But it doesn’t stop there. The Variable Dynamic Control, which varies the reactance between the attenuator and speaker, helps dial in my tone so I have the right amount of highs. While not an EQ, the VDC adjusts the reactance and acts like a very subtle high-cut filter. Fully right is full reactance, and as you move through the next four positions, the reactance is slightly reduced, resulting in more highs being cut. For my particular setup of an R8 Les Paul through my Aracom VRX18, I felt that the sound was just a tad bright, so I went down one position on the VDC, and my world was absolutely right. My tone was still bright and had plenty of bite, but not so bright that it was like icepicks in my ears.

For purely clean work, I completely defeated the attenuation, which was possible from the front panel. On previous versions, the bypass was on the back, and in tight spaces, wasn’t practical to reach around. But with it on the front panel, defeating the attenuation is a simple matter of turning a dial.

All in all, everything about this attenuator is a huge improvement over earlier generations of attenuators; Aracom and others. It comes at a premium, but we spend thousands upon thousand of dollars on guitars, amps and pedals, so I see no problem justifying the cost of this unit. It makes it possible for me to play an overdriven amp in ANY venue. Yeah, yeah, you can argue all you want that you can do the same with a clean amp and overdrive pedals. But diode or a even tube overdrive pedal will never be the same as the overdrive from a cranked amp.

To say I’m happy with this latest acquisition is an understatement. For the last few years, I played the best attenuator on the market. But it pales in comparison to what the DRX brings to the table. The funny thing though is that unlike other gear that makes a sound, this doesn’t produce any sound, so it’s difficult to put into words what it actually can do beyond helping me control my volume. But it controls volume better than anything else on the market, and provides versatility that none other can. And as far as “transparency” goes, well, arguments abound, but with the Aracom attenuation technology, you can rest assured that the tone and the dynamics that you expect from your gear won’t be lost. I can’t say that about any other attenuator I’ve tested.

This is the real deal, folks, and this is the future of attenuation!

For more information, check out the DRX product page!

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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

DualRox

Aracom DRX Power Attenuator

Summary: Truly an evolution of the attenuator, Jeff Aragaki has once again upped the ante with the DRX attenuator. This dual-level attenuator not only will tame your volume, but it will give you the ability to use two different volume levels; and with the optional foot switches, will give you flexibility not offered by any other attenuator on the market. Furthermore, the adjustable reactance allows you to tame your tone on top of controlling your volume.

Pros: The Aracom attenuation technology is the most transparent that I’ve tested – and I’ve tested and used several over the years. Nothing comes close. But the dual-level attenuation (normal and boost modes) blows away the competition in my book. Then add variable reactance to the mix, and there’s nothing that can even touch what this attenuator can do.

Cons: Is a little on the pricey side, but the capabilities are worth it to me. I’m having one built.

Price: Starts at $850.00 direct

Features:

  • Dual-level attenuation
  • True bypass, minimum attenuation, variable (which goes all the way to load)
  • 5-position Variable Dynamic Control – varies the reactance between the attenuator and speaker, acting like a high-cut filter.
  • 3 optional foot switches (boost only, boost + channel switch, boost + A/B)
  • Weighs only 7 lbs.
  • Line out with level control
  • Will handle 4, 8 and 16 ohm

Tone Bone Rating: 5.00 ~ A few years ago, when Jeff first showed me his prototype attenuator mounted on a pine board, I never thought that

Jeff Aragaki is a genius. I knew it from the first moment I met him. I started out by first being blown away by his “more Marshall than Marshall” amps and now the proud owner of three of them to witnessing his attenuator technology go from a project box, demonstrating to me a way to throttle output volume that was unlike anything at the time (and still no one has been able to duplicate what he has done), to now three iterations of attenuators (Pro, DAG, and now the DRX). The DRX is by far his most incredible riff on his unique attenuation technology. And no, if you think you know how it works, you’d be wrong. I’m no expert, but I’m familiar with the basics of traditional attenuation (read: everyone else’s attenuators), and the Aracom technology is like nothing on the market.

As I mentioned above, the DRX (short for DualRox) attenuator takes that technology to a new level by offering two modes of operation: Normal and Boost; at least if you’re just using boost mode (Type A foot switch). It opens up more possibilities with the Type B and Type C foot switches which provide the capability to switch channels (Type B), or use an A/B (Type C), perfect for two-channel amps that don’t have channel switching. These features alone had me completely sold on the unit, and I had only originally tested it with the Type A foot switch! My test unit which Jeff lent to me for review included the Type B boost and channel switch (which I’ll demonstrate in a clip below). But irrespective of the type of switching, being able to boost my volume under attenuation just blew me away!!! Here’s a clip that demonstrates only switching between normal and boost modes:

From a performance standpoint however, having both the dual attenuation levels, plus the ability to switch channels is absolutely HUGE! For instance, I can go from clean to full-on overdrive with the click of the foot switch; much like engaging an overdrive pedal. But there’s no pedal involved. Without an attenuator, going from clean to dirty on the amp usually involves a huge jump in volume. But with the dual-level attenuation, I can set my cranked up volume to just a bit over the clean volume. Again, this is just having an overdrive pedal, but this time, it’s only my amp, so I don’t have to worry about dialing in another device’s EQ to get the right tone. Check this clip out:

I used my Aracom VRX22 for that, which is another Plexi clone but with 6V6 tubes. This amp is notable for its haunting clean tone, and monster overdrive, which comes from 1950’s NOS 6V6’s that I have biased a little hot. I also had it customized with channel switching, so it fit the bill for testing out the Type B foot switch. I just can’t wait to gig with this come Sunday! It’s gonna be fun!

But it doesn’t stop there. In addition to the dual modes is a feature that no one else has, and that’s the Variable Dynamic Control. While it acts essentially as a subtle high-cut filter, it’s not an EQ. Instead, it changes the reactance between the attenuator and speaker. Fully right is full reactance, and as you move left to the leftmost position (there are 5 positions), the reactance is reduced, producing the effect of rolling off the highs. But it’s very subtle, and you can really only tell a difference between the most extreme settings. This is an incredible feature in that it allows you to dial in your tone; especially your cranked tone. For instance, my Aracom VRX18 (18-watt Plexi clone) produces lots of highs when cranked. They’re not entirely undesirable, but they do get piercing, especially at gig levels. So by slightly reducing the reactance between the attenuator and speaker, I can get rid of the super-super highs while retaining my fundamental tone. In a word: Killer. Here’s a clip that demonstrates the Variable Dynamic Control:

As I said, it’s subtle. The fundamental tone doesn’t change much, but going from extreme to extreme, you can tell when the highs roll off a bit.

For those who are familiar with the previous Aracom attenuators, one feature that set them apart was the ability to mix and match amps and cabs with different impedance settings. For instance, you could match an 8 ohm amp output with a 4 ohm cab. But that came at the price of a huge transformer that made those units weight 18 lbs. The DRX requires that both amp and cab impedance settings match. But that’s not really a loss at least for me because all my amplifiers have multiple output impedance jacks, so it’s really not a big deal. And for what I get in return from the DRX, that loss of flexibility is not a very high price to pay.

Overall Impression

When I first tested the prototype of this unit a couple of years ago, I actually thought that Jeff had changed the circuit technology. But in fact, he didn’t, which is a good thing because when you have this unit, you’re assured of getting the most advanced attenuation technology on the planet. Yeah, I’m raving about it because for the past few years, this technology has afforded me the flexibility to play in ANY venue, large and small, indoor or outdoor, and not ever have to sacrifice my tone; something I can’t say of other attenuators I’ve used and tested. I can crank up my amp as much as I need, confident that my tone hasn’t changed, but never having to worry about pissing someone off about my volume.

But on top of that, with the ability to have two levels of attenuation, plus the ability to dial in my highs, I couldn’t be happier, and I can hardly wait for Jeff to finish constructing my unit.

And yeah, as I mentioned above, it’s a bit on the pricey side. But how much is great tone worth? I’ve spent countless hours and thousands upon thousands of dollars on guitars, amps and pedals over the years – especially the last few years – and with each one, I justified my expense. The DRX is a tool that will let me ensure that I keep the tone that I’ve worked so hard to achieve. It may not make sense for the solo bedroom player, but for working musicians like myself, the DRX is an investment in my tone that I’m willing to make.

For more information, go to the Aracom DRX product page!

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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. 🙂

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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.

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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!

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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!

For more information on this great attenuator, go to the Aracom PRX150 product page!

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