News From The Woods.30

NEWS FROM THE WOODS

By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published May 15, 1999


"CRATE DX-212 Digital Modeling Amplifier"


All of you know that I never write product reviews in this column, but this time I am making an exception because this particular product is not only an exceptional value but also an outstanding performer. It should be of interest to working musicians and home recording enthusiasts as well as recording studios.

 

There is a new buzzword in the musical instrument industry, which encompasses drums, guitars, keyboards, amplifiers, and recording equipment. The phrase is "DIGITAL MODELING TECHNIQUES", which in simple text means using digital technology to emulate existing analog performance specifications. In the drumming world, and example would be Rolandís new V-Drums (the "V" stands for "Virtual"). Although this kit is made up of trigger pads and a sound module, the similarity to conventional synth drum kits ends there. With the V-Drums, you can decide such parameters as the size of the drum, the composition of the drum, what kind of virtual "mic" you want to use, how far the mic is from the drum source, and then the usual processing parameters of the various reverb DSP programs as well.

 

The latest Virtual emulationís to hit the market are in the form of guitar amplifiers. So far, there are only four contenders in this field: The Johnson Marquis Series, the Line 6 Ax2212, the Yamaha DG-100, and the CRATE DX-112/212 Series of amps. I was recently fortunate to have received a CRATE DX-212 Digital Guitar Amplifier to play with in preparation for an upcoming performance to be given by my band "Spilt Milk" at a promotional event on behalf of SLM (St. Louis Music, Inc.). In the course of putting this guitar amp through itís paces I discovered some pretty amazing things which I thought I would share here.

 

The CRATE DX-112ís only difference between its big brother is a single 12" speaker and 60-Watt power amp. For the purposes of this article I will refer to the 100-Watt Stereo DX-212 amp which features two vintage 12" speakers, since that is the actual amplifier I have had "hands on" experience with. The DX-212, according to the manufacturer (SLM Electronics, Inc., 1400 Ferguson Avenue, St. Louis, MO. 63133), is "the heart and soul of sixteen different amplifiers which have been captured through the miracles of digital software engineering. Not only does the amp sound like the originals, it performs like the originals, with the same tones and character of all your favorites." If this sounds too good to be true, believe meÖ it isnít! With a simple twist of a single knob I selected the following vintage amp setups:

 

TOP MOUNT (Vox AC 30)

HIGH POWER (HiWatt Stack)

STUDIO TWEED (1950ís Fender Deluxe)

BLACK FACE (Mid-60ís Fender Deluxe Reverb)

LARGE TWEED (Late-50ís Fender Bassman)

60ís ERA UK (1959 Marshall)

70ís ERA UK (Marshall JCM 800 Stack)

FUZZBOX (Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face)

TUBE RECTIFIER (Mesa-Boogie Dual-Rectifier)

CALIF MOD (Mesa-Boogie Mark IIC+)

AMPEG VL (Ampeg VL-501)

FLEXWAVE (CRATE GX-140C)

VINTAGE CLUB (CRATE VC-60)

BLUE VOODOO (CRATE BV-60)

ACOUSTIC (Boss AC-1 Acoustic Simulator)

CLEAN (Direct Interface)

 

The DX-212 also features an on-board DSP unit which has 16 built-in effects, including: Touch Wah, Compressor, Tremelo, Vibrato, Chorus, Flanger, Delay, Echo, Rotating Speaker, and several different combinations of two or more effects. In addition, a digital reverb processor is included with itís own set of control knobs (level and depth). A single knob can adjust each effect, and in addition a lighted "Tap" button controls several different functions, depending on the effect selected. I found the tap button particularly helpful in synching delay times to song tempos. I just tapped the tempo to the current song on the button and instantly got the correct delay time.

 

The amps front panel has the usual knobs: master, channel gain, bass, mid, treble, and also channel level, plus the effect control knobs and the amp/effect selector knobs. Two instrument input jacks are provided (Hi/Low Gain) with a master power switch. Also located on the front panel is the cool looking lighted digital keypad. There are ten presets available from the keypad in two banks of five per bank. Each preset stores its own parameter settings. After selecting a preset, turning any knob on the front panel will change the "virtual position" relevant to the preset. It took me a few moments to get used to this design characteristic. Upon immediately recalling a preset, you have to remember that NONE of the knobs visual positions are giving you the actual setting of that parameter. Changing any of the knobs will then overwrite that knobs virtual position. Say, for instance, the GAIN knob was set at the 11 Oíclock position when the preset was saved, then moved to the 3 Oíclock position. That would make the actual GAIN setting at 3 Oíclock. But if you then recalled that preset, the virtual GAIN control would revert to the 11 Oíclock position, even though the knob still resides at the 3 Oíclock position. One way around this would have been to put LED readouts to accompany each knob, but I am sure it would have dramatically increased the unitís cost. All things considered it is the easiest way out and takes only a few minutes to acclimate yourself to this minor drawback.

 

The DX-212 rear panel features Stereo Line In/Out jacks for connecting an external effects unit; a stereo headphone jack which can also be used for recording (it disconnects the speakers); and MIDI In/Out/Thru jacks which double as a standard MIDI footswitch port or CRATE foot controller connector. When using a standard MIDI footswitch a total of 100 presets can be stored and recalled using MIDI program numbers 0-99. When using the optional CRATE DX-FC Foot Controller you get the added ability of accessing the TAP feature through the Controller. The DX-FC gets its power directly from the amp, but you must make sure you have selected the IN position switch on the ampís rear panel first.

 

After all is said and done, and after all the specs and features are thoroughly examined, the REAL proof lies in the application of this beast. And I can report that it does everything it is said to do. I asked guitarist Mark Rex over to the studio for some overdubs on a couple of album projects and requested that he try the DX-212 in a real working session to see how it fares. I used it on a reggae tune with my Roadhouse Strat and found the Vox AC 30 setting (TOP MOUNT) perfect for my out-of-phase switch setting on the neck pickup. Using the TAP button I found just the right delay setting in an instant by tapping along with the track. Mark used the LARGE TWEED preset with a Strat and got the closest thing Iíve heard to a Fender Bassman in years (short of the real thing).

 

Here at the studio we have access to amps by Mesa-Boogie, Crate, Marshall, Peavey, Univox, Roland, and several vintage Fender amps manufactured in the 60ís. In A/B comparisons between several of these authentic amps and the DX-212, the end result was very satisfying. For instance, we played the same solo on two different tracks of a song using first a mid-60ís Fender Deluxe Reverb, then the BLACK FACE setting on the DX-212. Both amps were miked with a Shure SM57 and run straight to tape with no processing. On listening with each solo playing along within the track neither Mark nor I could really tell the difference. We literally had to solo each track and listen to just the guitar track itself to finally hear any differences. The Fender was a little thinner but seemed to have just a tad more speaker compression to it.

 

In summary, when evaluating the cost (and availability) of keeping on hand each and every type of vintage and classic guitar amplifier, then comparing it to a single amplifier which can closely emulate the original amp, thereís not too much to wonder about. Although the retail price of the DX-212 appears to be $729.99, I have seen it listed in Spring/99 catalogs by AMS (American Musical Supply) and Musicianís Friend for just under $600. The closest competitor using digital modeling would be the Johnson Marquis JM60 that carries a $749.99 price tag followed by the Line 6 Ax2212 listing in the same catalogs for $899.99. I have not seen the Yamaha DG-100 listed in any catalogs so I cannot report on it.

 

For a working musician, this type of guitar amp would be perfect when playing cover tunes in a club band. With the flick of a knob or tap of a foot pedal you can switch from grunge to blues to metal to funk to country in a millisecond. In a recording situation this amplifier really shines. One microphone (or even record direct) and one amp reduces the studio set-up to a fraction of the time it would take to set up different amps and mics and inputs to the console and matching gains to the recorder. Not even counting the classic presets, you can manually dial up about any type of guitar amp sound you desire for that next solid gold record project.


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