Neutrik "Timbre Plug" for Guitar
By Anderton |
Here's a clever way for guitarists to tame the "crispiness" of audio interface direct inputs
By Craig Anderton
Most guitarists are aware that with passive pickups, cable capacitance affects tone when feeding a high-impedance input, like the DI inputs on audio interfaces. Activating your guitar’s tone control will tend to “swamp out” any differences caused by cable capacitance, but if the tone control isn’t play, then cable capacitance will nonetheless affect your sound.
Quantifying this difference is more difficult. Different cables have different amounts of capacitance per foot, and the longer the cable, the greater the capacitance. So often when guitar players find a cable that sounds “right,” they’ll just stick with that until it dies (or they do).
Part of what inspired me to write this is a comment in another Forum that Shall Go Nameless that dissed the Timbre Plug (of course, without ever actually trying it) because of the assumption that it just duplicates what a tone control does. But a tone control is more complex than most people realize; it doesn’t just roll off highs, but also interacts with passive pickups to create a resonant peak. This boosts the signal somewhat, and is one reason why rolling back on the tone control sounds “creamier.” It’s also why guitarists like to experiment with different tone control capacitors. Within reason, the higher the capacitor value, the lower the resonant frequency.
So yes, cables do make a difference. Yet these days, a lot of guitar players will record by going through a relatively short cable into an audio interface, so cable capacitance doesn’t enter into the picture. Which at long last brings us to the Neutrik NP2RX-TIMBRE, which typically costs under $20.
Let’s take a closer look. The knob opposite the plug shaft itself has a four position rotary switch. It chooses among no capacitance, and three possible capacitor values strapped between the hot and ground connections (Neutrik preferred I not mention the exact values, but they're in the single-digit nanoFarad range). Note that these capacitors are potted in with a switch assembly, so don’t expect to change them if you’d prefer to try different values.
Each of these has a distinct effect on the sound, as you can hear in this demo video.
It’s actually quite easy to assemble; you’ll need a Phillips head screwdriver, pencil tip soldering iron, wirecutters, and two-conductor shielded cable with an outside diameter of 0.16” to 0.27”.
The assembly instructions are downloadable from the Neutrik web site, and also are printed on the back of the packaging.
I make my cables using the Planet Waves Cable Station, which uses ¼” cable. It was a tight fit, but by following the assembly instructions and cutting the wire exactly as specified, it all went together as expected. I certainly would advise against using anything thicker.
Some people may think the right-angle jack is an issue, but it fits fine with a Strat and of course, it ideal for front-facing jacks as found on SG and 335-type guitars. However, ultimately it doesn’t really matter because the cable isn’t “polarized”—you can plug the Timbre plug into your amp or interface. All you give up is the ability to have the controls at your fingertips while you play, but I tend to think this would be a more “set and forget” type of device anyway.
The Timbre Plug inserted into a TASCAM US-2x2 interface’s direct input.
The concept of emulating cable capacitance isn’t new, although sometimes it’s just a high-frequency rolloff—which is not the same as a capacitor interacting with a pickup. Neutrik’s solution is compact, built solidly, truly emulates physical cable capacitance, is accessible to anyone with moderate DIY skills, and isn’t expensive. In a way, it's like a hardware "plug-in" for your computer - and you may very well find it’s just the ticket to taking the “edge” off the crispiness that’s inherent in feeding a passive pickup into a high-impedance input.
Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.