Two Notes Audio Engineering Torpedo Reload
By Phil O'Keefe |
Direct box, re-amplification, amp attenuation and more…
By Phil O'Keefe
High-powered guitar and bass amps are great for live use - especially when you can crank them up… but they tend to be overkill when recording. Power amp attenuators can reduce their output level, but they don't always sound that great. Recording direct has long been something that home recordists and studios in general have been interested in as an alternative to miking up amps. Since it provides perfect isolation, direct recording prevents any "bleed" between the guitar or bass part and any other instruments that might be playing simultaneously, and the quality of the acoustics of the room used for the direct recording are obviously also not a factor when recording this way. Additionally, using re-amplification techniques allows for considerable flexibility in terms of recorded tones - unlike traditionally-recorded parts, re-amplifying a direct recording allows you to experiment with and change the overall amplifier type and sound, EQ, distortion characteristics, and even the effects that are applied to the recording long after the performance was tracked.
However, recording direct has always had its challenges. Getting the signal into the DAW is relatively easy, but getting it back out at the same level it came in at, and with the correct impedance can be tricky. Speaker emulation can help improve the sound of a direct input recordings, but some emulations are definitely better than others. The same can be said for attenuators - many of them sound less than stunning, especially when decreasing the amp's volume substantially.
You can always use a microphone on a real speaker cabinet to record, but often this requires turning up the amp sufficiently to get the kind of power amp tube breakup that many players prefer, and situations involving loud amps, annoyed neighbors and the police are never much fun. Attenuators are sometimes used to lower the output levels from stage-ready amps to more bedroom and studio-friendly levels, but attenuators often change the sound too much to suit the tastes of tone-conscious players and recording engineers. Two Notes Audio Engineering is a French company that has designed the Torpedo Reload to address these issues and provide a collection of tools to overcome them. Let's dive in and look at the specifics.
- The Torpedo Reload provides several functions in a single hardware unit that measures 12.6" wide x 3.50" high x 7.87" deep, including the knobs and connectors. It weights a touch under ten pounds. The construction is nice and rugged, with an all-metal case and thick, brushed aluminum front panel with several vents in it for cooling. Around back, a small fan constantly draws air through the unit to insure it stays cool.
- There are four primary functions on the Torpedo Reload hardware. They include a high impedance instrument DI, power attenuation and load box with RE-ACT™ technology , and a re-amplifying interface with REPLAY™ and MATCH™ functions.
- Front panel controls on the Torpedo Reload are pretty basic, with a power switch, 1/4" instrument / DI input jack, and several LEDs that indicate various things such as load impedance, signal levels / clipping and MATCH functions. Replay, Speaker and Contour knobs, as well as a pushbutton -15/0dB Loadbox switch round out the front panel controls. The Replay knob sets the output level when re-amplifying, and the Match LEDs allow you to set it to the optimum level so that the Replay's output level matches the input signal.
- The Speaker knob sets the output level when using the attenuator functions, while the center-center-detented Contour knob lets you adjust the tone (particularly the boost or cut in the midrange) of the attenuated speaker output; a bit of cut is particularly useful when using lots of attenuation.
- The rear panel has a 1/4" input jack labeled Speaker In for connecting to your amplifier's speaker output jack, along with a three-position 4, 8 or 16 ohm switch. Two Speaker Out jacks are available, with one being suitable for connecting 8 and 16 ohm cabinets, and the other for 4, 8 or 16 ohm loads.
- A 600 ohm balanced XLR Loadbox output can also be found on the rear panel, along with a ground lift switch.
- A second XLR output and ground lift switch provide a 600 ohm balanced DI output.
- Two more 1/4" jacks and another ground lift switch round out the rear panel. These are for the REPLAY function, and the jacks are labeled Line In and Amp Out. The Line In accepts the signal from your DAW, and the Amp Out is connected to an amplifier when using the re-amplification functions of the unit.
- The Torpedo Reload's loadbox is a unique reactive-active (RE-ACT™) design which is designed to present a constant speaker-type impedance load to the amplifier, regardless of the amount of attenuation you have dialed up. It also is equipped with multiple impedance options, including 4, 8 and 16 ohm outputs, and it has a 100W RMS power-handling capacity.
- The MATCH feature on the Torpedo Reload is pretty darned cool. It compares the signal as it comes from the guitar or bass at the DI input with the Replay output so that you can set the re-amplification level to be the same as what your guitar itself is putting out. Using the Replay knob to adjust the output level and using the front panel LEDs as your guide, it's easy to get the output level to match the input level. This prevents the re-amplified signal from being too hot compared to your guitar's output and creating additional distortion, or being too low and causing noise and lackluster sound.
- The Torpedo Reload comes with a Torpedo Wall of Sound III plugin license for use with Mac and PC computers. The Wall of Sound III plugin is an extremely flexible and solid sounding power amp, microphone and speaker emulator, and features 24 cabinet models (additional cabinet models and other IR files can be loaded), 8 virtual mic models, 5-band EQ, and power amplifier emulation with models of four different tube types (EL84, 6L6, EL34 and KT88), with each type available as a single-ended Class A or a Class AB push-pull configuration. It also allows you to reposition a virtual microphone relative to a virtual speaker cabinet on-screen; the results are pretty uncanny, and it really does sound similar to moving a physical microphone to different positions within the room, although it lacks the actual acoustical cues such as pre-delay and reverb that you'd get in an actual room - you'll need to add those yourself with your DAW's delay and reverb plugins, but once you do, the results can sound extremely realistic, and can be virtually indistinguishable from a recording done with a miked-up speaker cabinet.
- The quality of the attenuated sound is pretty amazing on this unit too - it's by far the best sounding power attenuator I've tried to date. The first time I hooked it up and rolled down the Speaker knob, my thought was that it sounded and felt just like rolling off the amp's own master volume control - the output level decreased, but the tone didn't get funky. There's none of the weak, compressed and small sound that you get from most other attenuators, even with very significant amounts of attenuation happening.
- Speaking of the amount of attenuation, you can drop the output level from the speaker all the way down to zero if you want. The Torpedo Reload is a great tool for low-level as well as totally silent recording.
- The onboard fan is essential to keeping things running cool because attenuators by their very nature have to dissipate a lot of heat, but it can cause slight noise interference when using the Torpedo Reload near your amp and speaker and recording the attenuated amp with a conventional microphone. I was able to get around this by using slightly longer speaker cables to connect the amp, Torpedo Reload, and speaker cabinet, and then placing the Torpedo Reload away from the miked speaker cabinet to reduce the noise from it that the mic was picking up.
- The Torpedo Reload is not inexpensive… but then again, it's not ridiculously priced either, especially when you consider what other attenuators can cost, as well as the additional costs of a re-amplification tool, direct box, and high-end software speaker emulation plugin.
- Speaker distortion is an important element of many guitar sounds, and while using an attenuator and load box can allow you to get power amp breakup at lower (or even silent) volume levels, any contribution to the distorted tone coming from the speaker is going to be reduced or lost when playing through any attenuator.
I am quite impressed with the Two Notes Audio Engineering Torpedo Reload. The attenuator sounds much better than any other unit I've ever tried; unlike most of them, it has very minimal effect on the sound as it reduces the volume, and the Contour control allows you to compensate for the lessened sensitivity to high and low frequency sounds that our ears experience at soft vs. loud volume levels. The Match feature allows for easy matching of the unit's re-amplifying output level to the correct guitar level to feed your amplifier when re-amplifying the DI signal that you recorded to your DAW with the onboard DI, and the Loadbox output allows you to record direct while still taking advantage of the contributions to your sound that are made from your amplifier's power amp section, and do it totally silently if desired.
Being able to work as a DI, loadbox and speaker attenuator all at once allows for three different recording paths simultaneously - DI, loadbox and miked-up attenuated speaker. I love that everything on the unit can be used at the same time. While it doesn't have onboard speaker cabinet emulation built-in like the Two Notes Torpedo CAB that I reviewed previously ( http:/www.harmonycentral.com/expert-reviews/two-notes-audio-engineering-to-30955799 ), the same basic functionality is available with the included Torpedo Wall of Sound III plugin, allowing you to use different power amp and/or speaker models to enhance your direct and loadbox recordings. All in all, the Torpedo Reload offers a great collection of tools for taming your amp's volume levels and for recording and re-amplifying guitar and bass parts, and is well worth checking out if you have the opportunity. It has completely changed my opinion about the usefulness of attenuators for recording.
Distributed in the USA by Diffusion Audio ($995 MSRP, $849.00 "street")
Two Notes Audio Engineering's Torpedo Reload product web page