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This article was originally published in issue #32
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Laney has always had a superb reputation for great sounding and eminently affordable amplifiers. The company's latest offering, is something quite different from its long line of great guitar amps - it's a small footprint, pedal format, tube (aka valve) pre-amp with some really unique features that are pretty exciting for studio and stage based guitar players alike.
The heart of the IRT PULSE is a pair of ECC83 (12AX7) pre-amp tubes, providing real tube tone and dynamic response matched with the same basic circuitry from Laney’s Ironheart series of amplifiers. Sticking tubes into a small pre-amp or pedal format isn’t exactly new, but where Laney have stepped ahead of the competition is with the inclusion of a USB 2.0 interface, allowing direct tube-tone recording to any DAW with great audio quality. There are lots of existing modelling based solutions on the market that will allow this kind of feature, but as far as we know, the IRT PULSE is the only solution that throws real tubes into the equation, offering both the tone and feel that we love from real tube amps.
The unit comes in a very solid metal chassis, finished in ‘none-more-metal’ black. The tubes can be accessed via a removable grill cover and are very well protected from knocks and drops. Laney has even included a nice little cloth bag for transporting the PULSE around in.
Operating the IRT PULSE is really simple with just a couple of dials at the front for Volume and Gain settings. Dark, Bright and EQ switches allow tone shaping at preset frequencies and offer a decent level of tonal control with the EQ switch set to boost Lows and Highs whilst scooping Mids for a classic ‘metal’ tone. The Dark and Bright switches are very effective and intelligently set for providing anything from silky smooth lead tones to spiky picked parts as required and are especially effective for taming the tone when the unit is placed in the front of particularly bright or dark sounding amps. The Hot switch effectively allows two-channel operation, boosting the pre-amp when engaged for massive amounts of gain at the highest settings or powerful crunch tones at the lower end.
The USB interface is nicely featured thanks to its two channel operation, allowing the user to record a completely dry signal for re-amping on the left channel and the fully processed signal on the right channel. Laney has also included a ‘re-amp’ switch that, once engaged, re-routes audio signals back to the PULSE via USB for re-amping back through the unit via a single USB cable. This is a great feature that allows you to really easily dial in your perfect tone after you’ve finished recording.
Also included is the same 4x12 cabinet emulation circuit from the original Ironheart amp and this can be switched on and off as required, allowing the user to record an un-emulated signal and use their own IR-based cabinet simulations in their DAW. The emulation sounds great, coming in especially useful for quick recording sessions, live use and when using the on-board headphone socket for practising. Laney has even added an Aux in for a super compact practice application or live set-up when playing with tracks through a PA. As well as functioning as a USB interface, the Pulse can be run in front of an existing amp as a boost/overdrive pedal or in the FX loop of a non-tube amp to add tube response and dynamics. In both cases a footswitch can be connected for manually bypassing the pre-amp.
Tonally the IRT PULSE is a superb performer with all of the quality from the full fat Ironheart amps and a fantastic dynamic response that immediately feels natural and immediate. As with the rest of the Ironheart series there is an almost obscene amount of gain on tap if required, but the PULSE will clean-up beautifully by rolling off the guitar volume or turning down the gain and in both cases the high end remains clear with no loss of tone, pick attack or response.
When combined with some of the high-end cabinet IR (Impulse Response - Ed) packages on the market, this pre-amp can yield some truly staggering tones considering its size, offering an incredibly compact and professional sounding recording solution that would be really well suited to travelling guitar players doing solo gigs or clinics. Plugging this thing directly into a PA and running some delay/reverb gives an awesome sounding solution that works just like a high end tube amp, running a high gain tone and rolling the guitar volume down for cleaner tones.
At the asking price the IRT PULSE really is a no-brainer, especially for those looking to bring real tubes back into their recording set-up without using loud and expensive amp set-ups. I have a feeling that Laney will be selling a lot of these over the coming months! Very highly recommended and excellent value for money!