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The sound is fantastic, with a multitude of options for creating the perfect tone, while using your favourite amp.
Two Notes Torpedo Studio
Moderate price tag that may be out of reach for some
Capturing a great guitar sound at home has never been easier thanks to the digital revolution. Two Notes Engineering look to take things another step further with their revolutionary digital load boxes. But how does it all work? Jamie Humphries tells us more.
For years recording guitar in the home has been a challenging task, especially for those of us wanting to record with our favourite valve amp with the volume set at that “sweet spot”. (Oh, and as most musicians do, we want to do it at 2 O’clock in the morning!) I have been one of these frustrated guitarists, and have tried nearly tried everything on the market for a solution. For some, the birth of amp modeling was the answer, especially when it came in the shape of a red kidney bean that offered a plethora of valve amps, boasting silent practice abilities as well as DI recording.
For me this never really hit the spot, modeling for my tastes just sounded a bit one-dimensional, and it lacked that interaction that you get between a guitar and an amps preamp and power amp stages. When it came to live, forget it, these units just didn’t cut through the mix, or sit well. I have used a Marshall JMP1, a Palmer speaker simulator/load box (which yielded some great results), although it felt good to play, the emulation side of things was purely a filter, so it still didn’t have a 100% accurate speaker cabinet tone. I also for a while had a speaker coffin, a large sealed box housing a mic and speaker, but this was still pretty noisy.
Two Notes Engineering is a company that has been around now for a few years, and quite frankly produce the answer to guitarists, producers and sound men’s prays. This French company has revolutionised silent recording and performance with a range of digital load boxes that use impulse responses, or IR’s, of our best-loved speaker cabs and mics. With a growing range of products, we are going to take a look at what I consider to be one of the most important pieces of equipment for a guitarist to own along with the guitar and amplifier. A bold statement I know, but to my mind, this unit should be considered as a very worthwhile investment for the serious guitar player.
The Torpedo Studio is Two Notes Engineering’s flagship digital load box and offers a huge amount of flexibility for recording, live performance and re-amping. In basic terms, this unit will enable you to plug your favourite valve amp into it and use it without a speaker connected. The unit will take the load from the speaker output of the amp, and give you a controllable level for silent recording, live application, or even headphone practice. The Torpedo studio offers a virtual alternative to traditional miking; you can crank your favourite amp up and record it in an apartment in the early hours of the morning without upsetting the neighbors, or waking the kids. You can also use it with preamps, preamp pedals, and it isn’t just for guitar players; Torpedo Studio has a wide range of bass speakers making it a very powerful studio tool.
The front of the Torpedo studio boasts four rotary controls including input gain, the navigation controls, output volume and headphone volume. The front panel also includes a series of switches for accessing pre-sets and the menu for programming the unit. I should point out that the Torpedo Studio can also be operated via a remote computer based graphical editor, but this isn’t imperative; some may find this approach easier in the studio. The full functions of the Torpedo can be accessed from the front panel without the use of a computer; ideal for using it on a gig. The front has both the input and output level indicators to enable you to set the optimum levels, to ensure you’re driving the unit enough to create a realistic feel when performing as well as getting the best sound. The front panel also includes a headphone output, for beautiful wide stereo practice tones or silent amp tweaking.
The rear panel has a wide range of connection for a multitude of live and studio applications. These include;
Now let's talk a little about the load box side of things; first what is a load box, and why use one? Well, a load box is a device that enables you to use your amplifier with out a speaker connected allowing silent recording or a direct feed into a PA. The load box should be the same impedance as a speaker and provide the correct load for the amplifier, so the power stage can safely work without a speaker being used, and not become damaged. The load box will also provide a line level signal that can be sent to a mixing console or audio interface; we don’t want to be blasting 100 watts of valve power into your computer! There are two types of load box; reactive load which is designed to emulate the dynamic interaction between the speaker and the amplifier, and resistive, which is slightly more sterile, offering a less obvious tone in a mix. Guitarists typically prefer the reactive load as it feels and sounds more like a speaker. The Torpedo can be switched to either of these two types of loads.
Now lets talk a bit about Impulse Responses; An IR captures the DNA of a speaker, its cab, a mic, and the placement in the room; everything that goes into making the sound you hear when miking up. IR’s are created by sending out a series of frequencies that creates a digital picture of the characteristics of the speaker, mic, and anything else that was in the signal chain; For speaker cabs, it captures the frequencies, phasing and all the other components that make up the sound of our beloved cabinet. This means that each one of the cabinets was physically captured in a professional studio, using top quality preamps, a/d converters, and treated rooms. This process is repeated for each of the microphones in multiple positions and compiled using a Two Notes proprietary and exclusive process that offers the final product; a simple and intuitive user interface that emulates the real-time process of placing and moving microphones to obtain the desired result. With the Torpedo studio you can save your favourite speaker and mic combinations and load them for sessions or even live; no more miking, just a consistent tone. For live you could even switch to different cabs depending on the sound or song you’re playing. If using a midi equipped amp or pedal board/effects unit, you could control the Torpedo with your pedal board patch changes, maybe select an open back cab for your clean, a Marshall for your crunch, a Mesa for high gain; the possibilities are endless! The unit comes loaded with a substantial library of IR’s, but thanks to Two Notes “La Boutique”, you can audition cabs before you purchase them.
The Torpedo also offers a range of post effects including compression, EQ, an exciter, and ambiance; you can choose the room that the cab is in, with more reverb occurring as the mic is pulled back from the cab. We can also control the overload to the speaker, making the speaker distort and break up more, plus we can adjust phasing issues that occur between two mics at different distances. If you are using a preamp or a preamp pedal, the Torpedo includes a power amp emulator, where you can choose your output tubes and compensate for the lack of a power stage, by adding power amp saturation and compression.
The Torpedo has two channels channel A and B; you can use up to two cabs, and two mic’s at the same time using the same cab in both channels with the same mic’s or different mic’s. Or using two different cabs with the same mic’s or different mic’s on each cab. The channels are routed to either the analog or digital outputs, enabling stereo application and panning. You can also blend both channels to one output while sending an unaffected signal to the other output. This is great for monitoring an effected sound for your performance, but recording an unaffected signal, leaving you the option to choose your cab during the mixing process.
In use, this unit sounds amazing, and for me is the best marriage of analog and digital technology, using a traditional guitar amp front end, and digital technology for the speakers. Your amp will react, sound and feel how you expect it to with a speaker cabinet connected. It had that “thump” that you get from the driven power stage of an amp, as well as emulating the “air” movement and ambiance depending on how far away the mic was placed from the cab. The tone produced by this unit will stand up against a miked-up speaker cab. For the demo, I used a variety of speakers for clean, crunch and high gain sounds. I was able to match stylistic tones with the appropriate cab; cleans with a Fender style cab, bluesy tweed tones, a Marshall cab for British crunch and a Mesa cab for high gain. I only touched the tip of the tonal iceberg here and used cabs to suit my personal tastes, but trust me you can spend hours tweaking your ultimate guitar tone. I was also able to shape the sound of the amp to suit my tonal needs, for example, I used an open back AC30 style cab for Brian May style tones.
When recording with the Torpedo the IR’s breathe life into your tracks, adding depth to your guitar parts, something I have always felt lacking when recording a direct guitar signal. The only way I could ever achieve this was miking a cab, which having my studio in an apartment wasn’t always an option, especially if I was on a project deadline working through the night! The part I love about this technology the most tho is using my amp, being able to turn down the guitar volume to clean up the sound, that interaction you have with your amp that I have never achieved with full digital solutions for guitar.
The Torpedo comes with some pre-sets, so as soon as you plug in, you are ready to go. Programming and editing sounds are very achievable and straightforward, especially so when connecting the unit to a computer and using the remote editing app. There are two versions of the app, simulation, and arcade, with the arcade mode, simplifying and combining certain features for easy editing.
To conclude this review, I think that any guitarist serious about recording should look very closely at this unit. The sound is fantastic, with a multitude of options for creating the perfect tone, while using your favourite amp. For the live guitar player, it offers a consistent sound from venue to venue, no more miking up, just plug in and off you go. I have been using this unit now for several months on various projects, as well as using it even for my online teaching. I shall also be taking it out on my next tour this autumn. The Torpedo Studio gets a huge thumbs up from me; check it out!