Guitar Amp Attenuator Roundup
We all love the sound of a cranked tube amp, but it can be too loud in many situations. This is the primary issue that power attenuators confront, reducing the loudness while retaining the cranked tube tone.
By utilizing power attenuators, you can get the gritty sound of driven tubes at any volume level - without having to modify the circuit of your beloved tube amps. With a good attenuator, you can finally use your big and loud amplifiers even in smaller venues, without having to compromise tone . Attenuators also come handy when recording in small studios where cranking up your regular tube amp can be too loud.
Note that even when using an attenuator, over-cranking your amp for prolonged periods will still cause faster wear and tear to the tubes - much like when the attenuator is not in use. So finding the right balance for the gain and attenuation level is important if you want to save your tubes.
Rivera RockCrusher Power Attenuator
The RockCrusher continues to be the most recommended power attenuator, thanks to its quality, tone and reliability. It's transparent tone and attenuation capabilities are truly impressive and easily justifies its seemingly premium price tag. The RockCrusher is simply an invaluable tool that allow powerful tube amps to get more use, instead of merely collecting dust.
Instead of the usual resistive load network design used on other power attenuators, Rivera used a hybrid "reactive" load network, giving it its great response and improved speaker-to-amplifier interaction. This unit employs inductive and capacitive resistance to deliver the biting tone of a full-on tube amp as transparently as possible, whatever the volume maybe. Build and sonic quality is assured by Rivera, a company with a long list of artist users and endorsers from diverse musical styles, from Earth Wind & Fire, to Dave Grohl to Jeff Skunk Baxer and many more. Even Slash's tech Ace Bergman found the RockCrusher to be convincingly very good.
If transparent tone is not enough, RockCrusher even comes with Edge and Warm switches for further tweaking. To protect your tube amp, Rivera also ensured impedance matching by providing an 8/16 ohm selector for matching multiple cabinets. Finally all these features are grafted inside a solid bullet-proof exterior, a thick wielded steel chassis that assures reliable performance for yours to come. Retail Price: $499. Get the latest price & reviews at Amazon.com.
Suhr Jim Kelley Power Attenuator
The Suhr Jim Kelley Power Attenuator has proven to be a strong contender in this market, enjoying the recommendation of professionals and artists. All thanks to its transparent sound and straightforward operation.
It is designed to work with different types of amps, working up to 100 watts, and can work with 4 and 8 ohm loads. It is also very easy to operate featuring a single knob interface that lets you adjust the power attenuation. On top of being flexible and intuitive, the Jim Kelley Power Attenuator comes with a treble Boost Switch, which better preserves the high-end dynamics of your tone.
Another nifty feature of this unit is its footswitch control compatibility, allowing for hands-free operation. All of these features combine to form a practical and easy to use load box that does not get in the way of the original tone of your amp. As expected the exterior of the unit is well built, ensuring reliable operation for musicians that are always on the move.
Having been made by Suhr, a brand supported by virtuosos like Scott Henderson and Michael Landau, you can be assured of build quality and sonic transparency, much like their great sounding guitar and amp offerings. Although not as widely available as the other guitar amp attenuators in this list, those that are wise and thrifty enough to invest on the Jim Kelley Power Attenuator will be rewarded handsomely. Retail Price: $599. You can visit Suhr to order.
Bad Cat The Unleash Power Attenuator
Bad Cat's "The Unleash" is a transparent 2-channel power attenuator that instead of focusing on flexibility and added features, zeroes in on what matters most - getting your tone through in all volume levels without any form of tampering or masking. With "The Unleash" engaged, you can utilize your amp's full potential without the distraction caused by noise, pops, clicks and uneven volume changes.
Although some might prefer the choked midrange and tamed highs or lows that older attenuators provide, the Leash goes for a modern true-bypass sound whether engaged or switched on. The unit is true its description of being virtually invisible to your ears at any volume level, adding and taking nothing away from your signal. Control is as straightforward as it gets, with just three knobs that control the input trim and the levels of the two channels.
While seemingly simplistic, the two channel design of this attenuator allows for rhythm and lead channel switching within the box itself - a feature not found on other power attenuators! Build quality and reliability is also top notch, so you get inspiring low volume tones for practice and for studio recording without worrying about damage and maintenance. Highly recommend. Retail Price: $449. Get the latest price & reviews at Amazon.com.
Carl's Custom Speaker Soak
Carl's Custom Speaker Soak is a portable and cost-effective power attenuator that gets the job done without burning a hole in your pocket. It does away with bells and whistles and adds basic master volume functionality to your tube amplifier. It is a compact and affordable solution for taming loud amps.
The Speaker Soak is designed using basic resistive load circuitry, which reduces the volume by transforming some of the energy into heat. This means that the unit may get warm while engaged, and warmer depending on how hot you set the amp. Although it lacks versatility, Carl's Custom produces two models to accommodate the most common speaker configurations - one for 8 ohm and one for 16 ohm. Note that the Speaker Soak is only applicable for 50Watt amplifiers, so anything above that you'll need something else.
With its cheap price, the Speaker Soak is a great entry-level unit for those that want to try taming their loud amps. If you want to get harmonic overtone rich overdrive at bedroom levels without breaking your bank, then you should get this. Retail Price: $40. Get the latest price & reviews at Amazon.com.
Weber Amp Attenuator Mass III
Weber is a company that carries a wide range of power attenuators, and the Mass III is of great interest because of its extensive features and value for money. Mass III is equipped with a tone stack for the speaker signal, allowing you control over the three basic EQ parameters (Bass/Mid/Treble) as you attenuate the amp signal. It also comes with an internal speaker motor and has a variable line out signal with dedicated volume and tone controls.
Far from being straightforward, this load box allows for complicated setups with two speaker output jacks to support multiple cabinets. With the three tone controls, you can adjust the volume from whisper quiet to extremely loud while having the ability to subtly shape the bass, mids, and treble. Like modern pedals, the MASS III has an active bypass circuit that can be controlled via a footswitch so you can switch between attenuated or bypassed without using your hands.
The Weber Mass III has a 150w rating that lets it handle amps with up to 100watts of power. It is housed in a sturdy metal chassis that feature huge knobs that resemble old radio and amplifier designs. This attenuator is ideal if you are planning to utilize multiple cabinets with your amp. Retail Price: $265. Visit Weber for more information.
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