The allure of a 500 series box had finally gotten the better of me as I ordered in a Radial The Cube rack to demo. Being a 3 module rack I could come up with a wide range of configurations, most of them revolving around a single channel strip of preamp, EQ, and compressor. The idea of a portable channel strip configured to my liking had me thinking, then I looked at my workflow and realized that I don’t need that out of the cube, I would rather rack that. Then it hit me. A guitar toolbox! Something that is handy to bring down to a guitarists pedal board, or sit on top of an amp. Flipping through the Radial products I decided on the EXTC, Tank Driver, and X-Amp to fill the rack. The three of these would allow me to use just about every piece of a guitarists rig to sculpt my sound.
I had been waiting patiently for my order to come in at work when the phone rings, it’s one of the guys at Radial calling to let me know The Cube was in the middle of a manufacturing run and would be ready for the middle of January. Awesome! No manufacturer or dealer ever calls to tell me a product is going to be delayed. At that point Radial did not know it was for me, they just knew that my store had ordered something that was not available. That’s dedication to your customer. Now I have been a Radial fan since i picked up my first DI from them years ago, so I had my expectations set pretty high when I first laid my eyes on the box that held the rack and modules.
Putting It All Together
As I pulled The Cube out of the box the first thing I noticed was how well it is made. There is some definite heft to it as you hold it, a very solid piece. The top edges are beautifully rounded and the bottom is even and flat. The handle is not the most comfortable to hold especially when the rack is loaded, thou this is only a concern if you are traveling often with it. Due to the physical size of the unit there is not room for an internal power supply so the power supply is on a line wart style power adaptor. Thankfully Radial have provided a strong plug on a 4 pin XLR style end. Just don’t loose the power adaptor.
The modules I chose, as I stated above, were the EXTC guitar effects interface, the Tank Driver spring reverb driver for connecting spring reverbs, and finally an X-Amp reamp module. Getting the modules in place was fairly straight forward, though it took me a couple attempts on each module to get the circuit board lined up with the slot in the back. Once in place the screw holes lined up perfectly and installation was complete. In my excited haste I initially installed the modules without much though to signal flow. I had installed them from left to right in this order, EXTC, X-Amp, and Tank Driver, based more on colour than anything. I later reordered them to be EXTC, Tank Driver, then X-Amp, as The Cube has a neat feed feature on the back that feeds the signal from one module to the next module on the right. More on this in a moment.
Now that everything is in place, lets play!
Before we can use The Cube, every module must be connected. Typically on a 500 Series rack this would mean either running a send and return for each module, or a single send and return, then wiring up a daisy chain on the back. Radial provide a feed function on their racks which avoids the need for daisy chaining. Great addition! Obviously if you want to use each module independently you can, but I have opted for a single line out to the rack and feeding each module forward to the next. This allows me to have one output from Pro Tools to use any three effects or all at once! There is also a stereo link switch for modules with a stereo link function and a phantom power switch for global phantom power. Also while we are back here there is an omniport, which is usable by module manufacturers to extend the capabilities of their modules. Now onto the modules themselves.
The EXTC is primarily used for using your guitar effects pedals as inserts or sends in your mix. Rather than a simple loop, the EXTC allows you some basic level controls to keep your gain in check. Looking at the controls from the top down is a blend knob with the standard wet or dry at either extreme allowing you to tailor the sound. If using the cube with the Feed function, turn the blend knob all the way dry when you are not using the EXTC module to pass a clean signal over to the next module. Below that a phase invert button is followed by a switch to engage the omniport, which in this case is an effects insert (thats right 2 effects loops in one). Below that are two knobs one each for send and return levels. This is important as some pedals want to see a hotter input than others. The receive level allows you to make up or reduce gain to keep your levels back into your system in check. At the bottom two 1/4″ jacks give you your input and output to connect up with your pedals.
The first pedal I had tried was the Voodoo Labs Sparkle Drive, and as I turned up the blend know from dry to wet I noticed right away a drop in volume, then some phasing issues, a simple phase inverse solved both of these problems for me. I tried a bunch of sources from an album I am working on through it with the expected results. I decided to try a couple other pedals while I was at it. I pulled out my Boss PS-6 Harmonist and noticed some phase issues that were not resolved by the inverse. When I looked closer the mix knob on the pedal was at full dry. The pedal is a digital pedal so the phasing was caused by the few millisecond delay in the pedals processor, not the EXTC. Being as there was a blend knob on the EXTC and the pedal was affecting pitch turning the mix to full wet on the pedal removed all phasing issues. There are as many uses for a module like this as there are pedals out there. I found myself loading session after session and cycling through my pedal collection finding cool configurations. I have a Radial X-Amp (the standalone box) already and have used that and a DI to reamp guitar pedals before, but gain staging was always a hassle. The EXTC made it quick and easy to set up and use my pedals.
Much like the EXTC the Tank Driver is used to interface with other gear, this time spring reverbs which require a much hotter signal to get working properly. Again the controls start off with a blend knob, this time it is followed by a drive button which boosts the signal to hit the spring a little harder. The omniport button, found below drive, allows you patch a spring tank into the omniport on the back keeping the front panel clean. The follow two knobs labeled Shimmer and Boom act as a 2 band EQ for the return signal with neutral being in the 12 o’clock position.
The sound of a spring is unmistakable and some plugins go a long way to make a pretty decent sounding recreation. But as with most plugins nothing really beats the real thing. You can’t kick a plugin and get that delightful twang (ok some you can). Running vocals and keyboards through my spring brought some tasty treats to my mix. I recommend you spend a little time some day and run things through a spring. Drums for example!
My next step was to test the omniport to see how that would work, so I patched it in. What I heard was not the same as before, this sounded tinny and thin, with almost the highs from a clean signal and perhaps 50% of the spring signal. My first thought was that this was the tank as I had not used it in a couple years. But testing confirmed that it was not the tank or the cables, it had to be the unit. I called into their tech support and get through right away (a good sign) and spoke with Paul there. After explaining my problem it was decided that the unit needed to be looked at.
Now I want to take a moment and explain something that many people don’t understand. For one reason or another a small percentage of equipment comes from the factory and it does not work properly. Rarely will this mean it’s not working at all, totally broken, generally it means that one or more functions is not working as it is intended. As a retailer I have seen countless issues from companies all up and down the food chain, from Behringer to SSL (that’s right even Solid State Logic). Don’t despair it does not mean that the company does not care, or that their gear is cheap. It just happens. What matters is how they resolve the problem. Radial answered my call during the first ring (must not get many tech calls) and replied to my followup email in half an hour. If every company I dealt with was this prompt I would be a happy happy man. Thanks Radial for the great service.
Other than the omniport issue the unit worked and sounded great. Oh, and just for fun I made some impulse responses of my spring for you to use. Download them here!
The X-amp is a re-amping box which can be used to feed two separate guitar amps for stereo sound or to layer tone. Each output features a level control to drive the tone of the amp, an on/off button and a ground lift. The second output also features a phase invert button to keep the two amps in phase (or out if thats your game). Below these are the two 1/4″ output to feed the amps. The omniport on this module allows a hi-z input to feed the two amps live.
Reamping in the studio is a popular production tool, and if you have not played around with it get on it. Even if I am micing amps live, I will always take a DI signal as well just incase. Many time I have seen parts get nixed because the guitar tone just does not work with the arrangement or the new string part. Sure you can EQ and make everything sit well, but have you ever tried to remove the distortion from a part. Can’t do it! Play it safe, take a DI signal. You open up a huge tool kit later, layering multiple amps, playing with stereo amps and much much more. The X-Amp module is just like every other Radial product I have used. It does exactly what it says on the box and does it well. It provided a great signal to feed my amps when reamping guitar parts. But don’t stop there, the X-Amp also let me run a vocal through my 1981 Mesa Boogie Mark II and layer that under the original to add some real balls to the part.
Wrap It Up
The setup I tested is a engineer or producers dream for working with guitar parts or anything else for that matter. Heck a professional studio musician would look like a hero showing up with one to a session! Other than that little stumble on the Tank Driver omniport, that I am sure will be taken care of promptly, I was blown away by how simple it all was. A single send and return cable and I was set up to use stomp box effects, spring reverb tanks, and reamp the whole thing! By only taking up one output I am much more likely to leave it patched in, and when it’s patched in an ready, I am more likely to pull out my pedals to mix with. By using the feed function on The Cube I could reamp a signal with any effects pedals or spring of my choosing before amping it back up. Cool! And this is just the tip of the iceberg, I am sure you can think of three 500 series modules you would love to have with you where ever you are. Tell me about them below!