Rocktron HUSH Pro and Patchmate Loop 8

October 1, 2009

NON-MUSICAL NOISE IS THE MUSICIAN’S nemesis, and amp hum and hiss can spoil beautiful guitar tones, particularly when recording. Rocktron has been in the noise-elimination game since 1983, and the HUSH Pro Stereo Noise Exterminator ($329 retail/$249 street) represents the company’s latest technology in a sleek, professional-grade package. The unit’s +4/-10 Reference Level switch and balanced XLR and unbalanced 1/4" inputs and outputs let you connect it to just about anything, while its two-knob interface makes it easier to use than most effects pedals.

gp1009_gear0338.jpgThe HUSH Pro does two things: The HUSH section’s dynamically controlled low-pass filter (1kHz-40kHz) detects the input signal’s current highest frequency and filters out the frequencies above it, while a downward expander provides up to 50dB of automatic volume reduction. The Gate section works in conjunction with the downward expander to eliminate all sound when the input signal drops below the threshold set with the Gate Threshold control.

I tested the Hush Pro in stereo using a Fractal Audio Axe-Fx Ultra, and in mono within the effects loop of a Rivera Venus 6 1x12 combo amp. In both cases, I dialed in amp settings ranging from typical to gain-crazy, and threw in a super-noisy early-’70s Electro-Harmonix Big Muff just for grins.

gp1009_gear_0339.jpgThe Gate section may be used independently, so I tried that first. After fine-tuning the response, the gate followed the decay of single notes and chords admirably, smoothly fading them out at the very end like a good engineer. The HUSH circuit worked equally well, dramatically reducing—though, of course, not entirely eliminating—hiss and hum. Combining the two functions tamed even the nastiest din, and squelched all sound when I wasn’t playing. In short: the HUSH Pro performed brilliantly. My only gripe is the large and relatively heavy “lump-in-the-line” power supply, though Rocktron has good reasons for using an external supply.

SWITCHEROO

Noise reduction is one thing, but tone reduction due to problematic pedals or combinations of pedals is another thing entirely. One way around the problem is to isolate individual pedals using loops, and then switch them in and out of the signal chain as they are needed. This can be done simply by using a mechanical switching system with dedicated footswitches for each pedal/loop, but that still leaves you tap dancing if you want to turn more than one effect on or off at the same time.

The solution to that problem is a system that allows you to program groups of pedals/ loops into presets, so that various combinations may be switched in or out simultaneously with the press of a single switch. And most professional switching systems—such as those designed and built by rack guru Bob Bradshaw— employ MIDI for that purpose. Rocktron introduced the first factory produced Bradshaw switching system 20 years ago, and the Patchmate Loop 8 ($549 retail/$389 street) is a direct descendent of that technology. The Loop 8 sports 128 presets organized into groups of eight (corresponding to the front panel buttons 1-8), which are accessed via MIDI Program Change messages.

You plug your guitar (or other instrument) into one of the two 1/4" jacks on the front panel. The Passive Input is just that, whereas the Active Input is buffered, which helps maintain the strength of the signal when driving multiple pedals. There are two corresponding output jacks on the rear panel: Active Out and Pas. Act. Out. The former is used to send the signal to an amplifier or other external device, and the latter is a multi-purpose output used typically to connect to the first loop in Loop 8. The Loop 8’s jack field operates much like a patch bay: You use short cables to patch the signal from the Pas. Act. Out to the input of the first loop, to patch to and from the effect in the loop, and then out to the next loop or whatever comes next in the signal chain.

I tested the Loop 8 with a Behringer FCB1010 MIDI Controller and a Moog Multi- Pedal (the Loop 8 will work with almost any MIDI controller, but when used with a Rocktron controller it will provide 9VAC phantom power via an optional Rocktron RMM900 7-pin MIDI cable). After reading the manual, I was easily able to select the MIDI channel and program presets with various combinations of the eight loops. Switching was essentially noiseless, and I noticed no tone sucking or level loss using either input, though the buffered input worked best with presets containing three or more pedals. The Loop 8 can also be used to switch between multiple preamps, effects processors, or amplifiers, and its Smart Controller Technology allows it to receive momentary and latching Continuous Controller messages— with programmable delayed pulses if needed—for amplifier channel switching.

In short, the Loop 8 gives you enough flexibility to handle all but the most complex rigs, along with an excellent buffer, for a very reasonable price. Again, the external power supply is bulky, but once it’s concealed in a rack you’ll forget all about it.

- Barry Cleveland

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