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Radial JDX Amplifier DI Box and Tonebone PZ-Pre

May 16, 2012
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Radial JDX Amplifier DI Box

Not that I’m trying to get murdered in my sleep, but I think it’s safe to say that when you’re gigging the local club circuit, the quality of sound crews is wildly inconsistent. One of these days, I’ll write a tragi-comedy about the myriad ways a dunderhead can mic a simple 1x12 cabinet to transform a decent guitar sound into total ass. But, to be fair, it isn’t the easiest job for a soundperson to deal with three or four completely different band setups, rigs, and performance styles in an evening, and the gremlins of over-amped stage sound and signal bleed are always in the wings, eagerly waiting to trash all efforts at delivering a balanced mix to the audience.

Well, here’s a secret weapon for you. The JDX ($199 street) is an active, amp direct box that is plugged in between your amp head and speaker cabinet. (It can’t be used as a standard DI for bass, keyboards, or other direct-injection applications.) The JDX’s transformer then acts as a reactive load that simulates how an amp and speaker respond to a guitarist’s dynamics, and a speakeremulated output from the device (miclevel XLR) can be routed to a mixing board. Radial’s engineers designed the JDX’s speaker emulation to produce the sounds of a closed-back 4x12 cabinet captured by a dynamic mic. The box itself is built as tough as an early-’60s fallout shelter, and it includes ground lift and polarity switches, a power supply, and a quite thoughtful neoprene pad that prevents the box from slipping and sliding.

I brought the JDX to some live shows, putting it between an Orange Tiny Terror or a Mesa/Boogie Stiletto, and either a Mesa/Boogie 1x12 or an Old Dog 4x12. Obviously, the JDX completely eliminates the signal bleed of a live mic placed against your speaker grille (even when positioned very close to the speaker, ambient sound can still sneak into the mic). This is a wonderful thing if you put your guitar sound in the stage monitors, because you get a clear and articulate punch, rather than a somewhat diffused and midrange-cranky splatter. During soundcheck, I had the other guitarist play along with the band, and I compared the mikedcabinet tone (a Shure SM57 right on the cone) and the JDX sound through the main house system. The JDX produced a tight and dimensional roar that sounded very close to an album track, and the SM57 captured everything we love about guitar tones live, but with less string-to-string clarity. Both sounds were cool, but I was sold immediately on the JDX’s precision and impact. Wow. This puppy rocks!

And the JDX also eliminated some setup stress on a particular gig. When a club didn’t have enough mics available to cover our percussionist’s needs, I just said, “Don’t bother to mic the guitar, then. I’ve got this red baby coming to the rescue.” Smiles all around—ya gotta love that.

Kudos: Excellent sound. Rugged. Easy to use. Gig saver.
Concerns: None.
Contact: Radial Engineering, radialeng.com

Radial Tonebone PZ-Pre

I play horrid and dirty slide blues using a faltering Kay archtop with an old, pawnshop magnetic pickup (brand unknown) screwed right into the top, and an ancient Barcus Berry Hot Dot on the bridge. Figure out how to make that combo work reliably.

Well, this is the kind of challenge the PZ-Pre ($299 street) was born for—although it’s more conventionally conceived as an acoustic preamp with multiple features (3-band EQ, feedback elimination, notch filters, an effects loops, four outputs, a dedicated tuner output, a ground lift, a phase-reverse switch, a mute button, and more) that, thanks to a class-A booster circuit, maximizes the output and performance of piezo pickups. For my needs, however, I enlisted the PZ-Pre to either blend my Kay’s two pickups into a much more musical sound, or switch between the Kay and an Epiphone Casino. As the PZ-Pre can handle almost any type of pickup input—magnetic, piezo, or internal mic (as long as phantom power is not required)—I was ready to roll.

The PZ-Pre’s output section is a marvel of Zen design—it’s simple, yet in harmony with P.A. systems, guitar amps, and powered speakers. I could use the Post EQ balanced XLR output to send signals directly to the front of house mixer, but as I was playing a dive bar, I opted to route this output to a Mackie Thump powered speaker. The Pre EQ balanced XLR output was perfect for running a signal to my Fender Deluxe for some tube mojo, or keeping things clean and sparkly by running into another Thump. I could also opt to use the Tuner output to run a third amp (brought in and out of the mix via the Mute footswitch) for even more massive guitar textures.

During a soundcheck for a club gig, my Kay immediately vibrated and howled like a banshee. Happily, I could tame the resonance by setting the Notch Q switch to Normal (-8dB) and tweaking the Notch Frequency knob to around 300Hz (full range is 56Hz-330Hz). I was also jazzed that a mere flip of the Lo-Cut switch killed the 60-cycle hum produced by the club’s wretched AC power. Finally, I tackled the PZ-Pre’s EQ to dial in a big and articulate tone, as well as coax more output volume before feedback. As both inputs share the EQ section, I compromised a bit on the Casino’s sound, as it was far more important to get a ripping Kay sound out in the room. For solos, I ran a Boss Blues Driver (set to a tweedlike grind) and a Fulltone OCD pedal (cranked to the verge of feedback) into the PZ-Pre’s effects loop, and brought in the roar by stepping on the Boost footswitch and adding a bit of helpful gain with the Boost level control.

By now, I’m sure you can surmise that the mind-blowingly cool thing about the Radial PZ-Pre is its versatility. There’s almost nothing you can’t do with this interface—no matter what kind of acoustic or electric instrument you play.

Kudos: Incredibly versatile. Gig tough.
Concerns: None.
Contact: Radial Engineering, tonebone.com

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