GIVEN THAT MULTITUD ES OF DIRECT-RECORDING options exist today—DAWs, amp sims, apps, speaker emulators, plug-ins, etc.—no one with a home studio ever needs to frighten infants, puppies, or homeland security by miking an amp at full throttle. But avoiding rattling windows and shaking foundations when tracking raging guitar parts is just one benefit of direct recording. With so many devices available, you can choose the specific sound and feel that best suits you, and no guitarist has to feel he or she is sacrificing vibe and visceral impact in order to shred in silence.
For example, Laney’s three-channel Ironheart IRT-Studio amp ($599 street; includes footswitch, gig bag, rack wings, and cables) brings three 12AX7/ECC83 preamp tubes and two EL84 output tubes into the equation if you’re not a fan of digitally modeled amp tones. Even hipper, your guitar signal runs through the power and preamp sections— not just the preamp tubes—so your direct tone is fully tubed-up and ballsy as hell. Although the 2U, rackmount hardware device is pricey when compared to most modeling software, consider that the IRT-Studio does quadruple duty as a direct-recording tool (use the XLR output with speaker emulation in/out, or the USB 2.0 jack that outputs processed sound on the right, and dry sound on the left), a gigging amp for small venues (plug into the 15-watt input and add a speaker cab), a practice or low-volume studio amp (keep the speaker cab, but plug into the 1-watt input), and a reamping tool (route DAW tracks to the amp of your choice via the ¼" output). Other goodies include a 3.5mm Aux In for mp3 players, an effects loop, a Pre-Boost control, a built-in load box (you never have to connect the IRT-Studio to a speaker cab), and a headphone jack with a dedicated Level knob, as well as a switch that lets you monitor the amp or USB signal.
During a Pro Tools session at a professional facility—employing the XLR direct out at +4dB with speaker emulation active—I used the IRT-Studio to craft two distinct parts: a clean intro riff and a Who-like chorus rhythm. The IRT-Studio’s Clean Volume channel was simultaneously pristine, articulate, and chunky. Considering the Ironheart series is known for modern aggro tones, it may appear sacrilegious to say that Chet Atkins would have dug the Clean channel for his country instrumentals, but—too bad— these sounds are super hi-fi.
Then, I used the Rhythm Gain channel for the overdriven guitars on the chorus. Got all the blitzkrieg and kerrang I needed here. The caterwauling distortion was the perfect tone for the part, and there was more than enough attack present to keep the sound from washing out. The Lead Gain channel adds more saturation for single-note lines and chordal textures, but you also get more audible hum and buzz that can’t be excised from the sound (even when using humbucker-equipped guitars). Although a few variables are in play—DAW software, recording levels, etc.—all IRT-Studio tones appear to retain their basic personalities whether output through the XLR or USB jacks.
I love colossal amp sounds that burst out of mixes with aggression, attack, and attitude, and the IRT-Studio sure ain’t no mouse. Whether deployed quiet as a mouse for silent home-studio recording, or plugged into a speaker cabinet to rock the clubs, the IRT-Studio is one hellacious demon of a tone machine that’s almost as versatile as a Swiss Army knife.
Kudos: Truly raging tones. Excellent dynamics and feel. Versatile. Rugged steel chassis.
Concerns: Audible hum when set at mid-to high-saturation tones.