When you become a disciple of the new guitar-modeling processors from companies like Fractal Audio and Kemper, you have a decision on what to play through, and that decision can be somewhat troubling. For example, I chose the Kemper Profiler, and I thought that plugging the device through my P.A. monitor wedges was the key. After all, they had great specs, were easily portable, and vocals sounded good through them. The Kemper, however, did not sound as awesome through the wedges as it did when I was crafting sounds through headphones or my studio monitors. The wedges typically made the guitar tones too bright, too thin, and somewhat artificial. This was not what I was going for.
Then, I got the Mission Gemini 1 in for this review, and what a difference. The cabinet produces great tones almost as soon as it is fired up. When I used it to jam with some friends before even starting the review, I was digging it and feeling goose bumps on my arms from the organic, punchy, and ferocious guitar tones it translated from the Kemper. Wow.
Although the Gemini 1 has a lot of firepower, its secret weapon is its single EmPower EQ knob (more on this later) that tailors the sound between “full range flat response” reproduction and a darker, more realistic, “tube-amp-like” guitar-cabinet tone. Other features include an overall frequency range of 57Hz-20kHz, Bluetooth connectivity (for guitar systems on computer, tablets, and smartphones), ¼” and XLR connectors, a digital-audio interface for recording directly into your computer (PC or Mac, selectable sampling rates up to 24-bit/192kHz), a USB input, a PresenceDetect when running two Gemini cabs that automatically determines the right stereo blend, power compatibility across most of the world (100v-240v, 50Hz/60Hz), a power-save function, and an optional Gemini H 19” rack for seamless integration of the Fractal Audio Axe-FX, Avid Eleven Rack, Line 6 Pod HD Pro, and other rack processors.
Let’s look at some of the Gemini 1’s features, and how they worked for me during real-world gig and studio workouts. For the tests, I plugged a Fender American Standard Stratocaster HSS into my Kemper, and used both the single-coil and humbucking pickups.
Full-range flat-response (FRFR) speakers are typically where you want to go when running digitalmodeling amplifiers, because you want the tones you devised at home to be accurately reproduced during rehearsals and gigs. (Go to guitarplayer.com/frfr to read Craig Anderton’s column on FRFR speakers.) In theory, that all makes sense. But pristine reproduction is not always what guitar tones are all about, and running a Kemper or Axe-FX through a FRFR cabinet can sometimes sound a bit harsh or brittle. The EmPower EQ control tames those harsh sounds with just a twist of a knob. I didn’t have to “menu dive” or touch anything on my Kemper to dial in a ballsy and powerful tone. And I wouldn’t want to do that anyway, because my Kemper tones are often optimized for my recording studio, so messing with presets—while not a big deal—is something I’d rather not do every time I take my rig out to do a show. In addition, the EmPower also lets you tailor your sound somewhat to the venue and stage you are playing on without a lot of fussing around. I found that turning that one knob typically produced just the right sound for wherever I was performing. One knob. Big solution. Brilliant!
Oh yeah, it has power, and in spades. The Gemini 1 gets as loud as you need it to be without hissing, crackling, or any other audible gremlins. This thing can roast your pant legs off! I’ve learned to be somewhat mistrustful of power ratings, because how those ratings react in the real world when you’re trying to fill a club or blast your guitar out of a band mix is what you want. Performance—not a number. But the Gemini 1 definitely handles gigging situations with oomph to spare.
I also discovered an unexpected bonus— though it’s not specifically tied to power. The cabinet is a closed-back design, but, nonetheless, there’s a little signal bleed from the back of the amp that helps fill the room and also produce a bit more dimension in the sound. Very cool.
One of the first things that struck me about the Gemini 1 was how natural it sounded. My PA wedges sounded a bit plastic with the Kemper (probably due to the horn design), while the Mission cab had a more paper-like sound. To me that is what a guitar cab should sound like: softer and more natural. The Co Axial design with the HF driver in the center of the speaker cone makes it simple to mic the cab in a traditional way. I would let the soundman know what kind of speaker it is and to shoot for close to off-center of the cone instead of close to the edge.
The grille cloth is sturdy, and the black Tolex has a nice tight grain, pinstriped edges—overall, very traditional and clean cosmetics. The old school handle on top is just fine for transport, as the cab is not overly heavy. The chrome corners add a classic touch. You would never know this was a techy FRFR speaker system—it looks like a rock-and-roll guitar cabinet.
DIGITAL AUDIO INTERFACE
The software installer for the Gemini Driver loaded with a double click on the Windows 8.1 64-bit test computer and was very easy and automatic. The audio playback from the PC to the Gemini worked through USB. I had an RME Fireface 800 driver, a Pro Tools Native driver, and the Gemini driver all available to me side-by-side in Pro Tools 11 with no problems identified at all during testing.
Thanks to the EmPower EQ, I could get my rig dialed up and sounding great in about ten seconds. Really. The amp is so quiet that I would have liked a red LED to let me know it was actually on. I didn’t like always reaching around the back of the cabinet to get to the unit’s functions and connections, but I understand that the rear-mounted controls make the Gemini 1 look clean and classic. Beyond those small trifles, pretty much all I was looking for in the Gemini 1 was on tap: Great sound, fast setup, light, and loud.