The current crop of digital modeling devices such as the Kemper Profiler, Fractal Audio Axe-FX II, and Line 6 Helix, as well as new kids on the modeling block like the HeadRush Pedalboard, offer seamless and exciting ways to record astounding amp and effects sounds in the studio. With the exception of the Kemper, however, which is available with a built-in power amp, none of these products can power a cab. So, if you want to gig with them, you’ll either need to go direct and listen through the monitors, or bring some means of amplifying your magic digital box if you want to hear yourself onstage. That actually raises another question: Should you run through a guitar cab and bypass your modeler’s speaker simulation, or are you better off going through a full-range system (with the modeler’s speaker sims on), ostensibly hearing the same tones that your audience hears? Mission Engineering answers that query in an elegant and musical way with their latest product.
The GM-Io is an FR/FR (full range/flat response) stage monitor that houses a 12" neodymium speaker for lows, a 1" titanium driver for highs, and a 450-watt class-D amplifier to power it all. (Internal firmware handles EQ, compression, and limiting—all preset at the factory to provide the optimum frequency response and signal levels.) All these goodies are contained in a beautiful, slant-cab enclosure with black Tolex and a basket-weave grille cloth, making it look like the cutest half-stack in the world. And at 29 lbs., it’s an easy schlep.
The GM-Io’s back panel is super straightforward, with the analog XLR input and single Master Volume knob being the only things most players will need to rock this thing. (It also features AES/EBU digital in and out, which enables you to chain multiple GMs, as well as analog RCA inputs for feeding a signal from a mixer.) I connected the XLR out from an unpowered Kemper Profiler to the GM-Io and inched up the Volume knob on the cab. I was greeted with a big, full sound that showcased all the nuance of the semi-dirty Marshall profile. The tone was instantly more pleasing than what typically comes back at me through wedge monitors, which—despite the Kemper’s excellent cabinet emulations—can often sound hyped and overly bright. That is absolutely not the case with the GM, which has a very forgiving top end and considerable thump for its size. Impressed, I tweaked that profile to hear how the Mission cab would react to more gain, scooped mids, boosted lows, or searing high end, and the GM dealt with all the changes without issue. There is no woofiness or finicky sweet spot—you basically get what you give, only louder. Nice! The GM-Io played well with a variety of other profiles, translating the subtleties of Vox, Fender, and Boogie flavors with aplomb and alacrity (inasmuch as a powered cab can be alacritous).
For all the benefits of modeling devices—and I have been an early and fervent adopter—I sometimes struggle with the perception that they just don’t sound like “an amp in the room.” Well, I A/B’ed the full-range GM-Io sound with a powered Kemper driving a 2x12 cab and I was super pleased with how it matched up. Players will split hairs forevermore about these points (as well they should), but the GM-Io absolutely passes my real-world test of “Does it sound like an amp and feel like an amp?” Yes it does, in a beautiful fashion. Forget what you think you know about powered wedges, running direct, and all that, and give this thing a listen. It is a hip, sweet-sounding solution to the digital conundrum in a great-looking compact package. Nicely done.
PRICE $899 direct
CONTROLS Master Volume
POWER 450 watts
EXTRAS RCA inputs, AES/EBU digital in and out, internal firmware for EQ, compression, and limiting.
SPEAKER Proprietary 1" high-frequency driver and 12" low-frequency driver
WEIGHT 29 lbs
KUDOS Great sound quality. Super portable. Sweet looks.