The Dr. Z Air Brake, which was designed in conjunction with the late Ken Fischer of Trainwreck amps, has been a popular attenuator since its introduction around 2003. Now Dr. Z’s new Brake Lite puts similar thinking in a smaller package—with a shrunken price tag to match—in an attenuator that’s intended to be mounted inside the cabinet of any tube combo of less than 45 watts. Its white aluminum housing contains the two large resistors that do all the dirty work, as well as a 5-position rotary switch for selecting four attenuation levels of –11dB down to –2dB plus bypass (the same thing contained in the Mini-Z Head, in fact).
Its open-back construction emphasizes the necessity of attaching it directly to the inside wall of an amp’s cabinet —the Brake Lite cannot be used as a stand-alone unit—and it comes with double-adhesive-backed side tabs and two sturdy mountings screws specifically for this purpose. Once mounted, unplug your combo’s speaker and jack it into the Brake Lite’s “To Speaker” output, and plug the unit’s hard-wired “To Amp” cable into your amp’s output. Viola – your combo now has its own internal attenuator.
I tried the Brake Lite with a range of small and medium-sized combos, and found it cooperated well with all of them, allowing me to do anything from knocking off a few decibels to make a cooking 15-watter less decapitating in a small pub, to—at full attenuation— achieving fully saturated output-tube overdrive for recording in my attic studio while the kids still slept undisturbed just one floor below. Although attenuators are designed to allow you to maintain your ideal “sweet spot” amp settings while reducing overall output levels as desired, their alteration of the interaction between amp, speaker, and the human ear does still change the perceived tone of your amp somewhat.
Higher attenuation settings induce a rounder, more compressed feel, with greater perceived attenuations of lows and, in particular, highs, but this is the case with all units that I have tried, and can be compensated for somewhat by making adjustments in amp EQ and gain settings. This caveat noted, the Brake Lite does its job extremely well and is an extremely useful tool for any guitarists who needs to make his or her favorite smaller combo sit right, volume-wise, in a range of venues. –Dave Hunter
Contact Dr. Z Amplifiers (216) 475-1444, drzamps.com
Model Brake Lite
Price $169 retail/street price N/A
Controls Attenuator (level) 0-4
Ratings For amps of 45 watts or less, with 4Ω, 8Ω, and 16Ω outputs
Handy in-cab mounting means you’ll never forget your attenuator again. Solid and reliable output attenuation