Tubes meet code— and audio wins
Everyone knows that tubes add “something” to a signal, especially when overdriven. It’s not just about distortion, but a complex combination of the Miller effect (an electronic phenomenon that aff ects high frequencies), a natural sort of compression, and a unique input/output transfer curve.
Deluxe Buffer2 was created to give the designer’s Line 6 POD a bit more of that tube “oomph,” which it does. In a way, it’s “sonic caulking” that fills in some of the holes of purely digital signals. The circuit is textbook basic, with no input or output transformers (part of the “tube sound” in some pieces of gear); what you get is purist tube processing.
However as the online audio examples show, saturation is good for far more than guitar processing and re-amping— like roughing up the sound of a tonewheel organ. As another example, I set up a drum loop from the Discrete Drums library in Sonar, and used the External Insert option to insert the Deluxe Buffer2 as a “hardware plug-in.”
The biggest advantage of this approach is that you can trim the level going into the Deluxe Buffer2 to tailor the amount of distortion, then boost (if needed) on the way out to maintain unity gain. There was definitely a “sweet spot” with drums that gave punch without losing detail—in my setup, this happened when I dropped the input by about 7dB. Pushing it to 0 gave a much crunchier sound: If the fi rst sound was vintage R&B, the second was punk.
Just for kicks, I also used Sonar’s “Tube Leveler” plug-in, tried to match characteristics as closely as possible, and compared the results (also included in the online audio examples). Frankly, the Tube Leveler does an amazingly credible tube emulation—yet I could still hear quantitative differences between the two. These were most apparent with lower input levels; heavier distortion minimized any diff erences.
Waves’ GTR has been edited to bypass the preamp/amp section, while leaving the stereo cabinet module active, in order to apply the virtual cabinet to a physical preamp’s signal.
Let’s get physical
Construction uses point-topoint wiring, to the extreme that some parts are supported only by their own leads, rather than being soldered to lugs on terminal strips. In a studio context this wouldn’t be an issue, but I’d be concerned about subjecting it to the rigors of serious road travel. Besides, you want to keep it in your studio—clients will love the “future retro” look. Also note that the internal power supply (no wall wart!) uses a toroidal transformer, which minimizes hum.
Deluxe Buffer2 isn’t cheap, but it adds that boutique preamp vibe and sound to your studio. Granted, there are plenty of other ways to insert a tube in the signal path—and some DSP-based emulations, while perhaps not exactly the same, are extremely close to the “real thing.” But when only real tubes will do, Deluxe Buffer2 is a simple, classic design that works its particular magic on many more sounds than just PODs.
Red Iron Amps Deluxe Buffer2 $399 MSRP
STRENGTHS: True stereo/dual mono operation. Looks extremely cool. Compatible with DAWs that accommodate “hardware inserts.”
LIMITATIONS: No input level controls (only output level).
TIP Physical Tubes Meet Virtual Cabs
You love your guitar amp…we understand. There’s something about a glowing tube pushing a speaker that has a certain magical quality, but what happens when you want to split off to a different cabinet, create some nifty stereo imaging, or even run your bass into an 8x10 bass cab that you don’t have?
Unless you have unlimited physical cabinets, amp sims are a great answer if your tube amp has an effects loop. The loop send will be post-preamp, but prepower amp; patch the send into your computer’s audio interface, route the input to your guitar sim, and bypass the sim’s preamp so that the amp send goes directly into the simulated power amp and speaker combination (Figure 2). From here on, the sky’s the limit: Feed multiple cabs, spread them in stereo, use a bass cab for bass—you get the idea.
Even better, plugging into the send doesn’t interrupt the signal flow with most effects loops, so you’ll be able to mike the cabinet while you’re feeding the amp sim. There may be some timing issues, as the miked sound will be a little delayed compared to the direct sound because the mic is a finite distance from the speaker. Nudging the sim sound a bit later in time can solve this; delay it in tiny increments until it sounds “right.”
The same principle can work in reverse: Use the amp sim’s effects and preamp, but feed the out into a beefy power amp/ cabinet, and mike it.
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