Review: Roger Linn Design Adrenalinn III

ONE-STOP SHOPPING FOR ELECTRO-LEANING GUITARISTS
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Known for building the first programmable sample-based drum machine (the Linn Electronics LM-1 in 1979), Roger Linn has spent the past few decades creating all manner of wonderful noisemakers, including a collaboration with Akai that yielded the MPC60 and MPC3000. Several years ago, Linn turned his attention to guitar products for the original AdrenaLinn, a combination amp/effect modeler and drum machine that boasted tempo-synced modulation effects. (Much of that technology was later folded into the M-Audio Black Box, which added Mac/PC recording.) AdrenaLinn III ups the ante with improved amp models, additional effects, better-sounding drums and more.

AdrenaLinn III can be many things for many people. You can incorporate it into your existing guitar, bass or keyboard rig to provide tempo-based effects that be synced to tap or MIDI tempo. Conversely, the unit has all of the fixings to function as a complete stand-alone amp modeler/multi-effects unit. The onboard drums provide a great songwriting tool, and if you're a singer/songwriter, AdrenaLinn III has just about everything you need to take your electronic-inspired jams to the stage.

WHAT'S IN THE BOX?

Like the previous versions, AdrenaLinn III is housed in a sturdy stompbox chassis. It includes a single ¼-inch high-impedance input, two ¼-inch outputs (which can be used as stereo outs or mono) and a ¼-inch headphone out, as well as standard MIDI I/O ports. The top of the unit includes a scant number of controls that actually belie the unit's greater functionality: four 360-degree knobs that control 10 rows of functions; a Main button that resets the knobs to Preset, Drumbeat, Tempo and Volume; a button that turns on a 4-by-8 step sequencer for beats and a filter sequencer; a simple input-gain control; two foot switches normally assigned to drumbeat start/stop and effect on/off; a three-digit LCD; and a tuner.

AdrenaLinn III packs in 40 amp models, including selections from Bogner, Deizel, Fender, Hiwatt, Marshall, Mesa Boogie, Roland, Soldano and Vox, as well as some Roger Linn-rolled custom models. For the bassists, the unit hosts models of an Acoustic 360, Ampeg SVT, Gallien-Kruger 800RB and SWR SM-500. If you prefer plugging into a real amp, you can skip the models and try the two fuzzbox emulations or the clean preamp setting. Each model includes corresponding controls for drive, bass, mid and treble. Unlike other amp modelers, AdrenaLinn III has no options for changing microphone types or positions, which could be good or bad, depending on your engineering skills. Each of the models strives to exhibit a kind of perfect, almost clinical tone — think of the world's most perfect SM57 in the world's most well-tuned room. Additionally, a boost setting for the models acts like a distortion or high-gain channel; also, a lowpass filter can be applied post-distortion.

The unit contains two effects groups. On one side, you have the more studio-derived offerings such as compression, delay and reverb. The compressor is designed for maximum sustain and has only two settings: on and drive. The delay allows maximum delay times of 2.8 seconds and syncs to tap or MIDI tempo. Delay times can be set from two bars down to 32nd-note triplets and essentially everything in between. You can independently set the delay volume and feedback. For reverb, you can select five types (from very small room to very large room) with controls for volume and treble.

The second group comprises the tempo-based modulation effects. Those include tremolo (six variations), filter tremolo (seven variations), flanger/chorus (seven variations), rotary (slow and fast), vibrato (slow, medium and note-triggered), random filter (six variations), random flanger (three variations), tremolo and filter sequences (20 preprogrammed plus one user-programmable per preset), arpeggiator sequences (20 preprogrammed plus one user-programmable per preset), auto filter (12 variations), talkbox (seven variations), volume envelope (slow rise and sharp attack/slow fall), auto pan (six variations), wah pedal (five variations), fixed filter (various lowpass, highpass and bandpass filters with no modulation), fixed flanger (aka comb filter) and Sci-Fi (a Roger Linn original). The arpeggiator and tremolo and filter sequences work in conjunction with the programmable step sequencer. Each sequence is two bars, and an attack/decay envelope can be applied to each step independently. All of this is editable from the 4-by-8 matrix.

Much of this goodness can be reordered. The FX Order setting allows you to arrange the amp/distortion, modulation effects and compression in any order. The delay and reverb are fixed at the end of the signal chain.

Next comes the drum machine — preloaded with 200 drumbeats that cover a wide range of styles. Each beat is two bars long, and you're free to edit any of the sequences or create your own using the same sequencer outlined above. Each drumbeat comprises four elements: kick, snare, hi-hat and a percussion element (toms, congas, cowbells and so forth). The kick, snare and hi-hat have three programmable dynamic levels per note, whereas the fourth element is at a fixed level. There are nine selectable kick, snare and hi-hat samples, ranging from acoustic to electronic sounds. You can process the drum sounds with reverb or delay or send them through the selected signal processing chain. Also, an independent distortion effect just for the drums includes adjustable drive or lowpass filter.

AdrenaLinn III possesses deep MIDI functionality. Practically any parameter can be controlled from two MIDI expression pedals. You can assign any of 55 parameters to 10 MIDI foot switches or to the two front-panel switches. A MIDI keyboard can transpose the arppegiator sequence, and the drums can be triggered via MIDI.

GETTING STARTED

The easiest way to get your head around AdrenaLinn III is just fire it up and go, and its presets make this pretty fun. Turn the preset knob until you find one you like and then select a drumbeat in the same manner. The manual includes info and tips on the 200 presets and 200 drumbeats. You can set the tempo by turning the knob or tapping it in — or, if you're connected to a MIDI source, that is handled automatically. You can audition the guitar and drumbeat presets independently, or mix and match. For instance, the first few drumbeats are straight-forward 4/4 rock and provide a nice way of auditioning the guitar presets with a beat that isn't distracting.

The deeper controls are arranged in a 4-by-8 grid on the front, where you step through the list until you reach the desired parameter. If you grew up with the workstation synths of the late '80s or if you're not put off by tiny print and controls that pull double duty, the unit is designed to be a totally self-contained guitar workstation. If you're like me, you'll want to pony up the $40 for the SoundTower software editor (www.soundtower.com), which allows graphical editing of every parameter, grid-style editing of the drumbeats and filter sequences and saving program data. To use the editor, connect the MIDI In/Out ports to your Mac or PC MIDI interface, and fire up the program. Every parameter is accounted for; if you hate reading manuals, the software will show what the product is capable of. To me it's a must-buy.

STEP TO THIS

AdrenaLinn III's amp models sound amazing. I own a Line 6 POD XT Live and basically every guitar software title out there, and I was downright impressed with AdrenaLinn III's amp models. I spent a lot of time just playing through the uneffected presets. Again, you can't change the miking positions, but with a good set of studio monitors, the guitar- and bass-cab emulations sounded full and bright; I wouldn't hesitate recording with them. I tried the unit with my Gibson SG, as well as an older Washburn bass, and patched it into my recording rig. It was especially enjoyable to process mono synth sounds, like from the Arturia Moog Modular V, and apply tempo-synced stereo effects. Things always sound a bit cooler when you send them on a trip outside of the computer.

Overall, the AdrenaLinn III has a lot to love. The MIDI sync capability is almost worth the price of admission. The modulation and delay effects offer up a limitless well of creative fodder that will no doubt influence the way you play and write. If you play smoking, '80s-style leads, this may not be the unit for you, but if you're looking to create shoegaze-inspired textures or if you're a deft EBow user, you'll find much potential here. The filter and tremolo sequences when combined with the delay are an awesome way to create sonic nirvana.

POD ALMIGHTY?

My love affair with this unit wouldn't have been so intense if it weren't for the software editor. I personally despise editing drumbeats or sequences with little knobs and buttons, but the editor makes it a breeze. I'd love to see this unit expanded into a full-blown pedalboard with USB, more single-purpose controls and horsepower for effects and complete flexibility with the effect order.

If you're a guitarist or bassist who enjoys venturing toward the experimental, your money will be well spent. You won't find many guitar-effects products that incorporate MIDI and sync capabilities at such a core level. The ability to add a MIDI pedalboard and expression pedals turns this into a serious live-performance tool.

ROGER LINN DESIGN

ADRENALINN III > $375 ($99 FOR UPGRADE)

Pros: Amazing amp models. Unique beat-synced modulation effects. Onboard drum machine. Deep MIDI functionality and sync. Bulletproof chassis.

Cons: Cramped interface. Some effects can't be reordered.

Contact:www.rogerlinndesign.com