Dan & Mick Plug In to the Universal Audio Ox (a.k.a., “The Amp Top Box”)

Social media is still abuzz with all things NAMM 2018. Inevitably, in days ahead, the chatter will die down and the hype lessen. In light of this annual trend, it is no small feat to have an item of gear still riding the wave of NAMM high from the year before. But the crew at Universal Audio did it with their ingenious and innovative Ox, launched at NAMM 2017.

On a field trip out to Real World Studios, this week Dan & Mick spent the day recording using the Ox and the evening talking over its features with Universal Audio’s Dave Lenat.

What is the Ox?

As Dave described, the Ox perches on top of any amp and intercepts its direct speaker out. You can then send this in any number of directions, such as back through to the speaker, a direct line out, studio monitors, a back of house soundboard, or even headphones. At its core, the Ox is a reactive load, which allows you to attenuate your amp while retaining the full character, responsiveness, and feel of your amplifier but played at any level. This means the Ox is not an amp modeler or profiler. “It basically allows you to get everything you could ever want out of your tube amp.”

The creative potential of the Ox is also enhanced by its curated and detailed software components that become available when partnered with a tablet. Because the Ox is built off the sound of your amp, not replacing it, this means it takes care of everything that occurs after the foundational sound created by your physical amp: from speakers and cabs, to a library of mics and optional placements, and even room sizes and dynamics. In short, as Dave noted, “from the speaker out, after that we’re modelling everything else.”

What’s Unique About the Ox Approach to Post-Amp Modelling?

With the Ox handling everything after the amp, Universal Audio took things a step further to ensure their modelling was organic and true to experiences with gear in the real world. For example, when pushed hard by the amplifier, the selected speaker and cab can react and respond by producing things like cone break-up. The model can tailor the sound of speakers to any point in their lifespan, from the fresh, harder sound of a new speaker to the vintage vibe of a well-worn speaker.

By changing the size of the room as well as the features within it that would impact resonance—such as wall dampening panels or even a rug below the amp—the Ox not only opens up unbelievable gear modelling prospects but also architectural profiling of a physical space. So, imagine yourself sat at home in your micro-studio tucked away in a broom closet, with the Ox your sound room is no longer constrained the physical limitations of your space. It provides virtual square footage and lets you both curate and create within it. When you add the mic library and placement options on top of that, you’re small-time studio is no longer limited to that single ill-placed mic bought out of necessity.

Have Dan & Mick Had a Change of Heart On Modelers?

As TPS faithful will know, Dan & Mick have a tough time getting excited about certain things, like digital amp modelers, for one. Yet, the different approach of the Ox seems to have signaled the start of a new gear journey for TPS.

Mick reflected, “In terms of guitar amps, Dan and I have always been not great fans of digital modelling guitar amps because you lose a lot of all that stuff we love about tube amps.” To which Dan added, “but that’s what I love here, is that you still need your amp because [the Ox] is reacting with the amplifier.” Beyond that, Dave reminded that since the Ox still works off the best qualities of your tube amp, it also ensures your pedals sound the way you want them to sound with your physical amplifier.

For players like Dan & Mick who love the experience and feel of physical gear, Dave noted that the approach of the Ox is to speak to that type of guitarist by “at least taking it back to that point where it’s after the amplifier. You’ve got your collection of guitars and pedals and amps. Then you plug into this and without event running things through a studio you can do this just though headphones, practice, or jam…That’s the thing about this. You flip through things and you just find yourself getting lost in the tones and it’s inspiring and that’s not what you expect.”

As Dan & Mick promised at the close of the episode, stay tuned to TPS to hear more of their experience with the Ox and a few tracks cut in studio using this new piece of gear from Universal Audio.

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