Many guitarists began with dreams of one day standing in front of a wall of stack amplifiers, blazing into a searing solo at decibels too high to count. The reality is, however, those gear edifices and volume peaks are nearly mythical. The challenge before most of us most of the time is getting the feel and sound of a tube amp working overtime without deafening your gig audience or ending up with an eviction notice.
If this sounds like frustrations you feel on a routine basis, an amplifier attenuator might be in your future.
If the term or concept of an attenuator is not in your gear vocabulary, check out our Riff City blog from last year when Dan & Mick test drove the Universal Audio Ox. The Ox set a new bar for guitar amplifier attenuators: suddenly they were less about restricting the sound of your guitar than they were extending its potential through software cab and mic emulations, onboard effects, and direct recording capabilities.
With the Ox making the splash it did, it was only a matter of time until another industry juggernaut answered back. The Boss Tube Amp Expander (TAE) is that answer from Japan’s effect and amp aficionados.
This week on TPS, Dan & Mick sat down with both boxes and explored their prospects. Since the Ox already had its own feature, we thought we’d give a rundown of five ways the Boss TAE might be the ideal match for the tube amp you already own, know, and love.
Though not a complete shootout of the two units—they do overlap but are rather distinct—to balance things out, we also note a pro and con for each item related to the Boss TAE’s features and performance.
Onboard Effects and Software Support across Platforms
The Boss TAE user interface is undeniably easy to use. As Mick added, one of the big assets of the Boss box over and against the Ox is its functionality across computer platforms. Though Universal Audio is currently expanding the Ox’s range beyond tablet-based iOS software, the Boss TAE is essentially plug-and-play with any Mac or PC setup.
Pro: You’re not restricted to an iOS environment for engineering or interacting with sounds.
Con: The user interface on the unit and software favors function over form.
A Middle Ground for Pedal Junkies between Hardware and Software
Because the Boss TAE is not replacing your amp or effects, Dan & Mick agreed it’s an ideal live or studio option for those of us who see the value of full digital profiling solution yet are reluctant to give up our pedal boards and tube amps. What the Boss TAE does for you, as Dan remarked, is “give you the ability to control that sound while still giving the front of house exactly what they need.”
Pro: Your pedalboard and amp are still part of the tonal equation.
Con: A full, digital profiling rig would extend your library of simulated amplifiers.
Custom Setting Storage and Live Recall via MIDI
Both the Ox and TAE have storage capacities for custom settings that are accessible with the twist of a “rig” knob on the front of the units. Where Boss went in a new direction, however, was with full MIDI integration. As Dan commented, this is a huge asset for playing live. “I can save ten presets that I can recall by MIDI,” which means you’re live sound can in effect swap out entirely different simulated cabinet and mic options.
Pro: Your amp/mic choice is as interchangeable as effect pedals in any live setting.
Con: If you’re not MIDI-savvy, this feature could take some time and additional gear to optimize.
Tone Sculpting for Resonant Peaks
In addition to the many cabinet options available on the Boss TAE, the unit also allows for customization of the resonant peak frequency. As Dan described, if you were to measure the output signal of a given speaker with an oscilloscope, it changes drastically due to its physical features and setting. Part of the peak frequency, then, is relative what the speaker is made of, the material of the cabinet, the size of the box, the relationship between the speaker and the output transformer, the list goes on. “These are all huge factors in how an amplifier sounds and feels.” To acknowledge this, Boss has given you control over both the resonant frequency peak as well as presence.
Pro: Simulated cabinets are not static but organic and adaptable.
Con: None, more control is always better!
Mix Options for Live and Studio Settings
The Boss TAE in effect takes your speaker out of the equation through reamping the power section. This means the sound you’re dispatching capitalizes on the physical relationship of your tube amps infrastructure which are then dispatched to modelled cabinets and mic choices. Right there, we’ve hit on probably the biggest asset of the TAE: it is idea for recording direct and live settings where on stage amps are not an option. Here too, the TAE goes to a new level by including XLR stereo outs for whatever your direct sound needs.
Pro: XLR outs means you can go direct in almost any venue or studio setup.
Con: If you’re madly in love with you amp’s power section, study up on how it might change through reamping.
As Dan summed up, “if on stage volume is an issue, [with the TAE] you can still use your amplifier, you can still get that sound, and you can still have sound on stage but it’s now controlled.” While an attenuator sounds like it’s job is to harness in your amplifier, as the Boss TAE shows its ultimate goal is making your amp achieve more than it could solo in most playing scenarios.
TPS Episode Rig Rundown:
Guitars: Fender Custom Shop 1963 Telecaster; Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster; Gibson Memphis 1958 ES-335.
Effects: Boss Waza Tube Amp Expander, Universal Audio Ox Amp Top Box, Keeley D&M Drive, Fulltone OCD, Catalinbread Echorec, Walrus Audio Monument, Union Tube & Transistor Snap, Jam Pedals Waterfall.
Amps: Marshall 1987x with 1960AX cab / Celestion G12M Greenback speakers; Matchless HC-30 with Hughes & Kettner Vintage 212 / Celestion G12M Greenback.