Hands-On Review:Fender Cyber-Twin Stereo Combo.
by Tom Beaujour
Digital modeling has become the guitarist’s cure-all of the moment, one that promises to put an arsenal of vintage amp tones at the fingertips of any guitarist who has at least a few hundred bucks in his budget.
While I hate to burst the collective bubble, let me say here and now that digital-modeling technology will never be able to duplicate the sound and feel of the vintage tube amps it strives to emulate. It may come tantalizingly close, but show me the vintage amp connoisseur who can’t distinguish between the ragged glory of a ’59 Bassman and its digitized equivalent in a blindfold test and I’ll show you one deaf bastard.
The good people at Fender know this. They’re certainly not deaf, and after all, they did build the original Bassman, as well as the slew of coveted amps that followed in that classic amp’s wake. Perhaps that’s why the slogan for the company’s new Cyber-Twin is “Innovate don’t emulate,” and why this amplifier offers such a thoughtful departure from the other “smart amps” now saturating the market.
Wired for Sounds
In fact, the Cyber-Twin isn’t a modeling amp at all. Unlike its competitors, which take digital snapshots of the specific parameters of various amp sounds and then use DSP technology to emulate those tones, this new Fender employs a complex system called Virtual Tone Interpolation to reproduce the actual internal circuitry of several classic amp designs. Instead of simply equalizing and processing a guitar’s signal in a preset fashion, the Cyber-Twin actually takes the signal on a course similar to what it would experience in the circuitrt of the amplifier being represented. It’s an innovative idea, to say the least, and one that, as we’ll see, yields inspiring and invigorating results.
The key to the Cyber-Twin’s broad tonal range and versatility are its four selectable tone stacks (British, Blackface, Tweed and Modern) and five varieties of switchable drive circuitry (Tweed, Blackface, Hot Rod, Dyna-Touch and Her Majesty’s Bassman—read Marshall). The tone stacks match the pot values and other characteristics of the tone circuits that have characterized classic American and British amp designs, and the different drive circuits make use of the Cyber-Twin’s two 12AX7 tubes to emulate each amp’s gain. The tone stacks and drive circuitry can be used in any combination, thereby allowing the user to create a number of permutations, including custom amp circuits that could make an intrepid boutique amp builder blush.
Innovative Features, Old-School Charm
From an aesthetic standpoint, the Cyber-Twin is an unqualified success: the amp seamlessly integrates its digital features (located on the right side of the control panel) into the now-classic Twin design. In fact, when the amp is powered down and the LED screen isn’t glowing with preset information, the amp almost has a vintage vibe to it, thanks to its familiar appearance and dimensions. With the exception of the trim pot (which is topped off by four LEDs that monitor input level), the left side of the Cyber-Twin’s control panel is soothingly old-school. There are controls for Gain, Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass, Presence, Reverb and Master Volume. With the exception of the Trim control, all of the pots are motorized and spin into position when a new preset is accessed. While this might seem like gimmick gadgetry at first, this is an invaluable feature that enables players to see exactly where the controls are set and perform on-the-fly modifications in situations where speed is of the essence.
The Right Side of the Brain
To the right of the controls is where the amp’s powerful “smart” features are accessed. The display screen is ample and easy to read, and the large jog wheel allows for quick scrolling through presets, effects banks and eq parameters. Three more rotary controls—FX Level, FX Vol 1 and FX Vol 2—permit rapid alterations to the overall effects level and to the primary and secondary parameters of the effect in use. Hitting the Amp button puts you into the guts of the presets, where you can alter the Tone Stack, Drive Circuitry, Timbre and even the Speaker Polarity of any given preset. Other useful controls include a Tap button that adjusts the tempo of the various time- and pitch-based effects, a Tuner button that mutes the amp and turns the display screen into the mother of all chromatic tuners, a control to engage the Cyber-Twin’s user-friendly Noise Gate and four “Quick Access” keys that activate four user-determined presets.
The Ins and Outs
The Cyber-Twin’s rear panel is equally feature packed. Recordists and soundmen will be happy to find a pair of balanced stereo XLR direct outs and an SPDIF out for digital recording, while late-night bedroom rockers will breathe a sigh of relief to find that plugging a pair of cans into the stereo Headphone jack mutes the speakers. The stereo Effects Loop can be switched from –10dBu to +4dBu and interfaces well both with stomp boxes and rack-mountable effects units, just in case the Cyber-Twin’s smorgasbord of fully tweakable (and extremely well-voiced) algorithms leave you wanting.
In an obligatory nod to the truly technologically inclined, the Cyber-Twin is fully MIDI enabled and features MIDI In, Out and Thru connections that allow the amp to converse freely with sequencers and other controllers. Less-demanding players, however, will probably be perfectly satisfied with plugging in the included footswitch, which taps the four Quick Access sounds; an expression pedal; or maybe even the included single-button Reverb/Effects Bypass pedal, which also doubles as a Fast/Slow selector on the amp’s stunning swirling Vibratone settings.
The Cyber-Twin’s preset sounds are contained in three banks. The Amp Collection (stored safely in the device’s permanent memory) boasts 35 amp tones that span the best of Fender’s past and present. These include the Champ, Pro and Bassman tweed amps of the late Forties and Fifties that launched the company; the Twin, Deluxe, Super Reverb, et al., Blackface amps that cemented Fender’s reputation; and the burly Custom Shop amps, like the Vibro King, that have become favorites among tone junkies in the last decade. Of course, there are also representations of a few amps that were not designed by Fender, such as a smooth and throaty Vox AC-30 reproduction that chimes and compresses brilliantly, as well as a few Marshall- and Mesa-inspired stack tones that are expressly geared towards nü-metallers who live only for the most extreme crunch.
In general, the Fender tones seem to be the most convincing (go figure), especially when the amp being evoked employs a speaker configuration comparable to the Cyber-Twin’s 2x12 arrangement. The tweed Twin, Blackface Twin and Super Reverb settings are particularly on point. All are graced with an openness, responsiveness and musicality that truly outshines other amps of this type. Regardless of their accuracy, these are superb tones that could be well employed in even the most demanding of situations. And while a tweed Champ sound coming out of two high-powered Celestion speakers certainly won’t have the inherent rattiness of the small-speakered original, it has a wonderful throaty attitude that only grows in stature when cranked through the Cyber-Twin’s 130-watt power section.
The stack tones are plenty nasty as well. Certainly an amp with an open-back 2x12 design isn’t going to move as much air as a blaring wall of closed-back 4x12 madness, but the Twin performed admirably and retained low-end definition and punch even when subjected to the most ear-splitting high-gain hi-jinks. And to tell the truth, while this amp doesn’t sound exactly like any particular high-gain stack available on the market, its tone is much meaner and less harsh and grating than a lot of the high-wattage tube driven monstrosities that have been unleashed on unsuspecting players in the last decade.
After a pleasing sojourn in the Amp Collection, I proceeded directly to the Fender Custom Shop, where the 85 presets are, by and large, astonishingly well done. The “Still Night” preset (designed to sound like John Sykes’ tone on Whitesnake’s epic neo-Zeppelin metal hit) is 100 percent accurate, and the Aerosmith-inspired “Attic Bound Toy” has a lively classic rock growl that simply begs for hours of unbridled riffery. “First Zep” captures Jimmy Page’s tone on “Good Times Bad Times” to a T, and “Pink Brick” will have you muttering, “If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have your pudding.” There’s no doubt that the crew at Fender boned up on their rock history for this project, and they’ve passed the test with flying colors.
The final stop on the Cyber-Twin tour is the Player’s Lounge, where there are another 85 extremely nifty (but user-overwritable) presets. This is where you’ll store the tones that define your sound (and hopefully the sound of the future). Let’s say you’ve decided you need to hear a ’59 Bassman with a blackface-era Fender eq and modern high-gain stack drive circuit. Simply access the Amp Collection bank of presets and select one of several ’59 Bassman presets; then, enter the Amp mode and select a different eq and circuit from the menu. If you like the results, save the settings in the Player’s Lounge. If you really dig what you’ve created, assign the patch to one of the Quick Access buttons, where it can become the heart of your new sound. Perhaps one of the Custom Shop settings blew your mind but you weren’t crazy about the choice of the effects. The Cyber-Twin has 28 individual effects—more than enough to chose from—and they all compete or surpass what you’d expect to get from with even the most elaborate and costly rack unit. Scroll through the cornucopia of reverbs, analog style delays (complete with adjustable virtual wow and flutter), choruses, flanges, rotary sounds and many others until you’ve located the one that lights your fire. It’s easy and fun, and it’ll keep you off the streets
THE BOTTOM LINE
Powerful, aesthetically pleasing, easy to use and full of top-notch tones, the Cyber-Twin sets a standard for “smart amps” that will be difficult to top. I can’t wait to see what these guys cook up next. d