Hands-On Review:Guitar Track Magic


PCP Distro: Guitar Track Magic


Part 1: PCP Distro Overview/Ins & Outs/Other features


Rarely comes along a device that changes the way electric guitars are recorded in the studio. Little Labs' PCP Instrument Distro will not only change how you set up guitar amps and overdub parts but it will have you rethinking the possibilities for recording the best amp sounds.


First Glance
The Little Labs PCP Instrument Distro is a distribution amplifier and switching matrix for sending electric guitar signals to multiple amps and/or to professional outboard signal processing gear at the same time. PCP stands for "Professional-to-Cheesy Pedal" (really!). The delicate and high impedance nature of guitar signals has always imposed certain limitations when using them in the low-impedance, line-level world of the professional studio. The Distro correctly converts guitar jack level signals to full +4dBm line levels without demolishing your guitar sound in the process. It will also, at the same time, convert +4 signals back to high-impedance and level-correct guitar signals. This opens up all kinds of possibilities for using guitars or guitar pedals in the recording studio as well as using pro, line-level processors with guitars or keyboards.


Inputs And Outputs
The 1/2-rackspace unit has four inputs: a front-panel guitar instrument input jack (which is duplicated on the back panel) and three XLR +4dBm studio line-level inputs you can use for "reamping" already recorded audio tracks. The front panel switching matrix allows you to route any combination of these inputs to any one or all three separate outputs to guitar amp heads.


Each output has a separate master level control, but note that the Distro is designed to replicate the exact input level at the guitar jack when the master level controls are full up. Routing two or more signals to the same output results in an equal mix of them. The Distro takes care of all grounding issues when the guitar amps and pro gear are hooked together. There are separate ground lift switches for each output and for the direct box output. In the instruction manual, Little Labs warns users to always check for voltage difference between amps to avoid electrocution. Of course, I ignored that and received a good jolt when I touched an old British Vox AC-50 top and the studio patchbay at the same time. Yowl!! Watch out!


DI and Line Driver
The Distro has a single-channel direct box built in with an XLR low-impedance output connector on the back. It's an active DI so there is plenty of output here at line level, negating the need for an external microphone preamp. You can take your guitar's direct signal while playing through any or all of the amps. The Distro will also simultaneously output an unbalanced low-impedance line driver signal out of a standard 1/4" jack. This line driver is great when you want to play out of a combo amp but sit 30 feet away in the control room, listening to yourself along with the mix on near-field monitors. If you ran a 30-foot guitar cable out to the amp (like we all used to do), you'd lose a lot of sound, especially in the high frequencies. This box solves that age-old problem. I also used this output for an "always on" signal output going to my digital tuner.


More Features
Little Labs has packed several other features into the Distro. Phase flips are available for each of the three outputs, resolving the problem of running multiple amps that have different phases from one another. There's a slave jack allowing you to slave a second Distro for up to six total outputs and stereo operation. And the box's matrix switching system has LED status indicators letting you know what is going to where. The Distro is powered by an external 48-volt power supply and comes with a cool, shock-style traveling case.