Written by George Van Wagner, Musician's Friend Staff Writer
The increasing demand for low-volume and “silent” stages in performing venues and houses of worship, combined with the move to in-ear monitor systems, has many musicians turning to a combination of reactive load boxes, attenuators and rack and pedal units that load IR, or impulse response, speaker cabinet models. Two Notes Audio Engineering has been at the forefront of the IR revolution, creating units designed to help guitarists easily get the sound they want to any mixing board, whether in live performance or in the studio. Musician’s Friend recently gave me a chance to spend some time with their latest product, the Torpedo C.A.B. M.
“C.A.B.’ stands for Cabinet in A Box, and the “M” seems to designate “Mini”, as the previous, larger version of the pedalboard-friendly unit was called, simply, the C.A.B., without a further designation. There’s nothing “mini” about the C.A.B.-M, though, aside from its convenient form factor. In fact, it has some features I wish had been on its predecessor, a unit I’ve owned for a couple of years. But let’s start with the basics.
Out of the box, you can simply plug the unit in and go. The connection from your amp can be either from a line-level output, if you have one, or inline between the speaker output and speaker. From there, you have a choice of balanced, line-level TRS or XLR mic-level outputs to feed the mixing board. So, at base, it’s grade-school simple — connect the cables, power up the box and select one of the 28 available factory presets, then start playing.
The ability of the C.A.B. M to live between your speaker output jack and speaker cabinet is one of the neatest tricks it does. It can capture enough signal off the speaker out to apply whatever cabinet IR you have selected, process that and send it to the TRS line out and XLR mic-level output on the side of the box, while passing the amplified signal directly through to your speaker cabinet. So getting a super-clean, great-sounding signal straight to the board couldn’t be simpler. This calls for a disclaimer, by the way. The C.A.B. M is not a load box, and your amp will not be happy if it doesn’t see a speaker load on the output. With tube amps in particular, running without a load is a ticket to a very expensive repair. So, make sure you’ve got all the connections properly made before you flip everything on.
You’ll notice in scrolling through the factory presets that some are labeled “Amp On” and some “Amp Off.” This is where things start to get really interesting. The C.A.B. M doesn’t provide just a “mic-on-a-cabinet” model. They also have power amp modeling, EQ, compression and room reverbs packed into that box. On the simplest level, the power amp modeling is for when you’re using the line out from your amp, which generally is tapped off the signal before the power amp. The power amp modeling in the C.A.B. M brings back the squish, sag and bark of a good tube power section, so that what you’re feeding the board sounds like a really well-miked amp. There are eight available power amps, with four power tube types (EL84, EL34, 6L6 and KT88) in both single-ended (aka Class A) and push/pull configurations. In the factory presets, the cabinet models are matched up well with appropriate power amps in the “Amp On” versions.
Customizing Your Cabinets
For some players, this may be enough, but there’s a vastly expanded world available when you install the free Torpedo Remote software on your Windows or MacOS computer. Once you’ve done this, you gain access to the parameters of each signal processing stage. You can adjust the drive, presence and depth of each power amp model, as well as switch between pentode and triode operation on the tube types where that would be a real-life option. You can move mics around, change mic types, tweak EQ and compression values and switch between room reverbs that range from a sedate studio room to a full-blown cathedral. You can also swap presets, create your custom user presets and load third-party cabinet IRs, of which there are an uncountable number available.
If you’ve played around with IR cabinets at all in the past, you may have noticed that, aside from full-blown modeling units like the Line 6 Helix, Akai Headrush and others, many of the IRs available are a single-mic type in a specific location. If you want a different mic or different mic location, you need to load a different IR. Two Notes has developed a modeling process that has all that available in a single IR file. In fact, their latest generation of firmware supports two simultaneous mics on a cabinet at once and a full range of position choices. You can even do the old trick of miking up a virtual open-back cabinet from the back and front with different mic types. If, like me, you love to spend hours tweaking stuff in the studio, this box is one of those where the space/time distance from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. is a simple, “What happens when I do this?” rabbit hole.
The Final Mix
Over the time I’ve had the C.A.B. M in my hands, I’ve used it live, both with and without a reactive loadbox/attenuator on the amp. I’ve recorded with it. I’ve used the supplied presets, loaded IRs that I own (including some Two Notes ones that I’d bought for use with their Wall of Sound plug-in), and messed with every available parameter. It’s been solid as a rock, even with some beta firmware installed (Two Notes is very aggressive about updating the firmware and frequently makes beta firmware available to the public when there are cool new features). This one is definitely going in my toolbox of utility gear to always have on hand. It not only solves a lot of problems, but it delivers great sounds that are easily used in almost any live or recording situation. The “almost” is in there because it’s possible someone could come up with a scenario where it wouldn’t work, but, for the life of me, I haven’t been able to think of one.