The Acme Motown D.I. WB-3

My terrific bass player Fergus Quill told me about the Acme Motown D.I. WB-3 which I had never heard of. Not only had I never heard of it, but my fellow tech enthusiasts had never seen or tried one. I started to investigate and immediately found that there were none second hand which is one of the signs of great gear.

Acme Motown D.I. WB-3

I was originally going to travel to New York where I could try one out, but the global pandemic made that impossible. My wife then managed to get one for my birthday from the excellent folks at KMR in London.

I’ve been playing with it for the last 24 hours and can I can see why studios and players are so impressed with this unit. The price will put a few folks off and my producer commented “What? A DI box at that price? Then he heard a clip, and admitted that it sounded great.

I had a similar reaction to the Fire Eye Red DI’s that I have blogged on previously, but the Acme Motown D.I. WB-3 is a different beast. I’ve used it as a straight DI into a desk and it 100% gives the natural sound of the instrument. Its one of those pieces of gear that gives that elusive extra 20% for those wanting great sound.

It also sounds fantastic when plugged into a simple fender small combo. The sound is smoother and more musical. I’ll be spending more time with this simple unit that is built like a tank and sounds terrific. I can see why many studios love this box and I’m super pleased to have one.

Mains Power Adjustments

Eurovolt by Brown Box

I have always known that mains voltage affects the quality of sound as for years I have used Russ Andrews power conditioners in my home entertainment systems. I have also been a big fan of Furman power conditioners when playing live with the Henriksen Bud amps.

Introducing The Brown Box Eurovolt Unit

I heard about Brown Box from my good friend Michael Ross in Nashville who runs the superb Guitar Moderne platform. Over the years Michael has given me the heads up on many brilliant artists and gear and this is one of the best recommendations. I knew that the Brown Box was used by many artists including Derek Trucks, but I only just found out that Brown Box made a UK/European version. “The Eurovolt” and so I grabbed one.

This week we tested the Eurovolt with my Two Rock Jet combo. I had seen the YouTube video from Eurovolt which was really useful showing how to use the unit.

Eurovolt Brown Box

I expected to notice a difference in sound, BUT wow it was like night and day with adjusting the voltage using the Eurovolt Brown Box. The adjustments to bring the voltage up made the amp sound so much sweeter and dynamic, we were really quite shocked.

In days gone by, I never really understood why sometimes I’d plug in and the amp sounded a bit flat. I’ve even though of moving on amps thinking after such situations not realising how important it is to get the right voltage.

Safety issues and tube wear

As well as sound considerations, when playing live the Eurovolt often the voltage at venues (and I’m being polite) can be “variable” at best. Using the eurovolt means piece of mind as well as looking after the amp tubes. The Two Rock uses military spec 6V6 tubes that sound amazing anyway, but at their very best with this unit. Great tubes are hard to come by and can be expensive to replace, especially through voltage spikes.

Often these kind of niche devices are quite hard to come by and often disappear, so become highly sought after by artists. I suspect this will be a terrific investment and of course there’s nothing so great to play through as a great sounding amp. I’ll be using this on my next 2020 recording project.

Two Rock amp with Brown Box Eurovolt

Ear Trumpet Mics

Myrtle Ear Trumpet Mic

I first came across Ear Trumpet Mics when I saw The Secret Sisters play a live gig in the UK. They used an Ear Trumpet Myrtle mic for part of their set and it sounded fantastic.

On my 60th birthday I received one of these as a present and I’m seriously impressed. Like all great gear the Myrtle Ear Trumpet Mic works best in a specific context and is a far cry from all rounder mics like the SM58s. I’ve been testing the myrtle with a Henriksen Blu amp and a Henriksen Ray cab and I am pleased to say it sounds fantastic. Just as the Blu reproduces the instrument sound perfectly, the Ear Trumpet Myrtle does the same for vocals. I love the simplicity of the mic and it seems very “old school” in the best possible way.

The Myrtle works brilliantly for vocals as well as acoustic instruments. This is a very different way of working and even in the first day of trying this out, I absolutely love it. I’ll get the chance to try it out with others in the Caravan of Dreams this Thursday and next week we’ll test it in the studio.

Henrksen Blu live outing – Less is more

I have blogged a great deal on the excellent Henriksen Bud amps and last week I took the one channel Henriksen Blu out for the first Caravan of Dreams live outing. The venue had a very small stage and with The Caravan of Dreams there are five of us, so space is tight. I decided to take the most stripped down rig I could and that meant only taking the nine pound Henriksen Blu and a Lava Ultramafic cable. We took a DI out from the Henriksen Blu as well as miking it up. Usually, I will also take a preamp/volume booster, but this time I didn’t bother. The challenge with ukuleles and other small bodied instruments is to get great sound. In the world of ukuleles often the sound is far from great and often really horrible. It’s not easy to find a good solution as different ukes respond differently and there is in my experience no one solution for all situations.

The Henriksen Blu has 120 watts and superb EQ, so there’s a huge amount of sonic flexibility. It’s also wonderfully small, but more than loud enough for live situations. In the Caravan of Dreams ensemble, I’m competing with percussion, double bass, piano and violin, so I need an amp that will cut through. The major lesson in taking the Blu out for live gigs is that often “Less is more” and this was probably the best on stage sound I have come across to date, just fantastic. 

I admit to being a sound obsessive, but make no apologies for this. I like to hear the very best sound and have discussed this at length with fellow musicians and my good friend Martin Simpson who wonderfully described the Henriksen Bud (a two-channel version of the Blu) as ‘a tone monster”

Henriksen Bud amps for sonic excellence

Ever since I started collecting ukuleles I have explored finding the very best acoustic amplification and settled now on Henriksen Bud amps. I originally got the heads up from Gerald Ross in the USA on the Henriksen bud and these are now my go-to amps for all acoustic work. They also sound great with my Collings I35 and for the first time I’m having to review my belief that tube based amps are always the way to go!

I have tried and used all manner of acoustic amps including Marshalls, Acus, Schertler, Fender, and AER among others. The Schertlers are my second choice as they are neutral sounding, but they are extremely heavy and don’t sound as good as the Henriksen Buds. The problem with many acoustic amps is that they colour the sound and even a 2000 quid top flight AER still to my ears is “ok” but not as good as the Bud. 

 

Peter Henriksen is well known for creating great jazz amps and with the Henriksen Bun he has managed to combine an amp that’s 120 watts, terrific sonic output which is also extremely light. This two-channel amp perfectly amplifies the natural sound of the instrument. The single channel Henriksen Blu is even lighter than the Henriksen Bud and is perfect for artists who travel a lot as it can literally be taken as hand luggage. As soon as I plugged into one of these units I was amazed at how much better these units are from everything else and have never looked back. 

I have three Henriksen extension cabs including the new Henriksen Ray cab. The Henriksen Ray is a terrific addition to the collection. This cab creates a much bigger sound and works brilliantly with either the Bud or the Blu. I appreciate that I may be heading into Billy Gibbons territory, but it’s a total joy to play through these units. I’ll be taking the Ray out for the first time this week when we do our debut as “The Caravan of Dreams” at one of the low key gigs ahead of a full album launch May 2019. 

Sony WM1A Walkman® Signature Series

Recently I have been trying out the new Sony WM1A Walkman. I first bought a Sony HD Walkman a few years ago after being seriously impressed by the sound which was vastly better than the iPod and other audio devices I have tried to date. The Sony WM1A Walkman is Sony’s really high-end audio device and it’s been useful taking it out for a test drive.

Like the original ZX1 unit, the new Sony WM1A Walkman plays FLAC files, but it also plays native DSD files. DSD is a very high-resolution audio format, higher than CD quality and in some cases higher quality than other HD download formats like FLAC-HD and ALAC-HD. DSD stands for Direct Stream Digital, which is a method of converting analogue sound to the digital domain. 

I admit to being a massive audio enthusiast and over the years have explored many sound formats including SACD, Japanese SACD (these are pretty rare and all the actual discs are emerald greed with amazing packaging) DVA and high-resolution FLAC downloads from HD tracks. When I first started looking at high-resolution formats, I was amazed at how much more you can hear. It’s like watching high definition as opposed to standard definition. One you literally see the difference you never look back.

The Sony WM1A Walkman is the best sounding playback unit I have heard to date, quite extraordinary. A great listening reference is Bob Dylan’s “Oh Mercy” which has terrific production by Daniel Lanois. I have this album in CD format, FLAC 24bit high resolution and now as a DSD file. The DSD is the best sounding of the three and is quite extraordinary sonically, a real testament to how it was recorded. Of course, such playback devices reveal everything in the mix and everything is then highlighted in spades.  Many live concerts from Bruce Springsteen’s main site are available in DSD and it’s like being at the actual event, the sound is so good.