My Honeymoon with the Aracom and UA Comparison

alivegy

Member
Messages
1,176
I've been using an ultimate attenuator for a little over 2 years now and have just spent about 2 hours with my new Aracom. I've been playing guitar for about 14 years now and I'm a bit of an apartment warrior. I would like to gig more but currently don't, so I mostly just play on my own and write music in my apartment. Not gigging much hasn't made me any less picky about my tone and after a long time of searching through a field of both vintage and boutique amps I finally landed on a 100 watt JCM800 as the tone that I was after. Unlike most people I use the 800 mostly for it's great clean tones. I dial in a bit of crunch, roll off the volume for a great clean, or step on a boost to really make the 800 roar.

Being in an apartment and using a 100 watt amp has made an attenuator a necessity. I think the UA can get a bit of a bad rap around here, but I'm really indebted to it. The setup I have now wouldn't have been possible without it as it was the first attenuator I think that could really bring the volume of an amp down to reasonable level without killing all of the tone. It is not without it's faults though. It does effect your tone, and it is most noticeable with clean tones. If you're going for cranked plexi tones it works great. I usually used it with the plexi-switch off which definitely darkened the tone. Big clean tones are really it's short coming. You can really hear what it's doing to the sound. It adds some harshness to the high end, especially with the plexi switch on. The plexi switch should really be labeled "the crazy can of freaking pissed off bees switch." If you're thinking of getting a UA, make sure that it has that swithc. These sins could be forgiven and often not even noticed when I was just playing for the sake of playing. But when I went to record these colorations became very noticeable and became as much of the base tone as the amp itself. That wasn't acceptable to me.

In steps the Aracom to shut up anyone who complained about the UA being too expensive. Switching from the UA, plugging in the Aracom, and switching the 800 out of standby I quickly had to start fiddling with the 800 to remove the compensations that I was making for what the UA was doing. I also had to turn the pre-amp gain UP as my amp suddenly regained a good bit of headroom that was lost with the UA. The UA does cause amps to distort sooner and while I still could use the volume on my guitar to control overdrive with the UA, it did lose a bit of it's effectiveness.

Now one thing that I CAN"T do here is directly compare the Aracom to my amps raw tone. I have played the 800 unattenuated so I know what to expect, but at the moment I can't switch back and forth. So I'll be careful about talking about how transparent it is too much. The Aracom site talks a lot about bandwidth and this is really noticeable when swithcing from the UA. The UA sounds like it puts a blanket over your speakers in comparison. With the Aracom the amp now has more lowend, the lowend is cleaner, the mids are more natural sounding and the treble frequencies remain intact. With the Aracom the 800 really seems to just sound it's best. The cleans are crisp and huge, dig in and the amp roars. The amp sounds great and most importantly it feels great too. It really responds naturally with my strat. The volume control on the guitar is just as usable as if the attenuator wasn't there.

I quickly played a note and stepped through the Aracom's different levels of attenuation. In this utterly in-comprehensive and unoffical test I couldn't hear any difference between the steps other than the incremental decrease in volume. But I play the Aracom at it's lowest Variable setting with the 800. At this level the amp sounds great, I really have no complaint about the tone at this point, but I still need to play it more. One thing that the UA does BETTER than the Aracom is attenuate to "bedroom" levels. With my 2203's master volume on 4 and the Aracom at max attenuation the amp is still pretty loud. Not loud enough to gig, but loud in a small room. Loud enough that if you had a sleeping baby in the next room it wouldn't be sleeping for very long. So even without the "bedroom switch" on the UA, which my model doesn't have, it could still go take my 800 to a lower volume with the amp's master set at 7 then the Aracom with the master set at 4.

With all of that said, I'm incredibly impressed with the Aracom's ability to maintain the integrity of both the clean and distorted tones of my 2203. I wish that it could bring the volume down maybe one more knotch, but admittedly once the volume gets much lower tonal integrity becomes harder too judge and less important. So I need to talk to my neighbors to make sure that the new volumes are ok. The UA's ability to bring the volume down ever more might make it difficult to sell. I haven't had a chance to test it with my Princeton Reverb and soon I hope to post some different clips so people can hear the difference for themselves. I also want to test the line out. Plus the impedance matching abilities make it a really great piece of gear.
 

Strat-Mangler

Member
Messages
6,851
My understanding is that you can play with the cab & amp ohms settings, mismatch them on purpose, and therefore get even more attenuation.

Check the recent Aracom thread in this forum for that trick.
 

theHumbucker

Member
Messages
183
Cool write up. I've been playing with getting both of these. I had a UA. Liked it quite a bit. I'm willing to give something in exchange for some more control and freedom to push my amp. If I don't have to give up as much...even better.
 

ripoffriffs

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
3,182
With the Aracom, it's still too loud (at max attenuation) for you cause I believe its because of the 100Watts you are using. If you can manage to find a lower wattage amp to your liking like maybe the new Marshall Class 5 (use your own cabinet to bypass the rattle), then it will be perfect at apartment volumes.
 

Randy

Member
Messages
3,972
I'm curious if you could take another attenuator (like a Hotplate), set it to load, and put it into your amp's other speaker jack to further reduce the output going into the Aracom?
 

meterman

Member
Messages
8,080
....The Aracom site talks a lot about bandwidth and this is really noticeable when swithcing from the UA. The UA sounds like it puts a blanket over your speakers in comparison. With the Aracom the amp now has more lowend, the lowend is cleaner, the mids are more natural sounding and the treble frequencies remain intact. With the Aracom the 800 really seems to just sound it's best. The cleans are crisp and huge, dig in and the amp roars. The amp sounds great and most importantly it feels great too. It really responds naturally with my strat. The volume control on the guitar is just as usable as if the attenuator wasn't there.


Nice review, and interesting observation about the cleans vs dirty tones. Your quote above mirrors my experience switching from a Ho/UA to the Aracom. The "advantage" that the UA has in going all the way to zero is b/c it's using a little solid state amplifier to reamp your signal. I hear you though, I use 50w amps and even at the Aracom's lowest setting it's probably not "sleeping baby" quiet, although apparently you can reduce the level 3dB more, the equivalent of one more switch click, by intentionally mismatching the impedances, I think there is info about this on the Aracom website but I have not tried it yet.

Anyway enjoy having your tone and your dynamic feel back :D
 

GT100

Member
Messages
4,271
With the Aracom, it's still too loud (at max attenuation) for you cause I believe its because of the 100Watts you are using. If you can manage to find a lower wattage amp to your liking like maybe the new Marshall Class 5 (use your own cabinet to bypass the rattle), then it will be perfect at apartment volumes.

Yeah, but the guy said that he was picky about tone so the Class 5 probably isn't going to pass...
 

jkr

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,496
Try the 16 ohm into 4 ohm per the manual. It knocks it down another 3 db and makes a big difference at home volumes. Try it.
 

meterman

Member
Messages
8,080
I'm still amazed at the fact I recently learned, that every 3dB click (on any attenuator) is actually the equivalent of halving the power output. So when I'm running my 50w Emplexador with -6dB knocked off it's only putting out 12.5 (clean) watts!? One more click and I'm down to a 6.25w Plexi! And on the E position, the last one before variable (and F at it's highest level) is down to 1.56w!!! So I'm imagining that lowering the variable F position all the way down brings a 50w amp down to well below 1 watt. Crazy stuff....
 

alivegy

Member
Messages
1,176
Yeah the volume issue is due to the 100+ watts that the 800 puts out. Jeff warned me before I bought it that the volume might not go as low as I was expecting so I was prepared for that.

And as GT100 said, after playing a bunch of other amps it's 2203 or bust. I have a few amps that I would like to add to my collection, but the 2203 my main amp. I've never heard another amp, not even another model from Marshall that gets the karrang that this thing does.
 

Braciola

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
6,428
I wish that it could bring the volume down maybe one more knotch,
It could.
Set your amps speaker output to 16ohm, then into the Aracom's input set to 16 ohm.
Then set either the 8 ohm out on the Aracom into a 8 ohm cab, or the 4 ohm out on the Aracom into a 4 ohm cab.

I ran it that way with my Komet with excellent results.
 

alivegy

Member
Messages
1,176
Yeah i had read about the impedance options. My current cabinet is 16 ohms and I'm pretty happy with it so i'm not sure I want to swap the speakers out.
 

Braciola

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
6,428
Yeah i had read about the impedance options. My current cabinet is 16 ohms and I'm pretty happy with it so i'm not sure I want to swap the speakers out.
No need to swap out the speakers if you could re-wire the cab to a lower impedance.
How many speakers in the cab and what is the impedance of each?
 

meterman

Member
Messages
8,080
That's true. It's 2 8 ohm speakers in series, I could wire them in parallel for 4 ohms.

I actually wired my 2x12 cab with 8 ohm speakers for 4 or 16 ohm operation using a DPDT toggle in one of the 1/4" jack holes. I believe I have a wiring diagram somewhere if you're interested
 

alivegy

Member
Messages
1,176
I actually wired my 2x12 cab with 8 ohm speakers for 4 or 16 ohm operation using a DPDT toggle in one of the 1/4" jack holes. I believe I have a wiring diagram somewhere if you're interested

I would love to see that, having the option would be great. I don't have time to write a detailed review at the moment, but after rewiring the cab for 4 ohms I can report that it had a significant impact on overall volume. I can now play the marshall with the master at 7 and the volume is still lower than the master at 4 with the 16 ohm cabinet. So overall I'm very happy with it.
 

Randy

Member
Messages
3,972
I actually wired my 2x12 cab with 8 ohm speakers for 4 or 16 ohm operation using a DPDT toggle in one of the 1/4" jack holes. I believe I have a wiring diagram somewhere if you're interested

I did this with my 4-12 as well, using this diagram;

dual4imp1-1.gif
 
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alivegy

Member
Messages
1,176
So I've had a little bit of time to spend with the Aracom over the last couple of weeks. I've had company though so my time has been a bit limited. Every time that I use it I'm more impressed. As I said before I rewired my cabinet 4 ohm to knock the volume down even further and this has moved the amp into an everyday accessible range. I usually leave the preamp of my 2203 at 7 with the master at 6. From my experience with other 2203's around this volume level, we're talking jeans jiggling volume unattenuated.

For everyday playing I do have to use the Aracom in it's variable mode. I do think there is a tonal difference between the E setting and variable mode. But it is pretty tiny and I think I need to mess with it for a while before I can really nail down what that difference really is. Plus, at the volume level that the variable mode achieves you're getting very close to the volume where those differences simply get lost and your ear can't distinguish them.

The biggest advantage that the Aracom has over the UA tonally is it's ability to maintain huge sounding cleans at a low volume. The UA always wanted to lay a subtle, or sometimes not so subtle, fuzz over everything even with the Plexi circuit off. I don't know if this had to do with the static load or the reamp device in the attenuator itself, but it was unavoidable. If you played with a dirty tone it wasn't as noticeable or offensive but it always put it's fingerprints all over your tone. The Aracom just doesn't seem to do this. I can get some huge sounding, really killer clean tones out of my Marshall that I just couldn't achieve before at a low volume. The aracom allows me to use my Marshall as a blues machine like I always intended, using my volume knob and varying levels of clean boost to achieve varying amounts of clipping with all of the benefits of that huge transformer (except the deafening volume of course).

As far as volume goes, if I pushed the master above 6 or 7 it would start to get too loud for my situation again. Thats where my power tubes really start to clip and it gets to be too much for the tone I'm after, so for me this isn't a problem. For me, I've found that playing in Variable mode is great. Then when I want to record I stack couch cushions around the amp and switch the attenuator up to E so I can get the speaker interaction that you loose in the variable mode. It's pretty freaking great. I still plan on posting some clips and trying it out with my Princeton, hopefully this weekend.
 

eyeball987

Member
Messages
1,463
Good review. This is relevant to my interests since I may become an apartment/condo dweller again soon.

I can't swing the kind of cash that the units you are talking about go for but how do the Hot Plates hold up against these units? I can pick up a used one for $200.
 




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