RJM’s new RG-16 audio switcher is an impressive-looking piece of gear from the moment you open the box. The front panel consists of 16 buttons, each with LED indicators beneath them, and the rear panel is loaded with two long rows of jacks. It may initially be intimidating to players who are used to a few knobs and a cable, but the good news is that the folks at RJM have designed a switching system that will appeal to all but the most hardcore technophobes.
The past decade has witnessed two new key contributions to the amp world; a burgeoning boutique scene and specialized amp techs. Gone are the days when the same guy who set up your guitar re-biased your amp or fixed a bad input jack. Thankfully, also gone are the days when only rockstars had their amps rebiased, with many players themselves now able to bust out their Variacs and dual-trace oscilloscopes to perform routine amp maintenance and mods.
The RG-16 allows the player to control amp functions such as channel switching, reverb and any other footswitch function built into your amp, as well as turning on and off external effect pedals and processors. It can switch between two amps or control them simultaneously. Simply put, it is a device that can be used to completely manage all of your sounds and effects in live or studio applications, in real time, without having to tap dance on a multitude of switches and buttons.
But perhaps we should quickly touch on how this improves upon the traditional pedalboard. These days there is a lot of discussion about true bypass and what it does for your tone. Using any pedal without true, hardwire bypass in your signal path will almost certainly result in signal loss or degradation. The idea here is to have these pedals mounted in a rack (yes, I said rack) behind the amp, which cuts down on long cable runs; meanwhile, the RG-16 provides true bypass switching to all of your pedals by taking them completely out of the circuit when they’re not in use – that includes pedals that do not have true bypass capability, like that old MXR Phase 90 you’ve got laying around. The result: optimal tone.
Loop the Loop
There are a total of eight loops on the rear panel of the unit. Each loop is activated by a button on the front panel in the Audio Loops section; the corresponding LED lights up when a loop is engaged. Four of these loops are simple In/Out jacks, which you can use to plug in your favorite effect pedals. There is also an input jack on the front panel and one on the rear panel to accommodate the needs of your rig – some rigs need to be plugged in from the front panel while more sophisticated setups, such as rack-mounted wireless units, need to have the signal supplied from the back panel. Once plugged into the input you are connected to these first four loops, which are in series. After the signal travels through these first four loops, it terminates in an output jack. This jack could be sent directly to the input jack of the amp or on to the next set of loops, if more pedals are used. The remaining four loops are totally independent and are electronically isolated from the other loops. This isolation allows you to run some of your pedals in front of your amp and others in your amp’s loop. It also has the welcome side effect of preventing signal ground loops, which can cause hum.
"The RG-16 allows the player to control amp functions such as channel switching, reverb and any other footswitch function built into your amp, as well as turning on and off external effect pedals and processors."
Additional switching is also provided here, utilizing the last four loops. If you are not using them as loops for effects, they can be used to switch 1/4” jack-operated devices by plugging into the Normally Open or Normally Closed jacks on each loop. For example, if an Echoplex were used, you could switch it on or off by these jacks. Another internal setting of the RG-16 enables you to use these jacks as either a normal on/off switch or as a momentary switch, which is used in many of today’s rack effects.
The RG-16’s buffer circuit is also a nice addition. It is accessed by two jacks on the rear panel and can be inserted anywhere in the signal path. This is a great tool for compensating for long cable runs, as well as for quieting things a bit. This buffer circuit is also connected to a tunerout jack, which only functions when the buffer is used.
Programming the unit is about as easy as it gets. For normal programming, in most cases all you have to do is call up a preset number on any MIDI controller, push the buttons to select whatever loops or functions you want activated and press Write. Rinse and repeat.
If you’re looking to pick up a rack switcher like this one, there’s one thing to keep in mind. This is certainly not the first unit of this type in production; many previous designs have fallen by the wayside due to their construction. The most common problem encountered was the circuit board-mounted plastic jacks. Solder connections on the circuit board can fail and the contacts in these jacks are not as strong. I do realize that offering a unit with hardwired Switchcraft jacks would push the price into the stratosphere, and I should also note that I experienced no problems with the RG-16’s jacks; this is just an observation I’ve made while installing many other units with the same plastic jacks [RJM says they are introducing an update to the RG-16’s rear panel jacks which will make them more secure]. To sidestep any potential problems down the road, I’ve found that providing some support for the wiring, so as not to have constant downward pressure on the jacks, is helpful.
The Final Mojo
Overall, this unit proves to be a well-designed piece of gear. After using the RG-16 to control a Marshall head with a TS-808, an Octavia and a Keeley compressor, I found it to be a versatile and useful device. It kept my signal in good shape and was easy to program. I’d like to see a version with more loops in the future to accommodate more complex rigs, but for most musicians, this unit should hit the spot. If you’re ready to step up to switching, definitely take a look in this direction.
Our expert has stated his case, now we want to hear yours. Share your comments and ratings below.
you are looking to put together a pro-quality rig
if you need more loops to accommodate all those amps/pedals/processors you have