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Faustine Phantom Dx2 Attenuator Review

Faustine Phantom Dx2 Attenuator Review

Faustine''s Phantom Dx2 cuts level by -2, -4, -6, or -10 dB, or removes it entirely with speaker simulation.

Download Example 1
1972 Gibson SG through ProCo Rat and 100-watt Marshall Mk. II Lead. Recorded un-attenuated and at -6dB, and -10 dB, and switched in real time.
Download Example 2
Rickenbacker 330 with Toaster pickups through 100-watt Marshall Mk. II Lead.  Recorded un-attenuated and at -6 dB, -10 dB, and -2 dB, and switched in real time.
Every gig and recording session is its own environment with its own set of rules. And as any of us that have gigged in a bar can attest, an amp and guitar that we've dialed in to perfection in a rehearsal space can be a soundman's nightmare on stage if it's too loud. Though we'd all dig having a dozen amps for every gig and recording situation we ever encounter, the truth is few of us have the budget or space to keep that kind of firepower around. Then there are players who count on a higher wattage amp for a signature sound—how do you preserve the tone of a big amp blaring from its sweet spot without overpowering band, sound tech, audience, or neighbors?

Attenuators, which typically use the electrical principle of resistance to reduce the power of an amplifier signal before it hits a speaker, are one workable solution. And in the form of the Phantom Dx2, Faustine has built one of the most versatile, effective, and rock-solid attenuators we've seen. The Phantom Dx2 is not just for high-watt amplifier players who need to adapt to a variety of performance situations. It can also work for home and small-studio recording artists who like the sound of a big amp but need to record to low volume or direct to a board or interface. It may look simple, but this little piece of gear can give any guitarist that works in varying performance situations a whole lot of flexibility.

Wicked Rugged
The Phantom Dx2 has the look and feel of high-grade laboratory test equipment. It's small but hefty. The aluminum enclosure certainly weighs a bit, and the high-quality switches and pots probably add a few extra ounces. But a lot of the weight is attributable to the heavy-duty heat sink—part of which is visible on the exterior sides of the unit and distinguished by its substantial cooling fins. The heat sink is one of the most integral parts of the Phantom's construction because in heavily attenuated applications the unit functions by converting the energy that drives speakers to heat. And the Phantom's ability to perform the conversion effectively is key to both the unit's noiseless performance and the ability to build in more versatile circuitry.

The unit is totally passive, which means it requires no external AC or DC power for operation—another key to cool, noise-free operation. The selectable impedance capability of the Phantom differentiates the Phantom from a lot of less flexible attenuators and can be set for speakers of two, four, eight, and 16 ohms—which covers just about any amp from the oldest vintage specimen to modern hyper-gain monsters.

The attenuation control is also beautifully versatile and easy to operate. There are five presets that attenuate the signal by -2, -4, -6, -8, and -10 dB. There's also continuously variable attenuation control that enables further attenuation from -12dB to a Load setting, which silences the amp entirely save for a signal you can route via the line out into your recording interface or board. In Load position the Phantom also does the clever trick of introducing a reactive load circuit to the amp that mimics the impedance curve of a speaker, which means the amp will perform as if interacting with the impedance of a speaker—a function that's vital to preserving the character of an amp.

One of the most unique functions of the Dx2 is the V-Speaker Virtual Speaker Response function, which simulates the sound of Celestion Greenback mic'ed by a Shure SM57. By switching on the contour knob on the rear of the unit the signal can be routed via the balanced Line Out TRS output to a recording interface, board, or monitor. But the Contour knob also has the function of an EQ—helping shape the voice of the virtual Greenback to suit performance conditions by adding high end as you move the knob clockwise. The V-Speaker section of the circuit also has a push-pull volume pot that not only enables you to control output level from the Phantom, but also allows you to select whether the signal is routed straight from the Phantom's input or through the attenuation circuit.

Sick Tone in Stages
The first test of any attenuator worth its salt is how is handles a high-watt amp cranked up to kill. For that purpose I set up a 100-watt JMP Marshall Mk. 2 Lead, first with a Rickenbacker 330 on the bridge pickup then a '72 SG with P-90s into a ProCo Rat.

The Rickenbacker and Marshall setup was selected to reproduce a slashing Pete Townshend or Paul Weller sound—direct, brash, percussive, and difficult to replicate at low volume without a significant loss of character. Bypassing the attenuator, which is accomplished using a switch on the front of the unit highlighted the transparency of the Phantom. But most importantly, the tone spectrum wasn't diminished in switching straight to the -6 dB attenuation setting either. The drop in volume was considerable, my ears appreciated the rest, and I could almost sense the relief and gratitude of the soundman at the imaginary sound check in my jam space. Even attenuating the signal by -10 db did little to squash the ringing resonance and chop inherent to the Rickenbacker/Marshall that's so dependent on the sensation of really moving air. And the signal retained those characteristics when digitally recorded as overdubs in Logic at the -10dB level. Moving to the quietest settings on the Variable Control did finally diminish the overtone content coming off of the 30-watt Celestions in the cabinet a little. But as advertised, the V-Speaker signal from the Line Out and direct into Logic retained the aggressiveness of the Rick'/Marshall—enlivening the mix of my demo considerably.

The SG/Rat/Marshall combination is rich in overtones and colors generated from teetering at the brink of feedback—another tone equation that's easy to upset at lower volumes. And while attenuation of the signal by as little as -4dB did make physically interacting with the speaker to generate dashes of feedback color more difficult, the burly growl of the tone equation remained very much intact through all of the presets and well into the quieter reaches of the Variable Control. And run through the V-Speaker into my audio interface and Logic the tone was equally impressive. Even as I moved the Variable Control to Load and shut off the signal to the speakers, the SG and Rat screamed. I used the setup to add a rhythm track to a demo of acoustic guitars and drums. In no time, I had just transformed the track into thunderous power pop monster and for all the folks in the adjacent studio knew, I was kicking back with cup of tea and a good book.

The Verdict
The Phantom Dx2 is a kind of a survival kit for any guitarist who moves between gigs and sessions of every possible room size. It can make managing backlines of varying power much simpler if you're a touring musician and can eliminate the hassle of playing through an unfamiliar amp or forgoing use of a tried-and-true, high-watt rig when a room or studio is too small. And because it can retain so much of your amp's tone at lower volumes, you can actually leave behind pedals otherwise dedicated to accessing gain at lower volumes.

The real beauty of the Phantom Dx2 is the V-speaker feature. Whether you use it for recording, practicing, or like I did to route through a PA to create an enormous, panoramic wash of sound that can be manipulated by a sympathetic soundman, it makes you and your rig adaptable to a thousand situations. That's the root benefit of the Phantom Dx2, whether you use its most basic attenuation functions or the full breadth of its capabilities.
Buy if...
you gig and record in big and small rooms, prefer the sound of a high-wattage rig, and want access to those sounds regardless of the environment.
Skip if...
you rarely pack anything bigger than a Champ for a gig.

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