Unsurpassed effects, intuitive operation, and a diverse set of speaker emulations elevate this top box to industry standard status.
The three devices reviewed here cover similar territory as Universal Audio's $1,299 OX Amp Top Box. In some cases, the OX influence isn't exactly subtle.
We reviewed the OX almost exactly two years ago. I purchased the review model and have used it regularly ever since. The OX proved to be a hit, acquiring a large pro user base. It remains a go-to solution for low-volume recording and related tasks. I stand by the original review, and the device hasn't changed much since it debuted. So this is a rare opportunity to revisit a piece of gear after years of use while comparing its features to those of newer arrivals.
IRs vs. Modeling
Universal Audio refers to its emulating process as speaker modeling, not impulse responses. Impulse responses are realistic but static snapshots, whereas the OX aspires to mimic speakers in varying states, with a front-panel speaker breakup knob that introduces the harmonic variations that occur when speakers are pushed to extremes.
The OX's speaker emulations are magnificent. You get 22 superb models based on Fender, Marshall, Vox, Mesa, and Hiwatt cabs. There are six "usual suspect" mic models, and six virtual room mics. The room sounds are lush and realistic, and you can adjust the amount of room ambience via a dedicated knob on the box's front panel. You can also assign two virtual microphones to each cabinet, position them in virtual space, and tweak their characteristics.
But there's a downside to UA's proprietary speaker emulation process: You can't load additional IRs. I've never failed to find appropriate tones within the OX sound library. But if you insist on a specific speaker sound not included here, the OX may not be your best option.
The OX's software editor is attractive, powerful, and intuitive. Photorealistic depictions of the modeled gear make it easy to visualize your edits. You can store six favorite speaker/mic/effect combinations ("rigs") within the OX box itself and access them without connecting to a computer. The editors are available for Mac and PC. There's a mobile version for Apple iPads, but not for iPhones or Android devices.
The OX's software editor has the sophistication of a full-featured DAW.
You don't need a physical connection to edit the OX's sounds. The device includes its own WIFI network. Just connect your computer or iPad to the network, and tweak away. It's a great idea, but it is sometimes problematic in practice.
We must often go online while recording to access files, manage authorizations, and search for relevant data, which can mean constantly switching networks mid-session. Most pro users I know keep a dedicated iPad connected to the OX network, while the DAW's computer remains on its usual network. Even then, the iPad tends to drop its connection if it goes into sleep mode. I've always managed to get the job done via the OX's network, but this clever feature has never quite lived up to its promise.
To my ears, Universal Audio's effects modeling is unsurpassed. The OX includes two dead-accurate models of classic recording gear: a Urei 1176 compressor and an EMT 140 plate reverb. There's also high-quality EQ and delay. All the devices covered here include excellent effects, and picking favorites is a subjective task. But to my ear, nothing else touches the OX's.
Other Noteworthy Details:
- The OX's impedance switcher supports 4, 8, and 16 ohms.
- The OX is an excellent direct recording preamp.
- The OX outputs sound via balanced stereo analog outs, digital AES/EBU, and optical digital TOSLINK. The analog outs are 1/4" TRS. But I've always wished there were pro-quality XLR outs, especially considering the OX's pro-level price. (The three newer devices all have XLR outs.)
- The attenuation level is continually variable, as opposed to using fixed steps.
- You can use one-, two-, and three-button footswitches (not included) to toggle the OX's effects.
- The OX has no MIDI control.
- The OX comes with 125 unusually good factory-preset rigs.
Despite the minor frustrations mentioned above, OX has been a miracle worker for me. I use it incessantly (including on many PG gear reviews) and I'm always delighted by the results.
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Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
LegendaryTones, LLC today announced production availability of its new Mr. Scary Mod, a 100% pure tube module designed to instantly and easily expand the capabilities of many classic amplifiers with additional gain and tone shaping. Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
Originally released as the Lynch Mod in February 2021, the updated Mr. Scary Mod features the same core circuit as the Lynch Mod but is now equipped with a revised tube mix combo per George’s preference as well as a facelift in a newly redesigned electro-galvanized steel enclosure. As with the Lynch Mod, each run will be limited and the first run in Pumpkin Orange with Black hardware is limited to just 150 pieces worldwide.
The Mr. Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage on top of the cathode follower position, keeping note definition and articulation while further increasing sustain. Each Mr. Scary mod is meticulously built by hand in the USA, one at a time, and tuned using high-grade components. Equipped with a single ECC81 (12AT7) in the first position and ECC83 (12AX7) in the second, the Mr. Scary Mod can clean up beautifully when rolling down your guitar’s volume, and still adds scorching gain when you roll it back up. This is a gain stage that’s been tuned and approved by the ears of the maestro George Lynch himself.
“The Mr. Scary Mod excels with dynamics and is incredibly touch-responsive, allowing me to shift from playing clear, lightly compressed cleans to full-out aggressive sustain and distortion –and control it all simply by varying my guitar’s volume control and picking,” said GeorgeLynch. “In many ways, it’s an old-school approach, but it’s also so much more natural and expressive in addition to being musically fulfilling when you can play both the guitar and amp dynamically together this way.”
The Mr. Scary Mod installs in minutes, is safe and effective to use, and requires no special tools or re-biasing of the amplifier. Simply insert the module into the cathode follower preamp position of compatible amplifiers (includes Marshall 2203/2204/1959/1987 circuits) and
immediately get the benefit of enjoying a hot-rodded amp that delivers all the pure harmonic character that comes with an added pure tube gain stage. The handmade in the USA Mr. Scary Mod is now available to order for $319.
For more information, please visit legendarytones.com.
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
The second version in the new lineup is an always-on device featuring the Witch Finger graphic and Davies knob, with the same NVMBR Gain circuit that lies at the core of the switchable version.
- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
- Stunning silver hammertone finish
- Switchable versions are true-bypass, available with classic or witch finger graphics
- Authentic Davies knobs, including the “fingernail”
- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.