I finally found something that works for me as a backup / flyrig / practising tool and I thought I'd share my trials and errors. Maybe it will save someone some money.
Guitarists are spoiled these days. My KPA sits on a shelf next to my desk. Connected via USB to my computer (thx for the editor), midi is connected, s/pdif, power, a guitar... to move the KPA means to unplug all these and later plug them back in. It also means carrying another bag besides the guitar. So I hear the call for a smaller footprint. But: Writing this also makes me laugh. When a was a teen I had to move my 4 x 12 cab plus a whole rack to our rehearsal room and back home – which was at least 3 times a week - plus many many gigs through the years. There simply wasn't an option, so we simply did this.
But, the first Pod (or in my case the Johnson J-Station) changed a lot. Having everything in one little package, headphone ready, was indeed great. Computers became more and more powerful and recording at home was beginning to happen for everyone. So these little devices absolutely made sense in that regard, too. After trying everything from Tonelabs (great) almost any POD (not for me) and everything in between, with the KPA came the quality for both clean and drive sounds. But guitarists are spoiled these days, so am I. I needed something smaller to take anywhere I would find time to play (for instance at my girlfried's place, my parents' house...)
Considerations & requirements
- A feel to it that keeps me playing: Most important.
- 2 sounds – clean / drive: All I need. Maybe even one would work.
- Delay and reverb: Never playing without, so a must.
- The fewer cables the better: Cables are from hell.
- Has to fit into my gigbyg AND my traveling bag (I keep a guitar at my girlfriends place anyway).
- Stereo: Discarded, found that this is not important as long as it comes from both sides of the headphone (which doesn't necessarily require stereo.)
- Headphone option: Of course.
- Battery powered: Partly discarded: Depending on the device a powerbank will do.
- Recording interface would be nice to have. Discarded: In the end I record at home with the KPA only.
- Drummer & Looper would be nice to have. Discarded: Aux in for tablet connection will do. I loop in my DAW.
- Aux in: Correspondingly necessary.
- Shouldn't cost a fortune (well, it did in the end somehow;)
- All in one would be great: Discarded, see below.
I tried (inter alia):
- A small board with high end effects - Great Sound & feel, but seemed oversized at one point – had to go.
- HX Stomp - Like the PODs – can do anything but didn't feel right (to me). Ended up more tweaking than playing. And I tend to option paralysis on the KPA already.
- Zoom G1on - Really great FX and clean tone – with drummer and looper für under 50 bugs. Didn't take pedals though - I didn't get a good drive sound.
- Mooer GE 200 - close to HX experience
In the end I found that a second setup besides the KPA has to be: Simple and effective. The Tech 21 Flyrig seemed almost perfect. I had been using a lot of Tech 21 stuff and always liked it – with the exception of the emulated speaker out. But IR-loaders are available in pedal-form these days, so this was an option. And by a lucky coincidence I stumbled across the
SONICAKE RockStage (+ Hotone Binary IR)
which is basically an analog preamp with digital chorus, delay and reverb (being blended into the signal without a digital conversion, think analog dry through) plus a hardware Cab-Sim (which can be turned off) all in a very tiny footprint – for under 80€. (There are also versions for a cleaner tone and for metal that differ slightly in their specifications.) I did some research on it and finally ordered the RockStage. Wow. While this might not be your favorite KPA sound in a box, it absolutely works like a charm. So good, that for the missing requirements I added an IR loader that provides headphone out and aux in. There are not many providing both in the relevant price range, but the Hotone Binary IR delievers. So the combination of these two is exactly what I was looking for:
- Feels great – Has this snap to it that feels like a slight amount of tube compression. Adding IRs makes it even better and more realistic.
- Reverb & Delay: Nice analog style delay with three parameters and a plate reverb with just one knob. WYSISWG, set and forget.
- (still) Versatile – Thanks to changing IRs, mics and poweramp tubes virtually there is variety.
- Takes drive pedals – Tried this and it works great. Set the preamp to clean and place any drive you want in front of it.
- Headphone & drummer: Along with a smart device, yes, thx to the aux in.
- Looks great – Metal housing, colored lights for each effect.
- Battery powered – Not really but will work with a powerbank.
- Small - Fits inside my gigbag as well as into my traveling bag.
- Gigging friendly - Haven't tried yet but wouldn't hesitate.
And again - in the end it's rather cheap: 200€ for both devices. So if anyone finds themselves in here, give it a try. It might work for you either.
Have a great weekend everybody.