Rivera Venus Recording Review – Best Guitar Amp for Recording?

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From top to bottom: Rivera RockCrusher Recording, Rivera Venus Recording, Rivera Venus 5

The Venus Recording is a tube guitar amplifier and analog 11-band EQ speaker emulator designed to be the ultimate all-in-one solution for recording real valve guitar amp tones. While countless amp makers have implemented “Direct Out” jacks onto some of their products, the Venus Recording combines the sounds of Rivera’s Venus line of amps with the speaker emulation and direct recording functionality of their proven RockCrusher Recording attenuator & direct recording interface. If ever there was a single piece of gear that could be the be-all and end-all tube amp recording solution, the Venus Recording is probably it.

Rivera has dubbed the Venus Recording an “analog profiler”, a contrasting nod to the newest wave of digital amp profiling/modeling products from the likes of Kemper, Fractal Audio, Line 6, and others. But while the digital modeling market is becoming a race to the bottom as there will always be faster processors and more efficient software algorithms, quality analog musical equipment still persists as the first choice among many discerning musicians and engineers.

But even if digital amp emulators still don’t seem to replicate their inspiration sources with 100% accuracy, to many guitarists the convenience of getting it “close enough” outweighs the slight imperfections. This has made the slight tonal compromises a worthwhile solution to avoid the hassle of miking an actual speaker cabinet, painstakingly finding the proper mic placement, and hoping you can achieve a similar tone next time if you have to track guitars in multiple recording sessions. Not to mention digital amp sims don’t require the loud volumes often needed to coax the best tones from many tube amps. (If you’re working in a home project studio, cranking up tube amps for recording probably isn’t the best way to stay on good terms with your neighbors.)

The Venus Recording aims to solve many issues of recording an actual tube amp while not compromising on the quality of results in any conceivable way. The amp side of the Venus Recording offers a potentially wider range of tones than previous models in the Venus series – and most other 2-channel amps for that matter. The RockCrusher Recording side features an all-analog EQ section designed to let you dial in the perfect speaker-like filter. This combo promises to let you nail the amp & cab tone you’re looking for.

Rivera have attempted to create a product that could be the last stage and studio tube guitar amp you need, allowing you to easily replicate the real valve tones on your recordings in a live situation much easier than ever before. Taking the 18lb unit on fly gigs, sending direct tones to front of house (FOH), and fitting the unit into a rack (with soon-to-be-released rack ear mounts) are all possibilities that widen the scope of potential uses for the “VRec” guitar amp and analog speaker simulator. Let’s find out if it lives up to the ambition of its undertaking.

Here’s an overview and review of the Venus Recording’s features.

Features:

  • 2-Channel 25-watt Tube Amp Head
  • RockCrusher 11-Band EQ “Speaker Emulator”
  • 5 12AX7 preamp tubes, 2 6V6GT power tubes
  • Channel 1: can go from super spanky clean to a hot blues overdrive or classic rock tone. Controls for Gain, Treble (w/ pull Bright), Middle (w/ pull Notch), & Bass
  • Channel 2: crunch/lead channel can be voiced for classic rock, hard rock, metal, or progressive shred. Controls for Gain, Bass, Middle, Voicing, Treble, & Master (w/ pull Boost)
  • Channel 2’s Voicing knob adjusts 3-band passive tone controls for a wide range of tone from Rivera’s Knucklehead amp series, tweed 2-knob Fender Champ, 60’s Marshall, JTM-45 combo, Vox AC-30, or classic blackface Fender
  • Presence control for attenuating upper frequencies at power amp
  • EQ On/OFF switch lets you bypass the 11-band EQ
  • Pad 3-position switch: selects between No pad (upper), 5dB pad (middle), and 10dB pad (lower)
  • Levels meter can be assigned to monitor 8 or 16ohm input power or Line out level.
  • Auxiliary Input with dedicated Aux Level control and Pre/Post switch for placing an audio signal before or after the EQ section.
  • Headphone Out w/ Level knob and Pre/Post routing is provided to monitor the signal from the Recording Output or from the signal feeding the power amplifier
  • Effects Loop 1 with individual Send/Return levels. Foot-switchable and assignable to either or both channels. Positioned between preamp and power-amp
  • Effects Loop 2 is positioned before Recording Outputs to allow end-of-chain placement of final touch effects such as delay or reverb to simulate application after a miked speaker cabinet.
  • 2 Recording Outputs: 1 ¼” unbalanced & 1 XLR balanced
  • 2 Speaker Outputs
  • Output Impedance: supports 4, 8, or 16ohm speaker loads
  • Selectable Internal Load when using direct output(s) without speaker cabinets
  • High/Lower Power switch: High (Modern) mode operates at 25-watts. Low (Vintage) mode operates at 7-watts.
  • Side-mounted carry handle for easy movement and transportation
  • Includes FS-7VR Venus Recording controller with foot-switches for Channel Select, Gain Boost Channel 2, & Effects Loop 1.
  • Compatible with optional Rivera FS7M MIDI Interface and (soon-to-be-released) Venus Recording Rack Ears.

At first glance you can’t help but notice that the Venus Recording looks more like a piece of rack gear than a typical guitar amp. There are clear visual nods to Rivera’s Venus series of amps, especially with the same familiar control knobs (and a few smaller knobs of the type seen on the Rivera Metal Shaman and Sustain Shaman pedals). But the VRec is more akin to the Rivera RockCrusher Recording with those distinctive Red LED-lit EQ faders and purple faceplate, the VRec’s purple being of a different shade and the faceplate sporting a more premium anodized aluminum finish.

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The Venus Recording is slightly wider than the RockCrusher Recording with the VRec being a full 17 inches wide compared to just under 15 inches for the RockRec. This is still sufficient enough to be rack-mounted when the Venus Recording Rack Ears are released. (The VRec should take up 4 rack spaces according to Rivera; good to know if you’re planning ahead.) Just be mindful of putting the unit in cramped spaces (or stacking gear on top as in our sample photo above) as the VRec requires adequate ventilation to avoid overheating. The unit warms up, but thanks to a massive heat-sink protruding from the back of the unit, I haven’t experienced any issues. I’d assume Rivera have taken the necessary precautions as with their RockCrusher Recording to assure dissipation of heat. The company has a long-standing reputation for “over-building” their products for years of reliable performance.

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Removing the VRec’s top-plate reveals the transformers and various PCB’s along with the 5 12AX7 preamp tubes and 2 6V6GT power tubes. Rivera take great effort to ensure the power tubes are matched to the tightest tolerances. All the innards are hand-soldered and through-hole mounted with all construction taking place in Rivera’s factory in Burbank, California. While some notable US-based amp companies have moved production overseas and may later have some products only “assembled” in USA, it’s refreshing to see that Rivera still takes great pride in handcrafting all their products to the highest possible quality standard in their own factory.

Rivera-Venus-Recording-Review-Best-Guitar-Amp-Recording-04There’s a Headphone output on the front panel that lets you monitor the signal before the power-amp (Pre) or after the power-amp and speaker emulation (Post), particularly handy for silent jamming or dialing in your tone before sending it to front of house (FOH). While the order switch reads top to bottom “Pre/Post” you might think that the switch positions would be left to right in the same order. The order is actually reversed with the Post listening position on the left, so leave the switch to the left to monitor the signal as it sounds coming from the Recording Outputs.

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The Venus Recording also comes with an FS-7VR 3-button foot-switch with options for Channel Select, Gain Boost Ch. 2, and Effects Loop One. This is very practical in use, and the foot-switch has a nice rugged feel with enough cable length to reach to the front of a medium sized stage if the VRec is in your backline.

Visit Rivera Amplification for more info about the Venus Recording.

Sound & Performance:

Let’s first talk about using the Venus Recording as a traditional guitar amplifier. For this test I set the Output Load to “Speaker”, then plugged in an 8 Ohm 4×10 cab to Speaker 1 and an 8 Ohm 1×15 cab to Speaker 2. With my trusty Strat and Flying V close by, here’s what went down.

Channel 1: From Tweed to “Blackface” & Beyond

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Upon plugging into the Venus Recording’s Input and playing those first few notes through the clean channel (Gain 1), I immediately felt at home. Having primarily used the Rivera Venus 5 head for the past few years, the VRec produces clean tones in a similar ballpark. Think classic Fender with more modern-style clarity and definition. If you’re looking for classic clean tones with a modern level of clarity and low noise, you’ll enjoy the playing experience this channel offers.

The clean channel’s volume is controlled by simple Gain knob. Left of noon, especially around 10-11 o’clock or lower are where the cleanest tones are found. Somewhere around noon-ish or slightly above is where I like to keep it for those not-quite-clean, not-quite-dirty tones. You’ll get a little break-up when you dig in. These have become my favorite tones of the Venus series of amps, so it’s great to know that the VRec nails that sound. From were you can use an overdrive pedal to push the amp a little harder for more bark and bite or push the Gain up towards 3 o’clock for some mild classic rock saturation from the amp.

The excellent 3-band EQ section gives you a wide range of musical cut and boost, and there are a couple “Pull” options in the Treble and Middle knobs for a Bright mode and Notch function, respectively. Pulling the Treble out reminds me of plugging into the Bright input on a Fender Bassman, but the VRec gives you a sweepable range of brightness attenuation for more control over how bright your sound gets. The Middle’s Notch adjusts between 2 mid-EQ voicings. The standard “In” position lets the Middle knob boost or cut at about 550Hz for a 1950’s style tweed voicing. The pulled “Out” EQ voices the mid notch at 250Hz for a more “blackface” style mid control. I often find myself leaving the knob pushed “In” at the 550Hz setting for most general playing as the more tweed-like tones are where my ears feel most comfortable. But for recording it’s nice to have the extra “blackface” sounds instantly available for tones with chime or when I want to take some growl out of humbuckers for a fat Tele vibe. In any case the simplicity and extra Pull functions already conjure up more tonal options than you’ll find in a typical clean amp channel.

Channel 2: Classic Rivera, Cutting Edge

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The Venus Recording’s “crunch/lead” channel (Gain 2) really packs some welcome surprises. As much as I’ve praised the Venus 5 mainly for its clean channel, the dirtier side of the amp left a little something to be desired. Don’t get me wrong; it’s great and has a nice warm vintage flavor. My issue was simply wanting more versatility in the sound and character of the channel to compete with the range of tones found in the clean channel. While the Venus series’ versatile cleans have always deserved great recognition, the Venus Recording has now respectably stepped up the crunch/lead channel’s game by essentially looking back to Rivera’s past.

Aside from being the first guitar amplifier company to use push/pull knobs in their amps (among their many innovations), Rivera also pioneered the use of a special voicing control to alter the mid-range frequency voicing of the amp. This can be seen as the “TMEQ” (Tunable Midrange Equalization) from the original Rivera TBR-1 rack units from the mid 80’s. The Venus Recording’s 6-position Voicing control has a similar function, shifting the mid-frequency notch from around 200Hz to the neighborhood of 800Hz. Rivera is tight-lipped about the specific frequency notches used as these specific voices are the key to the versatility and usability of the VRec’s Channel 2. But among the voices Rivera have sought to recreate is the particular mid-range character of a certain modded Marshall JCM800 that has been used on countless studio recordings around Los Angeles. The Voicing control essentially draws upon Paul Rivera’s decades of experience building and tweaking amps and offers a range of proven mid-frequency tones that are useful with guitar.

It’s hard to pick Voicing favorites, but I keep gravitating towards the 2nd, 4th, & 6th positions for higher gain tones with a standard tuned 6-string (with single-coils or humbuckers). Guitarists who favor super heavy distortion for drop-tuning and/or extended range playing will find that the earlier Voicing knob positions really let your low-mids and bottom end come through. Definition is tight and focused all around (especially on palm-muting) with a satisfying crunch, but there’s plenty of mid-range presence and woolliness to be found as well since there’s some British inspiration here. With your Voicing selected you can use the Middle knob to scoop your tone to death or get a nice full and present guitar tone. Despite being a 25-watt amp, the higher gain tones paired with various Voicing options compares favorably to my experience with Marshall & Orange flavors of higher gain grind. Quite frankly, the Voicing knob on the Crunch/Lead channel was just what the Venus amp’s distortion needed to make it more appealing and well-rounded.

Need a Boost?

There’s also a Boost function on Gain 2 that’ll take the saturation even further. It’s a preamp gain boost, not a power amp volume boost. On lower Gain settings it’ll turn a lighter overdrive tone into a hefty crunch sound. At moderate to higher Gain settings, activating the Boost will take your guitar tone into searing lead territory. This lets the tightness of the channel loosen up a bit for a spongier low-end, great for sludgier heavy rhythm tones as well. There’s a fuzzy aura added when boosting the sound at higher Gain levels of around 3 o’clock; it has an interesting velvet-like texture, sonically speaking. I really like it with neck pickups on my Strat or Flying V with the tone knob rolled back. Even if you keep the Gain restrained to the noon-2 o’clock area at most, you’ll still get a nice lead kick for solos when engaging the Boost. You’ll also notice the volume/gain increase is more dramatic at lower Gain knob settings, so experiment with your Gain setting and Master volume level to nail the difference and overall volume levels you’re looking for.

Amp + 11-Band EQ = Epic Tone Overload

Rivera-Venus-Recording-Review-Best-Guitar-Amp-Recording-08If you flip the EQ switch from Post-Power to Pre-Power, you can insert the VRec’s all-analog 11-band EQ in-between the preamp and power-amp sections. This takes the tonal flexibility to an almost over-the-top level of customization. The first incredibly useful aspect I noticed about this was being able to further sculpt the ultimate drive channel tone. As if the Voicing and Channel 2 EQ knobs weren’t enough, now you can get lost fine-tuning your ideal sound. I was able to tweak and round off certain middle and higher frequency bands to smooth out the vintage flavor for more modern gain sounds. For heavier tones, guitarists will appreciate the additional surgical precision of the 250Hz, 375Hz, 500Hz, and 750Hz mid-range bands. You can also tweak the 75Hz for massive low-end resonance; just leave some room for your bassist. The EQ applies to both channels, so it’s good to keep that in mind when shaping the overall sound of the EQ.

When playing the Venus Recording through guitar speaker cabinets, the EQ inserted before the power-amp also lets you tweak your sound to better match the VRec to the cab(s) you’re using. If you’re not feeling something about the resonance of certain speakers, a touch of boost or cut in certain bands will help. The 11-band EQ makes the Venus Recording incredibly flexible as a traditional guitar amp, and it would be ideal in a head or combo variation for a range of high-quality tones that exceed the offerings of many boutique amp rivals.

The Presence knob is your final EQ shaping tool. It’s located at the power amp section of the Venus Recording and lets you put the final sheen on your upper frequencies. Since this applies to both channels, you’ll want to pay special attention to dialing in your top-end on both channels first. Then if you’re getting a little more brightness on one side, just cut down the Presence a bit until any treble bite is gone. This is particularly suited to taming the edge of your distortion, hence the knob’s location next to the Master knob of Channel 2.

The Venus Recording delivers the most versatile range of crunch, overdrive, and high-gain tones from a Venus series product so far. Again, it would be killer if Rivera rolls out the Venus Recording in a combo or head. Fans of the Venus 3, Venus 5, or Venus 6 will surely dig the little improvements that have been made. The Focus knob from the Venus 5 that let you adjust how the amp interacts with the cabinet isn’t included, but the Venus Recording has a responsive feel with cabs (or going direct) that shouldn’t warrant need for it anyway. While its absence was most likely due to space considerations, the focus here is more on the integration of the RockCrusher Recording elements for direct recording purposes. We’ll get to those aspects in a moment.

There’s no integrated spring reverb in the Venus Recording which could be a put off for some people, especially if you’re a Twin Reverb fan. The Venus 5 amp head had an Accutronics spring reverb, but there just isn’t room for one in the Venus Recording. The good news is that you could always use a reverb pedal in one of the VRec’s effects loops, so there’s flexibility there to use your own reverb unit of choice if happen to have access to a real spring reverb tank in some form.

Rivera-Venus-Recording-Review-Best-Guitar-Amp-Recording-17The VRec also has an Output Power selection switch that reduces the amp’s wattage from 25 watts to about 7 watts. This also changes the character slightly from a more “Modern” sound to a “Vintage” flavor. The High wattage setting is brighter with more headroom and articulation. The Low wattage mode has a darker sound and may appeal to those of you who like warmer and more mellow tones. Not to mention the lower wattage mode is handy for lower volume bedroom jamming.

Auxiliary Input: Preamps & “Amp-in-a-Box” pedals

Rivera-Venus-Recording-Review-Best-Guitar-Amp-Recording-09One of the interesting uses of the Auxiliary Input is that you can use it to feed other audio sources into the Venus Recording. You could set the Aux Input to Post (as in post EQ) and maybe feed in some backing tracks to jam to. Or you could set it to Pre so that the Aux signal comes before the 1st Effects Loop and EQ. This allows you to route in other amplifier preamps (via their effects sends) directly into the Venus Recording. Doing so with my Venus 5 head’s preamp was easy. Or you can plug in an “amp-in-a-box” stompbox or other distortion pedal (like the Rivera Metal Shaman) to make the sound more amp-like with the VRec’s tube power-amp and analog EQ. Also, try splitting the signal into both the Venus Recording’s guitar Input and to another preamp or pedal into the Aux Input. You can use the Aux Level and Gain/Master knobs to blend the Venus Recording’s preamp with your Aux preamp to create awesome layered drive tones. The VRec just begs for you to experiment with pedals with way.

Recording Direct with Venus Recording

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Arguably the biggest draw of the Venus Recording is the direct out possibilities afforded by its 11-band Analog EQ “speaker emulator” and Recording Outputs. This lets you take the full tube amp tone from the VRec’s preamp & power-amp and apply an infinite range of analog filtering in a range of frequency bands that are suited to guitar. A speaker is a mechanical filter. A microphone also filters your tone. The 11-band EQ let’s you apply your own filter shape right at the source, allowing a more customizable tone and negating the frustrations of microphone placement.

Rivera-Venus-Recording-Review-Best-Guitar-Amp-Recording-11To start, you can plug one of the VRec’s Recording Outputs into and audio recording interface or directly into a powered studio monitor to hear the amp signal complete with speaker emulation. (If you’re not also using a traditional speaker cab be sure to set the Load switch to Internal before you do.) You can start will all the EQ faders in the middle at 0db; there are center detents on the faders, so you’ll know it’s set flat. This should already give you a solid neutral base tone. If you flip the EQ switch on the front to Off, you’ll hear the full range, unfiltered tone. While it may sound brash and scratchy, this option lets you record a full spectrum signal for “in-the-box” processing via Pro Tools, Ableton Live, or other DAW. You could also re-amp the signal with the Venus Recording by feeding it back into the front of the amp or into the dedicated Auxiliary Input for EQ “speaker emulation” processing.

Rivera-Venus-Recording-Review-Best-Guitar-Amp-Recording-12The Pad switch is a handy function that shouldn’t be overlooked. It lets you drop the volume by -5dB or -10dB before your signal hits the EQ section. One of the best things about the Venus’ clean channel is the slightly overdriven not-quite-clean/not-quite-dirty tones when you push the Gain up past noon. Doing so, however, results in loud volumes as there is no “Master” control on the clean channel. One option is to bump the Pad down to -5dB or -10dB as this helps with finding a manageable volume level when using a higher Gain 1 setting and matching it with the volume of Channel 2. It’ll keep the signal from being as hot when it hits the EQ. You can then use the Line Out slider to set your overall level being sent to the Recording Outputs. Even without the Pad you can still just use the Line Out slider if that works for you. It’s all about options.

Speaker Emulation Vs Real Speakers

A few years ago I was seeking a way to record at lower volume levels without compromising sound quality, and the Rivera Silent Sister isolated speaker cabinet caught my attention. Then, lo and behold, I discovered that Rivera made the RockCrusher Recording. The RockRec solved all my problems, and I’ve been using that primarily during my pedal reviews and demos on Best Guitar Effects ever since. But for this comparison let’s take a took at what the Venus Recording offers in comparison to the Silent Sister and discuss how using the VRec differs from using an actual speaker cabinet.

Anytime you’re miking a speaker cabinet, you place the mic, try to get the best sound you can, and hope you can capture the recordings you need before having to move the microphone for a different recording session. Typically, for general guitar applications a dynamic microphone close-miked to the cab gets the job done. This provides a direct tone that shouldn’t have any room ambience mixed in. The Silent Sister iso-cab also nails this. The Venus Recording can produce convincing speaker-like tones as well.

A point of note is that every single speaker will show minor variances in frequency response due to design inconsistencies or the factors of use and age. A new speaker and microphone will have differing characteristics than even the same model after years of use. In attempting to replicate the response of my new Shure SM57 and a new Celestion Vintage 30 with the Venus Recording, I couldn’t quite nail that sound even though I tried to emulate Rivera’s “Vintage 30” speaker graph shape. I tried moving the individual EQ sliders towards the sound I was hearing from the miked speaker but just couldn’t quite get as close as I wanted. The VRec’s 11-bands of analog EQ won’t always fill in all the frequency spaces you’ll hear on certain speakers if your goal is 100% perfect emulation of a given speaker; however the Venus Recording does create a range of tones that far surpasses any single speaker. While I couldn’t nail that exact “Vintage 30 w/ SM57” sound, I found countless tones in that range that I actually liked better than the real thing. If you want a 100% accurate sound of a particular miked speaker, just mike that speaker. If you want a similar tone that might even expand or improve on that sound, the Venus Recording is worth a shot. Seasoned engineers will appreciate the greater flexibility of tuning out or enhancing certain resonant speaker frequencies before recording instead of only being able to tune the sound by applying EQ later.

Rivera-Venus-Recording-Review-Best-Guitar-Amp-Recording-14Another thing to consider is that using the Venus Recording doesn’t have to be a trade-off with cab miking as you can record a direct signal from the unit and a miked speaker cab simultaneously. Since the Venus Recording has 2 speaker outputs, there aren’t really any limitations here. I’ve coaxed many great tones from a pair of cabs and the direct signal from the Venus Recording. But surprisingly, I haven’t felt compelled to use my cabinets much or even record the excellent speaker sounds of the V30 equipped Rivera Silent Sister. At this point I’m having a more enjoyable guitar playing experience with the Venus Recording and a pair of Tannoy Reveal 802 reference monitors than playing the VRec through actual guitar amp speaker cabinets.

When recording the VRec direct, you’ll get a close sound without room ambience, but if you want to capture some room feel, you can add it “in-the-box” later, use a cab and place a room mic, or re-amp the audio later to recreate a room feel in the same or different space.

Effects Loop 1 & 2

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Having 2 effects loops is something I was obviously excited about. Since our site focuses on guitar pedals, it’s obviously important to have some effects loops to work with. Effects Loop 1 is located between the preamp and power-amp, is foot-switchable, can be assigned to either or both channels, and has dedicated Send & Return level knobs. Effects Loop 2 is unique in that it’s just a static “always-on” loop that affects the signal right at the Recording Outputs. This lets you apply ambient effects like reverb and delay after the power-amp, speaker emulation – everything – on your direct out signal. The signal to your speaker cabs won’t be affected by Effects Loop 2. I sometimes insert a limiter or some mild compression into this loop to ensure that I don’t clip the audio interface when recording. You can also better simulate room ambience by using a room reverb effect on Effects Loop 2 than by using it before your amp or in Effects Loop 1. Lot’s of possibilities here for the effects using guitarist. Just saying.

If I had to find faults with the Venus Recording, I’d say that it can appear daunting at first with so many features and possibilities available. I adapted quickly mainly because of my experience with the Venus 5 and RockCrusher Recording, those units being the parental heritage of the VRec. Coming to grips with the sheer amount of options, versatility, and tone-shaping power of the VRec might take some adjustment, but once you’re rolling, there’s no turning back. The only workflow setback I’ve had is that I’d typically use the “Studio Level” knob on the RockRec when attenuating the Venus 5 to lower the speaker cabinet level to near inaudible levels while silently recording. With the VRec I have to put it in “Standby” and flip the speaker load to Internal to kill the signal to the speaker cabs. Reaching around to the back may not be a dig deal in some cases, but once you rack mount it or install it in some other semi-tight space, it might be even less convenient to do so.

The tube consideration could be an issue for some guitarists and engineers who appreciate the differences that replacing power amp tubes can make. Due to size constraints (and presumably being a low-wattage amp), the Venus Recording’s 6V6GT’s are what you get. But I’ve found that the tone controls and EQ offer more than enough flexibility to achieve the low and high frequency response from the amp that you could want.

A New Generation of Analog Tone?

Thanks to the convenience of digital amp sims that contain dozens of amp models and with the iconic tube amps they’re based on being out of reach for many modern musicians, something interesting has been happening in recent years. Many modern musicians have developed an ear for the tones of imperfect digital amp clones. The imitations have actually become the new standard for many and have defined many of the guitar tones in modern music.

But there is a uniqueness in the feel, sound, and response of valve amplifiers that will always be sought after among many musicians, especially guitarists who have experience with the sounds of real tube amps and didn’t grow up playing faux digital simulations. While the pro level features of the Venus Recording make it an obvious consideration for engineers in the studio, this product has potential to bring a range of classic and modern tube amp sounds to a new generation of guitar players who’d otherwise continue using digital imitations. The flexibility of the Rivera Venus Recording to craft traditional and original tube amp tones for the stage and studio is simply unparalleled. There’s a range of new sounds to be discovered by tweaking the EQ section for unique analog hybrid “speaker” tones. No other amp maker is doing anything like this to the degree at which the Venus Recording delivers, and the VRec is the boldest statement an amp-maker has made in recent years for the revival and reinvention of real tube amp tone.

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Overall-Rating-5.0

The Rivera Venus Recording is a new frontier in tube guitar amplifiers, giving you a wide range of real valve-based guitar tones and unparalleled options for recording those sounds in the studio and taking them to the stage. The amp side of the VRec is among the most diverse Rivera have created and the most robust and versatile amp in the Venus line. The 11-band EQ analog speaker emulation and direct recording options from the RockCrusher Recording offer the best “direct out” functionality integrated into an all-tube amp that you’ll find anywhere. Two speaker cab outputs and 4/8/16 ohm compatibility ensure that you can still play and record traditionally. Guitar pedal users will appreciate the dual effects loops. It’s really hard to find fault with the Venus Recording considering all that it’s capable of, and the success of Rivera’s latest vision could usher in a new era in tube amp recording technology.

That concludes our Rivera Venus Recording review. Thanks for reading.

Rivera Sustain Shaman Review – Best Modern Compression Pedal?

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The Rivera Sustain Shaman is an anomaly among guitar compressor pedals. While most compressors of the “Level/Sustain” variety follow the tired trail of the old Ross/Dyna Comp pedals from the 70’s & 80’s, this pedal is something altogether different from what you’d expect from a typical guitar comp. First off, the circuit topology of the Sustain Shaman is rooted in rack-mounted VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier) studio compressors as opposed to the typical OTA (Operational Transconductance Amplifier) based compression pedals. Then there’s the control layout which features, in addition to the aforementioned Level & Sustain knobs, dedicated controls for Attack, Effect Blend, & Tone for a versatile, modern layout. What’s more, the Sustain Shaman offers 2 separate channels, each with their own Attack & Sustain knobs. Channel B also has a flip-switchable “Super Sustain” mode that I can’t wait to try out. Let’s jump right in find out if this is the best modern compression pedal available.

Rivera-Sustain-Shaman-Review-Best-Modern-Compression-Pedal-02Features:

  • Studio Grade VCA Compression
  • 2 foot-switchable channels with dedicated Attack & Sustain knobs
  • Channel B features “Super Sustain” mode for increased sustain
  • Effects Blend knob for true “New York” style parallel compression
  • Tone knob sets desired brilliance of the compressed signal
  • Level control adjusts output volume and can provide a signal boost
  • True Bypass for letting your signal pass unaffected when disengaged.
  • Powered by 9-volt battery or 9VDC power adapter.

The first thing you’ll notice about the Sustain Shaman (as well as any other Rivera product) before you even plug it in is that it’s built like a tank. Rivera uses custom folded stainless steel enclosures for all their guitar pedals (including their Metal Shaman) that allow the knobs to be recessed lower than the foot-switches to prevent accidentally kicking them when you’re stomping on the pedal on a dark-lit stage.

Rivera-Sustain-Shaman-Review-Best-Modern-Compression-Pedal-03The graphic decals are brightly colored and attractive. Although I originally had some lingering concerns about them peeling, the ones on my Metal Shaman haven’t peeled up from the edges after a year-and-a-half of regular use. They should be equally durable here.

There isn’t too much to see when glancing inside the pedal as most of the components face inward. Mr. Paul Rivera also conceals the most secret aspects of his circuits with black epoxy, but the visible WIMA caps are evidence of the premium components used in the Sustain Shaman’s construction.

Although, the pedal can be powered by a 9-volt battery, I’d recommend sticking with a power supply as you have to remove 8(!) screws to replace the battery. But you’re not still powering your whole pedalboard with batteries are you?

Visit Rivera for more info about the Sustain Shaman.

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Sound & Performance:

The first thing you’ll notice when plugging in and activating the Sustain Shaman is how surprisingly noise-free your signal remains. I compared the Sustain Shaman to 4 of the best OTA compressors on the market today, and the Sustain Shaman had a lower noise floor than all of them. Also, the foot-switches, while having a nice satisfying click when you press them, are incredibly silent in use, meaning they don’t taint your signal with an overly noticeable “pop” when you engage the pedal. What’s more, the pedal is very transparent when it comes to its impact on your overall tone, yet it does impart an almost hi-fi quality to your sound. These qualities are examples of Rivera’s premium building all around with an emphasis on quiet operation and pristine audio fidelity.

Rivera-Sustain-Shaman-Review-Best-Modern-Compression-Pedal-04On the left side of the pedal are the familiar Level & Sustain knobs, similar to old 2-knob OTA compressors (with an additional Attack knob which also appears on some 3-knob variants). Sustain is basically a Ratio/Threshold style control that determines how heavily your signal is compressed. Level adjusts your make-up gain and overall output volume level with a moderate amount of clean boost on tap if you need it. Attack determines how quickly the compression kicks in and puts the squash on your signal. Dialing in a faster Attack puts a harder squeeze on your initial pick attack; a slower Attack setting lets the compression come in gradually. (We’ll talk more about the Attack when we get to the Super Sustain section.)

Rivera-Sustain-Shaman-Review-Best-Modern-Compression-Pedal-05In addition to those more common compression pedal controls are Effect Blend & Tone knobs. The Effect Blend lets you blend in your wet and dry signals for parallel compression. This studio style method of using compression has become increasingly popular in stompbox compressors, and it’s just as handy here for dialing in the perfect blend of a more heavily compressed signal with your unadulterated guitar tone. The Tone knob is useful for putting a little sparkle on the top end of your sound. It’s not overly colored and doesn’t really mask your guitar’s sound. It just adds a little sheen. Keep it in the 10 to 2 o’clock range for the cleanest, most transparent sound.

Having 2 channels is especially rare on a compression pedal, and this is one of the things that really sets the Sustain Shaman apart. Essentially, you can dial in a great always-on compression sound on Channel A. Try a somewhat fast Attack that lets your transients come though (around 9-11 o’clock is good) with a lower Sustain setting for light to moderate compression. Then on Channel B you could dial in a much longer Attack with a higher Sustain setting for lead tones that ooze with sustain. But there’s one more trick up the Sustain Shaman’s sleeve that is this pedal’s ace-in-the-hole…

Super Sustain

Rivera-Sustain-Shaman-Review-Best-Modern-Compression-Pedal-06On Channel B you’ll notice a conspicuous little switch labeled “Super Sust.” for activating the pedal’s Super Sustain feature. This is a must-try feature as it’s more than a mere gimmick. My assumption was that this switch just increases the sustain, similar to the effect you’d get by cranking the Sustain knob. (Maybe that is all it’s doing.) But it can be used with the Sustain knob maxed out to take your guitar sound over the edge. Yes, it increases sustain. The key to using it is dialing in a longer Attack setting so that the compression comes in gradually. As expected, the noise floor does come up a bit, so this may not be your ideal setting for clean passages (That’s why there are two channels!). But add some Super Sustain in front of an overdrive pedal or dirty amp, and this thing rips! I tried to mimic this effect by maxing the Sustain/Ratio on several other compressor pedals but couldn’t really get a similar level of sustain. Rivera has something really special here that more guitarists need to experience. You can also try using the Super Sustain function with a lower Sustain setting or with the Effect Blend to find more subtle sounds that still benefit from added sustain.

The Sustain Shaman surprised me in a big way. I honesty wasn’t too excited about this pedal at first because I mistook it for just another Ross/Dyna Comp inspired pedal. That was a huge error on my part! The Sustain Shaman is in that top handful of studio style compressors (with some modern twists) and deserves to be taken notice of. It’s top-notch all around. My only wish would be to see a smaller, single channel version with 1 foot-switch. I could picture a row of 3 knobs with 2 more knobs and the Super Sust. switch right below. It’s reasonably small as is, but these days it seems many guitarists want their pedals as compact as possible. But if you’ve always wanted an exceptionally clean compressor with access to multiple settings and “Super Sustain”, Rivera’s Sustain Shaman is the pedal to get.

Rivera-Sustain-Shaman-Review-Best-Modern-Compression-Pedal-07

Overall-Rating-5.0

The Rivera Sustain Shaman beats all of the best Ross/Dyna Comp inspired compressors in terms of its low noise level and wider range of sounds available. If you want a super clean & quiet, modern compressor with familiar controls and studio grade sound quality, this pedal is for you. If you’d benefit from having 2 distinct compression sounds for your rhythm and lead tones, this pedal is for you. And if you’re interested in the ultra-modern, infinite-sustaining compression of this pedal’s Super Sustain function, this pedal is definitely for you. The Sustain Shaman is perhaps the best kept secret in the world of compression pedals and deserves an audition.

That concludes our Rivera Sustain Shaman review. Thanks for reading.

 

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Rivera Venus 5 Amp Head Review – Best Class-A, 2-Channel Guitar Amplifier?

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While we typically focus on pedal reviews at Best Guitar Effects, I wanted to break away from the norm to bring a particular amp to your attention: the Rivera Venus 5 head. Why is this amp important? For starters, this is the main amp I personally use when reviewing and testing pedals. While a pedal may sometimes be played through another amp, this is my personal go-to amp for great tone and coming to a final verdict on any guitar or pedal. It’s also the amp I’ve been using for our review demo YouTube videos as it provides an impeccable clean sound, an ideal foundation for using with effects pedals. I actually discovered this amp by accident while researching the Rivera Silent Sister and RockCrusher Recording (pictured above). But from the moment I heard the Venus 5, I fell in love. After a little more research, I was set on having the Venus 5 above all other amps. It’s now a staple of my Review Gear. I won’t call it perfect as there are a few minor areas of improvement that could be made. But seeing as this head really is a choice piece of gear from one of the best amp makers in the business, I figured it deserves a little more attention in a dedicated review.

The Venus 5 is a 2-channel, Class-A, 35 watt, amplifier head that uses 5 12ax7 preamp tubes and 2 6L6 power amp tubes. Channel 1 does hot-rodded overdriven tones and searing leads. Channel 2 covers clean and overdriven sounds. Sounds simple enough, but there’s a little more to the story of why the Venus 5 is such a special amp. Let’s touch on some history before we dig in.

Paul Rivera, Super Champ

Although Paul Rivera started Rivera R&D in the late 70’s, he’d soon go on to become a Marketing Director for Fender Amplifiers a few years later. There he oversaw the production of and co-designed what some guitarists regard as the last great Fender amps. Perhaps most notably of these Rivera-era gems was the Fender Super Champ, a little 1×10” 18-watt combo amp famous for its clean & dirty recording tones. Paul Rivera would eventually leave Fender and focus on Rivera Amplification, designing high-end boutique amplifiers for discerning musicians. Rivera amps are known for their studio and stage ready performance, being among the most rock-solid and reliable pieces of audio equipment you’ll ever come across. Fortunately, they’re backed by great tone and playability that match their rugged durability. While the big corporate amp makers have continuously sought after ways to cut corners and make a “cheaper” product, Rivera Amplification always strives to make their gear “better” with an unwavering focus on quality in all areas. It’s for these reasons that this family-owned brand is still going strong today, ever victorious in their pursuit of quality, tone, performance, and innovation.

I’m going to run down the features of this amp real quick. Then we’ll heat up the tubes in our Rivera Venus 5 head review to see if it’s the best class-A, 2-channel guitar amplifier around.

Features:

  • Class “A” powered by a pair of 6L6 tubes
  • 5 12ax7 tubes
  • 35 watt Modern Mode
  • 15 watt Vintage Mode
  • High Gain & Low Gain Inputs
  • 2 Channels with foot-switchable Boost on Channel 1
  • Foot-switchable and assignable Reverb
  • 4, 8 , and 16 ohm speaker outputs
  • Vintage look with Split Grill

Visit Rivera Amplification for more info about the Venus 5 amp head.

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And here’s Tim Pierce’s Venus 5 review demo that pretty much sold me on this amp.

Sound & Performance:

When it comes to creating amps that achieve classic Fender style clean tones, few people are as qualified as Paul Rivera to do so. But never a company to settle for what’s already been done before, Rivera Amplification have continuously reinterpreted guitar amplification with each release, including their Venus series. The Venus 5 is an amp that ventures into all the familiar “tweed” and “blackface” territory but has plenty of voices of its own. Yes, this is no mere Fender amp clone in any sense, but it can achieve those sounds and much more. I’m going to work backwards and start with Channel 2 as that’s where most of this amp’s tone magic is found. For now I’ll also be focusing on the Modern wattage setting which allows access to the amp’s full 35 watts.

Rivera-Venus-5-Amp-Head-Review-Best-Class-A-2-Channel-Guitar-Amplifier-02Like ye olde amps of yore, the Venus 5’s Channel 2 doesn’t have a separate Gain and Master knob, just a single Gain knob that acts as a Master Volume control. Using it from fully counterclockwise to around 10-11 o’clock gives you a range of beautiful clean tones with plenty of headroom and dimension. There’s also a real presence and punchy feel to the sound when you play firmly or dig into the strings. These remind me of the hallmark characteristics of the Fender Bassman, another 6L6 powered classic. But the Venus 5 has a somewhat more refined and sophisticated sound. While I previously regarded the Bassman as my all-time favorite clean/mild amp, that changed after I played the Venus 5. Yes, the Venus 5’s clean tones are impeccable, but Channel 2 has a few more surprises up its figurative sleeve.

Once you roll the Gain up towards that 10-11 o’clock area, you may notice a little breakup when you really dig in, depending on how high your guitar pickup’s output is. You can do a few things here. Putting an overdrive pedal or clean boost in front of the Venus 5 will help you push the amp into overdrive. Or you can turn Channel 2’s Gain knob just a little higher until you hear the clean/dirty hybrid tone coming out. There’s a whole little area of sweet spots around here. The Venus 5 just has this beautiful breakup that is among the best I’ve heard. It’s really such a blast to play through which is why I just can’t seem to tire of playing through this amp head. If you want to crank the Gain even more, you can even get a full-on crunch sound that’s raunchy and just flat-out rocks. It’ll cover a range of clean sounds, classic rock tones, overdriven blues, and more. I don’t recommend pushing the Gain all the way. You don’t want to lose any clarity. If you need more distortion just put a boost or overdrive up front to find the saturation you need. This channel provides an excellent foundation for your pedals which I’m sure readers of this site will appreciate. The versatility and wide assortment of tones makes the Venus 5’s Channel 2 my personal favorite amp channel I’ve ever heard or played through. And I haven’t even talked about the tone controls yet.

On Channel 2 you’ll see the standard Bass, Middle, and Treble control knobs here. The controls are musical and will generally sound good even when set at extreme values. Finding “wrong” settings may not be what you’re looking for, but the Venus 5’s Channel 2 just always seem to sound good in some sense. But as is usually the case, it’s best to start with the Tone controls at noon and work the knobs based on your needs. Their range of effect is smooth and doesn’t seem to clash with the others although they do work together to form a cohesive “whole” sound. Need to brighten up dark humbuckers? Boost a little Treble. Need to fatten up some single coils? Add a little Bass. Simple and effective.

Channel 2’s Middle knob has an interesting surprise: a Pull Notch switch. Pulling the knob out shifts the mid frequency focus from 550 Hz to 250 Hz. Basically, this takes you from an early British or “tweed” style midrange to a classic “blackface” midrange. This is another big part of the Venus 5’s versatility and really helps you achieve amp tones similar to several of the classic clean and blues amps. The Treble knob also has a Pull Bright switch. While I generally find the range of highs sufficient as is, pulling the knob out adds some extra chime and sparkle, adding a heavenly sheen to your sound. This may prove useful with extra dark humbuckers or if you want a bright, top-end focused sound.

Rivera-Venus-5-Amp-Head-Review-Best-Class-A-2-Channel-Guitar-Amplifier-03Channel 1 is the Venus 5’s hot-rodded high-gain monster. Don’t get too scared if you prefer mild tones. There’s all manner of mild overdrive to be found if you just want to kick it up a little past Channel 2’s clean sound. But it’s this channel that also proves to be the biggest different between the Venus 5 and Venus 3 & 6. The Venus 5’s dirty channel is simply capable of more gain than her Venusian sisters. That, and the Venus 5 uses 6L6 power tubes instead of the 6V6 tubes found in the Venus 3 & 6. It’s also worth noting that the Venus 5’s Channel 1 is adding an additional 12ax7 preamp tube to the mix to provide the hefty gain boost over Channel 2.

The distortion of Channel 1 generally has a more saturated tone. It’s spongy and thick with an almost fuzz-like character at higher Gain settings. The extra 12ax7 saturation brings in more harmonic complexity for a very energetic, blooming overdrive sound. It’s certainly useful and provides a lot of extra distortion range which is great if you want to go from a clean or crunch sound on Channel 2 to a ripping high-gain lead on Channel 1. I like this channel better with the Gain on lower settings as it retains a tighter sound. The looseness of Channel 1 on higher Gain settings may be ideal for some, but for distorted rhythm work or even heavier types of playing, I generally find myself simply sticking an overdrive or distortion in front of Channel 2 to retain maximum definition. (While we’re talking about Rivera here, it’s worth noting that their Metal Shaman is brutal in front of Channel 2.)

Channel 1 has the similar 3-knob tone control set of Channel 2 but without the extra tonal Pull options. While it’s pretty simple, and yes, there’s a Pull out (and foot-switchable!) Boost on the Master, I still wish there was a little more flexibility from Channel 1. The old Rivera TBR units from the 80’s had cool 6-position Frequency knobs that let you dial in the focus frequency of your mid-range. While it would have been nice if they’d have brought back that innovative function, you’ll still find a solid plethora of grit and dirt from Channel 1’s tone set. And there are a couple other ways to affect your overall sound…

Rivera-Venus-5-Amp-Head-Review-Best-Class-A-2-Channel-Guitar-Amplifier-04The Presence and Focus knobs provide some final little touches to your sound. The Presence is incorporated at the power amp section of the Venus 5 and gives you a way to add a final polish to your high-end. This can be set with a general emphasis on how you like the amp to respond, whether your guitar is a little too bright or dark, and in conjunction with the voicing of your amp cabinet’s speakers. The Focus knob specifically affects how the Venus 5 plays with your speakers, blending from “loose” to “tight”. This can be handy if you’re like me and want to tighten up the sound of Channel 1 while achieving maximum punchiness/tightness with Channel 2. Or you can “loosen” a closed-back cab to sound more open. It’s effects are subtle to my ears but still a helpful feature nonetheless.

If you dig vintage spring reverb you’ll be pleased to know that the Venus 5 contains an authentic Hammond 6 Spring Long Pan Reverb. This is a standout feature if you love the classic spring reverb sounds found in classic amps. It can be assigned to either one or both channels and provides up to a 50% blend with your dry signal. There’s a tube stage after the reverb that I suspect is part of why this reverb seems to play so nicely with your guitar. Very cool. If you’ve somehow found this review while looking for your next amp head, this may be important to you. If you’re a site regular and probably have a pedal-focused perspective, the built-in reverb may be less vital to you. But in that case the Effects Loop probably is…

The Venus 5’s Effects Loop gives you a Send & Return between the pre-amp and power amp sections complete with dedicated Send & Return Level controls. This provides ultimate flexibility for patching in delay pedals and reverb pedals while letting you compensate for any variation in signal level. For a few of our review demos (Eventide TimeFactor, Empress Effects Vintage Modified Superdelay, Strymon El Capistan, etc.), I recorded using the Venus 5’s Effects Loop. It’s very clean and arguably the best way to utilize delay/reverb effects according to many guitarists.

A few more things to note, while the amp may not be quite as loud as, say, your average 50 watt combo, the Venus 5 still puts out enough volume to be heard in the mix when playing up to medium sized venues. It’s also in the nature of Class A amps to be louder than Class A/B amps of the same wattage, so you just might be quite surprised by its output if you do ever have the chance to hear it side-by-side with another 35-50 watt Class A/B amp. These days more and more guitarists are relying on miking and monitoring rather than high-wattage amps, so the wattage and loudness arguments are all but over for many. If you want to use the amp at lower volumes, the Venus 5’s Vintage mode essentially cuts the output to 15 watts. It does seem to add slightly to the vintage vibe of the sound while, according to Rivera, “enhancing the even order harmonics”. It’ll also still pack enough power at 15 watts to handle smaller gigs and make it ideal for low-level miking/recording.

Venus 5 vs Venus 3 or 6?

I won’t say that I’m necessarily rigid on my preferences for 6V6 or 6L6 tubes or even preamp voicings. It’s all about the cohesive whole and the myriad factors that define the final sound of an amp. There is the difference in power tubes to consider as well as Channel 1’s potential higher gain sounds. The Venus 6 & 3 have a little less available gain on tap. For me the Venus 5 just sounds amazing for clean sounds and lower/mid-gain overdrive tones. Add in a boost, overdrive, or ripping high-gain distortion guitar pedals (like the Rivera Metal Shaman), and you can get just about any sound you’re looking for. The Venus 5’s Channel 2 is the ultimate clean foundation channel for pedals.

It’s important to consider the cabinet you play it through as well. Rivera sells extension cabs with several choices of speaker to suit your preference for either Celestion 70th Anniversary G12H-30’s, G12T-75’s, or Vintage 30’s. But I’m a little biased here as I’ve been forgoing cabinets altogether in favor of “direct” tones. I’ve been a fan of mixing cabinets and speakers from different brands ever since this time long ago when I was blown away after someone unplugged an Orange head from its branded cab and showed me the sound from a home-made cab with Jensen speakers. But I find myself sticking with Rivera when using the Venus 5. It’s all about the RockCrusher Recording, a transparent power attenuator with 11-band analog EQ for emulating the characteristics of famous speakers. See our Rivera RockCrusher Recording review and our YouTube review demo videos for both products to hear this combo for yourself. And like I said, this rig is what you’re hearing in all our newer pedal review videos.

While I’d still like to see a few minor refinements to the Venus 5’s Channel 1 (more Mid-Freq flexibility & tighter, more focused higher gain distortion), it’s Channel 2 that makes this amp absolutely indispensable to me. That channel alone would make the Venus 5 my “desert island” guitar amplifier. You really must try it for yourself. All the videos and reviews can’t compare to the sound and feel of plugging in and playing it yourself.

Let’s see the final result.

Rivera-Venus-5-Amp-Head-Review-Best-Class-A-2-Channel-Guitar-Amplifier-06

Overall-Rating-4.5

The Rivera Venus 5 amp head’s Channel 2 is one of the most impressive and versatile clean/overdrive channels I’ve ever heard. There’s also plenty of higher gain versatility thanks to Channel 1. The included Spring Reverb is also a real treat for the vintage tone lovers. There’s even a handy lower wattage Vintage mode for bedroom/practice/home-recording levels. Our readers will appreciate that Channel 2 provides one of the best foundations for use with pedals you’ll ever hear. The Effects Loop with Send & Return level knobs also add essential versatility for use with reverb and delay pedals. It’s not really about whether it’s the best Class-A or 2-Channel amp. The Venus 5 is one of the best guitar amps I’ve come across.

That concludes our Rivera Venus 5 amp head review. Thanks for reading.

 

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Rivera RockCrusher Recording Review – Best Guitar Amp Attenuator for Recording?

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Rivera already had a hit with the RockCrusher, known among studio pros for being one of the most transparent guitar amp attenuators around. Now the Rivera RockCrusher Recording adds a 100% all analog 11-band EQ Speaker Emulator to Rivera’s acclaimed attenuator and load box. This results in what may not only be the most versatile solution for attenuating your amp during recording, rehearsal, and performance, but one of the best options for recording guitar you’ll find. Compared to run of the mill guitar amp attenuators, the RockCrusher Recording gives you the added flexibility of being able to emulate the sound of various speakers and cabinets for direct out recording and/or sending your signal directly to a front of house mixer or recording console. This product could achieve the monumental task of perhaps becoming the ultimate stage and studio Swiss army knife for guitarists and producers who swear by authentic tube amp tone. It’s a lofty goal, but perhaps Rivera is up to the task.

The Guitar Amp Simulation & Amp Attenuator Dilemma

O’ the perils of recording guitar and achieving the best possible “guitar amp” tone. While the past decade has seen a steady rise in guitar amp simulation software and hardware processors, many seasoned guitarists still swear that real tube guitar amplifiers deliver unparalleled tone, dynamics, and responsiveness – or “feel” – that digital amp emulations will never match. But when recording and performing with an all-valve guitar amp, some issues do arise. Finding your guitar amp’s sweet spot often results in a volume level considerably louder than may be practical to use during rehearsal, performance, and/or recording. Thus a guitar amp attenuator can be used to reduce the power level that reaches your speaker cabinets, resulting in a more manageable volume level.

The problem with most guitar amp attenuators is that there is often a noticeable compromise in sound quality and playability, a deadening of your original unattenuated sound. Sometimes it’s the tone that’s altered. Maybe you notice a difference in the “feel” of your amp. Whatever it is for you, a price is often paid when using most attenuators, and that’s usually a sacrifice of the perfect amp tone that you’re trying to preserve.

Silent Sisters: RockCrusher vs RockCrusher Recording

I was actually looking for an isolated speaker cab when I stumbled across the RockCrusher Recording. I figured the best way I’d ever achieve convincing miked speaker tones at managable volume levels was if I recorded an actual speaker with a mic. I came across the Rivera Silent Sister isocab (the only product I could find that didn’t suffer from the notorious air “sucking” problem most iso cabs have). I thought my search was finally over. But then I discovered that Rivera also made the RockCrusher Recording, a possible solution that might negate the need for miking a cab altogether.

While the RockCrusher may be a formidable attenuator, supposedly offering some of the most transparent attenuation around, there’s still the issue of miking and recording a cabinet and all the variables of microphone type, mic placement, speaker size, speaker model/brand, etc.

It’s important to understand that a speaker is essentially an analog, mechanical “filter”. All those treasured speaker tones are the result of a speaker filtering the sound coming from your amp. (If you’ve ever played a single amp head through a variety of cabs, you already know how speakers can dramatically alter your tone.) The RockCrusher Recording essentially offers the ability to filter your sound with it’s analog 11-band EQ section that’s focused on guitar-centric frequency bands according to Rivera. Theoretically, the EQ could be graphed to achieve results similar to recording sound from a speaker with none of the headaches associated with using mics! If you’ve ever accidentally moved a mic between recording sessions and dealt with the frustration of trying to find that perfectly placed mic tone again, you already know how frustrating this can be!

But even if the RockCrusher Recording’s EQ delivers speaker-like tones, it’s important that the attenuation doesn’t kill the tone and feel of your amp before it hits the EQ. The “RockRec” must be judged on all its possible areas of merits and faults.

So is the RockCrusher Recording worth the hype? Is it really the best guitar amp attenuator for recording? You’ll find out in our Rivera RockCrusher review. Here’s a feature list before we start rocking.

Features:

  • Superior natural tone balance at any level
  • Selectable 8- and 16-ohm capability
  • Reactive internal network for true amplifier/load interaction
  • Immense thermal capacity ensures cool running and long life
  • Tight impedance tolerances
  • XLR and unbalanced line outputs with level control
  • Low- and high-frequency equalization selection
  • Load box and attenuator function up to 120W RMS capacity
  • Enormous and robust internal components
  • Full bypass capability with no insertion loss
  • 11 Band EQ Speaker Emulator

Visit Rivera Amplification for more info about the RockCrusher Recording.

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Sounds & Performance:

I want to first start off by pointing out that I was very skeptical of the RockCrusher Recording in almost every way… Well, except that is, knowing that it would live up to Rivera’s ultra-high build quality. Yes, let me get this out of the way. The RockCrusher Recording is built like a tank, made to withstand years of use and abuse in the studio and on the road. In terms of sheer build quality, it’s yet another testament to Rivera’s artisan craftsmanship, reliability, and dedicated built-in-USA workmanship that earns the brand a spot among the few most esteemed boutique gear makers. I spent well over 6 months with the RockCrusher Recording before setting out to write this review. I’ve never had a moment to doubt its reliability. And in that amount of time I’ve had more than enough experience to assess how it sounds.

Rivera-RockCrusher-Recording-Best-Guitar-Amp-Attenuator-for-Recording-02Let’s talk about attenuation first.

While there’s generally an associated loss in playability when using attenuation, I found myself pleasantly surprised with Rivera’s unit. The RockCrusher Recording performs admirably at retaining the response and feel while attenuating your guitar amp. Your amp still feels as vibrant and lively as it does when the unit is bypassed. Basically, it doesn’t feel like the “RockRec” is tainting that organic connection between your amp head and speaker cab.

As for the RockCrusher Recording’s tone – and this is the area of the most controversy when using amp attenuators – I would say that I do sometimes hear a very slight decrease in high-end when engaging the attenuation. (Then again, I’m always looking for it!) The RockRec’s Edge switch seems to compensate for this pretty well, adding a slight touch of presence to the sound while not “coloring” the tone. Also, a very slight twist of my amp’s Treble knob helps return the sound to the exact tone I was hearing without attenuation. There’s even a Warm switch available to restore low-end from the attenuated signal, but I heard no cause to use it unless you just want to fatten up your sound a little.

Rivera-RockCrusher-Recording-Best-Guitar-Amp-Attenuator-for-Recording-03I’ve gone through several periods of A/B testing the RockCrusher Recording with and without attenuation on clean and overdriven amp settings. Sometimes the difference is very negligible, if noticeable at all. Sometimes it’s slightly more prominent. Sometimes I feel like I don’t need to use the Edge switch. Sometimes, I do! What’s going on here? I kind of feel that the Fletcher and Munson audio curves are coming into play. Our ears hear sound a little differently at various volume levels. As volume levels decrease, so does our perception of higher and lower frequencies; their volume seems to decrease faster than that of midrange content. This means that when attenuating an amp, we might be jumping the gun when blaming the attenuator for the drop in treble and bass that we’re hearing. While attenuation has a reputation for altering tone, partly to blame on all the low-budget attenuators out there, it’s possible that the change in volume levels of certain frequencies when attenuating your signal may also be partly just a perceived loss of high and/or low frequencies. Either way, whether or not it’s our ears playing tricks on us, the difference in the RockRec’s attenuated sound is minimal – if present at all – and can be easily compensated for to achieve the original sound of your amp at higher volume levels. I doubt most people would notice the difference in a blind test of bypassed and attenuated signals recorded and played back at the same volume level, especially if you make the minor adjustments to any difference that your ears hear. In the attenuation department the RockCrusher Recording excels at retaining the overall tone of your amp, with any slight difference in sound being easily remedied with the Edge and Warm switches or a slight nudge of your amp’s treble and bass controls. Your amp will still sound like your amp.

Rivera-RockCrusher-Recording-Best-Guitar-Amp-Attenuator-for-Recording-04Recording with RockCrusher Recording

The biggest “Wow!” factor of the unit is easily the 11-band EQ, which is clearly why anyone would consider getting this unit over the standard RockCrusher. Rivera really went all out here to deliver what is probably the most flexible piece of hardware for recording an amp. As I mentioned previously, speakers have a dramatic effect on your overall tone, and the RockCrusher offers a way to replicate an EQ curve that parallels those of the most beloved speakers around. Rivera even offers several examples of EQ curves from classic speakers miked with a Shure SM57 (the most popular mic for recording guitar speakers) on the RockCrusher Recording page to get you as close to the tones of a real miked speaker as possible. While these curves may approximate the qualities of these classic speakers, in practice I find myself generally starting with a flat EQ on the RockCrusher Recording and just listening for a sound I like, giving a boost or cut to any frequencies in a way I find personally pleasing at any given moment. The unit often becomes like an extension of my amp’s tone controls and helps me fine-tune my overall sound when using pedals (like, for example, adding some extra cut at 750 Hz when using the Rivera Metal Shaman for an extra-scooped sound).

Rivera-RockCrusher-Recording-Best-Guitar-Amp-Attenuator-for-Recording-05I’d heard that the RockCrusher Recording has already been becoming a go-to studio tool for recording professionals which is not surprising considering how versatile it is. (The YouTube vid with Slash above is a case in point.) If you know your way around an equalizer, you’ll most likely be able to dial in a curve that’ll help guitars sit well in your mix on stage and in the studio. There’s an EQ on/off switch on the unit as well. This lets you bypass the EQ to record the full range sound of an amp for the flexibility of using software emulation or “re-amping”, so to speak, using the RockRec. The RockCrusher Recording is indispensable in professional and home studios alike simply for the unparalleled versatility in tone it offers when recording a real tube (or solid state!) amplifier.

There are other useful features to mention as well. A Pad switch gives you either a 5 or 10 dB pad, useful when running ultra high-wattage amps through the unit. When attenuating, the big Attenuation knob will give you 5 choices or overall reduction, with the last option, Studio, having its own Level control for smoother incremental adjustments at lower volumes.

At my most critical I would say that, yes, I do hear a very slight reduction of high-end when I repeatedly A/B the attenuation. It’s not a coloration of the tone, per se, and is easily remedied with minor adjustments, but very sharp ears should be aware. But know still that you’ll most likely see an improvement compared to the low budget attenuators around. Most importantly, amp feel and response are retained. The unit is big, but that’s so the RockCrusher Recording can handle 150+ watt loads while dissipating the heat with ease. Rivera did not want to compromise in making the ultimate guitar amp attenuator. The unit doesn’t attenuate loads at 4 ohms, just 8 and 16. But that’s probably the majority of applications anyway.

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Essentially, this is the piece of gear I rely on most at Best Guitar Effects when testing out pedals for review and when recording guitar pedal demo videos. (I’m also a big fan of Rivera’s Venus 5 amp head.) This baby is sees a lot of playtime and will for the foreseeable future. Sometimes it’s powered on for extended periods of time and never gives cause for concern. I’ll just rephrase what I’ve already said on my Review Gear page. The Rivera RockCrusher Recording is the most vital piece of gear I use for recording. If I do switch amp heads, speaker cabs, or guitars, the RockRec always still remains in the chain. This is the amp attenuator to get and, dare I say, the one competitors should look to beat. With that said, I’ll keep my money on Rivera as the likely king of the hill in the realm of amp attenuation.

Let’s see the final result.

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Overall-Rating-5.0

The Rivera RockCrusher Recording is without a doubt the best guitar amp attenuator on the market, and it’s also the most versatile solution you’re likely to find for recording an all-valve amp. Whether you’re a professional studio engineer or home recording hobbyist, the “RockRec” will be a serious upgrade to your recording arsenal. Its integrated 11-band EQ offers “analog speaker emulation” for ensuring an accurate reproduction of your miked amp-and-cab sound in the studio and on stage. The RockCrusher Recording simply rocks.

That concludes our Rivera RockCrusher Recording review. Thanks for reading.

 

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