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.
- 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
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.
Let’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.
I’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.
Recording 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).
I’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.
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.
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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