What is this box? I've had it for almost a year, and I'm still not sure how to answer that. For one, it's basically two channels of tube circuitry that can be run in normal or overdrive modes. The circuits can be switched as far as the distortion types (I never remember which is what and just switch between them), drive levels, bias (you can starve the tubes to the point of barely any sound escaping), plus there's a low-pass filter to cut the harsh top end and an output level. Not to mention there's 1/4'' inputs on the front (it makes a great synth DI), and I should be up front and tell you that the unit is unbalanced (which has never seemed to make a bit of difference in my applications). When people do ask what it is, my simple answer is that it's a two-channel, line- level, tube-overdrive unit. But that doesn't really explain it. Yes, I've used it to create totally saturated, blown-out vocal sounds and distorted drum breaks-but I've also used it in normal mode (it'll drop to 0.2% distortion) to liven up a digital mix that needed help or to add some "amp-ness" to a synthesizer track or drum machine. In fact, if I was creating electronic-based music, I'd be using it a lot more, as the textures and sounds it can add to a dry synth track are varied and incredible-starving the tube via the bias knob can drop the fidelity of a track off a cliff and make it sound like it's coming out of a dying mechanism of some sort. Fun! My only complaint with this box is the front panel layout, with its mirror symmetry on the two channels. Jumping from channel to channel is annoying as I'm always turning the wrong knobs. Is The Culture Vulture essential for making records? Of course not! Would I ever sell it on eBay? No fucking way-I don't have anything else that does what it can do, and I've never heard of anything quite like it. ($1,995 MSRP; www.thermionicculture.com)

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