Love 'em or hate 'em, digital guitar amp simulators and modeler plug-ins have become a big part of our lives. While we all love the convenience and versatility of amp simulators, none of us feel totally satisfied with the realism or sonic quality of such devices. Sterile, crispy, thin, one-dimensional, fizzy-these are all words that can describe the output of guitar processors. Tube saturation is what's needed to add the harmonic distortion, compression, and sustain that tells our ears that the guitar amp is "real". How much would you pay for a tube buffer that would add this magic to your pedalboard or POD? Red Iron Amps has created just such a device, dubbed the Buffer2. The Buffer2 is a cool-looking table-top unit with two channels of I/O, one stereo tone control, and one stereo volume control. There are two 12AU7 tubes that protrude from the top of the unit, which can be optionally adorned with retro-styled, chrome tube guards. Power and ground lift switches finish off the controls on the Buffer2, while very high quality, hand-wired components finish off the guts of the unit. Inserting the Buffer2 between a POD or ToneLab really brings the amps to life, creating a sense of air around the guitar amp, very much like re-amping without the hassle of setting up and mic'ing a guitar amp. My favorite use for the Buffer2 so far has been as an analog insert on a stereo aux in my Pro Tools rig. With this setup, I can bus one or more guitar or bass tracks though the Buffer2 to add dimension and girth to otherwise wimpy guitar tones. In some recent pop/rock mixes, I was able to start with neutral sounding settings on the Buffer2 and dial in just enough drive to make the rhythm guitar parts come out from the speakers and really sound massive. There was still enough drive on the Buffer2 that I could have really saturated the guitars to "11" if that was the effect that I wanted. Paul at Red Iron is prototyping a rackmount unit that is geared more for studio use than guitar rigs. Visit his website to see pictures and hear some musical samples of the Buffer2. ($249 direct; www.redironamps.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.