The Expanding World of Guitar Cab Simulator Pedals

This may be the golden age of guitar effects, or more particularly, of cab simulator pedals.

Companies like Fractal Audio Systems, Kemper, and Line 6 have all already released flagship rig–in–a–box guitar amplifier, cabinet, and effects simulators. They are expensive, however, and are a tougher sell for a player without a big budget who has already invested in the real deal.

Kemper Profiling Amp Head

But hauling around multiple amplifiers and cabinets is a grueling chore, a sacrifice of sweat and sore backs for the art. Running directly into the PA is a very appealing idea, if only you could still get a good sound. Luckily, this has become much more feasible over the last year.

A number of companies have recently released standalone cabinet simulator pedals. These new cabinet simulators are distinct from the purely analog solid–state cabinet emulators of the past (which were really just specialized EQ filtering devices), in that the new line of emulators utilize more sophisticated approaches — such as cabinet impulse responses (IRs) — just like the big boxes do.

The limited frequency response of a guitar cabinet is a fundamental signature characteristic of every electric guitar sound you've ever heard. If you've never listened to the direct output of an overdriven preamp, you don't know just how ugly and fizzy that can sound.

A real cabinet also has a pronounced low frequency hump due to the physical construction of the cabinet and speaker array, but also due to the interaction between a power amplifier's output transformer and the speaker load. This low frequency resonant hump is that 'thump' we're used to hearing from a guitar amp and cabinet in a room.

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What most of these new cabinet simulator pedals do is impose the frequency response of a real cabinet onto the signal using IR modeling. An impulse response is a special recording of a real guitar cabinet that is used to shape the entire frequency spectrum of an input signal using a process called convolution.

Convolution shapes the input signal to conform to the frequency spectrum recorded in the guitar cabinet IR file. It's somewhat similar in concept to holding up a piece of colored glass over a camera lens, if you imagine that this piece of glass can alter the tone of every color in the image differently and to different degrees.

With one of these new cabinet simulator pedals on your pedalboard with a preamp pedal (like the Two Notes Le Clean/Crunch/Lead or a real tube preamp pedal, like the Effectrode Blackbird), you can achieve the sound of a guitar amp and cabinet, direct to a mixer/PA/recording interface. Forget the backbreaking labor, your entire rig lives right on your pedalboard.


Neunaber Iconoclast

True to its name and unlike all of its competition, the Neunaber Iconoclast eschews IRs. Instead, it employs a combination of flexible EQ filtering, along with power compression dynamics (power amp modeling lite, in a way). The Low/Mid/High/Gate controls are simple to use, but are more sophisticated than their labels suggest, which is more evident in the software editor (which leverages the built–in USB interface). This pedal has stereo I/O with built–in stereo enhancement for mono inputs.


Two–Notes Torpedo C.A.B

Two notes Torpedo C.A.B. Speaker Simulator

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The most fully featured and dedicated cabinet simulator pedal out there right now is the Two–Notes Torpedo C.A.B. Not only does this pedal support cabinet IR files (and you can upload up your own IR files into it), the C.A.B. also incorporates power amplifier modeling along with microphone modeling.

The power amp and mic modeling make this pedal sound extremely convincing into a PA or headphones, with just drive pedals in front — not to mention how good it sounds with an actual preamp patched in. It even sounds decent as a standalone clean amp sim all by itself. It has multiple stereo outputs, a built–in USB audio interface, and a very full–featured software preset editor.


BluGuitar BluBox

BluGuitar Blubox Virtual Speaker Cabinet

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The BluGuitar BluBox is another cabinet IR simulator pedal, mono, with simple and straightforward controls. Plug your guitar and pedals into the line input, select one of 16 cabinet IRs, tweak the mic position knob, and patch the balanced XLR mic output (or unbalanced line output) directly into a mixer/PA or recording interface.

While it may lack flexibility (no USB interface/software, doesn't support presets, can't upload your own IR files, and no power amplifier modeling), it's huge on simplicity and convenience.

You can also patch your amp into the speaker level input, but it's not a load box, so you must also patch the 'speaker thru' output into a real cab or load box. In this configuration, you can use the BluBox as a cabinet–emulating DI for the front–of–house sound, while using a real cabinet for stage monitoring.


Digitech CabDryVR Dual
Cabinet Simulator

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Digitech CabDryVR

The Digitech CabDryVR also employs cabinet IR files (with seven guitar and seven bass cabinet IRs built in), but it's a dual cabinet simulator pedal with stereo I/O. The controls for this pedal are also simple and straightforward, there are no presets, no USB/software, and no power amp emulation.

Each output has a separate cabinet selector with independent Size & Level controls. You can run it as a dual/stereo cabinet rig, or set one of the outputs to pass and dry signal in parallel with a cabinet–emulated signal on the other output. The Guitar/Bass cabinet switch is global and affects both channels, so you can't use both guitar and bass cabinets together.

If you're looking for a portable gigging or recording solution on budget that won’t accommodate an expensive rig–in–a–box simulator, or if you just really like your tube preamps and analog drive pedals (and no one can blame you, of course), then this new crop of cabinet simulator pedals are worth checking out.

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