Modern recording has made a huge shift over the past decade, especially when it comes to the recording guitarist.
With the advent of the affordable studio interface, more accurate monitoring, and incredibly powerful digital audio workstations; recording your music at home has never been as easy or pristine as it is today.
The Gear That Captures Your Tone at Home
Modern guitarists have a wealth of options when it comes to capturing their ideal tone at home, but not everyone has the luxury of cranking a 100-watt Dual Rectifier or JCM 800 through a mic’d 4×12 cabinet due to the incredibly high sound pressure levels produced. While there are digital amp emulations available that provide stellar results, there is something magical about cranking your favorite tube amp through a speaker cabinet that’s pushed into pure saturated bliss.
For the guitarist that seeks to achieve that sweet power tube saturation in a less-than-ideal recording environment, there are several available solutions that allow one to capture all of the warmth, push, and TONE at more manageable volume levels. The available load boxes and cabinet emulators on the market do an excellent job of replicating the sound of a cabinet and speaker, but some players still miss the “air” that a real speaker pushes in addition to the nuanced interaction between it and their microphone of choice.
A Guitarist’s Quest For Tone
The touch response and feel from a real amplifier feeding a speaker is something that we guitarists are very picky about, and when the digital solutions fall short of the epic sounds we demand; we look elsewhere on the quest for the perfect recording tone.
Your journey may have crossed paths with expensive digital rack mount amp emulators, volume attenuators, different speakers/cabinets, or new pickups on your quest for tone. These still, however, don’t capture the full scope of an amp moving a perfectly mic’d speaker at concert volume. Louder is better? In the case of a tube amplifier; most guitarists would agree. The interaction of amplifier, cabinet, and speaker is what we chase as guitar players, and when these elements marry one another; the results are nothing short of inspiring.
Enter: The Guitar Isolation Speaker Cabinet.
Designed to fully encapsulate and isolate the guitar speakers from the surrounding environment in a sealed wooden enclosure, the isolation cabinet is the perfect way for a guitarist to mic their favorite speakers with their choice of a microphone in a controlled environment that allows their amp to be cranked into tonal oblivion.
Most isolation cabinets have a built-in baffle for mounting your speaker in addition to a permanently mounted microphone clip, and some designs allow for multiple speakers or microphones to be used to further craft your perfect tone. There are also the expected XLR and ¼” speaker jack inputs to connect your amplifier and microphones.
Isolation Cabinets for Home Studio Recording
There is typically a large amount of absorptive material installed internally to attenuate both the sound in and outside of the cabinet. The construction of the cabinet will ultimately dictate the level of SPL (Sound Pressure Level) reduction, and the types of wood and number of plies used have a drastic effect on the overall isolation with a cranked amp blaring into the sealed enclosure.
There are several designs available in the marketplace from multiple companies, with notable offerings from Rivera and Mojotone. Both feature industry-leading attenuation at 35-40 db, and the innovative Mojotone ISO design doubles as a live guitar extension cabinet when the shell is removed. Brilliant!
Both allow you maximum control over your tone when cranking your amplifier into the cabinet, and all without annoying the neighbors or your friends and family.
The ability to hear every minor tweak to your guitar’s signal chain in a controlled environment allows you to quickly dial in the tone in your head without second-guessing, and achieving the sag from a maxed-out tube power section with the aid of an iso cabinet is a much easier and ultimately enjoyable task.
While the digital guitar amplifier and cabinet revolution continues to bloom in the modern recording landscape, there still is that intangible and authoritative feel that can’t quite be replicated with plugins or emulators. The isolation cabinet can make this elusive feel and vibe attainable for the modern home recording guitarist in a more controlled fashion and, ultimately, is another tool to use on the never-ending quest for your tone.
About the author:
Worth has over 25 years invested in the music industry as a touring guitarist, producer, and recording studio owner/engineer (Red Room Recording) in Wilmington, NC; and currently plays in multiple bands. He is currently an audio engineer at gear company Mojotone.