Apr 01, 2005 - Contributed By dB Masters
Does a decent real mik'ed amp/speaker sound really come in
a package this small?
recording guitarist has, at one time or another, dealt with
issues of crabby neighbors, parents screaming "turn it
down", sounds bleeding into tracks, or similar
situations. Just the same, every guitarist and/or engineer has
attempted to deal with the issue of sound isolation in a
variety of ways. Most of these attempts end up with muffled
sound, a "fat" sounding track, lack of ambience and
realism or whatever other related issue you can think of. It's
really a problem as old as the Marshall Amplification Company
heard about AxeTrak®, the alleged speaker isolation system
for electric guitar, via some message board postings at this
web site and a couple other web sites, I became curious. So, I
got in contact with AxeTrak® owner, Jeff Harris. We spoke a
couple times on the phone and much over email about the unit.
These conversations did get me increasingly interested in the
unit so we worked out a deal for me to be able to have a look
at one for a few days and try it out. I just HAD to see if
AxeTrak® solved this age old issue...
AxeTrak® is a
little box that houses a speaker and a microphone. The outside
of the box has two jacks, one to plug the speaker output of
your amplifier into and another that runs the output of the
microphone into your mixing console.
The unit itself
is quite small, I was really surprised when the FedEx truck
pulled up to my house and brought up this little package, he
handed it to me and it was light too. The thing is 11 inches
tall, 10 1/2 inches wide and 13 1/4 inches long (279 mm x 267
mm x 336 mm for your non-American types) and weighs only 16
lbs (again, 7.5 kg for you non-US types). While its
light-weight, the box feels very solidly constructed and has a
convenient little handle on the top for easy transporting.
There is also a plug in the side that one can open for greater
air flow, though, logically, this reduces the isolation
Inside the box
is a custom-made speaker from Eminence Speaker. Built to the
specifications AxeTrak® requires to make this idea work.
AxeTrak® takes an 8 ohm load, though, if you need to, you can
request a 16 ohm unit, and it handles up to 75 watts of power
from your amplifier. The microphone is a modified version of a
dynamic cardioid type microphone that outputs its signal from
the AxeTrak® box at the standard mic level output.
Well, this is
where the rubber meets the road. Specs, looks and marketing do
a lot to attract people, and even sells to some, but what does
it actually sound like? What will this product do for you?
In the field of
home/project studios there are two very distinct camps when it
comes to recording electric guitars, the cabinet mikers and
the modeler/DI users. Both have their pros and cons and they
can rarely compete with each other in their areas of strength.
conceptually speaking, gives the sound of a speaker with a
microphone on it because, well, it is a speaker with a
microphone on it...on the other hand; it's an isolated box
that helps keep the volume down thereby having one of the up
sides of modeler/DI units.
I am admittedly
skeptical about anything like this, as I have tried over the
years a number of different ways to be able to crank an amp
for miking without ticking off neighbors, roommates, parents
etc. All have fallen short with muffled or fat sound that come
along with the small enclosure, the absorbing material I used
or whatever other factors came in to play in my experiment of
the moment. I have tried this unit out under a few different
conditions, running a speaker out from a small combo amp,
clean and distorted, running from my POD into an amp and to
the AxeTrak®, running the POD and AxeTrak® parallel into the
mixer and others just to get a good, well rounded experience
I have to say, I
am pretty impressed with how it sounds. The clean guitar was
actually very full bodied and warm, I very much expected a fat
sound but I was pleasantly surprised. The distorted/overdriven
sounds I think were actually better than the free air miked
cabinets. It seems as though the AxeTrak's size and specially
built microphone acted as a sort of compression to smooth out
the sound a little bit for a very nice recording. One very
cool effect I got was recording the AxeTrak® and my POD
parallel onto different tracks and mixing to taste.
The Axetrak is a
very cool unit; I have enjoyed my time with it and have got
some great sound out of it. The only real downside I see with
it is the lack of ability to choose a microphone for yourself.
Also, the AxeTrak®, like modelers, is limited in spatial
sound. It lacks the ability to have a couple of mics different
distances from the amp for room sound and delay to fill up the
That said, the
sound I have gotten from it has been very good and full
bodied. It retains some of the characteristics of a cabinet
with a microphone on it while still maintaining the advantages
of a DI by isolating the sound. I believe it to be best used
for loud, distorted guitar, and the controlled environment the
speaker is in, with limited air supply for speaker movement
does act, as I stated earlier, much like a natural compressor,
as it lends a very smooth, silky sound to good dirty rock
I would suggest
any dedicated cabinet miker take a look at AxeTrak® and at
least give it a test run. I was more than a little bit
surprised at the sound quality and convenience of the unit.
Modelers may or may not be impressed. I am a modeler, and
while it won't make me get rid of my POD, I can see it working
as a great compliment to it.
It should also
be noted that AxeTrak® also has a bass version as well as
speaker cabinets for live use with an AxeTrak® built into it.
I have not played with any of those, however, the cabinets are
said to be the same units, just built into the cabinets. Due
to the fact that bass wave lengths are much longer than
guitar, the bass AxeTrak's ability to duplicate what it has
done for guitar might be somewhat in question, but, I was
skeptical about this version as well and was proved wrong, so
who knows...perhaps someday I'll get to take a look at it as