JHS Stereo Pak
The JHS Stereo Pak is based on the concept pioneered in the Scholz Rockman — it's a portable guitar preamp with on-board overdrive, stereo chorus and speaker simulator that can be used for headphone practice or recording. It can run from a 9V PP3 battery or an optional mains adaptor, and is supplied complete with a battery and a pair of headphones. The input Gain control brings in a touch of treble boost at low settings and bass boost at higher settings so that high-output humbuckers are automatically brightened and single-coil pickups fattened.
The rear panel houses a stereo headphone jack which may also be used to connect the device directly to a mixer for recording, but there are additional audio jacks which may be preferable under certain circumstances. The Aux In/Out jack is stereo and is controlled by the Volume control, providing an adjustable output feed; the same socket rather neatly doubles as a stereo input, enabling drum machines or tape recorders to be mixed in with the sound of the Stereo Pak. These same sockets can be used to connect two Stereo Paks (or Bass Paks) together, allowing both players to hear a mix of both units, which is a neat idea for private practice or impromptu recording while jamming.
There are four basic preset sounds: the Normal setting is pretty straight and uncoloured, while Clean seems to have a pronounced top boost and a degree of mid cut which brings out the maximum 'Stratiness' in guitars fitted with single-coil pickups. Overdrive is surprisingly good, with quite a nice transition between clean and dirty as the Drive control setting is increased, making it good for blues or R&B, while Dist(ortion) has all the subtletly of a chainsaw arguing it out with an arthritic sea turtle!
The chorus section may be switched in or out, and may be preset or variable. In variable mode, the user has access to Variable (depth), Speed, Time and Repeat, which allows chorus, flanging and drainpipe echo effects to be created up to a maximum delay time of 25mS. Unfortunately, this section gets noisier the longer the delay time. The Speaker Simulation, used for DI recording or headphone practice, may be switched off, set to a preset position or made variable by sweeping the cut-off frequency further up or down the audio band.
The overall sound is not dissimilar to that of the original Rockman, and aside from the rather pronounced background hiss, especially at longer delay times, the actual sound of the chorus is fine. The overdrive is also surprisingly good for a unit in this price range and, in conjunction with the speaker simulator, it produces a very usable sound directly into a mixing desk.
The real strength of the unit is that instantly usable clean and overdriven sounds can be coaxed from virtually any guitar and recorded directly to tape, and all the sounds have a nice, 'produced' quality to them. Even if you don't use it for recording, you can play all the thrash metal you like without anyone else having to hear it, which has to be good news for the neighbours; you never know, if you show them this review, perhaps they'll buy you one!
JHS Stereo Pak £99 including VAT.
John Hornby Skewes, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul White
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