Mix & Match
Award MB10 Matchbox DI/EQ/Speaker Simulator
This extremely versatile problem solver can function as a low-noise DI box, guitar preamp and speaker simulator.
The makers of the popular Sessionmaster guitar preamp looked at the DI box concept and thought it could be much more useful: the result is the Matchbox, a DI with a difference. Paul White strikes up a beautiful relationship...
Award's Matchbox is a rather stylish, multipurpose, battery powered DI box with a difference. It works with both line and instrument level signals and has additional features for use with electric guitars in the form of tube-amp voicing, variable high frequency EQ and speaker simulation, the latter being based on the circuit used in the popular Sessionmaster Recording Guitar Preamplifier.
The idea is that, as well as its role as a normal DI box, the Matchbox has additional modes specifically related to recording guitar. It is particularly useful in the home studio, where it eliminates the need to mic up loud guitar amplifiers, and though it contains no effects or overdrive circuitry of its own, it works equally well for processing guitar effects pedals or the output from a guitar preamp to provide a 'miked up' sound suitable for recording direct to tape. During the course of the review, I also confirmed the manufacturer's claim that the Matchbox can double as a microphone preamplifier for high impedance microphones and, with the addition of a mic matching transformer, even low impedance microphones. This could be particularly useful for Portastudio users who have machines without channel insert points as it provides a means to insert a compressor between the mic and the recorder input; the mic feeds the Matchbox, the Matchbox feeds the compressor and the compressor feeds the recorder.
The unit is powered from a standard 9v, PP3 battery which is automatically switched off when the input is unplugged, but may also be powered from an optional AC adaptor. Line, microphone or instrument sources are connected to the (unbalanced) jack input socket, though speaker level sources are not catered for. The gain control optimises the input level, while the overall sensitivity is switched using the Line/Instruments switch. There's no peak level warning LED, but if distortion becomes evident, it's easy enough to back off the gain control a touch.
When the guitar EQ is switched in, the Treble control becomes active, the equaliser circuit itself apparently being based on the passive designs used in valve guitar amplifiers. Effectively, it is a three-band EQ where the low and mid settings are preset and just the treble is variable, but there's more to this circuit than just EQ, as it actually simulates the voicing of a typical guitar amplifier, adding brightness and low-end punch. The EQ may be used either with or without the speaker simulation to produce a wide range of clean guitar tones, ranging from mellow to glassy bright, and the fact that the unit has a high input impedance means that the original tone of the guitar is not compromised in any way.
For overdriven sounds such as effects pedals or preamps, switching the speaker simulator in provides a warm sound that remains bright without being fizzy. It should be stressed that the Matchbox doesn't actually create overdrive effects, but the speaker simulation means that ordinary distortion pedals can be recorded with no problem. In practice, the simulation is very close to the sound you'd expect from a miked amp, though a little fine tuning with your desk EQ can be used to customise it still further.
The output from the Matchbox is at line level on a stereo jack socket which can be used balanced or unbalanced; there is no XLR output or provision for phantom powering.
For my tests, the Matchbox was plugged directly into my mixing console line input, and aside from its obvious versatility, was impressed by how quiet the circuitry was, even with quite high amounts of treble boost added.
In practice, the unit functioned perfectly as a conventional DI box for use with bass guitars and so on, but it also proved to be gratifyingly flexible when used with 6-string electric guitar. Without using any other effects or processors, a very acceptable clean guitar sound is achievable, while the addition of a compressor yields a very classy result indeed. It also works well with acoustic guitar pickup systems, bass guitars and even keyboards, where the speaker simulator can be used to create more of a warm, analogue sound from digital instruments. A side-benefit is that the high frequency noise generated by some MIDI synths is reduced by the speaker simulation filtering.
Given that this is a very modestly priced unit with so many potential uses, I can see it becoming very popular in both home and professional recording studios. It costs little more than a regular DI box, yet can make a world of difference when recording electric guitar and also comes into its own as a universal problem solver for matching levels or adding EQ to sounds.
Award Matchbox £89.95 including VAT.
Award Design, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul White
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