27 October 2012

Home Studio: Palmer PDI-03 Speaker Simulator

When I lived in an small flat, full of neighbors, with paper-like walls, there was no way to play even with the smallest of the amps, without disturbing my neighbors. If I roll off the volume, the sound  lacks dynamics and any possible mojo, making me boring the session and frustrated. If I raise the level, I start to play very shy, avoiding a high attack that can sound so loud to disturb so, I am feeling frustrated again.

What to do, then?.
Well, I knew that that was the possibility to use a dummy-load unit to minimize the loudness of the sound of the speaker, while the tubes inside the amp were working hard so, I did some research and had the conclusion that the Palmer PDI-03 is probably the most tone-preservative dummy load till that moment.

And that's my review of such a studio gear.


Palmer has a lot of Direct Injection and Speaker Simulator units but, probably the one that gave them their well established name was the PDI-03 unit.
It comes in 1U Rack size, seems to be well crafted and with quality components.

A couple of knobs on the front (Filter Volume and Line Volume) and a couple of switches to emulate the sound of different cabs.

On rear panel, connectors for amp's head input, a speaker-thru output, 4 line level outputs (without speaker emulation) and 1 filtered (speaker emulation) output in two formats (balanced XLR and unbalanced TR jack).

This allows you to connect your amp's head without hearing the speaker, if you don't link your speaker to the Speaker Thru output, for a silent recording. But, you can also use it for recording, while hearing your amp at full throttle with that Speaker Thru output.

For direct recording, you have two possibilities and both can be used together.
The filtering output is delivering mic levels, as any traditional XLR connection and, therefore, needs of some pre-amp in order to amplify its signal level. The filtered output signal level is being controlled with the Filtered Volume knob and, it's speaker emulation is voiced with the two switches, that provide 9 different types of cab emulations.
The Line outputs are 4 and, share same raw signal, as it comes from the head and without the speaker emulation and, at Line signal levels, what needs an adequate pre-amp for such a levels (around -10dB). The level of those outputs is regulated with the Line Volume knob and, the other two switches have no effect, since there is no speaker emulation there. It can be used with an additional Speaker Emulation software in your DAW, anyway.

Everything together gives a big versatility to this unit, allowing silent recording with up to nine different speaker cabinet emulations and, providing both, speaker emulation output and raw output to your mix console or audio card.

How it sounds

The two volume controls are very interesting to maintain the input level on your preamp below overs. The raw sound of the line input can be recorded in a track and then, re-cab'd with the help of an Speaker Simulator plugin, of those that work with impulse files for a more realistic result. I tried it with Amplitube 3, just switching on the cab simulation section of the software and, switching off everything else (amplifier and stop boxes simulations).

The simulated output of the Palmer works specially well with overdrived or distorted sounds and, the different voices help to give to the final result the sensations between an small combo loading a 10" speaker up to a 4x12" cab.
Results aren't so accurate when playing clean stuff. For clean work I would prefer other solution instead. It seems that other simulators, as the Power Brake by Marshall, can work better in those cases.

Even that the Palmer unit was probably the best available Speaker Simulator for a long while, nowadays we can find some other interesting units around. I personally changed this Palmer PDI-03 with a TAD Silencer that, in my opinion, works better for cleans. But, I recognize that the PDI-03 has a better control, because of its dedicated volume knob and, that the format of the Silencer isn't the right one to stack it in a Rack unit but, to lay over the amp or table, in any case.

Note: This test was done during year 2008 and published in my old Spanish blog so, I am revisiting this entry here.

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