Ever wanted to switch multiple amps into a single cabinet or load box? Now you can! In this video, we're looking at the Radial Headbone VT amp switcher—a nifty little unit for working with two amps. We'll check out what it does, how it works, and why you might want one for the studio. So let's jump in and take a look!
Hi, you’re here with Luke from GuitarIQ.com. In today's video, we’re checking out a little box of magic from the folks over at Radial Engineering. This unit allows us to switch multiple guitar amps into a single cabinet or load box. So in the video, we’re going to talk about what this product is, how it works, and why it might be beneficial for you. Then we're going to jump into a project in Logic to demonstrate just how useful something like this can be in terms of workflow and pulling some great guitar tones when we're recording in the studio. And then we're going to finish up with some final considerations that you need to think about before purchasing a unit like this.
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So, the unit we're looking at today is the Headbone VT by Radial. As I mentioned in the intro, this unit allows us to switch multiple amp heads into a single cabinet or load box. So you might have a beautiful, high-headroom, pristine Fender-style clean amp that you like for your clean sounds. But you might have a nice, low-watt, more aggressive Marshall-style amp that you like for those more saturated ‘edge-of-breakup’ sounds. In a traditional setup, you would have both amps set up completely independently. And you'd use some kind of a/b box on your pedalboard to switch between them. What the Headbone allows us to do, is to consolidate all of that into a single rig. So, we can customize our ultimate Frankenstein rig of doom. You might have two heads sitting on top of a 4x12 cabinet and use the Headbone to switch in and out both of those heads. For a smaller, more compact, setup you might just have a little 1x12 combo amp with a small lunchbox-style head sitting on top of it. And you can use the Headbone to switch the head and the amp section of the combo in and out using the speaker of the combo—without needing any kind of additional cabinet. So it's just a super handy solution for someone who's looking to incorporate multiple amps into their rig.
Before we talk about just how helpful something like this can be in the context of recording in the studio, I thought it might be helpful just to briefly cover how the unit all connects up with everything—just to give you a better idea of how it all works. So we can think of the Headbone as two different switching units in one. We have one a/b box that switches the frontend of our amps and one that switches the backend of our amps. But it all happens simultaneously at the press of one footswitch. So to connect to the unit, we plug our guitar (or our pedalboard) straight into the Headbone. Then we use the first two outputs on the unit to connect to our guitar amps (like we would with a standard a/b box). But then we use the speaker outputs of our amplifiers to connect back into the Headbone. And that leaves us with one additional output that we can then connect to our cabinet or load box of choice.
So, once we've connected it all up, it’s all very simple there's just one switch to switch between the amps. There’s no other settings to think about. There are, however, a couple of other little bells and whistles on the unit. Radial have supplied us with an additional output for a remote footswitch. So, although, hypothetically you could run the Headbone on your pedalboard, it doesn't really make a whole lot of sense to do that—given all the cabling that's coming in and out. It's much more logical to set the Headbone up where your amps are located, then run an additional footswitch to wherever you're located on stage and switch the unit from there. Additionally, Radial have given us two different inputs to use depending on our setup. They've given us a ‘buffered’ input that we can use if we have passive pickups and we're plugging our guitar straight into the unit. And they've given us a ‘non-buffered’ input to use, if we are using a pedalboard or plugging in with some kind of effects unit. In practice, though, you can just try out both inputs, see which one you like the sound of better, and use that one.
So hopefully, you’re getting a bit of a feel for how helpful something like the Headbone can be in a live situation if you're wanting to use multiple guitar amps. As I've alluded to, however, where this unit really shines for me is in the studio. And that's because, when we're recording, two different amps doesn't mean two different sounds. It means a lot more than that. If we head over to the amp rig that I've set up behind me, you can see that Amp A is a simpler, more boutique-style amplifier. But it gives us two different channels and it also gives us the option of bridging those channels together. So this one amp essentially gives us three different sounds to play with. If we switch over to Amp B, you can see that this is a much more modern-style amplifier. And this gives us four different channels. We have two different clean sounds and two different dirty sounds. So right off the bat, just using the amplifiers alone we have essentially seven different sounds to play with.
But where things get really interesting, is when we start incorporating pedals into the mix. Because one pedal through one channel of one amplifier, can sound very different than using that same pedal through a different channel of a different amplifier. And from there, we can chop and change different effects to stack different pedals differently into different channels. We can use different guitars and different pickup configurations. So very quickly those two core amplifiers give us a veritable buffet of guitar tones at our disposal. To help demonstrate what this might look like in the context of a real session, I’ve put together a small, little loop in Logic to check out—just to showcase what this looks like practically when we're dialing in guitar tones. So let's head over to the computer and check it out.
Okay, so here we are in Logic Pro. I’ve put together a simple, little eight-bar loop with four different guitar tracks—just to help showcase how quickly and easily you can get up and running with a bunch of different sounds using a product like the Headbone. So, before we start, I just wanted to note that there's no effects or mixing tricks going on here in post. This project is pretty much as simple as possible. All of the plugins you see here on the percussion track were just part of the default patch when I loaded this loop up. And the only plugin I'm applying here to the guitar tracks is this Impulse Response Loader to handle the cabinet simulation. Now, the reason I'm doing that, is because when I record most of the time I'm not actually miking a physical cabinet in the room. So, for example, the setup I have today is with the Headbone running into a Suhr Reactive Load. And what the Reactive Load does is take that speaker output and safely convert that into a line level signal that I can then feed into my DAW. From there, I can apply some impulse responses to emulate the sound of different microphones on different speaker cabinets. It's just a really handy way to record if you don't want a 4x12 cabinet blasting you in the back of your head when you're trying to lay down some guitar tracks!
Once I'd chosen my loop, the first track I went for was just this nice, clean, chorusy sound. So I used the Headbone to switch to Amp B. I selected one of the clean channels on that amp, dialed in a few sounds on my pedalboard, switched on some nice chorus. and this is what we have…
For my second guitar part, I just simply wanted to double the first guitar part with a different sound and pan them left and right—it’s one of the oldest guitar recording tricks in the book. So for track two, I used the Headbone to select Amp A which was set to a more kind of edge-of-breakup sound. I switched off the chorus, I dialed in some nice harmonic tremolo, and this is what it sounds like…
You can hear there, just with the press of a few different footswitches, and the dialing in of a few different knobs, we’re able to get up and running very quickly and easily with a nice sounding rhythm bed. So for the third track, I wanted to complement that with a kind of ambient pad that lingered in the background. So for this, I just switched again over to Amp B. I kept it on the clean sound that it was already on (I didn't change any settings on the amp). I just dialed in some nice, ambient sounds on my pedalboard. And this is what we came up with…
And finally, for the last guitar part here, I wanted to add a bit of melodic movement on top with a lead line. So I used the Headbone to switch back to Amp A, which was giving us that nice kind of edge-of-breakup sound. I switched off all the ambient effects on my pedalboard, the reverbs and the synth sounds. And I just left some delay on and used a booster to drive the amp a bit harder—just to get some nice gain and saturation out of the amp. And this is what we came up with. I’ll let this loop a couple of times, just so you can hear everything in full. So here we go…
So, that was a slightly long-winded, yet hopefully poignant way to demonstrate how with the Headbone VT in my setup, I’m able to get up and running with a bunch of different sounds pretty quickly and easily. I’m not setting up different amplifiers. I’m not plugging in and out different heads. I'm not miking up different speaker cabinets. It's all there ready to go at the press of a few buttons. And this is the whole point, we’re not spending hours and hours dialing in different sounds to get a good tone. We can focus all of our time, effort, and attention on the most important part—which is getting a good performance. So I’m really hoping that in walking you through how I'm using the Headbone in my setup, it might inspire some ideas for how you might use something like this in your rig at home.
Before we finish up, I just wanted to cover a couple of additional considerations you need to keep in mind before purchasing the Headbone VT. The first of which, is that the unit is designed to work with tube amps that are rated 100 watts and lower. So that covers most of the type of amps we're likely to use in the studio. But it does mean if you have a couple of raging 200-watt behemoth heads, that this probably isn't the solution for you. And just on the back of that point, when you're connecting up the Headbone, you want to make sure that all of your gear is playing nicely together. So if you have a 16 Ohm cabinet, you want to make sure that both of your amps can run at 16 Ohms. Likewise, if you have an 8 Ohm load box, you want to make sure that both amps can run at 8 Ohms—just so everything is playing nicely and acting as it should.
And the final point I wanted to make, is that the Headbone really isn't designed to be used in conjunction with the effects loop of your amplifiers. And the reason for that is, when the active amp gets switched to the cabinet or the load box you're using, the bypassed amp gets switched to an internal ‘dummy load’. However, that dummy load, although it's designed to safely handle the amplifier, it’s not designed to see an amplifier with signals still running through it. And the danger is, if we have our effects loop connected to that amplifier, when that amplifier gets put in bypass, there might still be delays and reverbs (or even a looper) still feeding into the power amp section of that amplifier. And that could potentially damage the amp.
Now, for a lot of people that's not going to matter because they don't use their effects loop. For some people, that might be something they really need to consider because they love using their effects loop. I just wanted to make sure I covered that so you understand that that's how the unit's designed to work—with all of your effects running into the front end of the amplifier. Radial do actually make an additional unit that you can use in tandem with the Headbone that allows you to switch your effects loop safely, which might be worth considering. Of course, in a studio situation, all of those types of effects we might use in the effects loop of an amp (like delays and reverb) we’re often applying in post anyway, when it comes to mixing. So for me, it’s certainly not a deal breaker. But certainly something that some of you will need to consider.
But, all up, this is a fantastic little unit. It's smaller than I thought it would be before I got it into the studio. It’s super well built and really sturdy. And I have no doubt that it will adequately handle all of the rigors of the road. It’s from a really reputable brand like Radial, so we know that it's kitted out with really high-quality parts and components. In use, I have not noticed any kind of tone change, or tone loss, or anything like that compared to when I wasn't using the unit. So there's some peace of mind for you audiophiles out there. So, yeah, a unit I definitely recommend checking out if you're looking for a compact switching solution for using multiple amplifiers. And that is my look at the Headbone VT by Radial Engineering.
Well, that’s it for the video. Thank you for watching. A big shout out to the team over at Ambertech Australia for sending me out the Headbone to feature in a few videos. To clarify, this was not a paid promotion or a sponsored advertisement in any way. No money has changed hands. All thoughts and opinions are my own, as usual. Just a reminder, if you did like the video please do all the things: click on that Like button, subscribe to the channel, leave your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below. That really helps us out, it helps the videos get exposure, and it helps us to produce more content like this. And finally, again, if you are interested in upscaling your playing skills then I encourage you to head over to GuitarIQ.com to check out some of the great books and learning resources we have waiting for you over there. That’s it from me. Thank you for watching and I hope to see you in the next video!