Digital amp modelling has come a long way, but some guitarists still miss the ‘feel’ of a real amp on stage. Enter the Gemini 2...
With the rise of hardware and software amp/cab/mic modelling systems in home and recording environments came the desire to find ways to take those systems out on live gigs, as replacements for conventional amp and cab setups. To succeed on stage, you’re going to need some manner of full–range, flat–response (‘FRFR’ in the new jargon) loudspeaker system to allow you, your bandmates and your audience to hear what you’re doing. If the gig is big enough, your PA system should do nicely for the audience, and the chances are that you and your bandmates will have floor monitors or in–ears. However, in small gigs, we usually have to rely on our backline to cover ourselves and the rest of the band and, more often than not, to take care of the audience as well.
The most common implementation of an FRFR system is a two–way PA cabinet. However, as guitarists, we are accustomed to hearing our sound as a coherent signal apparently coming from the centre of a loudspeaker cabinet, and not as the separate bass and mid/high–frequency sources from ‘speaker and horn’ PA cabinets. Also (and this is important) we want our amps to look like guitar amps are supposed to look — cool and familiar.
A few companies are presently squaring this particular circle by offering FRFR cabs that have the look and feel of a standard guitar cabinet. California’s Mission Engineering have now raised the bar considerably in the FRFR stakes with the release of the Gemini 2. Conceived and designed by the company’s President Paul Shedden, the Gemini 2 is a stereo, 2x12–inch powered guitar loudspeaker cabinet with its own onboard audio interface, designed specifically for use with hardware and software amp modelling systems.
From the front, the Gemini 2 looks like a completely normal, black Tolex–covered 2x12 guitar cab made of three–quarter–inch Baltic birch plywood. There’s the usual strap handle bolted to the top, four feet on the bottom and, unusually, four feet on the end so that you can orient the cab vertically. Its black, basket-weave grille cloth carries Mission Engineering’s logo in the top right corner, and that’s it — no illuminated logos, indicator lights, nothing.
Things become a little less normal at the rear, where the back panel is divided horizontally into two parts. The bottom two-thirds carries an IEC power connector, switch and fuse block at bottom left, and a recessed, centrally positioned panel of controls and connections. The presence of three XLR/jack ‘combi’ sockets is a bit confusing until you read the manual carefully. Input 1 takes a mono signal on XLR or jack, but will also accept a stereo signal on a TRS jack. If your modeller has separate left and right outputs, you’ll need a two–TS–to–one–TRS (insert–style) cable to be able to connect to the Gemini 2 in stereo. Confusingly, the ‘stereo’ output uses a TS mono jack to feed the right channel’s signal to a second Gemini 2 cabinet (both cabinets need to be set to mono using the stereo/mono switch for this to work properly). Input 2 is the input to the Gemini 2’s onboard USB audio interface (more on that later), which connects to your computer via the sturdy-looking USB 2.0 port, which is something else you don’t normally find on the back of a guitar cab. Of the two control knobs, one sets the cabinet’s output volume level and the other takes care of the onboard Mission EmPower active crossover, which can progressively tailor the cabinet’s high–frequency and mid–range response to mimic that of a conventional guitar cabinet. Mind you, there are still no indicator lights.
According to its spec sheet, inside the Gemini 2 cabinet you’ll find two 110 Watt stereo ‘digital’ PWM amplifiers and two 12–inch low–frequency Mission loudspeakers, each with a coaxially mounted, titanium–domed one–inch high–frequency driver, all under the control of a Mission EmPower two–way active crossover with variable EQ. This would appear to indicate that each driver, LF or HF, is being fed by 55 Watts of PWM power amplification. The spec sheet gives 103dBA for both dynamic range and signal-to-noise ratio, but there’s no figure given for the SPL produced by the cabinet, nor for its frequency bandwidth.
An on–board, Class 2–compliant USB interface handles stereo audio streams at up to 24-bit/192kHz, allowing the Gemini 2 to connect directly to Mac and PC computer DAWs and software modelling programs. The interface is supported natively by Mac OS 10.6.4 and above, but full Windows functionality requires an additional driver which can be downloaded from the Mission Engineering web site.
Once you’ve got the Gemini 2’s interface set up with your computer, you can plug your guitar into input 2 and not only access your favourite DAW or modelling software, but also, since the interface supports multiple audio streams, play along to recorded music on your computer or practise with an online tutorial. An optional Bluetooth interface (unavailable for review at this time) allows you to replay audio from your tablet or smartphone for practice purposes.
First off, you’ll need to be reasonably fit to wrestle the Gemini’s 28.5kg into position unaided. With only one strap handle, it isn’t going to be much fun carting it from van to stage. I’ve never understood why a manufacturer would make a heavy 2x12 cab that didn’t have a bar handle on either side and/or two strap handles on the top. I wouldn’t fancy carting the Gemini 2 up a flight of stairs on my own.
Even with the volume all the way down, switching on the Gemini 2 produces a loud crack that makes me cringe every time that I hear it. There’s also the sound of an onboard fan to contend with, which, to my mind, makes the Gemini 2 more suitable for practice, rehearsal and stage use than for studio work.
Installing the Gemini 2’s USB audio interface proved simple enough under both Mac OS and Windows. However, the Gemini software manual doesn’t mention that, once the installation of the downloaded driver for xCore USB Audio 2.0 has completed, Windows then has to install the XMOS–XS1–UB MFA driver from Windows Update.
Judged purely as a playback device for recorded music over USB, the Gemini 2 produces a good performance that is well suited to home practice and rehearsal sessions, as well as for playing backing tracks or interval music during a gig. Hook it up to a software guitar rig or modelling preamp, though, and the Gemini 2 comes to into its own.
Clean, crunchy and distorted amp and speaker emulations are reproduced with a real sense of having an actual amp behind you. Volume–wise, it can get up pretty loud, and you certainly won’t have any problems being heard over the drummer and bassist at a pub gig. Once you’re at gig volume levels, the EmPower control comes into its own by allowing you to roll off some top end to reduce any harshness that you might hear without affecting the rest of your sound. This facility also comes in useful if you’re practising through the Gemini 2, as sitting close to the cab can make things feel a little too bright at times.
If you’re into extended-range and baritone guitars you’ll find, as I did, that the Gemini 2 handles these without any nasty flabbiness. I tune my baritone guitar down to ‘A’ so that my sixth string is the same as the third string of a bass guitar. The Gemini 2 had absolutely no problem in reproducing that pitch cleanly at any volume level.
As well as allowing you to enjoy the panorama of stereo effects, ping-pong echoes, Leslie emulations and the like in the comfort of your own home, one thing I really like about the Gemini 2’s stereo operation is that — if your software or hardware allows you to — you can run a pair of different amp/cab emulations side–by–side, which, to my mind, is much more useful when playing live than using a bunch of stereo effects.
One thing about the Gemini 2 that I am less enamoured of, though, is the rear–mounted control panel. More often than not, adjusting the volume level or setting the EmPower crossover has to be done by blindly reaching around the back of the cab. Detented pots might improve matters somewhat as they would make setting and comparing levels more repeatable, if no less awkward.
Overall, I think that Mission Engineering have got the Gemini 2 just about right from almost every aspect. Performance–wise, it looks great, sounds great and delivers a good playing experience. If Mission could find a quiet fan, lighter loudspeakers, proper handles and position detented volume and EmPower controls on the front or even the side of the cab, then, in my humble opinion, they’d have a really superb FRFR guitar cabinet on their hands. However, given the performance of which the Gemini 2 is capable, none of these drawbacks would be absolute deal-breakers for me.
Although, in absolute terms, the Gemini 2 is not the cheapest active FRFR solution available, its stereo capability and onboard USB audio interface do add the extra value necessary to make it a cost–effective approach to amplifying an amp/cab modelling system. The fact that it can happily handle amplified acoustic instruments, keyboards or bass might also make the Gemini 2 attractive in a teaching situation, where, with the right setup, the teacher could appear in one channel and the student in the other.
If you’re in the market for an active FRFR cabinet, then you should check out the Gemini 2 — you’re not going to be disappointed.
If you like the idea of a Gemini 2, but don’t need stereo, Mission’s Gemini 1 offers the same facilities in a mono package at a substantial discount. If you don’t need either stereo operation or an onboard USB audio interface, there are other FRFR cabinet options available from the likes of Atomic Amps (who have an EU Web shop) and, from the UK, Matrix Amplification’s Q12 and Laney’s IRT–X.
- Great stereo sound.
- Onboard USB audio interface.
- EmPower lets you morph between FRFR and guitar cab responses.
- Looks like a regular guitar cab.
- It’s rather loud, actually.
- It’s heavy and has only one strap handle.
- Loud transient at switch–on.
- Internal fan is noisy.
- Controls are round the back.
- None of these issues would stop me from buying one.
A high–quality, cost–effective solution to the problems usually encountered when amplifying software and hardware amp/guitar modelling systems in a live situation. It looks great, sounds great and delivers a good playing experience.
Guitar Guitar +44 (0)800 456 1959
Mission Engineering +1 866 333 1828