Sequis have launched a somewhat simpler and less costly version of their Motherload dummy load/speaker simulator, called the Motherload Elemental.
The idea of a combined dummy load, speaker emulator and speaker attenuator to enable powerful guitar amps — especially those with valve output stages — to be DI'd for recording or feeding into a PA is very appealing. The only problem is that in most cases the resulting sound doesn't really resemble what you'd actually get from miking your amp. One solution that comes extremely close to getting it right is the Sequis Motherload, and now the company have launched a somewhat simpler and less costly version called the Motherload Elemental, which retails at $799 in the US. This retains the same principles and concepts as the 'full‑fat' model, but offers fewer adjustable parameters. The Elemental is available in 4, 8 and 16Ω versions, and even a 2Ω version can be built to special order (but 8Ω is, of course, the most common speaker impedance).
Supplied in a robust polyurethane carry case, the Motherload Elemental is built into a sturdy steel casing, with four chicken‑head pointer knobs and a switch on the front panel. On the rear panel are an XLR socket, a couple of push‑button switches and no fewer than nine jack sockets... but in order to preserve some sense of mystery and anticipation, the purpose of (most of) these will be revealed later in the review. There's no power socket, because no power is needed — the Motherload Elemental is basically a passive filter, with an input impedance of 8Ω and the ability to dissipate the full power output from amplifiers rated at up to 100W. In fact, the load is very generously rated in this respect, as many tube amps produce more power than their rating suggests, especially when used with heavy distortion. The Elemental is designed with a more than adequate safety margin to accommodate this.
The speaker input for when the internal load is required should be connected via a speaker cable (not a screened guitar lead!). When using this socket, the internal load takes the place of your speaker, so there's no need for any speaker to be connected — although you can, if you wish, connect up to two speakers to the rear‑panel Speaker 1 and Speaker 2 jacks, as long as the total load doesn't fall below 8Ω. There's a front‑panel knob and a high/low switch that's used to adjust the level going out to the speakers, so you can get a fully wound‑up amp sound at a much lower level (adjustable right down to zero) for smaller gigs or for studio use. These attenuated outputs are perfect for monitoring or for enabling you to mic up a small, good‑sounding cab — a useful arrangement in the studio — but if you want to use your amp as normal on stage with its speaker cab and also take a DI feed to the house PA rather than using a microphone, then the Thru, In and Out sockets are the way to go, as the 'to speaker' signal is not affected in any way. These jacks enable an amp of any output impedance to be linked through to its speaker so that the Motherload Elemental can create a DI feed without using its dummy load. A pair of LEDs, one green and one red, serve as signal present and 'overcooked' warnings.
The XLR and balanced jack outputs carry the speaker-emulated sound and are at a nominal level for connecting directly to a mixer or studio preamplifier. The XLR output level can be adjusted on the front panel using the XLR Out knob, while the jack output is always available at full level (it is not affected by the front-panel level control). Separate ground-lift switches are provided for the screens on each of these two outputs, and there's also a chassis ground terminal. Other rear‑panel jacks provide a send and return for effects devices operating at a nominal line level. A further socket labelled Remote Shifter is not mentioned in the user guide, but a phone call to the company revealed that it's there to support an additional — and as yet undisclosed — accessory product due for release at a future date.
So far so good, but the way a speaker cabinet is designed can have a huge effect on the final sound, so how does a box like this go about emulating them all? Of course it can't, but it does provide the user with two very valuable controls that allow the sound of the cabinet emulation to be adjusted over a usefully wide range. One knob controls the timbre of the cabinet‑emulation filter, so that when fully anti‑clockwise it produces a 4x12 type of sound, whereas fully clockwise it is more akin to a single vintage 12‑inch speaker. Many useful settings are available between these limits, and there's a further modifier knob labelled Distortion. What this does is create the tonal changes that occur in real life when you position a mic either close to the centre of a speaker or close to the edge. It doesn't actually add distortion, but rather allows you to change the character of the sound in a way that's most noticeable when amp or pedal distortion is being used. By juggling these two controls you should be able to get close to what you need. At the 4x12 cabinet end of the control range, the bass response of the speaker‑emulation circuitry provides plenty of depth for bass guitar recording and could well win over those who prefer the richer, more complete sound of a miked bass amp and cabinet to the cleaner, more analytical sound of a DI. The Motherload Elemental's speaker‑emulated output combines particularly well with a conventional DI signal as the two are inherently time‑aligned — unlike a conventional, 'real' speaker and a DI.
The secret of a good speaker emulator is for the load to behave like a true loudspeaker rather than as a pure resistance. In other words, it needs to be inductive like the voice coil of a speaker, because the reactance of the voice coil and the back electro-motive force (EMF) it produces affects the way that the output stage of an amplifier — especially a valve amplifier — behaves. Without it you lose the tactile response of playing through a real amplifier, and it's also difficult to replicate the low-end 'thunk' of a real cab without it. Fortunately, reactive loads and filters are exactly how the Motherload Elemental works its magic, and I can confirm that the sound gets very close to that of the amp to which it is connected. Many speaker emulators either dull the high end or leave it sounding 'fizzy', but this one sounds very natural and lively. Equally importantly, it still feels right when you play, and the sound seems to retain its 'weight', which is rarely the case with modelling devices.
As with moving a real mic, the changes between the centre and edge tone are well replicated, with the most direct, presence‑laden sound in the centre position. The cabinet type adjustment is also brightest and most aggressive in its counterclockwise 4x12 position, and morphs to something warmer and darker as you move clockwise. Of course you can't cover all cabinet eventualities using just two knobs — but they'll get you in the right ballpark, and you can always add further EQ on the desk if you need it.
I've used a lot of speaker emulators/loads, and at least in the case of my ancient Fender Class A Champ, the Motherload Elemental comes as close as I've heard to the actual sound of the amp with a mic in front of it. It might not be as adjustable as the original Motherload, but for many users that might be seen as a benefit, as it makes getting a good sound very straightforward. For the guitarist who wants to be able to DI the sound of his or her own amp, whether on stage or in the studio, the Motherload Elemental does a great job with the minimum of fuss. Paul White