If you've listened to my latest podcast episode, then you heard me going on and on about the Fryette Power Station 2. I LOVE this unit and want more people to hear about it, so I decided to write a blog post review all about it. I'll be very thorough about the pros, cons, what it is, how it works, why it works, and why you need one. I want to be thorough because this is a deep unit with a lot of functionality, so let's get started.
THE FRYETTE POWER STATION II - A REVIEW
FIRST OF ALL - WHAT IS IT?
The Fryette Power Station II is an "integrated reactance amplifier," also a "variable reactive load and tube power amplifier" all bundled into one box. What does that mean? At its core this unit is a power attenuator, which is basically a safe volume control that goes in between your amp and speaker cabinet, allowing you to drop the output level of your amp before it hits the speaker. This gives users the flexibility to set the amp as desired and then simply adjust the output level to taste. The idea is to build a "better master volume."
We've had attenuators for decades, but they always seem to have issues. According to Fryette, they believe these primary issues are: 1) Lack of Transparency, 2) Limited Controls, and 3) Loss of dynamic amplifier performance. I would agree; I've tried a number of attenuators over the years and I've never been happy with the results. They seem to make the tone mushy, undefined, and it drastically changes the character of overdriven sounds. Many believe this is because most power attenuators are simply resistive, meaning they use a simple passive network of resistors to reduce the volume of your amplifier. This is great in theory - simple components, minimal added circuitry, no power required - sounds great right? Well, wrong. The problem is that a guitar speaker is not a static device; it reacts directly with the output impedance of your amplifier and does not have a fixed resistance throughout the frequency spectrum.
Why is a reactive load different? A reactive load attempts to compensate for the differences in impedance and the natural speaker-amp interaction with a completely different circuit technology. Essentially, your amp thinks it's connected to a speaker, and reacts as such. In my opinion, reactive loads are the only way to go for amp attenuation; nothing comes close to the feel and tone.
HOW DOES IT SOUND?
To my ear, this is the best sounding attenuator/reactive load box I've ever tried. Don't get me wrong - there are some great reactive load boxes on the market. The Suhr is great, but doesn't quite have the same flexibility as this unit. The Universal Audio OX would be the biggest competitor in my opinion, but even still, I still think the Fryette sounds a little bit more natural to my ear. The UA is also more geared towards recording direct and using UA's cabinet impulses and effects, which is cool too. But for me, for my money and for my studio, the Fryette has the best sound quality and feature set for what I need. So let's take a closer look at the many features of the PS-II.
WHAT CAN IT DO?
Here's what I'm really excited to share with you. There are so many uses for this box, it took me almost an hour just to write this next section. It's extensive.
1. It can act as a safe speaker load. This means you don't need a speaker cabinet connected. As you probably know, a tube amp must be connected to a load at all times to prevent damage to the amplifier. This is the basis for a lot of other functions you can perform with the device. Not only that, but it allows you to connect any input impedance to any output impedance. This means as long as the unit is in OPERATE mode and the switches are set appropriately, you can connect an 8 ohm head to a 4 ohm cabinet without any issue. I have a lot of amps and cabinets, and now I can use any amp with any cab, and I couldn't do that before!
2. It acts as an attenutor. This is the bread and butter of the unit, allowing you to turn down the volume of your amp to a more reasonable level. Not only is this easy on the ears, it opens up a world of flexibility.
First, it means you can crank your amps to eleven and then simply lower the volume. This works for high wattage amps but just as well on lower wattage amps. The unit can take up to 150W at 8 ohms and 200W at 4 and 16 ohms. Suffice it to say you'll be fine with just about any amp on the market today. You can drive a 100W amp into a 240W 412 cabinet at conversation volume, or you can drive it into a tiny cabinet with a single 30W 10" speaker without fear of blowing it up. That's huge flexibility.
Second, it allows you to fine tune your sound with two tone switches and two tone knobs. For the low end switches you have flat, warm, and deep, and for the high end you have flat, brite, and edge. You can also fine tune the tone with the presence and depth knobs. This tone circuit allows you to adjust the frequency response at a given volume. Typically speaking, the higher your output volume, the less likely you are to need these circuits cranked up. When attenuating quite a bit, they can help compensate for the low volume in tone and feel. Truly a genius addition to this unit.
Third, the volume knob has a range switch - for high and low input volumes. This gives you much more fine control over the exact output of your amplifer. If you're pushing into the Power Station really hot, you can select the "HI" range switch and you'll have a usable level from virtually silent to loud. If you're running a quieter amp in, the "LO" range switch is your best bet. One big benefit of the Fryette over the UA Ox and other competitors: the level control is continuous—not stepped—so you can get make very fine adjustments in volume.
3. It acts as a standalone poweramp. The the line-in jack on the back will accept any line level source, such as another amplifier preamp, an iPhone, a keyboard, an FX processor, some piece of analog gear, you name it. You can now use this device as a standalone poweramp section. Want to try the preamp of your Peavey 5150 through the Fryette? Simply run out of the FX loop of your 5150 and into the line-in of the Fryette. Want to reamp a vocal through a guitar amp? Just run out of your DAW into the line-in. The options are truly endless.
4. It has an FX loop built in. Now any amp can have an effects loop. Many of my amps don't have built-in FX loops, and even though I rarely need them, it's still a fantastic feature to have for those that do. Amps that traditionally never have FX loops can now have them. There's also a HI and LO range switch for the FX loop which allows you to interface with pedalboards and guitar devices in the LO position, as well as line level devices in the HI position.
5. It has a DI output. This is a transformer isolated, balanced line output with an XLR jack. This allows you to record the output of your amps straight into the DAW for use with Impulse Responses, or to use with other cabinet simulator devices from TwoNotes et al.
6. It has a dedicated line out. According to Fryette, this is a frequency compensated output that takes the signal from the load amplifier's speaker output and makes it available to drive any external device, such as a mixer, a recording input, an interface, another power amplifier, or signal processor.
7. It has dual speaker outputs. These jacks are wired in parallel, and they allow you to connect two cabinets to be driven by a single head. You simply need to do a little math in your head before connecting. For example, if you're running an 16 ohm head into an 16 ohm cab, you'd simply set the switch to 16 ohm input and 16 ohm output. Easy, right? If you wanted to connect a second cabinet, you just divide the number of cabinets (2) by the impedance of each. So if you want to use two 8 ohm cabinets, you'd set the output impedance selector to 4 ohm. Two 16 ohm cabinets requires an 8 ohm output impedance. NOTE: It's very important that both cabinets are the same impedance.
8. It has an output lowpass filter. Fryette seems to think this feature will be left off most of the time, but in my opinion, it's an awesome feature to help tame the high fizziness of many modern speakers. A lowpass filter essentially just rolls off some high end, in this case, above 5kHz. It affects the direct output AS WELL AS the speaker output. This is really useful for taming a little bit of fizz on a cabinet. As speakers have gotten better over the years, they've also gotten brighter, fizzier, and a bit harsher. This is nice in one way, because it's easier to remove brightness than to add it back. But other times, it leads to fizzy high frequencies. This switch is nice and subtle, so don't be afraid to use it.
9. It can be used to boost up low wattage amplifiers. Don't adjust your screen. Let me say that again, nice and slow. It can be used to boost up low wattage amplifiers! This means you can run a 15W Fender combo into it, and then crank it UP beyond 15 watts and slam it into a 412 cabinet! This is one of the coolest features of this unit, because it now opens up a variety of tones you've never heard before. Distortion/Overdrive is a product of lots of different stages - the guitar, the pedals, the amplifier preamp, the amplifier power amp, and the speaker cabinet. Typically in low wattage amps, they use low wattage speakers, like a 15 Watt combo with a 30W speaker. Cranking the amp into that internal speaker gets you one sound, but cranking it into a 412 with high headroom is a totally different sound. This is proving to be very useful in the studio, because all of my tiny amps now have a myriad of cabinet options they never had before.
10. It can operate in standalone "silent mode." Silent mode allows you to use the PS2 as a silent, adjustable reactive load with no speaker cabinet connected. In this mode you don't even have to plug in the power station. The voicing switches, LPF, FX loop, Balanced and Unbalanced Line outputs all operate with no AC power applied! Basically this means you just need to plug your amp into the "amp in" jack, and then use the appropriate line out jacks as needed!
Of course this unit has the standard stuff like a ground lift, a protective fuse, a rugged steel chassis (with optional rack ears), and an internal fan to keep the unit cool. But MY GOD! Look at that list of features!
WHY YOU NEED ONE
If you haven't figured it out by now, the number of things you can do with this device is staggering. Truly, it has already become a staple in my studio. In the past 15 years of being a guitarist, I never imagined having this much flexibility and control over my amp collection from a single unit. Oh yeah, did I mention - THIS THING IS ONLY $699 USD?!?!?!? Holy cow. You can barely get a decent amp for $699 and this thing gives all of my amps a dozen more functions.
Aside from the usefulness of the DI output, the FX loop, and so on, it's really important to note that recording a loud sound with a less sensitive mic (like a dynamic mic) is a totally different thing than recording a quiet sound with a sensitive mic (like a condenser). I now have no fear of using any microphone on any guitar sound without fear of damaging the microphone. I have some very expensive boutique or vintage microphones that I've always been afraid to use on a loud amp, just because I don't want to risk any damage to the mic. This unit has removed that fear and opened up an entire world of mic'ing options with any mic, multiple cabinets, and the DI output.
I was going to put a pros and cons list, but honestly, I've yet to find many cons with the unit. Really the only one I could come up with was that the unit itself is physically a little noisy - not on the output signal, but I mean literally the box itself makes noise. HOWEVER, I'd like to point out that virtually all reactive loads make a little bit of mechanical noise, and the fan inside of this unit is for your own protection and to help the unit have a long lifespan. Truly, this isn't even really a con, because it's still quieter than your guitar amp, and even if you're attenuating a lot, you can just move the PS-II farther away from the cabinet and microphone. Problem solved.
Seriously. If you're an audio engineer who records a lot of guitars, or a guitarist who records yourself, you need this in your toolbox. It expands the options of your amp/cab combinations, it expands your amp settings options, it expands your recording options, it expands your mic'ing options, it expands your tonal options...all in all this device rocks. I cannot recommend it enough.
THANK YOU FRYETTE FOR THIS AMAZING PIECE OF GEAR!
DISCLAIMER: In no way am I associated with Fryette, Steven Fryette Designs, Sound City Amps, or any other related brands. I didn't receive anything for writing this review. Zero. I truly love this unit and wanted more people to know about it. That's right, I spent almost two hours writing a review of this unit because it's THAT GOOD.
Kendal Osborne is the Host of the Recording Lounge Podcast and the Owner / Head Engineer at The Closet Studios