Musician's Friend Stupid Deal of the Day!

By Andy Z - December 2003

We POD users can get very passionate about our little red bean. We are always thinking about how we can improve our sound. While many POD users try to use it in live situations, they usually end up with a solution that sounds good, but treats the sound as more of an amplified version of what is programmed. What seems to be missing most of the time, is not necessarily the sound of a tube amp, but the feel of it. We miss the compression, the tube sag, the ability to push the amp and work the speakers. So when we found out there was a way to make the greatest thing since sliced bread even more usable, our ears were at full attention.

Enter the Reactor 112 from Atomic Amplifiers. The portable and easy to use amplifier is a means to take our prized tones used for recording and authentically translate them for live use. The Reactor 112, which has the look of a classic combo amp, sports a custom designed 1x12 speaker, a tuned ported cabinet and an all tube power section. One thing that makes the amp so different is its ability to house the POD (or other brand of modeler or preamp) securely into its cabinet. To whet our appetites even further, the product was designed by legendary New York amp guru Harry Kolbe. The amp itself is surprisingly light, well balanced and easy to carry. We have been informed that it is simple to chain 2 Reactor 112s together for a killer stereo setup.

Well, after having many conversations with Tom King, the president of Atomic, we learned he was going to be in Los Angeles for a few days. We invited Tom to join us for a "real world" challenge to see if the Reactor 112 could live up to everything we had been hearing. I must say that Tom is an honest, super nice guy and great musician … a real regular "Joe" that had a great idea and made it happen. It felt like we had known him for years. So I rounded up some of the Institute of Noise / Line 6 User Group members to give the Atomic a bit of a workout. It was a well-rounded and diverse group of players who play everything from delta slide blues to raging speed metal.

The guitars on hand to demo the amp, were a Les Paul Deluxe, Fat Strat and a Variax 500. We also had a PODxt and a POD 2.0 to see how the Reactor 112 would react to different sources. We started out by having Tom demo the amp using his PODxt and Les Paul. Most of his patches were classic rock and metal type tones. It didn't take very long to forget this amp is rated at only 18 watts. We had the PODxt output level on 3-4 and it was loud. If I didn't know better myself, I would have sworn the amp was closer to the 30 watt range. The 250 watt speaker is designed to compliment the cabinet and power amp. The sound is very tight and focused. We wanted more now!

After getting the official demo, it was our turn now! Since we were using one of the prototypes that didn't have their new, universal docking system, it took a minute or two to change Tom's PODxt with my own. The wiring, however, is very easy and accessible. All we needed to do was connect the POD's inputs and outputs to the Reactor's wiring harness then connect the FVBSB floorboard through a cut out in back and plug the guitar into the top of the Reactor 112, and we were ready to rock! Even though the amp is mono, it handles the stereo effects the same way the Line 6 Flextone 1x12 would. The effects still sound full and not dry or unbalanced.

One of the great benefits of the amp is that all the patches I had setup in Direct/Studio mode on the PODxt required little or no tweaking. The clean to crunchy patches didn't need a thing. Only a few of the high gain patches needed a slight EQ adjustment, where I had to roll back a bit of bass, push the treble and slightly adjust mids. We had the volume up anywhere from 4 to 7 and it held it's own. The clean patches were just brilliant sounding with just the right blend of crystalline and warmth, almost three dimensional with lots of presence. The edgy and crunchy patches were very tight and focused. We even tilted the cab back a few degrees to get it off the floor and aimed it right at us and it still sounded smooth; not one bit of harshness. The lead patches were thick and fat. We used the all guitars on hand to get as much variation as possible.

Now it came time to throw in an obstacle or two. We got on the drum kit and really started pounding loud on it, while playing through the different patches. We moved about the room, behind other people, on the far side of the drum kit, behind it and it still held it's own volume wise. I can't imagine anyone not being able to hear this amp in any productive, real world rehearsal situation.

Another thing we tried, was setting up the piezo-acoustic model and a bypassed amp model to try out the acoustic simulations on the Variax. Even though we used the ¼ inch guitar cable and not the XLR out of the Variax footswitch, it still performed very well. It would be extremely usable if you needed to get an acoustic type of sound out the amp.

Finally, we swapped out the PODxt for with the POD 2.0. Again, we were incredibly surprised how well the sound translated. Even though the effects were much better on the PODxt, the basic tone was phenomenal all the way around. The Atomic would be a welcome addition to any POD user wanting to use their unit in a true live setting.

I'd expect tones like this out of an amp the costs two to three times the price of the Atomic, which is expected to street at under $500, making it far cheaper than some of the many PA setups being used. It had all the stuff tube players want… Tube sag, no brittleness, feedback and sustain when needed and the feel of the amp working for you. It takes the great sounds of the POD, and instead of just amplifying them through a PA, it breathes a bit more fire at you.

There are some features that may not be part of Atomics initial offering but are being looked into, such as XLR outs, additional power for another cab and maybe even tilt back legs. Currently, the only way to get a feed to the board and to the Atomic, would be to use the POD Pro. Additionally, any preamp would work well with the Reactor 112. Tom told us that they have run several rack mount preamps through the amp and we very pleased with the results. Other templates are being designed for some of the more popular modelers.

The end result of all this was, we were all bummed because we had to wait a bit longer to be able to buy one. It was safe to say we all had a bad case of G.A.S. (gear acquisition syndrome) by the end of the night. You can be sure that these four campers will be happy once the Atomic is available.

Go to Atomic's website for some more new developments.

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