26 Proteus 1 week ago My approach to the listen was to have no expectations. That was easy, as I've never had a bias toward one amp type or another. Coming up in the late 60s and through the mid-70s, solid state amps were around but never prevalent in the market. I owned mostly tube amps, and of course heard many others: some sounded good, some sounded bad. I never associated goodness or badness with power type. I also owned a couple of solid state exceptions (Kustom and Acoustic). All the amps were chosen at the 3-way intersection of what was available to me, what I could afford, and what sounded best.Since the early 80s, I've owned almost exclusively tube amps. This was still not a religion - I worked in the industry for most of that decade and have remained informed since then, and thus was exposed to (and tried) every variation out there - it's just that the amps I've liked best have had tubes. (Though that's not without qualification, as Music Mans with their hybrid construction remain among my favorite amps.)In latter years I tried and bought the Tech21 TradeMark 60, a light solid-state combo that completely works for me. I bought a Line6 POD shortly after that came out, have played with various forms of modeling since then, and found much to love in it. As part of my arguably schizophrenic full-speed-ahead approach in exploring every guitar technology, I have a Helix, the Kemper, the Hotone Ampero (another topic in and of itself), Hotone Nano Legacy mini-amps, and Quilter and Custom Tones mini-amps. I also bought yet another tube amp (Vox AC-10) last Christmas, and support a ridiculous pedal population. (Not to mention every effect/amp modeling app known to man for iOS.)I mention all of this just to establish that, emotionally and instinctually, I didn't have a prejudice about which amp in the shootout would (or should?) sound better. I wasn't rooting for either. I also didn't try even to guess which was which, kinda because I didn't want to deal with the fallout in fragmenting self-worth if I couldn't tell the difference.So I listened.From the first clip, I consistently preferred the tone of the ToneMaster (without, of course, knowing which it was). I thought by comparison that the DRRI had less sparkle, more honky midrange, and an increasingly unpleasant signature as the gain increased. That in itself might have been a clue - as I'm not one of those who thinks the best use of a Deluxe is as a cranked overdrive machine. I like it at 4 and below, where it still has clean headroom, but develops some "tubey" girth at humane volume levels (unlike my experience of Twin Reverb brutality). I think my Deluxe gets more unpleasant as it gets louder (though considerably less so since Josh Bradshaw did his all-purpose mod on it).I'm not in a position to speculate whether Fender's engineers opted to create an "idealized" simulation, wherein they tweaked parameters to make a more perfect DR, or to make it more difficult to make it sound bad. I take at face value the contention that tube amps are somehow special because they can be made to sound bad, that each one has individual characteristics and personality that require the special talents of an amp-whisperer to bring out the inherent magic of which they're capable - and also that different tubes, weather conditions, and thermal behavior can change their characteristics. We'll accept that tube amps are something akin to living things - and that even those of us who don't have fond lifetime memories of the look, feel, and smell of a perfectly humming tube amp have succumbed in some measure to the mystical aura guitar legacy attributes to them. And we'll grant that a well-made tube amp may be more repairable over decades than a digital amp (though I'm not sure the much-maligned short lifetime of some digital tech is inherent in the technology, and can't be attributed simply to bean-counter decisions about layout, design, and component spec).These considerations can't be denied, refuted, or argued around. They're Guitarist DNA. I got no problem with that.All that given, it's not illogical (sorry, I just watched an episode of Star Trek) to ask if the sonic consistency and user-friendliness of an idealized digital instance of an amp doesn't have qualities which might make it inherently a better choice for many players. The analogy is to a straight-shift road machine with no traction control or vehicle dynamics - which rewards the skill and expertise of an experienced driver and punishes the novice - versus a fully-automatic computer-assisted modern car in which a less experienced driver might near the performance of the old-school jockey with a much higher margin of safety. I can see where a sonically idealized digital DR that weighs half the original, can be dialed down to a bedroom-friendly .5-watt output, records direct with two cab simulations, and can't be made to sound really bad might be a good choice.But that's a philosophical discussion, and not what I came to talk about. Really, I have no dog in the fight. I like my JB-modded blackfaced silverface tube DR - and I like my modelers. I'm not even in the market for an amp. But as a life-long amp user, I'm curious. I think we're all at least a little curious, whether the immediate choice between tubes and digits is important to us or not.And that curiosity impels us to listen to demos, maybe ultimately to try the amps out in person if we get the chance. And if we're listening to demos, we'd like to think they're at least fair.But there's a clear undercurrent in this thread of distrust for Andy Martin's shootout for Reverb, with the imputation that it was rigged to sell ToneMasters. Over years of watching Andy both for PGS and now Reverb, I've come to trust him - and in several years of activity on Reverb, I've been convinced that they're an honorable operation. So I didn't have the impression when I listened that the comparo was unfair. Too, I think that malignant cynicism and terminal naivete are both crippling, and each carries its own punishment; I'd like to steer a middle course between them. But nobody wants to be duped, so I wanted to know more about the setup, conditions, and protocol of the shootout.Nother words, I wanted to ascertain facts insofar as possible, rather than to promulgate opinions in a vacuum. (Even if it's a vacuum tube.)So I got on Reverb, hit the "Need Help" button in the lower right, and sought a chat with a Reverber. I'll post that chat verbatim, as well as the follow-up email I received (including Andy's direct input). ME: I have questions about Andy Martin's video shootout between his Deluxe Reverb and the new digital ToneMaster version.REVERBER: I can do my best to answer them.ME: Background. Of course guitarists are weird about the mystique of tubes, and the DR is an acknowledged and universal classic. So when the digital clone is announced, of course tube-heads are skeptical.When the demo shows that it's not easy to tell which is the "real thing" and which the clone - and when, in fact, most listeners prefer what turns out to be the digital...then tube-heads cry foul.I linked to the demo on a Gretsch guitar forum, and several members suggest that the shootout was rigged to make the ToneMaster sound better (as it did to me).Andy detailed the settings on his tube DR before starting the demo, but didn't mention settings after that - except to tell us how far he'd cranked the volume, and that he'd reduced lows as he increased gain.What we DON'T know is whether he adjusted both amps to the same settings on the knobs for each trial - or whether he tweaked one or the other.I can think of several ways to handle such a shootout, each equally valid - but for different purposes.You could put the amps at the same settings, which demonstrates how closely they resemble each other's control responses. Or you could adjust them to sound as nearly the same as possible at each gain level. Or you could adjust each to sound the best it can at each gain level.Since this is such a contentious and emotion-laden issue - has digital "cracked the code" for tube sound? - it would good if Andy could clarify exactly his protocol for the shootout.REVERBER: Sure thing! So just so I have something a bit more focused, was there a specific question you had that you'd like to ask him?ME: Of course if you know the answers, I can relay them to the forum- but for Andy to do a followup article or video would probaby carry more weight.REVERBER: I can pass it along and see what he says!ME: A scheduled public chat with Andy about the demo would be the ultimate - with some advance notice, anyone who had a whine or a bitch or a question could show up and ask.REVERBER: We likely wont do a follow up article or video but i'd be happy to try to get you an answer just for yourself!ME: OK, gotcha. I guess the specific questions are: Was the tube DR an original or a reissue (maybe that was mentioned, and I missed it), and is it the same one that has been used for all Andy demos? How were the amps adjusted for each segment of the shootout: ie, with the same settings on the dial; to sound as close as possible to each other (or, say, the TM to the DR); or each to sound its subjective "best" at each gain level? Were they mic'ed the same (like, obsessively, with the same or identical mic, and at EXACTLY the same position relative to the speaker), and was EQ perfectly flat (or identical) into the recording interface? Were the clips normalized for consistent volume in post-production - or was anything else done to the recordings? After which, some goodbye pleasantries, then the follow-up email:REVERBER: Hey Tim, here's Andy's response to your questions:• Was the tube DR an original or a reissue (maybe that was mentioned, and I missed it), and is it the same one that has been used for all Andy demos? Same '65 Reissue I've used for years • How were the amps adjusted for each segment of the shootout: ie, with the same settings on the dial; to sound as close as possible to each other (or, say, the TM to the DR); or each to sound its subjective “best” at each gain level? The settings are verbally mentioned in each clip, which some slight tweaking thereafter to better match them (to blindly set the controls the same and expect exact results is not a fair comparison in my opinion, even pot tolerance between two tube amps can make them sound different)* • Were they mic’ed the same (like, obsessively, with the same or identical mic, and at EXACTLY the same position relative to the speaker), and was EQ perfectly flat (or identical) into the recording interface? Same mic (Royer 1-121) and same placement (no post EQ is ever used, just what's available on the mic preamp) • Were the clips normalized for consistent volume in post-production - or was anything else done to the recordings? Never normalize, that destroys dynamics. Any other mixing was to bring them closer together, which is only fair since they have different speakers with different SPLs. Hope this gives some useful insight!HERE ENDETH transcript of exchange with Reverb. I reckon there are still aspects of that comparison protocol which are arguable, particularly if the arguer has an agenda or prejudice. But I think Andy was forthright - and reasonable - about the procedures. (And he certainly acknowledges the speaker difference.)Again, I hope I'm not just hopelessly naive, but it's my impression that most gear demo guys do their best to show every product at its best; to do otherwise is to sound bad as a guitarist (which none of us want to do), and to get a reputation for hatchet jobs that would do nothing in the long run to encourage other makers to continue sending the reviewer gear to demo. Nother words, if you're going to throw a fight or a game, you better make sure you get a lifetime payoff for it, because it will shorten your career.But let's posit, for the sake of argument, that some demo guys have been given sufficient incentive to skew their presentations dishonestly. It doesn't make sense to me that Andy Martin would be one of those guys: as an employee of Reverb - a company which gets its 3.5% cut of millions of sales of the broadest range of music gear on a global scale - how would it pay anyone involved to rig a review? When you sell everything, what do you push? Short of payola-style spiffs or incentives directly into his hands, what's the mechanism? And parTICularly in this situation, who would be behind a fix? Both amps are FMIC products, both from the amp division. Do we think FMIC's digital amp guy outbid FMIC's tube amp guy?I also don't think the notion that "Reverb sells ToneMasters" carries much weight here. Reverb gets their cut of every sale by every seller on the site, and Deluxe Reverb amps, originals and reissues, have certainly represented some part of that (and, given how many zillions of products are in the market, probably a small part overall). If I was a speculatin' sort, I'd guess that boatloads of DR ToneMasters will have to be sold through Reverb before the site's income on them exceeds what they've made through the years on the sales of DRRIs AND, especially, actual vintage DRs. Again, unless we're postulating some specific back-channel deal between FMIC and Reverb to market ToneMasters, I can't think the profit motive would be sufficient to move the needle here.Reverb started under the umbrella of Chicago Music Exchange, which of course sells FMIC products directly (rather than just collecting seller fees). I'm confident CME will happily sell either or both amps - or a Marshall, Vox, or Line6 if that's what you want. Right now, CME's website (which is not Reverb) has the DRRI at 1,099.00 and the Tonemaster at 899.00. If we're solely following the money, we'd expect them to push the more expensive amp. Be that as it may, I recall CME was not part of the recent sale of Reverb to Etsy, so I'm not sure there's a direct financial connection between the two entities at this point. I guess until specifically proven otherwise, I'll continue to take Andy's demo as a fair and legitimate comparison of the amps. Of course the caveats about audio file compression, playback source, and the difference between any recording and being there in the room still apply. And in any case, this comparo would be just one data point.But I think, within the limitations of the medium, it's an honest and reliable one.