Rocktron Chameleon
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Rocktron Chameleon

Chameleon, Solid-State Guitar Preamp from Rocktron.

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content in English
Audiofanzine FR 02/12/2008

Rocktron Chameleon : Recensione di Audiofanzine FR (content in English)

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(Originally written by iznogoud/translated from Audiofanzine FR)
It's a killer unit if you know how to use a parametric EQ.

- What kind of amplification?

Fully digital

- What about connections?

1/4" jack input

Two balanced 1/4" jack outputs

Two XLR outputs

Tap-delay connection

2.5 mm phantom power connection

Midi in and Midi out/thru

7-pin Midi connectors that allow you to feed compatible footboards

- Controls, effects?

* Preamps: Low gain (clean and crunch sounds) and High gain

The device provides a parametric 2-band pre-distortion EQ and a parametric 4-band post-distortion EQ... I use the following for every guitar setup: pre and post parametric EQs, since they allow you to shape the sound of every amp system. If you don't know how to use a parametric EQ take a look at Wikipedia!

* Stereo delay: one second per channel, comprehensive parameter settings (adjustable pan, tap delay (ducker), etc.)

* Reverb: few parameters but very good sound

* Speaker simulation: very authentic

* Hush: no need to introduce this famous noise reduction system for guitar I use it for everything, like the pre/post EQ... I will try out older Rocktron creations like the Decimator, I've heard it's even better...

* Modulation effects (to choose from):

- wah

- phaser

- stereo chorus

- stereo flanger

- +1/-2-octave pitch shifter

- tremolo

Wah and phaser are placed before the preamp stage in the signal path. All other effects are post-preamp effects.

Very comprehensive parameters (chorus, flanger and pitch effects even have a pan parameter for each output channel)

It's an old unit so it doesn't offer many functions (it doesn't have a tuner and the algorithms are predefined). However I prefer a good-sounding, simple but effective effects processor to 300 different cheap and lousy effects. This unit was considered state-of-the-art in the 90's and it was very expensive...

If you know how to edit a sound, this unit is a real Swiss army knife. Rocktron still has a version of the Chameleon named Voodu Valve. This product has an on-board 12AX7 tube, which is only a marketing trick because it doesn't really add more value.

Rocktron effects are famous for their quality and many professional musicians use the Chameleon, which can be considered as a preamp added to a typical Rocktron multi-FX. You can still find it in many professional rigs... When it comes to professional guitar multi-FX only four manufacturers have a slice of the market (mainly because of the quality of their algorithms and their transparent sound: Eventide, TC, Lexicon and Rocktron, which is the most affordable one).

UTILIZATION

- Is it easy to make settings?

It's as easy as with any effect pedal!

Rocktron certainly provides the most effective user interface when it comes to guitar multi-FX although a numeric keypad would be a great idea...

- Is it easy to get the right sound?

The numerous factory presets sound excellent... But it depends on your guitar and it will sometimes be necessary to adjust some parameters of the effect chain.

However if you want to take the best out of the unit you ought to understand how a system with pre and post parametric EQ works: the pre-EQ allows you to shape the distortion sound and the post-EQ allows you to shape the overall amp sound (long live the spectral analyzers! I don't want to spend my time adjusting patches!)

And once again, if you understand how each effect works the endless knob concept developed by Rocktron makes editing very easy and you'll get excellent sounding patches if you're not too cockeyed!

Is the user's manual clear and comprehensive?

It's useful if you want to control other devices via Midi. Otherwise, you won't need it...

Some people say the Midi function doesn't work... Perhaps because it doesn't have any learn function and requires that you edit parameters manually? Where's the problem in that? RTFM! Read The F****** Manual!

- I don't like

The main con is:

It's not possible to insert a preamp and it's impossible to bypass the preamp stage of the Chameleon to use it only as a multi-FX... The multi-FX should provide this function in case you have a high-class, rack tube preamp (which cost you a fortune) and you don't want its sound to be altered by the effects processor...

Just for that it's not the best product on the market but if I want a better one I would have to take a credit over 48 months...

SOUNDS

- Does it fit your music style?

You can make everything with it! Compared with modeling products, it's a digital preamp on its own right and not a box providing 3,000 lousy copies of real amps...

I used it without a guitar amp and it sounded very good for very clean sounds (although I prefer a Jazz Chorus) and heavy distortions, but you'll get better results with a good preamp + a multi-effect processor that doesn't alter the preamp sound. In this last case there are only five options (and only one is affordable): Eventide, Lexicon, TC, Rocktron and the latest Zoom products, which sound nice in a tube FX loop considering their very low price.

- Which guitar, bass or effects do you use?

Two Excalibur, one Vigier Arpège, two Leduc bass guitars... But I also use it with my Roland GR30 and my Korg synth (!!!)

- What kind of sounds do you get and which settings do you use ("crystal-clear", "fat", ...)?

With its dual parametric EQ and its nice speaker simulation

you can get ANY sound... But don't get your hopes up: it's a fully digital unit whose sound can't compete with a real tube unit if you want a slight crunch or distortion, at least not if you connect it directly to a mixer or your DAW's audio interface... But if you use it with a stereo tube amp (don't forget to bypass the speaker simulation) you'll be surprised because the tube sound comes mainly from the amplifier stage, especially with high volumes. That's the reason I recommend a small tube amp cranked all the way up instead of a bulky tube monster whose master control is set to 2.

[/b]- Which sounds do you prefer / hate?[/b]

There's nothing I dislike! If you know how to use it, it provides excellent sound results for every music style, although it wouldn't be my first choice for blues for example. It is excellent due to the sound of its digital effects and the clean and heavy distortion sound of its preamp.

You can't compare it with the Triaxis (it's like comparing a Porsche Carrera to a Lamborghini Diablo SV): the Chameleon is a high-class digital multi-Fx whereas the Triaxis is a high-end tube preamp... It's even one of the best programmable tube preamps on the market and it's twice as expensive as the Chamaleon... Considering its current price the Chameleon is a very interesting product given that it's totally different from a POD and other GT6! If you want a better multi-FX than the Chameleon you'll have to pay a lot more money for a good preamp plus a good multi-FX (a G-Force for example)...

This multi-FX is perfect in a setup with stereo tube amp, specially for heavy metal freaks, ... until you have enough money to buy the Doomsday preamp whose power supply was conceived by Openheimer!

I've met a couple of heavy metal freaks who added several guitar tracks to their productions using the Chameleon to emphasize the monster sound of their full stacks, that way they got an even bigger but also more accurate sound because the Chameleon sounds very clear! Even by itself it can produce a huge sound. Connected to a tube amp it provides good results for blues stuff (although I prefer my Mark III for that, which is normal).

OVERALL OPINION

- How long have you been using it?

Since 1995... I bought it on clearance when Rocktron launched the Chameleon Online model...

- Which feature do you like the most?

Considering modern digital preamps, I like the fact that rather than being conceived to emulate real tube amps it was made to be a good-sounding digital multi-FX. Like its direct competitor, the Roland GP100 it's still used by many professional guitarists on studio recordings and also for live gigs.

- It provides monster distortion sounds if you know how to adjust the EQ stages.

- Which feature do you like the least?

It has no no bypass for the gain section and no loop. These features would allow you to use it as the control center of a big tube setup with a high-class preamp: the FX quality is great and it's a real pity that it has no insert (like the old GP8 or even a GP100 whose distortion sounds much worst)... In the end the Chameleon became a backup system for me and it would have a place in my main setup if it had a loop, because Rocktron processors without integrated preamp stage (like the recent Prophesy) provide great effects...

- Did you try any other models before buying it?

I tested many effect processors when I bought it... At that time it was one of the few units you could use on their own in professional applications. In some cases, when you had a bad sound engineer live for example, it was better to connect it directly to the mixer rather than mic the amp!

- How would you rate its value for money?

Considering its secondhand price it's a GREAT deal! I wouldn't change this old unit for a POD or a GT6, not even for the VG88's multi-FX section or a GP100...

However, if you have a Soldano X99 and an Eventide Eclipse the Chameleon can't compete neither as a preamp nor as a multi-FX

But if you want an inexpensive, versatile and good-sounding system take note:

Chameleon + Marshall 20/20 + two 1 x 12" cabinets (with Eminence Wizzard or other speakers with 103dB efficiency). The Chameleon is a good solution until you can buy a CAE 3+SE or a Triaxis to connect Eventide, TC, Lexicon and other Rocktron gear th the FX loop... A guitarist friend of mine replaced his TC G-Major with a small Zoom processor in the FX loop of his CAE 3+SE because the G-Major altered the sound of the CAE...

And don't make the mistake of buying a high-end preamp without having a high-end power amp, the preamp makes only 20-25% of your final sound. The most important thing is the amplifier stage! It's even better to combine a POD with a tube power stage than a CAE or a Triaxis with a speaker simulation!

As a summary, I think it's very interesting to build a good but inexpensive system around a Chameleon...

- Based on your experience, would you buy this product again?

The lack of loop is really annoying because the unit is great regarding efficiency, reliability and sound (if you can adjust it). The distortion sound has its own character and it always stays clear, even with very high gain settings... I don't know any multi-FX that can compete with it in the same price range. If you have a small budget the Chameleon will provide you with a very good sound. I won't sell mine because I won't find a better solution for this price. But don't expect the preamp section to sound as good as a Triaxis!

An FX-loop, an additional processor for special effects and a good preamp would be enough to make it a great and comprehensive professional system... The lack of FX loop is a major turnoff... On the other hand, the GP100, which has an FX-loop, is still used by Robert Fripp even though a Chameleon sounds better... With this feature the Chameleon would have taken the place of the GP100 and the old GP8 in many professional setups...

Summary:

I don't give it 10/10 because the unit is not perfect, but its current value for money is worth 25/10! It can compete with some tube gear for clean sounds à la Police or heavy metal distortion. And it becomes very versatile with a stereo tube amp (much better than with a mixer using the speaker simulation). In spite of its very small price it's a great product if you want a small 2U rack system with two speaker cabinets! Think about it: a new Hush Rack is more expensive than the Chameleon. And if you want to replace it you'll have to spend a lot of money.