Design For Life
We talk to the Da Capo’s creator, Udo Roesner, about the thinking behind his new amplifier and how some of its upgraded features came about
It’s always interesting to talk to the designer of a piece of new gear. Often, their perspective is very different to the musician in whose hands the gear will end up. As a general rule, guitarists have little or no idea about what goes on under the hood of an effects pedal or amplifier. Their assessment is merely based upon whether it sounds good or not. As you can tell from the review on the preceding pages, we were really quite enamoured with the Da Capo 75 and were eager to hear about its origins. After all, this was the man who brought us the Compact 60, an amp that has become pretty much standard issue among acoustic players. So we were very curious about what Udo found on his journey back to the drawing board.
“It has the ability to reproduce fine timbres, but it’s not analytical or cold”
The Da Capo sounds more ‘hi-fi’ with a lot of added warmth to the sound – would that be an accurate appraisal?
“I know what you’re trying to say, but I never would use the term ‘hi-fi’. To me, ‘hi-fi’ is something that reaches the ear more than it reaches the body, and I would say the Da Capo has quite a potential to hit the body, so I would rather call it ‘pro audio’ than ‘hi-fi’ in this respect. But you are absolutely right; the Da Capo has a certain amount of delicacy and softness and warmth in contrast to the Compact 60. Believe me, I’ve dealt with the Compact 60 for so many years that I know it inside out, and I know there’s a couple of things that can be annoying, especially if you consider medium-class guitars or limited skills or whatever. It can turn into something harsh pretty quickly, and one of the key goals for me was to try to find a way to get this solved.”
The high-pass filter is one of the key new features on Channel 2 of the amp.
“It’s always a question of how complex you want to design something to be because, at the end of the day, features are very important in the sense of being able to combine things to make them flexible. I decided to implement a high-pass filter, as well as the three-way equalisation, because there are so many different guitars and some, let’s say a bigger-bodied one, may take advantage of having the extra control with the high-pass filter – bringing the low-end grumble under control. It’s pretty flexible even though the two channels are not identical; they sound different.”
So you could use a microphone in front of the guitar in Channel 2 and tame it with the high-pass filter while blending it in with the under-saddle pickup in Channel 1?
“Yes. If you think about the fact that there are some jazz players who use a microphone [on the guitar] as well in order to capture a little bit of the acoustic sound, it has a lot of flexibility. You can really bring the microphone to the point of best performance without losing volume or a round, full sound.”
Another part of the upgraded design is the dual-cone speaker.
“Well, it’s modified for sure, but I’m not a speaker maker. As you may understand, the speaker is one of the most crucial elements in the whole setup. It has a bigger tolerance than other elements in the electronics. To get a speaker to do what it’s supposed to do there’s always a bit of nagging the speaker maker to have another attempt, send another sample. Then you’re back into measurement, comparison and evaluation with playing and listening.
“Another part is gain structure and how we set up the EQs, they are modified as well, and the cabinet has been modified quite significantly. The cabinet is a pretty familiar shape, but the speaker inside has quite a lot more volume to work in.
“Most people don’t understand in this preset world that we’re living in, the audio range is actually very, very small and the tools that we have are pretty raw and our hearing is extremely sensitive. So sometimes things that are not audible, not visual and definitely not measurable
make quite a big difference. You get a result, but what the result actually means is still very doubtful and you’re always back to listening again, trying to figure out what is potentially a point you can grab and modify to get to a slightly different state. If it’s too much – if you overdo it – you’ll easily end up with a catastrophe. It’s a walk on the edge, pretty much.”
How many of the modifications were based on customer feedback and how many on things you have wanted to do for a while?
“That’s a good question – and it’s a fair mix, I have to say. I mean, I have been following my own product for decades now. The AER was my baby and so I’m pretty familiar with everything in there, and I’ve done lots of customer relations things and I’ve worked with distributors, stores and a lot of musicians. But it can also be quite difficult and I find that the quality of the instrument over the decades has changed. It has acquired more cosmetic things and features rather than tone. I find many instruments where I’m actually quite disappointed in the way they sound. A lot of players use effects to make their sound more spectacular, but if you go back to just the guitar, the pickup and the amp then the quality of the guitar is extremely important.
“In the earlier days instruments were less bright, they were more mid-y, more round, and that frequency range is more difficult to project. So being more present and supporting more frequency ranges that really drive the signal path, that was the objective at that time. The Da Capo has the ability to reproduce all the fine timbres that you put into it, but it’s not analytical or cold. It has always been my wish to move forward with a sound that is lively and direct and instantly gives you the opportunity to get lost in it – be washed away on the wave of sound that you’re generating.”
You also seem to have focused on enhanced connectivity, with two separate balanced XLR outputs.
“I think it’s a wonderful feature because you really have clear channel separation. You can do whatever you want with the channels, there are no rules. But the man at the mixing desk knows his job; he wants the purest signal that he can get and if this is so then he’s happy and everyone is happy. If you want combined signals with the effects and everything, you have the line outs because we’re not talking sensitive microphones signals. We don’t need balanced signal processing for that kind of signal transport. If you want a signal combined with the effects then use the line out. We’ve kept the DIs as pure as possible and also, as there are two, not only is the separation important, they are not connected in such a way that an unused channel adds noise to the DI out.”
You sound very happy with the Da Capo.
“Oh yeah. I’m used to people saying, ‘It could have had this or that…’ There’s always somebody who needs a different setup. But we’re working on something interesting that we will be showing people at the  NAMM Show.” www.udo-amps.com
“It’s always been my wish to move forward with a sound that gives you the opportunity to get lost in it” Udo Roesner