Hughes & Kettner’s Red Box has been a runaway success, ever since the first version was introduced in the late Eighties.
The Red Box is a specialised DI-box for your guitar amp. Traditionally, DI-boxes are meant to transform the high impedance signal of an electric guitar (or bass) into a low impedance signal fit for direct connection to a recording (or PA) console.
The Red Box, on the other hand, is inserted between the amp’s speaker output and the speaker (cabinet). Hughes & Kettner’s analogue cabinet modelling then makes it possible to send the sound of a miked up guitar speaker to the mixing desk (or sound card) without having to actually put a microphone in front of the amp’s speaker.
Hughes & Kettner haven’t been resting on their laurels, though. They have updated and improved the Red Box every once in a while, with the most recent version being the Red Box 5 tested here.
The Hughes & Kettner Red Box 5 (current price in Finland: 89,90 €) feels like a sturdy little blighter in its very compact cast-metal casing.
The Red Box’ switch panel has been sunk into the unit’s face, keeping the switches secure from mechanical damage or accidental changes to the settings.
Guitarists and guitar techs will rejoice in the fact that this little helper isn’t finicky when it comes to its power supply:
The Hughes & Kettner works just as well running on an internal 9 volts block, as it does powered by phantom power off the mixer, an external PSU. The Red Box will work with voltages from 9 to 12 V DC (centre negative) or even AC. So, finding a wall wart for this device should be a piece of cake!
The speaker connectors have been placed at the Hughes & Kettner’s bottom end:
The amp’s speaker output is connected to the Red Box’ In-jack, while the Thru-jack will send an unadulterated signal to your speaker (cabinet).
It is very important that you don not confuse the Red Box – which is a DI-box – with a dummy load! If you’re using a valve amplifier (or a hybrid with a tube power amp) you really have to make sure to have the correct speaker load (in ohms) connected, whenever you use the amp. Using the Red Box without a speaker or dummy load will fry your amp’s power section or audio transformer!
The Red Box’ top end holds the balanced XLR DI-output, as well as the power supply (not included) connector.
The Hughes & Kettner unit offers you five switches to tailor the DI-box’ output to your specific requirements:
There’s a ground lift switch (to cut any humming ground loops), a bass response switch, modern or vintage pre-EQ, a switch for the size of the virtual cabinet, as well as a 26 dB pad to prevent the DI-signal from overloading the console’s input.
A black velvet bag is also thrown in with the Red Box.
A ”great guitar sound” is probably one of our universe’s most subjective matters. Any guitar signal chain offers plenty of different variables. When you throw in the chosen cabinet, as well as the microphone and its placement relative to the speaker, the options available are virtually infinite. Nobody in their right mind can demand that a small DI-box, such as the Red Box 5, can actually offer any and all of the tonal options theoretically possible.
The Hughes & Kettner Red Box 5 raison d’être is to offer a handful of ”Best of” miked cabinet sounds, straight off of the amp’s speaker output to the mixing console (or sound card), without the hassle of having to set up a physical microphone, or having to account for the different sound characteristics of different rooms (for example on a tour). And in this the Red Box 5 truly excels.
To give you an idea of how well the Red Box 5’s sound stands up to a physical microphone, I have recorded a few clips simultaneously using a Shure SM57 and the Red Box. I used a Blackstar HT-1R running into an Änäkäinen Rumble speaker. The Red Box 5 was set to ”loose”, ”vintage” and ”large”.
Here’s a clean example, close-miked with the Shure:
And here’s the same example recorded direct with the Red Box:
Next I went for a crunchy amp sound; here’s the close-miked version:
And this is the same example DI’d through the Hughes & Kettner:
Hughes & Kettner’s Red Box 5 is a fabulous tool, especially for onstage use. No need to put up a mic anymore, which means no more feedback and bleed problems. The Red Box 5 will give you consistently excellent DI’d guitar amp tones with the least amount of hassle.
Hughes & Kettner Red Box 5
Current price in Finland: 89,90 €
Finnish distribution: F-Musiikki
+ very compact size
+ multiple means of power supply
+ different tonal options
+ pro-quality cabinet modelling