« Finally, Real Amp Tones in a Pedal »Published on 05/06/23 at 04:51
There is a main Output control for the volume, which you set after fine-tuning the other two Volume (gain) controls. The Instrument Volume does increase volume to some extent, but it more so increases the dirt and drive, into a warm growl. The Mic Volume has a similar effect and is not part of the original amp, but refers to the gain produced as you increase mic sensitivity when recording direct from the speaker. It also produces a gain, although not as growly as the Instrument Volume. When combined (in high levels), there’s a deep, heavy fuzz-like sound, ideal for Doom and Stoner rock. When both Volumes are turned relatively low, Woodrow has a super clean and slightly trebly tone (cuts through the mix like crazy), making for an ideal pedal platform (add a high-gain pedal, and the Woodrow serves just as much a modern amp as it does a vintage amp). Of course, dialing a mix of the two Volumes in different ratios produces a wide array of drive tones. I mixed different ratios in the demo, and relative to the six different speaker emulations, but dozens of different sounds can be produced.
Now we’re onto the speakers. You receive three different speaker choices, but when registering you receive another three speakers, and this adds to the wide range of possible sounds (NOTE: You require a USB Type-C cable, not included). Speaker brands/names are addressed in the demo and, again, these are emulations and not IRs. What’s cool, however, is that Universal Audio provides a quick bypass of the included speakers, in case you wanted to run Woodrow direct to a preferred IR/loader, or you can use it as a preamp running into another amp/cab. Speaker emulation (and IR quality overall) has a lot to do with the sound and realism coming from any non-traditional amp, and UA knocked the ball out of the park with these speakers (and Woodrow overall). I watched some demos as they go through speaker selections, and often the reviewers keep the same amp settings as they proceed through the six options, turning their noses up at some options (as they may sound a bit thinner, too trebly, too nasally or midrangey, etc.). What I can say is that all speakers sound good, and offer unique flavors, if you dial into each one accordingly. I found it took 1-2 minutes to find a good usable tone for each speaker.
The Room control is not a reverb, but a sense of space, providing that ambience, as though an amp/speaker is in the room. It ranges from completely off, to barely audible, to very apparent. Sometimes I like it on, other times just below half-way, depending on whether I’m mixing delay, drives, etc., but suffice to say, it adds an element of realism I haven’t heard from other amp-in-a-box designers.
The Tone control is very much a mid-range control, and you can hear that as you sweep through the frequency. You can dial in more darkness or more brights, but it doesn’t go bottom heavy bass or sharp treble. And if you want to really push Woodrow with gain, and with certain speakers, you may not get quite enough highs out, and it can sound dark (or have a midrange hump, which can sound good with cleans, but flubby if more driven). This is where the Preamp function comes in, which increases volume to some degree, but serves more to enrich the signal and alter its character. There are three Preamp Boost types, including a ‘standard’ clear boost by UA (middle switch position), which gives a nice punch when on low and a ballsy drive/growl when turned up. The KORG SDD-3000 rack unit preamp (switch up) produces a smoother and less robust result, and it’s slightly more trebly. Most people may find this preamp lackluster compared to the Standard (middle selection), but I found this preamp useful for a few of the speaker choices that have a lot of mid-range or muffle (when cranking the Inst & Mic Volumes). The Maestro EP-3 tape delay preamp (switch down) sounds closer to the Standard selection, but is darker and helps tame any biting or harsh tones. I very much like these preamp boosts, as they add life to the raw amp, even when low.
A few other features are the Preset saving, Stereo In and Stereo Out, and the mobile app. The Preset is exactly that; there’s already one on board, but you can change it. Alter the Mic Volume, change the speaker and preamp, etc., and then save it with a click of a toggle switch. In effect, this produces a quick 2-channel amp, for mixing clean with dirty. (FYI: Woodrow cleans up brilliantly via the guitar volume… from aggressive crunch to sparkly.) You can run Woodrow in mono, but there is both stereo ins and outs, which is nice for going direct to a FRFR cab (for example) and then direct to a PA. The Mobile App is for preset management, global settings, preset access to some world-renowned musicians, etc. In other words, you can create many different presets via the Bluetooth-ready Woodrow, save them and then recall them via the app. And, you can do the same with the many pre-made presets by the likes of Tim Pierce, Cory Wong and Justus West. Obviously, the app requires a mobile phone/tablet, which I do not have and could not explore; I would have liked a desktop version, but most companies are abandoning that route. Perhaps a PDF of what the premade settings are would be a good alternative.
Overall, the Woodrow ’55 is a definite game-changer and I hope UA continues down this path with Marshall or even more modern amps, and for a few reasons: 1) no more heavy amps/cabs to lug around or take up space in a studio; 2) UA’s pedalboard amps (I also have the Ruby, which is an AC30 emulation) cost far less than the real thing; and 3) they sound authentic and fantastic. They’re not inexpensive, but when you consider what you’re getting, in both sound quality and amp flexibility, it will be difficult to dethrone Universal Audio.