SOUND: Le Lead is a 2-channel tube preamp that can produce a multitude of tones (although designed for lead, you can get some excellent crunch and rhythm from this unit). Le Lead offers a typical Channel (clean) and Channel B (high-gain), but also Fusion capabilities to blend or cascade the two channels. Below is a YouTube demo that goes through various settings on both channels, such as bass, treble and midrange response, the effect of the Gain, Cold Fusion and Hot Fusion, and a very interesting feature… the Midrange Sweep.
When dealing with the EQ one of the first things I noticed is that you could turn the Bass up high (as well as the Midrange) and the Treble down low and there is no ‘mud.’ Although this is a 12AX7 tube driven preamp, with all the characteristics of tube technology, the signal remains clear, which is necessary for any genre of Metal and particularly for 7 and 8-string guitarists. Likewise, you can turn the Bass all the way off with the Treble all the way up and you don’t hear any shrill notes… certainly sharp tones (not in a bad way) that cuts through the mix like crazy.
In regard to the actual ‘sound’ of this pedal, it depends what you have it going through, e.g., what cabinet/speakers, etc. I ran it through a Rock Bug (by Carl Martin, an amp-speaker simulator) and it sounds great! However, the maker of the Le Lead Preamp (Two Notes) has free VST DAW software for download called Wall of Sound. When you buy a Two Note product you get 16 free cabinets of different sizes, e.g., 2x10, 4x12, etc., with the option to demo and purchase more. And so, not only do you get some great British, American and High-Gain amps, but you can stack them (e.g., a British Vintage with an Engl-type amp) and even use different microphones in different positions… along with an EQ, Compressor, Reverb, etc., in the control panel.
Developed and engineered in France, Two Notes is helping to lead the industry when it comes to concept and design. Progressively more people are using software for playing and recording, and another group is slowly turning away from having to haul amp heads and monster cabinets from gig to gig. The idea behind the preamps (Le Lead, Le Crunch, Le Clean and Le Bass) is to integrate your amp on a pedal board, and perhaps plug into a cabinet. However, Two Notes also has a product called Torpedo C.A.B., an amp-speaker simulator in a pedal that allows you to custom design several cabinets for direct PA plug-in (or into a flat response speaker). Now you can get “cranked to 11” sound quality at any volume. The times are changing, and when you consider the cost of most amps with cabinets (and having more than one type at your disposal), the price of a Two Note preamp with the C.A.B. (or simply the Wall of Sound software) is unbeatable and a fraction of the weight. Get everything on your pedal board and be done with it!
The Le Lead Preamp also has a host of options and features. I’ll describe the Hot and Cold Fusion in the ‘Ease of Use’ section while focusing on the other aspects. First, this pedal has a true high voltage (200 volts) design. As well, there is an FX Loop, it’s MIDI ready (both in and out to control something or to be controlled), has a headphone jack for private practicing, a speaker simulator (heard when using the headphones or the DI XLR output), and a Thru output (to feed to an amplifier or to record a dry signal).
EASE OF USE:
The Le Lead Preamp functions as would a regular amplifier. There are two Channels, each with its own EQ. The Clean channel has bass and treble, whereas the High-gain channel also has a midrange. What’s very nice about this pedal is there is a Sweep knob that affects the midrange, so that you can boost or attenuate (reduce) a particular frequency in the midrange. This gives you a LOT of tonal control on the midrange, which is the most important aspect when dialing in that ideal guitar tone. Consequently, this combination of midrange + sweep requires a bit of tweaking, but it’s pretty easy to get a good tone from the Le Lead and to dial in effectively.
The Hot and Cold Fusion options also requiring a bit of tweaking, and you will notice some sweet spots when doing so. To explain these two aspects, Cold Fusion allows you to blend the Clean and High-gain channels (including both EQs), which sounds very different from the High-gain on its own (although it depends on how much Clean vs. High-gain you want). Generally, and if done conservatively, you will find adding the Clean channel in a small dose cleans up the notes a bit for better clarity (particularly when the gain is high on the other channel). The Hot Fusion cascades the two channels, so that the Clean channel (and it’s EQ) act as a Boost for the High-gain, which can be subtle or can produce some very heavy and thick distortion (ideal for those bar chord riffs and progressions). There’s a small push button that selects either ‘Cold’ or ‘Hot,’ and to get into Fusion mode you step on both Channel foot switches simultaneously. If you then stomp on the Clean channel switch only the Clean is chosen… and the same goes for selecting Channel B and getting only the High-gain channel. All this is fairly straight forward, but with a ton of tonal options available (particularly once you start mixing and matching cabinets in the free Wall of Sound software) you will be doing a lot of experimentation and having fun in the process.
RELIABILITY & DURABILITY:
When it comes to construction, this is a nice pedal. It has a good weight and heft to it, but not so ‘cumbersome’ that you wouldn’t want it on your pedal board. It’s only slightly larger than the average pedal (maybe two pedals worth), which makes sense considering all the input and output options and that it’s a preamp! The casing is all steel and the knobs feel like aluminum to my touch, together with a very smooth and solid feel when turning. The knobs also are countersunk from the front half of the pedal, so that their tops lie flush or slightly lower to the metal casing; and so, even if you step too far forward you won’t place any undue strain on the knobs. The steel foot switches are solid, although they don’t ‘click’ when selected (you do see the LED light for either when chosen). There also are small rubber feet on the bottom of the Le Lead.
The 12AX7 tube is visible in the window, which is far removed from the foot switches to prevent any mishaps. The window also is slightly countersunk to the metal housing for better protection against vigorous stomping. On a related note, there is lighting around the tube to indicate what has been selected. The Clean Channel is green… the High-Gain Channel is Blue… the Cold Fusion Channel is yellow… and the Hot Fusion Channel is red.
Any input and output is located along the sides of the Le Lead Preamp, impossible to place in the back due to so many connection inputs and outputs. The power input (it comes with its own adapter) is located on the side, but at the very back on the left.
I'd been after a preamp to complement my torpedo cab for a while.
I've used several models in the past: H&k, AMT ss11,Blackstar, Fredamp 800 (not enough gain for my taste) .
While clean sounds were most often acceptable, no way to get a REAL high gain.
Now, I've found what I was after: a compact preamp with not two but 4 channels!
Channel A : a very good cleansound, it reacts well to pedals (both before and after). Channel B : A lot of demos insist on its high gain, and it is great indeed. The tube does a lot to shape the outcoming sound, it's the best I've ever had. Yet, in low gain, it's also VERY good. It's not a shredders-only preamp, a lot of sounds can be achieved with it, espacially using the...
Fusion mode : This is where it's getting extraordinary. You can get the sound of both channels, either cascaded or in parallel with a mix setting. This allows to get an overdriven sound based on a clean one, allowing each note to sound clear and detached.
You'd almost regret the impossibility to make presets, like with a multi-effect.
With the output going straight into my torpedo CAB, I get an incredibly wide array of sounds, particularily with channel B's equalizer which allows to dine tune the mids.
Connectors : very complete with effect loop, heacphone out, midi, direct out with speaker emulator... How did they manage to get all that fit into it? The box looks sturdy and professional.
Sole little cons: the direct out with emulated speaker. It can do the job if needed, but it's light years away from the sound quality you'll get out of a CAB or real amp.
Especially since the Wos speaker emulation software is included.
Expected for a long while, this French-designed product is the perfect tool for any guitarist wishing for a light and high-performance tube preamp. In a short time, you get a great sound and can spend time to refine it and mix with the Fusion mode.
I haven't tried the rest of the Two Notes series but this one suits me really perfectly.