Speaking of things designed to not fit…

Previously I wrote about the trouble with racking up half-rack-width processors, but there are a lot of products out there where you have to ask “what was the designer thinking” because the products don’t fit into their normal context of usage!

For example, Phil Jones makes a high-end rack preamp which has large rubber feet bolted to the bottom.  These feet prevent the user from mounting anything in the rack space below the preamp.  The feet cannot be unbolted from the outside, you have to open up the housing to get at them.  To top it off, the manufacturer states that opening the unit up voids its warranty.  What the hell!

Another example: Aguilar is a boutique amplifier brand that has started making pedals and outboard processors in the last couple of years, and they have made several big blunders.  Before I say anything further, I should mention that I’ve had some positive exchanges with Dave B. at Aguilar, and in particular he responded to one of my criticisms by taking my suggestion and supplying the needed solution to his customers.  That’s how this is supposed to work!  But he could have saved himself some grief by asking everyday users for their advice before going ahead with some of these designs.  Their first effect unit was a rackmount distortion; however distortion is the sort of thing that usually sells best as a pedal, and most people wouldn’t give up a rack space to just one analog effect these days.  They made their next product (a preamp/DI/EQ/overdrive) into a pedal–however it is huge, requires a special power supply, and the housing design makes it difficult to mount to a pedalboard.  Additionally, the overdrive function of the preamp cannot be set to unity gain.  These are the sorts of things that a designer will come up with when they are thinking “in a vacuum”, but which any practical consumer/user could have told them were not good ideas.  I really feel the distortion and the preamp could have been massaged into much better form factors and functionality with a bit more effort.

Then there’s the Carl Martin “Classic” series of pedals.  These pedals have a unique retro look, very Atomic Age, and I can totally understand why a visual designer would have come up with that look.  However these pedals are total pigs when it comes to fitting them onto a pedalboard, they occupy a lot of space.  Yet the actual circuitboard inside is quite small!  The big retro-look housing is mostly empty air.  A designer who was in touch with their consumers’ actual usage would have sent those big empty housings back to the drawing board, and instead gone with a more space-efficient model that still could have “looked cool”.

HHB made the “Radius 3 Fatman” compressor; it’s a half-rack wide and three rack units high!  Were they high?

Again and again I encounter preamps and processors where the in/output connectors, or the signal levels from the devices, are incompatible with normal purposes and with other gear that you’d normally connect to it.  There’s a rack compressor with balanced inputs and only unbalanced outputs.  Why?  There are many pedals which only work well if your instrument has a certain range of output, such that if your signal is “too high” it will clip, squash, and sound like crap, while if it is “too low” the effect doesn’t seem to work.  This is easy to avoid if the designer gives a damn.  And lastly, most buffer pedals have a passive volume pot at the very end of the circuit, and this pot raises the output impedance, drastically reducing the benefit of the buffer.  DUH!

I could go on, it seems like I run into this sort of thing all the time.  I’ll probably add to this post later on, when more examples of dunderheaded incompatibility crop up and anger me.

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