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I recently purchased an early '80s Marshall JCM800 2203 and a 2x12 cab from a friend. We will be meeting up this weekend so I will have the amp in a couple of days. Since I am only a home player 100 watts of Marshall roar is overkill for my needs, but this is one of my dream amps so I don't care and will just use an attenuator to tame the beast.

The problem is that I know nothing about attenuators so I was wondering if those here who have used them would mind giving me info on which ones they used, how effective they were, and whether their amps still sounded good when attenuated. Basically any and all info on attenuators would be appreciated.
 

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I went through several different attenuators when I was using bigger amps. Out of all that I tried the best that I found was a Rivera Rock Crusher, it was the most transparent and I was able to get the volume so low that I could play while an infant and a 2 year old were sleeping. I think @barnesable may have one kicking around, not sure if it's for sale or not though.
 

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Try the low input first.

Then try putting an OCD (daves, perhaps?) In front of the amp on clean.
 

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There are pretty much 3 types of attenuators out there and they all are a balance between cost and results. The earliest and simplest attenuators like the scholz power soak are simply a bank of resistors between the output of the amp and the speakers. these are the cheapest and poorest performing but if you only want to shave a few db's and don't want to break the bank an old power soak style unit is minimal investment. These attenuators are resistive loads.

The next step up is a reactive load attenuator like a weber mass or a thd hot plate and the like. These use a speaker driver without a cone or some other reactive load to better simulate the natural interaction between an amp and speaker. they also have other features like lineouts, treble boosts etc that can compensate for some of the colouration at more extreme levels of attenuation.

The most expensive and transparent would be the rivera rockcrusher as mentioned above or mr ho's attenuator and others. These attenuators essentially are a dummy load of some type and an amp. the dummy load absorbs the heavy lifting and the signal is passed on to the attenuators built in amp which then drives the speakers at whatever volume is desired.

I hope this helps you understand the choices you have available. Take my opinion with a grain of salt however as I've never played through a rock crusher type attenuator only heard demos and reviews.
 

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Furthering @sammyr 's comments, the Rockcrusher is an attenuator/load but not a re-amper. It could be if fed into a power amp, but isn't one on it's own.

That is the 3rd distinctive category I would add to the previous ones. Units like the Ho, BadCat Unleash and Fryette PowerStation absorb the host amp's output completely and then reamps that tone through a clean power section, at any level you desire. They also usually have an fx loop that goes between the host amp and the reamp's power section - so you get verb and delays post guitar amp tone (including any power amp distortion and artifacts).

IME, these are by far the best solution to taming a high-powered amp to TV levels. Attenuators have limited success at that much attenuation. Re-ampers can also be used to 'amp up' smaller amps, like making a 5 watt Champ play clean in a band environment. The downside, of course, is that they are as expensive as another amp because they are one.
 

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I've used the Ho attenuator with 40 and 50 watt amps. He makes two versions a 100 watt and a 50 watt. I had the 50 watt version with no addons. It worked great to lower the sound of a 50 watt amp to a manageable volume for a small venue. It was good for jam spaces and quite loud home playing. It was not good for bedroom levels. I haven't found any attenuator that works well for really low levels. You are better with an amp sim or a SS amp for really low levels. Some people get by with pedals for low volume but I don't like the sound of drive pedals at low volumes. I find a good practice amp a much better solution for low level playing.
 

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The PowerStation works great for low-level playing. But it's volume level is touchy if you have 50 or 100 watt amps cranked into it (not a problem for 15 or 22 watt amps). Thus the PS2, with a more precise low-level volume control.

I've never heard an actual attenuator come close in this application, but they can work to shave off 3 or 6 dB (at most, IMO).
 

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I have HO attenuator with the bedroom switch and it works well. The bedroom is much better than I thought it would be.
 
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The one no one has mentioned is the Aracom. It's expensive but apparently it's the best thing available currently.

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I've used the Ho attenuator with 40 and 50 watt amps. He makes two versions a 100 watt and a 50 watt. I had the 50 watt version with no addons. It worked great to lower the sound of a 50 watt amp to a manageable volume for a small venue. It was good for jam spaces and quite loud home playing. It was not good for bedroom levels. I haven't found any attenuator that works well for really low levels. You are better with an amp sim or a SS amp for really low levels. Some people get by with pedals for low volume but I don't like the sound of drive pedals at low volumes. I find a good practice amp a much better solution for low level playing.
One of the challenges of converting a more powerful output to something suitable for bedroom levels is that our ears exhibit different sensitivities to various parts of the frequency spectrum as sound pressure level changes. To some extent, within reason, this can be compensated for by simple EQ changes at the amp. However, there are limits to how much adjustment an amp's controls provide. As the Fletcher-Munson equal-loudness chart below illustrates, at fairly soft levels one might be able to easily talk over, content at 100hz needs to be goosed by some 20db in order to be "heard" as loud as 1000hz. Most amps have difficulty doing that.

The upshot is that soaking a lot of the power may well be achieved in a way that authentically reflects what the amp does at high output and higher volumes. But, as Kerry notes, the satisfactoriness of the tone achieved may depend on just how MUCH attenuation one aims for. If one wants to drop a JCM whatever down to a Princeton level, that may work fine. But if the goal is something that won't wake the baby or spouse, or irritate the neighbours, be prepared for some tonal sacrifice.

 

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I realize that there might well be some affect on the sound/tone of the amp but I am not sure my ears are good enough to hear it. I have noise induced hearing loss and when listening to something that is reasonably loud I get a sound like blown speakers. That can also happen when I am speaking loudly or yelling...just yesterday I was shouting something to my neighbor across the street and the sound of my own voice sounded like a blown speaker.
 

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An attenuator may work out well for you. I suspect it would depend on what sort of amp output and SPL one is starting with, and what one is trying to bring it down to. For some modest degrees of attenuation, the focus is on the attenuator's capacity to mimic the impact of a speaker load on the amp's behaviour, and much less weight is attributable to either how one's speaker breakup contributes to the tonal quality (those speakers possibly requiring a certain minimum wattage in order to "sound" a certain way), or how the peculiarities of human hearing would change what one gets to hear from the amp. As the contrast between where you started out, and the end-point, gets smaller, I suspect most attenuators, and the audible result, becomes more palatable.

In sum, there are multiple factors at play when it comes to attenuators, and the factors vary in their import by situation.
 

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Man, good luck with that @colchar. I remember not being able to turn my old 50W JCM 800 past 2 without knocking pictures of the wall. That was with a Marshall 4x12 though. You have a lot of power to tame there, so you may very well need a really good attenuator.
 

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I have a THD 8 ohm attenuator that I use on a 50 watt Marshall (JCM 800 4010 in a head cabinet -same as 2204). It works "Ok" but the tone definitely suffers the more you attenuate.
 
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