Hello there and welcome back to yet another guitar preamp review for you! This time we will be looking at a legendary guitar preamp, Tech 21 SansAmp PSA 2.0! In this SansAmp PSA 2.0 review, I will provide you with some background information on the Tech 21 NYC company as well as their legendary innovation SansAmps. I have also prepared various sound demos for you to understand what Tech 21 SansAmp is capable of in different scenarios.
Let’s have a quick introduction for those who have never heard of Tech 21 NYC.
Tech 21 NYC is an American company founded in 1989 in Manhattan by genius electronics guru B. Andrew Barta.
Andrew Barta designed the SansAmp because of his personal needs. He was a performing musician with an electronic background focused on repairing, modifying and customising amps as his day job.
He noticed getting a great guitar sound with the amps, microphone and speaker cabinet combination would eat up a lot of studio time and he wanted to build a product that can easily generate the same sonic result.
Initially, he wasn’t even aiming to become a musical instrument manufacturer but selling his technology to other manufacturers. But no company was interested in his products and concepts. Later, he decided to go for it and created the legendary SansAmp product under his own Tech 21 company.
What is SansAmp?
SansAmp is the first ever fully analogue tube amplifier emulator. As its French-inspired name suggests, it helps you play your guitars and basses (and many more instruments) without an amp. I prefer calling SansAmp the best analogue tube amp, distortion, clipping, break-up and fuzz generator! 🙂
Surprisingly, the core sound and tonal shaping capabilities of SansAmp design have never changed since it was released back in 1989. Some people interpret this as the company is not progressive and failing to adapt to new trends in the guitar tone realm.
However, it also shows how impressively correct and fitting the design was on the first attempt! The original rackmount SansAmp was not programmable and came in a single rack format.
The only thing that changed with the next releases of SansAmps (PSA 1 .0, PSA 1.1) versions which stand for programmable SansAmp was the programming feature along with some hardware changes regarding more memory slots and trim pot.
The sound of SansAmp has been the same for the last 30 years and never required any updates! Because the design was so great and it has always offered extreme flexibility for tone shaping.
With the additional programming and storing presets feature, SansAmps have become extremely user-friendly as you can store your presets and take them anywhere with you without worrying about the knob positions.
Tech 21 – My Most Used Pieces of Gears Ever!
As you may already realise, I just recently purchased the latest SansAmp which is SansAmp 2.0 and I would like to feature this amazing tool!
Just around I placed my order, I started to think about my relationship with Tech 21 products and digging into my hard drives for my ancient recordings. While classifying them with gear focus in mind, I just realised I had tons of recording with lots of Tech 21 products! 🙂
My first Tech 21 product was their legendary Tech 21 Trademark 60 amp. It was an excellent-sounding amp and I used it to record many jams and demos both miced and direct recording using its SansAmp out.
I also got myself a Tech 21 SansAmp Tri A.C. and it was one of my favourites for quite some time. I was amazed at how quickly I could set up a nice guitar tone and record direct.
While I was leaning towards Tech 21 SansAmp products, I had already owned a Rocktron Voodu Valve guitar preamp as well. Before I sold my Voodu Valve, I temporarily traded it with a Tech 21 SansAmp PSA 1.1.
To be honest, I wasn’t impressed with PSA 1.1 initially. I was only able to try it direct into my M-Audio Audiophile 24/96 PCI sound card and hear it via awful computer speakers.
Back in those days (2005/2007), we had very limited access to gear and technology. there were no impulse response speaker cabinets going around and I was not even aware of this concept. Even if we had IRs, the computers in that era could not handle a lot of processing.
Enter SansAmp PSA 2!
What I remember about PSA 1.1 was that it sounded pretty raw and sharp when I tried it direct. Before I got my SansAmp 2.0, I did some research and just noticed that PSA 2.0 was the same product as the previous PSAs. The only difference is the form factor and the fewer connection options that you would normally have on a rack unit.
So I was a bit hesitant to give it a go but I was also very excited because of the ability to try SansAmp 2.0 with tons of IRs for the first time in my life!
When I compared SansAmp 2.0 with previous SansAmps (1 and 1.1), I noticed that they even implemented a speaker sim button that allows you to disengage the speaker cab simulation that everyone complains about.
However, as stated in the manual, Tech 21 recommends enabling it even while using your SansAmp with guitar amps or IR (impulse responses). We will come back to this later and I will provide you with an in-depth review and sound demos.
Let’s first have a look at the tech specs then we’ll continue with the article! 🙂
Tech 21 SansAmp PSA 2.0 Tech Specs
|Signal Path||100% analogue signal path|
|Modes||Performance Mode (For instant access to 3 favourite presets)|
|Controls||Buzz, Punch, Crunch and Drive for shaping distortion/overdrive/break up|
|Gain for different flavours of overdrive|
|EQ||Hi Lo active EQ, cut or boost ±18dB|
|Master Volume||Global Trim to adjust the global volume level|
|MIDI||MIDI is capable of storing and calling 128 presets.|
|Special Page Functions|
|Input||1/4-inch 1megOhm input|
|Output||1/4-inch low-impedance output|
|Speaker Simulation||Analogue speaker simulation (ON/OFF)|
|Chasis||Rugged, all-metal housing|
|Footswitches||Meta, silent switching|
|Dimensions||19.6cm (L) x 6.35cm (W) x 3.175 (H)|
As you can see, it’s pretty much yet another PSA release but this time comes in a tiny size. While I was working in the musical instruments industry, I had the chance to play lots of Tech 21 Fly Rigs and I was already amazed at how small was the form factor with this new set of Tech 21 products.
Tech 21 SansAmp PSA 2.0 is even smaller, a pocket-size unit that features all the unique attributes of the legendary SansAmp PSA 1 and 1.1.
For sure, since you have less real estate, there’s only so much you can fit into this unit. You don’t have the dual XLR balanced and unbalanced outputs, FX Loop, additional input and MIDI OUT/THRU.
However, you have 3 metal footswitches that you can use in two different modes as default (active/search) and performance modes.
Tech 21 SansAmp 2.0 comes in a cool metal box (almost like a cookie box) and it offers everything you need to get started. You even have adapter plugs for different areas in the world such as the UK, the US and the EU.
Note that the adapter is made in China but the SansAmp 2.0 itself is made in the USA.
You also have the official printed manual which is a nice addition. You will not need to go through the manual as SansAmps are so user-friendly and easy to use.
SansAmp PSA User Experience
One of the most unique things about a PSA is the user experience. Since the release of the first programmable SansAmp, this design has not changed. It’s so well thought and every time I experience this, I feel the same joy and completeness of a user flow in a programmable guitar preamp. Programming requires no menu diving or scrolling through pages on a small digital screen.
You simply turn the knobs just like on a regular amp. Once you are happy with the sound, you simply press save, and then the unit waits for you to save it in the current location or you can choose another location. Then once you click save again, it saves your preset!
If you want to find out the exact position of the controls, you simply start playing with them. This little screen will indicate if you are coming close to the actual value by blinking faster. If it’s blinking on the right digit, then you turn it left and vice versa.
Once you land on the exact value, it stops blinking. You can change its behaviour too by entering the special functions menu and choosing the “Edit Pot Display Mode” option.
SansAmp PSA offers a lot of special functions which you can access via special combinations of existing buttons and pots. To check out every available functionality, please refer to the official manual here.
Tech 21 SansAmp PSA 2.0 Preset Values Overview
Just to save you time and create reference information here on my blog, I have already done this for each preset! 🙂 Please check out the overview table below. You will see all the exact values in the factory presets.
|05 High Gain||39||77||85||103||90||121||31||126|
|08 Van Halen I||39||86||99||78||118||74||18||127|
|09 Classic Clean||80||93||98||46||125||62||64||7|
|11 B.B. King||61||33||8||111||119||26||63||88|
|12 Stevie Ray||42||75||40||113||122||18||98||119|
|16 Super Bright||49||115||59||90||127||0||120||60|
|17 Classic Rock||52||95||58||99||127||9||108||64|
|18 Super Clean||104||60||75||59||127||0||79||23|
|20 Mark I®||25||88||53||113||63||95||127||125|
|28 Too Much Gain||32||78||41||75||121||121||127||127|
|35 King’s X||28||118||119||7||124||0||127||127|
|38 Doug Wimbish||23||105||110||62||60||127||119||125|
|40 Fuzz Face®||38||127||39||108||0||12||127||127|
|41 Triangle Muff||22||125||32||92||0||120||127||119|
|44 Tele® Simulator||37||72||48||101||121||0||6||127|
|45 American Woman||39||73||58||85||117||118||126||127|
|48 AC30® Queen||33||101||78||81||79||127||20||124|
|49 Speaker Simulator||90||119||64||46||64||64||64||24|
You can also download this as a PDF and print it for reference.
Download Tech 21 SansAmp PSA 2.0 Preset Values Overview here.
SansAmp PSA 2 Review
As mentioned in the article, the sound of SansAmps hasn’t changed since it was first released. Even though the company has been releasing different iterations to focus on specific amp characteristics, they sound like SansAmps.
It’s no different with the latest PSA 2 as well. When I first received it, I was excited because the last time I tried a SansAmp 1.1 was back in 2007. So I wanted to just go direct with it using my RME Babyface PRO audio interface and KRK Rokit 5 G4 monitors.
Of course, I haven’t had the chance to compare older versions with this little guy, but according to Tech 21, soundwise they are identical.
I forced myself to go through all the factory presets and also tried to come up with my own presets, using different guitars. But I wasn’t so impressed as it was the DI SansAmp sound I was used to listening to a lot.
However, when I tried it with my TC Electronic Impulse IR Loader pedal using some Bogren Digital and Own Hammer IRs, I was blown away. I couldn’t believe my ears and also my fingers!
The feel is completely there and you can sculpt the tone without needing any boost or EQ. Bass response when used with the impulse responses is mental.
Just hold on for a couple of minutes and think about it. An analogue guitar amp, distortion, clipping and amp breakup emulator that was designed 30 years ago can just fit into a new trend of using guitar preamps and amps.
Unbelievable, amazing and I must say I have even started thinking about just sticking to my PSA for anything! 🙂
When I tried it with different IRs, my Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini as a booster and also my MXR 10 Band EQ (in series), I was completely blown away by the options I have.
We guitar players often think we know everything well when it comes to guitar tones. Ask anyone who’s gear head and they would tell you to disengage the built-in speaker simulation on SansAmps while using it with IRs.
Why? Because there will be 2 speaker simulations on top of each other. Let’s destroy this old-fashioned thinking!
As Tech 21 suggests, even with IRs, you should try engaging speaker simulation. They know what they are talking about. It sounds extremely juicy and big when you use the speaker sim with IRs.
Disengaging the speaker sim makes the sound pretty thin, not bad but you lose the amp feel and response a lot. I believe they introduced this feature to provide people with this option.
Tech 21 SansAmp PSA 2.0 Sound Demo (no talking)
To show you what SansAmp PSA 2 is all about and sounds like in the scenarios I have mentioned above, I have just prepared a pretty lengthy sound demo here below.
In this video, I used my Tech 21 SansAmp PSA 2 along with TC Electronic Impulse IR Loader pedal, MXR 10 Band EQ and Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini. For guitars, I mainly used my Ibanez AR300 and sometimes my Fender American Standard Stratocaster. I also used my Ibanez SRC6 for bass presets.
Throughout the demo video, you will mostly hear how SansAmp sounds via an IR (direct). On purpose, I used one of TC Electronic Impulse IR Loader factory IRs to keep it consistent.
I also wanted to show you how this setup sounds like in a room as well as classic SansAmp DI out (without IR). I’m sure you will have a great understanding of this simple setup and maybe you may also want to build something for your use with other drives and EQ pedals.
To be honest, I’m not extremely happy with recorded sounds as they sound a bit closed and dark to my taste. However, the room sounds feel and sound excellent! Just like you’re playing a proper guitar amp.
I think the best thing to do is to search for the dream IR for SansAmp PSA. I’m sure with the options we have as of today, you can easily find one that sounds great and also as a recorded track.
Also, note that with an additional EQ and boost pedal, you can cover so many genres and styles of guitar sounds. I strongly believe with this simple setup you can easily gig under the condition that you have access to a solid PA system. Adding delay and reverb will make this setup so much more tasty and usable!
Check out my Killer SansAmp Setup page
Initially, I did not want to pay almost 400 Euros for this pedal, but Thomann has been running a crazy price deal for Tech 21 SansAmp PSA 2.0. I strongly recommend you to go to Thomann and just grab one of these as the price is unreal for this!
My recommendation would be to pick this up over a rack version and just give it a go. If you’re satisfied with it and you need also the rack version, you can easily find very affordable used SansAmp PSA 1.0 and 1.1 versions on Reverb without any issues.
I hope you find this Tech 21 SansAmp PSA 2.0. review helpful. Thanks for visiting my blog and supporting me so far! I will hopefully see you in the next review here!
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