Ebtech LLS-2 for +4dBu Effects Loops

IMG_4879Anyone bothering to read this blog will have noticed that one of my treasures is an early Little Lanilei 1/4 Watt tube amp. It turns out I was still using it wrong until last week when an Ebtech LLS-2 arrived from the States. This magic black box makes the little amp compatible with the effects like reverb and cabinet simulation that I need for silent practice. LLS doesn’t stand for Little Lanilei Softner, but that’s effectively what it does for me. Without it, the signal from the amp’s line out is hot enough to cause some very nasty distortion in my Korg Pandora even at low levels; and not the good kind that the Lanilei was designed for, but the harsh and splattery digital variety.

The Ebtech has two channels, each with two jacks labelled “+4dBu” and “-10dBu.” I’ve never been exactly sure what that means for signals, so the only way to be sure was try it. The website said the amps line-out jack is compatible with +4db effects, so I plugged the Little Lanilei into the +4 jack, and the -10 into the Pandora’s input. The level was much more manageable and the sound was much warmer. Still, one of the symptoms of impedance mismatch can be loss of high end. Since there was certainly less of everything, I tried reversed the connections to check that I wasn’t doing it wrong. With the Pandora connected to +4b, the sound was so loud and harsh I think it damaged my hearing a bit!

Plugging a Y-cable into the Little Lanilei’s line-out turns it into an effects loop. Before the LLS-2 I had the opposite problem with my modded Boss digital delay: the repeats sounded weak and undefined (though with a stock Boss DD-3, this might actually be a good thing.) Boosting the E.LEVEL compensated for this, but the sound quality was still different. Fortunately, the LLS-2 has a second channel for stereo gear, but I can use for matching impedances for both the SEND and RETURN of an FX loop. BOSS compact pedals are supposed to be -20db effects, so it seemed obvious to connect it the -10db jacks, but isn’t the output of a buffered pedal a line-level signal, thus compatible with the high-impedance inputs used on pro-gear, meaning I don’t need impedance matching for the RETURN signal, right?

No, actually. While there was no loss in overall volume without the LLS-2 between the the DD-3’s output and FX loop return, the delays sounded small, inarticulate and grainy! However with the right connections (-10 from effect, +4 to RETURN), the sound was perfect. To test for volume loss, I pulled the TRS plug out of the line-out jack, and the amp suddenly got a lot louder. Even though the amp wasn’t as loud with the LLS-2, the Little Lanilei was not designed to be loud but sound great at the lowest volume possible. That it does that inspiringly, especially now with the Ebtech LLS-2 moderating the effects.