Award MB10 Matchbox - [Shadows Version]

Award MB10 Matchbox
- Shadows Version

If you know of UK-based company Award-Session, it will more than likely be their Sessionette amps or the JD10 Jerry Donahue preamp pedal you're most familiar with. The MB10 Matchbox was part of their early 90s range - from before the JD10 was introduced - and while it is a simple guitar DI-box/preamp at its heart, there is more to it than it first seems.

  • MB10 - Shadows Version
  • Matchbox DI/Direct Recording Preamp
  • G12-Blue Speaker Simulation
  • Vox AC30 (Clean) Guitar Amp Emulation
  • Made in England by Award-Session
  • Original price £89.95/$160

The Matchbox can be used with a wide variety of instruments and input sources thanks to its 'Sensitivity' switch and input gain control. The manual* suggest setting the switch to 'Inst' (instrument level) for use with electric guitars and basses, electro-acoustic guitars, effects pedals and high-Z microphones; and 'Line' (line level) for active guitars and basses, preamp outputs and studio equipment. [NOTE: It should never be attached to a power amp's speaker output.] The input gain control can be used to boost the output level quite considerably - which will help in providing a good signal level to the intended destination (mixing desk, PA, recording interface etc.).

*As with a lot of musical equipment, some rules are merely guidelines and the manual goes on to suggest trying the 'Input Sensitivity' switch in the wrong position - as it will provide a variation on the base tone (you'll need to compensate with the input gain control though)... using a (passive) guitar with the switch set to 'Line' will yield a softer tone - more about that later. [The reason for the change in tone is due to an impedance mis-match.]

The next function is a 'Guitar EQ' switch and treble control; the 'Guitar EQ' is a 3-band passive (amp-style) EQ voiced to produce an emulated amp sound - with fixed, preset bass and midrange settings and an adjustable, front-mounted treble control. [The treble control is only active while the 'Guitar EQ' switch is engaged.]

The final control is a switch to engage the 'Speaker Simulator' - the MB10 is equipped with Award-Session's (Celestion) G12T (12") speaker simulation, which is based upon the speaker simulation from their AW10 Sessionmaster preamp (the predecessor to the JD10).

The model of MB10 I have is a special Shadows Version. This has the same features as a standard MB10 but the 'Guitar EQ' is voiced to emulate the clean sound of a Vox AC30 w/Top Boost - as used by Hank Marvin in the Shadows.

Award-Session say that using the Shadows MB10 with guitar, but set for line level input signals will yield a warmer tone (with reduced upper mids and treble), which will be more reminiscent of the early non-Top Boost AC30s. The difference in sound between the two voicings is most prominent if you're using an overdrive, distortion or fuzz pedal with it; in the 'Instrument' mode you may find things can be a little bright, brittle or aggressive. If that is the case, switching to 'Line' makes a world of difference.

The Matchbox is a very handy device and can perform a number of duties very well; if you are a multi-instrumentalist or home-recordist especially, I think you'd find the MB10 very useful.

It is definitely worth experimenting with the different input selections, and also using it with and without the amp and speaker emulations engaged. Although, for guitar use, I prefer everything turned on and, for clean tones, the MB10 set for instrument signals.

Family Values

There were similarly equipped Matchbox versions for electro-acoustic instruments (the MB11 - with more acoustic-relevant options and voicing) and electric bass (the MB12 - which has a bass amp voicing and 15" speaker simulation).

The MB11 has been superseded by the AP10 Electro-Acoustic Preamp (which was known for a while as the GG10; 'GG' being Gordon Giltrap - a longtime Award-Session user).

It has to be said that, while the Matchbox is feature-laden for a guitar DI box, it is a rather minimalist amp/speaker emulator - especially by modern standards. It is highly recommended to add some extra processing power via other devices; a little splash of reverb adds to the realism, and depending on your playing style, some compression may be welcome too. Some additional EQ-ing may be useful too with certain guitars to tame any boominess - although I haven't had any such problems as yet.

What does it sounds like?

In my opinion, it sounds good; with clean tones especially this does a fine job. Of course, it won't compete with some of the digital amp modellers (e.g. Line 6 POD) in terms of versatility, nor perhaps will it measure up to some of the more recent analogue amp emulators (e.g. Tech 21 Sansamp Character series) in authenticity. And it certainly isn't in the same league as some of the advanced software products (e.g. Native Instruments Guitar Rig) - this is almost 20 year old technology after all.

But, if all you want is a nice clean Vox-like base tone (for recording or playing through a PA) and have various other effects and processors to refine your sound, the MB10 Shadows Version is most definitely up to the task.

Video 1 - A run through of a few settings and then, towards the end I use distortion and overdrive pedals.

Video 2 - A shorter, edited version which has had some additional processing (light compression and reverb).

* * * Notes about the videos * * *

  • Guitar - Epiphone Casino
  • Pedals - Pro Co Rat 2 and Barber LTD Silver
  • Recording set-up - Award MB10 direct to Cubase 5 (via a MOTU audio interface)
  • [Video 1] No additional processing
  • [Video 2] Additional processing in Adobe Audition, using included plugins for light compression and reverb