Steve Fryette is an amp genius so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I’ve got to admit that the design of his company’s new Aether combo amp is a bit bonkers.
If you’re not familiar with Fryette Amplification, you may know the company by its previous name: VHT. There was some legal weirdness that’s never been fully disclosed and that old moniker went to some other company. So over the last five years or so those same old Pittbull/Deliverance/etc amps have had Steve’s last name on their face plates.
But this new Fryette, the Aether, is a real left turn for the company. Note the abandonment of the classic black, white, and green color scheme and the completely new typeface for the logo (the previous Fryette badges did their best to match the VHT logos of old). The visual 180 matches the amp’s engineering: the Aether is a 50 watt combo amp instead of a head designed to be a rock/metal powerhouse like almost everything else in Fryette’s product line. (Update: I was mistaken. The power section is 25 watts.)
But that’s not what’s really noteworthy with the Aether. For some reason it has an external power amp. Now, a standalone power amp in and of itself isn’t unusual. But to house the preamp in the combo, and then design it so you run a cable out to the power amp, then back into the the combo amp to connect to the speaker section? Correct me if some older amp has done this, but it’s completely new to me. And I guess I don’t see the advantage. Here’s what Steve Fryette had to say about his design choice on The Gear Page:
Originally Posted by sfryette
Two part answer:
1) To eliminate the interaction between the power tubes and speaker with regard to mechanical vibration and the speakers magnetic field.
2) This part is something personal to me. Marketing and sales people have a lot to say about “what the customer wants”, which I interpret as “what’s easiest to push through the pipeline”. Here, the idea of convenience as a selling point is discarded in favor of a breathtaking playing experience. In retrospect, convenience is increased as a normally heavy combo amp can now easily be carried and set up.
I’m a diehard disciple of the ritual of preparing to perform. Restringing your instrument, setting up the intonation, wiping off the fingerprints, tuning, and plugging in the amp, are all things we do to mentally and emotionally psyche ourselves up to play. With the Aether amp, setting up is a little more evolved and intimate. Having this other cool piece in your hands brings the ritual to another level – focusing your attention on the importance of the “other half” of your instrument.
So I guess Steve has his reasons. But in regard to response #1, how far does the power amp have to be to negate the tube/speaker interaction, because in the demo video (that I’ve screen-grabbed above) they’re still damn close to each other: like, closer than with a more traditional separate head/cab setup. And response #2… well, it sounds ultimately like Steve just wanted to do something different.
But you know what, good on him. Maybe this design will appeal to very few people, but Fryette isn’t a mass market assembly line manufacturer. If it’s within the company’s budget to make some low production run oddball design that most customers will avoid, yet for a select few it fulfills a specific niche, then that’s what I love to see. I’ll admit that the Aether is not an amp that I’m at all interested in. Still, I think it’s pretty cool that Steve Fryette is continuing to experiment even with decades of seminal amps in his portfolio. Plus, I’ll cut any amount of slack to the guy who created the Deliverance. That puppy is one of the five greatest heads I’ve ever heard (pro-tip, try it when you need to track distorted bass). So shine on, you crazy fucking weirdo.
Now when is your GP/DI low-wattage recording amp seeing the light of day? Now that’s a niche product that I’m salivating for.