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Comparison: Rockman Smart Gate / MXR M135 Smart Gate

Date:Updated: January 31, 2005MXR M135 Smart Gate
Manufacturer:Jim Dunlop
Author:Ned Cullen

Update: MXR M235 Smart Gate Pro now available at Musicians Frined

MXR M235 Smart Gate Pro
MXR M235 Smart Gate Pro

Update: New MXR Custom Shop Smart Gate

MXR Custom Shop Smart Gate Dunlop is in the process of rolling out it's new custom shop line of products. The first two products will be the MXR rack Wah and a Dual Smart Gate. This is the unit EVH was using during the 2004 Best of Both Worlds tour.

The Custom Shop Smart Gate circuitry is exactly the same as the small M-135 MRX Smart Gate, except that the rack runs on a 18 Volt power supply, which offers ~6dB more headroom and has true hard-wire bypass. Each gate has a front panel bypass switch enabling the gate to be bypassed regardless of the rear panel bypass. The two internal gates can be configured to be bypass alternately, or bypassed individually and the output of the first Smart Gate can feed the input of the second Smart Gate through the second gate's input jack.

The Dunlop custom shop is now open. Click here for the Dunlop Custom Shop

Original Smart Gate Article

The first question many of you are probably asking is "Why would I need a noise gate?"

Tube amps are noisy creatures especially high gain tube amps like the 5150, Eddie Van Halen uses the Rockman Smart Gate to quiet his 5150's. When referring to noise we are talking about the hiss and hum you hear when not playing. A noise gate will eliminate this static by filtering the frequency band that generates this hiss and hum, a good noise gate will eliminate the single coil hum as well.

Here is the real trick…a good noise gate will do this without coloring your tone in any way, shape or form. And this is where the MXR/Rockman Smart Gate out performs all other noise gates until the recent release of the MXR Smart Gate.

The rest of this article will cover the Rockman Smart Gate, the MXR Smart Gate and the differences and similarities between the two units.

Rockman Smart Gate

Rockman Smart Gate

Production: Approximately 1,940 units from 1989-1994
Suggested list price: $189.00
Form Factor: Half rack Rockman Rock Module

The Rockman Smart Gate was developed from the noise reduction circuitry initially designed for the Rockman Sustainer. Consensus among tone gurus is the Rockman Smart Gate is the best noise reduction device ever developed, EVH uses two Smart Gates in his stage rig. With no processing circuitry in the signal path while the gate is open the gate releases time as notes either cut or decay. The end result is total silence at any volume level.

The Rockman Smart Gate has three areas that control how the unit functions: Noise Band Cut, Trigger/Thresh Hold Adjust and Line/Guitar Level. The Noise Band Cut switch lets you select the filter cut-off point. This allows the noise gate to be tailored to different input signals. The HISS GATE works well with vocal mikes, keyboards an electric bass while the HISS/MID GATE is effective on distorted guitars, amplified harmonicas and high gain midrange instruments. The FULL BAND is most effective in quieting low-end hum and buzz generated from AC line noise, display noise (PC monitor) and noise generate from light dimmers.

The Threshold Adjust sets the gate sensitivity level. A yellow light indicates when the gate is engaged allowing the user to set the threshold level to each input source. The Line/Guitar Level button allows the Smart Gate to be used with a wide range of input sources. Typically leaving the button out for instrument inputs is acceptable.

MXR M-135 Smart Gate

MXR Smart Gate
Production: Currently Produced
Suggested list price: $174.98
Form Factor: Stomp Box

The main difference in the MXR Smart Gate from Rockman Smart Gate is the form factor. The Rockman unit is a half rack design while the MXR Smart Gate is a stomp box measuring 4-3/8 x 2-3/8 x 1-1/4 inches.

The controls are basically the same with the footswitch toggling the Effect On/Bypass (red LED indicates on). The Trigger Level knob allows adjusting the threshold level of gate versus the Rockman's slider and a three-position switch selects type of noise reduction: Hiss, Mid Range, or Fuji Gate. These setting perform exactly as the Rockman units Noise Band Cut switch.

Rockman - MXR Differences

MXR Smart Gate is an improved version of the Rockman Smart Gate. The MXR and the Rockman Smart Gates produce the exact same selectable 3-band Smart Noise Reduction results along with the following improvements.
  • The MXR Smart Gate detection/decision circuitry uses Full-Wave instead of Half-Wave as in the Rockman, thus improving the smoothness of the Noise Filtering action.
  • The MXR Smart Gate uses VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier) technology to vastly improve the percent of THD when compared to the Rockman FET (Field Effect Transistor) approach.
  • The MXR Smart Gate is powered by a single standard 9-volt battery or AC wall adaptor.
  • Reduced in size to fit in a small bullet proof "Stomp Box"

Conclusion

As a Rockman collector the two pieces of Rockman gear that I cannot live without are the Rockman Stereo Echo and Smart Gate. The Rockman Smart Gate sits in the effects loop of my ADA MP1 which is notorious for producing excessive noise and hum. The Smart Gate keeps the old MP1 quiet along with the hum from the single coils. When recording on the PC I use the Rockman Smart Gate between my guitar and Line6 GuitarPort to reduce the noise generated by the PC monitor. In short you cannot have enough of these devices and my next "tone" purchase will be a MXR Smart Gate for the live rig.

I would like to thank the engineers at Jim Dunlop for providing information on both the Rockman and MXR Smart Gate.

To discuss this article in the Wolfgang Registry forums click here.

More Smart Gate information can be found at the following site:
Jim Dunlop MXR M135 Page
Harmony-Central Rockman Smart Gate Database


MXR M-135 Smart Gate Pedal
MXR M-135 Smart Gate Pedal

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