AF’s Weblog

February 23, 2012

Ampeg GVT52 112 & GVT15H Review

Filed under: Amps, Guitar reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 6:41 am

The name Ampeg makes bass players’ ears stand up and tails wag. There is a good reason for that: launched during the 1969 NAMM, their SVT amp still has a leading position in the hearts and minds of most bass players. However, today we won’t review a bass amp, but an amp conceived for six-string players. Focus on the GVT52-112 & GVT15H.

Even though Ampeg has released guitar amps in the past, they are still pretty unknown and even underestimated. What’s more, bass products clearly take the lion’s share in the manufacturer’s catalog: bass heads, bass combos, Heritage Series, SVT Pro, Portaflex… So we were surprised to discover a brand new guitar amp range at the Musikmesse 2011! Called GVT, this series looks a lot like the old SVT monsters (300 watts in those days…) and will seduce Ampeg and vintage gear fans.

With their chrome control panel, buttons evoking a time most people under 40 didn’t know, and old-school logo, these new GVT amps have an appealing look and ride the wave of vintage gear for guitar players. One can easily imagine the sound coming out of the speakers just by looking at them and immediately feel nostalgic.

Let’s start with simple things: the small 15-watt head and its speaker cabinet.

Small But Tough

Ampeg GVT52 112 et GVT15H

I don’t know about you, but personally I can’t resist tiny stacks! They look lovely, don’t they? With its compact size (9.8″x18″x10″) and light weight (27.4 lbs), this amp head is perfect for home use while being easily transportable. The speaker cabinet is equipped with a Celestion Vintage 30 12″ woofer, weights 30.8 lbs and has similar dimensions 16.5″x18x11″. Both devices together weight less than 60 lbs, plus they are easier to transport than the combo: just hold the amp head with your left hand and the speaker cabinet with your right hand, stand upright and you are ready to go.

The two devices look pretty sturdy: 15-mm plywood, thick leather handle and metal front panel. The knobs feel very firm and inspire a lot of confidence, the switches feel pretty tight as well.

And what’s inside?

A Well-Furnished Mind in a Small Head

Ampeg GVT52 112 et GVT15H

The GVT15H features only one all-tube channel (class-A push-pull technology). The preamp stage has a pair of 12AX7 tubes while the power amp uses two 6V6GT tubes. You can halve the output power and get 7.5 watts instead of 15 (15 W = tetrode; 7.5 W = triode).

The Baxandall three-band EQ provides standard Bass, Middle and Treble settings. On the front panel you’ll also find the gain, volume and reverb controls. The Treble setting allows to cut/boost up to 12dB @ 5kHz, the Bass control is set to work on 80Hz, while the Middle knob allows you to cut up to 6dB @ 800Hz or boost up to 10dB @ 2kHz. The spring reverb and the rear FX loop can be disabled with a footswitch. You can connect 4, 8 or 16 ohm speakers to the amp using the appropriate rear output.

And that’s it for the overview of this extremely straightforward amp head. But how does it sound?

C-c-c-c-combo Breaker

Same look, same manufacturing quality, so let’s move on to the interesting parts right away.

Ampeg GVT52 112 et GVT15H

This time, you get two channels, 50 watts of output power and an all-tube class-AB amplifier stage. The amp uses three 12AX7 tubes at the preamp stage and two 6L6GC tubes for the power amp. The triode operating mode is still available and allows you to halve the output power (25 watts). Weight (52.2 lbs) and dimensions (19.5″x24″x11″) are still reasonable. The internal speaker is a 12″ Celestion Custom Design. A good-quality footswitch is provided and it allows you to select a channel and activate the booster. Notice that it is possible to add a second footswitch to enable/disable the internal spring reverb and the FX loop.

The first channel produces only clean sounds and bears a lot of resemblance to the 15-watt head: same three-band Baxandall EQ, gain and volume controls. To switch to channel 2, you can use the small switch on the front panel or the footswitch.

Ampeg GVT52 112 et GVT15H

The EQ in channel 2 is slightly different: the mid boost is set at 1kHz, instead of 2kHz like in channel 1. All other controls are identical. The reverb setting and (of course) the master volume are common to both channels. Even if the combo offers a bit more than the head, it’s still pretty straightforward. There’s an LED that lights up red in standby mode and green when the amp is ready to be played — nice little detail.

On the rear panel you’ll find an effect loop (TS jacks), two footswitch connectors (only one is provided), and the outputs for 4, 8 or 16 ohm speakers. If you’re not sure about this last point, the user’s manual clearly explains the impedance to be used depending on the number of speakers and their impedance. Before listening to the sound samples, notice that the booster is accessible only from the footswitch and is common to both channels.

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  GVT52 112 & GVT 15H Reviews

February 14, 2012

Olympus LS-20M Review

Somewhere between the pocket cam and pocket recorder market segments, Olympus has introduced a hybrid called LS-20M. The concept is simple: offer a full-HD pocket cam capable of recording good-quality audio, making the LS-20M the first real competitor of the Zoom Q3 HD, which is currently the only product in this market segment…

The battle between the two, promises a lot: while Zoom is the leading manufacturer of pocket recorders with the H2, Olympus is the leader of dictation systems. Moreover, Olympus is also one of the leading manufacturers in the cameras/lenses market, so it might become a serious challenger for Zoom, and even for the top dogs in the pocket cam market like Kodak, Cisco, Sanyo and Sony.

In The Box

Olympus LS-20M

Olympus included almost everything you can expect inside the box. Besides the device, you’ll find a battery, a 2GB SD card and a dual-function USB cable. The cable will be useful to transfer all data recorded on the LS-20M to your computer, and also to load the battery either via the USB port of your computer or an external PSU. The package also includes the user’s manual in six different languages. And that’s it! No transport bag for the device, no wrist-strap, no HDMI cable — and, since we are complaining, the 8″ USB cable is really short…

The design is quite nice: the device is a bit thicker and longer than a smartphone but less bulky than a Zoom Q3HD (it has a finer design). It has many controls and connections on its small housing made out of different mat and glossy plastic materials in metal finish. The main colors are black and anthracite. On the top of the device, the two mics are placed on both sides of the camera under chrome-like baskets. Everything looks very serious, even if it would be more reassuring to get a silicone or padded leather case to prevent any damages in case of a fall.

Front and Side Views

Olympus LS-20M

Now it’s time to have a closer look at the device. Starting with the left side that provides a power on/off+hold switch, a connector for an optional remote control, a mic in and a headphones out on stereo minijacks. The mic input can be switched to line input and fed with phantom power, which is a decisive advantage over the Q3HD that only has a line input (making the connection of external mics impossible). With the LS-20M, you can use a shotgun mic, a lavalier mic or a good old SM58. This feature will attract users who want to use external mics — just notice that using the mic input mutes the internal mics, so don’t expect to be able to mix both signals…

Olympus LS-20M

On the right side, a switch allows you to toggle between audio/video modes while a small slot allows you to access the SD card. The bottom side of the device includes a miniUSB and a HDMI connector hidden behind a blind plate. Everything looks pretty good, and this also applies to the rear side, which provides an access to the battery, a tiny 2/3″ speaker (it’s not a ghetto blaster but it’s convenient for raw monitoring in quiet environments), and a thread insert allowing you to mount the LS-20M on a camera stand… instead of a microphone stand, which would be more convenient in most cases.

Olympus LS-20M

Between the two mics on the top side of the device, you’ll find a LED indicating signal overloads and (surprise!) the lens of the camera. The surprising position of the camera changes the handling of the device quite radically. To shoot what is happening in front of you, you have to hold the LS-20M horizontally —not in parallel to your body like with most pocket cams— and aim at the scene you want to capture like you would do with a remote control. At first glance this seems more intuitive.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

The LS-20M provides good quality video and high quality audio recording. With numerous useful options, especially in the video department, the LS-20M is a dangerous competitor for the Zoom Q3HD. The awkward position of the camera is certainly its main disadvantage in many situations: except in some rare occasions (shooting above a crowd or recording people who are seated while you’re standing), the camera position is not very practical and makes things more difficult for the user. Now you have all the information you need to choose between these two rivals or you might even consider a third solution: an Apple iStuff plus a microphone kit. It’s up to you…

 Advantages:
  • Nice overall look
  • Seems rather rugged
  • Compact size (it even fits inside your hip pocket)
  • Picture quality on the same level as the best pocket cams on the market, but with a much higher sound quality
  • No need to switch to macro mode for close-ups
  • Video pickup angle wider than most other pocket cams
  • High-quality sound with detailed high frequencies
  • Many audio and video settings and functions
  • All-in-one concept: cam, field recorder, webcam, multimedia jukebox
Drawbacks:
  • Position of the camera — more disturbing than advantageous
  • Few accessories: no protection bag, no wrist-strap, etc.
  • The small buttons are not backlit and their silk screen is hardly readable
  • Many buttons, many menus for a somewhat old-fashioned design
  • Renaming files and folders is impossible
  • High-frequencies a bit too sharp, slight lack of low-end

To read the full detailed article with video demos please see:  Olympus LS-20M Review

February 7, 2012

Fender Modern Player Jazz Bass & Telecaster Bass Review

When I went to pick up these beauties at AudioFanzine’s editorial office, I asked myself how many Jazz and Precision basses I had already reviewed in my life as an editor. From Standard to Deluxe, Vintage, Special and Classic versions, from US to Mexican and Japanese, not to mention the Korean Series and Squier — Fender’s offer is very wide and almost confusing.

I actually decided to count them for you (and a little bit for me too) and here is the result: Fender’s catalog includes not less than 50 JB and PB versions (without taking the different finishes available for each model into account), but only two Jaguar and one single Mustang basses. Imagine going to a car dealer to buy a new car and having to choose from four dozen variations of the same car, a tricycle and a golf cart! Fender’s fidelity to its bass guitar classics is obvious. However, this review does reveal something new: first of all, although both basses feature the Fender label, their country of origin is China. Moreover, they don’t use their standard pickup combinations, which certainly is a very important point considering that both instruments got their name from their respective pickup sets. So let’s put our hands on this new Chinese girls!

A Bit of History…

In former reviews dedicated to Fender (60th Anniversary and American Specials series), I told you about Leo Fender’s story.

Fender Modern Player Jazz Bass

Let’s pick up from where we left off: we were in 1951, a very important year for us since it saw the consolidation of the Precision Bass as a successful instrument in the bass guitar market. Leo Fender had already understood that the success of an electric instrument relied on amplification, so he launched a bass combo in 1952 that was able to withstand the signal of the Precision Bass. This 35-watt amp was called Bassman. The success was almost immediate, especially among jazz musicians (Lionel Hampton’s orchestra was the first to include this instrument). In the meantime, pop and rock musicians would still prefer rockabilly-style double bass for several years. It’s interesting to mention that guitar players also loved the Bassman, mainly for its high output power.

And when it came to six-string guitar, Leo would listen to the needs of musicians for more sound versatility (the bright Telecaster sound isn’t for everyone) and improved ergonomics (the angular Telecaster body is not the most comfortable), and was about to present a new legend in 1954: theStratocaster. For this project, he worked with Freddy Tavares and Bill Carson starting in 1953. The shape of the Stratocaster was based on the ’53 Precision Bass whose roundness was in turn inspired by the design concept used by theautomobile industry in the 1950’s. The top of the body included a new bevel edge for the right arm, three pickups and a tremolo bar to compete with the Bigsby system introduced in 1952.

Fender Modern Player Precision Bass

Right away, the Stratocaster became a standard and still remains the most copied electric guitar to date. In 1957 came the turn for the Precision Bass to take the Stratocaster as a model: its shape was improved and the single coil replaced by the famous split-coil pickup still used today. In 1960, that is to say nine years after the launch of its first bass guitar, the manufacturer presented its last legendary instrument, the Deluxe Model which would be quickly renamed Jazz Bass. The neck is thinner at the nut than the Precision Bass, the shape of its body is inspired by the Jaguar and Jazzmaster developed a bit earlier. But it was mainly the pickup combination that made the personality of the Jazz Bass stand out: a pair of parallel single-coils using two coils for each string. The sound was tighter than that of the Precision, because the main asset in those days was to avoid damaging the low-quality speakers of bass amps. This particular sound would become later a real signature thanks to great musicians like Jaco Pastorius and, of course, Larry Graham. By the way, while doing my research for this review, I found a classified ad that could be of interest for rich fans of Jaco. After all, even bass players can win the lottery!

China is The Place To Be

Until now, Chinese manufacturing was limited to Fender’s main sub-brand Squier. With the Modern Player series, and following the success of the recent Squier Vintage Modified series, the “Made in China” label enters Fender’s catalog. A new production line is born — a new challenge for the brand, because Chinese manufacturing of musical instruments isn’t well received by demanding musicians. And to fight this prejudice, Fender will have to be convincing…

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Personally, I find these new Fender bass guitars under $600 really appealing, especially the blonde one. If I had the money, I would buy and upgrade it with a pair of Darkstar pickups and a Badass bridge, just for fun. That’s the reason why I assert that Chinese people are beautiful (easy for me to say since part of my family comes from Guandong) and that they always make everything better! And this is proven by the intrinsic value of the two bass guitars we reviewed today! The value for money is amazing and you get more than only standard features. In short, a fresh concept showing respect for tradition.

Advantages: 
  • Finish
  • Original and powerful pickup sets
  • Neck playability
  • We like new things
Drawbacks:
  • Gig bag = Cardboard box. Every time a bass guitar is sold in a cardboard box, a fairy disappears…
  • Slight level difference between both Telecaster pickups

To read the full detailed article see:  Fender Modern Player Jazz Bass & Telecaster Bass Review

February 2, 2012

Yamaha DTX540K Electronic Drums Review

Filed under: Drums/Percussion — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 11:05 am

Yamaha pulls out all the stops with its revolutionary TCS pads in an attempt to make itself appealing to most drummers who still refuse e-drums. As a DTXPress owner and former user, the DTX540K is reminding me the feelings I had when I first left the acoustic path. Thus, I was very excited and had (too?) high expectations when I started this review. Half satisfied.

The End of a Polemic?

Indeed, Yamaha has been making huge improvements on its e-drum kits for several years and has effectively turn some unsuccessful and unauthentic toys into real instruments. From the very beginning of the e-drums history, the pads have been harshly criticized by many drummers because they were wrist damaging, too small and lagged far behind the performance of acoustic drums.

Yamaha DTX540K

Yamaha took this very extended discomfort into account and has come back under the spotlight with a new pad generation. As part of the DTX500 series, whose products are based on the same sound module, the DTX540K offers TCS pads (Textured Cellular Silicone) combining silicone and air blisters for toms and snare drum, and 3-zone pads for cymbals, thus offering extended possibilities to drummers. While in the past they were only practice instruments for drummers living in apartments, Yamaha presents now its new e-drum kits as being much more sexy and capable of competing with products of other manufacturers and even with real acoustic drums.

Ultimate Removal Man

Yamaha DTX540K

Having passed the transportation test — one of drummer’s favorite sports — it’s time for me to unpack the beast. All elements are perfectly well protected in four different cardboard boxes. The box with the RS500 rack is monumental, but after taking it out of its protection cover I was positively surprised to see that it was already assembled. Thus, I immediately forgave the effort required for transportation — and I could vaguely remember the nightmare it was to assemble the rack of my DTXPress. Yamaha has simplified things greatly and assembly is now a breeze: just spread out the two main upright posts of the rack and put the tom supports and the cymbal holders into the right position. All other parts of the product are logically sorted in the three remaining boxes so that assembling is not unpleasant at all.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

To wrap it up, the DTX540K is a mid-range product with some pros and cons. Some elements are just perfect, especially the rack, the XP70, XP80, and PCY135 pads, as well as some features of the module that allow you to practice more efficiently. But the sounds, the PCY100 cymbal pads and the KP65 kick darken the picture a little bit. This results in a wandering between pleasure and frustration that makes you want to look at more expensive drum kits to reduce your dissatisfaction.

The price of the instrument seems a bit too high. But the price certainly has to do with the new-generation pads. For example, the only difference compared to the DTX520K are the XP70 tom pads, which results in a substantial increase in price. The DTX540K is in the same price segment as the TD 9 K2 from Roland — another giant on the e-drums market — whose pads have a different design (meshed heads) and feel. It’s all a matter of taste I guess. The pad war is still raging and there appears to be no end in sight!

Anyway, this Yamaha is a good practice drum set for a wide range of musicians and it offers a good playing comfort in spite of its handicaps. However, it didn’t convince me enough to take it on stage instead of my acoustic drum kit. But who knows what surprises the future will bring…

Advantages:
  • TCS pads
  • PCY135 cymbal
  • RS500 rack
  • User-friendly DTX500 sound module
  • Practice-based features (metronome, groove check, play-along, record)
Drawbacks:
  • KP65 bass-drum pad
  • Samples
  • Badly placed volume control

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Yamaha DTX540K Review

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