AF’s Weblog

February 7, 2011

SWR HeadLite Amplifier Head & Amplite Amplifier Review

On today’s menu, to get rid of the cold and warm up, we have a light but nourishing pair of SWR class-D heads (an amp/preamp combo and a power amplifier).

This would be a dream come true on any restaurant’s menu. And since French gastronomy (Yes, I is Vrench!) is now part of the UNESCO world cultural heritage, I would like to talk about food. But what do 7 lbs of potatoes and a 800-watt amplifier system have in common? First of all, the weight! And also the fact that both fit inside the vegetable compartment of a small fridge. Class-D amplifiers are more common nowadays. Most manufacturers have developed their own models, and now SWR serves us a new interpretation.

Small is Sweet…

SWR HeadLite and AmpLite

And it even fits in my gig bag’s pocket. The main advantages of a switching amplifier are its extremely compact size and very light weight, despite a high output power. Just imagine riding to the recording studio with 400 watts on your bike. And if that’s not enough, imagine the same with 800 watts! Plus a tube preamp, semi-parametric EQ, compressor and enhancer. The whole universe of SWR has been miniaturized an fitted into a very convenient and compact housing.

Headlite: 1.8″ x 8.5″ x 9.8″ for 3.7 lb. / Amplite: 1.8″ x 8.5″ x 9.8″ for 3 lb. Incredible! But before testing these products, let me make a brief summary of the brand as well as of class-D technology.

Garage Brand

In the beginning of the 80’s, clean sound was trendy. It had to be less raw and more sophisticated than the past decade. All radio stations played New Wave synth music, Michael Jackson was the King of pop and soul music changed disco for funk. An engineer at Accoustic Control Corporation, the brand of choice of Larry Graham, Jaco Pastorius and John Paul Jones (to name just a few!), decided to radically change the bass amplification market based on the fact that many famous studio musicians wanted more sound clarity and neutrality.

SWR HeadLite and AmpLite

Steeve W. Rabe started his small revolution in a garage where he, together with some associates, tried out many preamp/EQ/amp combinations until he satisfied the pro bass players in Los Angeles. A handful of them tested the prototypes during different recording sessions.

This long and arduous work would lead to the brand’s first amplifier head in 1984. Called PB-200 (which became later the famous SM-400), this amp head already offered all the features that made the young company a success: a tube preamp, a stereo amp, a semi-parametric EQ, a DI out (a groundbreaking feature for a bass amplifier), an aural exciter, and a compressor.

Following the success of their amp heads in recording studios, SWR started to manufacture speaker cabinets to set a foot in the live amplification market. The first Golliath speaker cabinet was introduced in 1986 and combined four 10″ speakers (a new concept introduced by Trace Elliot) with a tweeter. The success was immediate in the professional amplification market.

In 1997, Steeve W Rabe sold his company to form Raven Labs. The new owners would sell the brand again to FMIC (Fender Musical Instrument Corporation) in 2003. Today, the products of the brand are manufactured mainly in Corona and Ensenada, California, together with other Fender products.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Marcus’ Favorite Tool

I had to return the products just before the trade show in Paris (France) so that Marcus Miller could use them for demos. I’m moved by the fact that I could use the same gear as Michel and Marcus (yes, since we all use the same amp, we call ourselves by our first names): it is almost as if I had intruded into the privacy of these two bass guitar gods…

It’s true, I’m boasting a bit but this conclusion is mine and I want it to be brilliant and positive. SWR offers an affordable class-D system considering its quality. It requires a bit of adaptation to manage all possibilities and to get on with the lack of visual scales around the controls, but I’ll bet you anything that they will add them to future versions. To be seriously considered — for fun or business.

Advantages:

  • Size
  • Weight
  • Sound shaping possibilities
  • Connections
  • Output power
  • Sold with bag (not included with the products reviewed)

Drawbacks:

  • No scale around the controls
  • Only one speaker out on the HeadLite

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  SWR Headlite Amp

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