AF’s Weblog

August 5, 2012

EVH 5150III Review

Filed under: Amps — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 7:07 am

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  EVH 5150III Review

When Fender launched a new amplifier featuring a new “EVH” logo and the traditional “F” next to the 5150 III logo, questions were certain to rise. Rumors said this new monster is made for metal. There are too many secrets surrounding this new amp — it’s time for me to jump into my van and find out the truth.

EVH 5150III

The front side of the head distinguishes itself by the number of distinctive signs — an “EVH” logo, a “Frankenstein”-inspired design, a Fender logo and the 5150 III name. What a mystery this new product is! I call in the famous “doctor” Robert Klaptone to help us understand all those “religious” signs. “EVH” is the acronym of the famous guitar player: Edward Lodewijk (aka Eddie) Van Halen. The man was a Peavey endorser from 1993 to 2004 when he regularly used the 5150 (which is also the name of one of his albums), renamed “Peavey 6505” after the separation from Eddie. Since then, Eddie joined the Fender artist roster, but with a quite unusual agreement. Mr. Edward founded his own brand called EVH leaving the full manufacturing process to Fender. This is the reason why both EVH and Fender logos are so close, while “5150” reminds the LP (and the sound of those days) and “III” just means three channels.

Now that the context is cleared, let’s have a closer look to the beast….

Rock is Not Enough

Fender offers a very good product to all big-sound fans (and all Eddie fans). This small racing engine goes for about $1,333 (MSRP), which is quite affordable for an all-tube 3-channel 50W amp. We missed a small reverb to bring warmth to the sound. And let’s don’t forget the difference in output level in channel 2, which makes it almost impossible to use on stage or during rehearsals. I recommend this amp to all musicians who are looking for a big sound, reliability and good finish quality!

Advantages: 
  • The price
  • The finish
  • Compact and sturdy
  • Three channels for good versatility

Drawbacks:

  • Volume difference between channel 2 and the other channels
  • No reverb
  • Sound a bit too straight

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  EVH 5150III Review

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July 25, 2012

Diagnosing and Fixing a Tube Amp

Filed under: Amps — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:23 am

To read the full detailed article see:  Diagnosing and Fixing a Tube Amp

Guitar amps are, no matter how you cut it, black boxes. You may think you have control over them, but when it gets down to it, you can’t really see inside the black box, and even if you could, there aren’t any moving parts. Electricity is largely non-mechanical. Or in other words, magic. And when the magic stops, most people think all they can do is resort to prayer. Or an amp technician.

Fig. 1. My trusty Fender Vibro-King was on the fritz, and the suspects were the output tubes and the speakers.

When your amp isn’t performing up to snuff, there’s still a lot you can do without having an EE degree, or even knowing how to operate test equipment. Here are some holistic approaches—and solutions—you can try yourself, as I did when my tube amp went on the fritz. Warning: Some of the following procedures involve messing around with the components of the amp, so be careful. Electricity can kill you. Proceed at your own risk.

Creeping Death

Failure in a tube amp is often creeping and insidious, more like the wearing of the tread in your tires than a light bulb blowing. Because the changes generally occur over time, you can become inured to little degradations in performance. Then one day, maybe after you’ve been away and come back to it, you realize something’s not right. Such was the case with me and my favorite tube amp, my Fender Vibro-King (see Fig. 1). The following procedures, though, will work on many tube amps. Just swap out the specifics or make the necessary adjustment for your model accordingly.

Testing….is this thing killing?

The first test I made was just to see how loud my amp got, and if it was ear-splitting—as nature intended—at its highest volume. The Vibro-King has no master volume, so this is fairly easy to determine: wind the lone volume knob up to 10, stand the hell back, and play your guitar with the controls full out. Disappointingly, the amp, in its maxed-out state, did not rattle the windows, disturb the neighbors, and risk injury to my eardrums. I knew the amp wasn’t firing on all cylinders even without the benefit of test equipment or knowing which link in the chain was falling down on the job (if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor). Next step: Just how is it not delivering full power?

Let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

It’s a fine line to determine what you should monkey with and what you should leave alone when something goes wrong in a tube amp. Amps are much more difficult than guitars for two reasons: 1) They’re all electrical and not mechanical and electrical; and 2) you’re dealing with high voltage, which is dangerous to you and your amp. But that doesn’t mean that you should be afraid of your amp, just that you need to take the necessary precautions. If your amp doesn’t work and you find out it’s because of a user-replaceable blown fuse, you’re going to feel pretty foolish if you have to learn this from the tech at the shop. That’s perhaps the simplest example, but even being able to swap out tubes and diagnose problems can help you understand better your amp and even lead you to solutions—even if they’re incomplete and temporary. But that’s sometimes all you need to get you through that last gig before you can pay a visit to the shop.

To read the full detailed article see:  Diagnosing and Fixing a Tube Amp

May 21, 2012

Kemper Profiling Amplifier Review

Filed under: Amps, Guitar reviews, Hardware — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:13 am

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Kemper Profiling Amplifier Review

The world of amp modeling is merciless. It’s been a long way since the first 6U rack processors came out with their utterly obscene prices and a sound that would make every POD Mini owner laugh out loud today.

Considering the huge offer available right now it’s quite difficult to choose a product: between plug-ins (Eleven, Guitar Rig, Amplitube…), custom-shaped devices like the giant bean (Line 6 POD), multi-effect pedals (VOX Tonelab…), amplifier heads, guitar combos, rack processors, and strange things in between (VOX AmpPlug, Amplitube iRig for iPhone…), most musicians looking for different legendary amp imitations at an affordable price almost always feel helpless.

All the more since the simulation quality has dramatically increased, even if it’s surprising to see that some pioneer products are still very successful, especially the first SansAmp. Now, as if by magic, a hungry newcomer just appeared in this wild jungle. It is committed to lay down the law and beat all competitors. Let me introduce you to the magic preamp, the gear that simulates your own amps and even more, the Kemper Profiling Amplifier! With such a name you feel like in a third-rate science fiction movie, and it’s nearly true… I know, it’s hard to get excited when you hear for the umpteenth time that you can “just throw your all-tube amps away because here comes the solution to your problems: all your amps in a single, universal magic box that can do everything…”. But forget about the past: a little bird told me that this product is really valuable, that it could revolutionize modeling concepts and that it will be a crazy source of inspiration for the most creative people among us…

Winter 2012, Antarctica — A team of German scientists discovers…

Kemper Profiling Amplifier

… a small but extremely appealing unit. And this is the first highlight for people who use public transportation like me: the cardboard box containing the product is very light. It may seem like a small detail, but it does count, especially if you take into account that Kemper’s goal is to put all your old and modern amps (and more) into a single box that you can take anywhere with you to use with every single setup! In this regard, Kemper didn’t forget a thing: they also added an optional transport bag that recalls the bag of an Orange Tiny Terror, and an optional amplifier module to change the Profiling Amplifier into a real all-round amplifier head.

It’s time to open Pandora’s box and… surprise! The beast looks pretty nice (a mix of an old tube radio receiver and the control panel of a jet) even if it doesn’t feel very rock’n’roll, if you know what I mean. A good thing is the leather handle: it’s a simple feature but it gives the electronic box a classy style. The manufacturing quality is very good. Germans are famous for that and people at Kemper are no exception. Turning the controls and checking out the connections you get the impression that the unit is quite sturdy in spite of its very light weight.

So, now it’s time to power on the device and start checking out the control interface. Honestly, if you have used this kind of product before, you shouldn’t have a problem browsing the presets (yes, Kemper packed presets into the product) and edit them. The interface is not the most friendly, fun or colorful (simple display, no pictograms), but you’ll quickly find what you’re looking for: each button is assigned to the function described by its name; everything is quite practical if you think logically. Just read the short (but nice!) user’s manual and you’ll master every feature. First of all, let’s check out the presets of a product that seems to be just a competitor of the Eleven Rack (for example): to that effect I connected the master out to a Neve channel strip and sent the preamp signal directly into Pro Tools.

Now, let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

People who know me also know that I’m a living paradox when it comes to amp simulations. My heart tells me that the endless charm and poetry of a real good amp, vintage or not, with its imperfections and intrinsic tone richness are worth the few technical disadvantages of analog gear. On the other hand, the strong scientific background I got from my family taught me to value technical progress, because only innovation can bring the human brain to new creative dimensions. And here is my personal opinion: Kemper has done an amazing job! The profiling process works really good and you can create very special sounds depending on your application and your imagination (you can can model an old radio receiver, an ambiance mic, etc.). However, I won’t sell my amps overnight — a copy will always remain a copy! That being said, huge congratulations to the team that designed this product: it blew me away! And the price is quite reasonable considering all the innovations it entails. Hats off!

Advantages: 
  • Good sound
  • Clever design
  • A real amp cloner!
  • Nice look
  • Reasonable price
Drawbacks:
  • XLR input without phantom power
  • Storing process too long
  • Really old-school way to exchange data with a computer

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Kemper Profiling Amplifier Review

November 28, 2011

Orange Dark Terror Review

At AudioFanzine, we are acutely aware of all the small terrors unleashed by Orange. We already reviewed the Tiny Terror (the first model), the Dual Terror (two channels) and the Bass Terror (four-string player version) — now comes the Dark Terror.

This time, the orange ripened in a cellar and didn’t see the light of day for a long time — the orange is very sour. Behind its black look, the design is based on the Tiny Terror with a metal housing and three controls. It also has the same features: a 15 watts power stage and only one single channel.

But, apart from the color, where is the difference with the Tiny Terror?

We will come back to this later, but let’s have a look at the product first…

Black is Black

Orange Dark Terror

No need for a detailed hardware description: everybody knows what it’s all about. It still looks very rough, the small gig bag with the Orange logo is also there and we were lucky enough to get an Orange speaker cabinet with the same dark finish. The latter uses a standard 12″ Celestion Vintage 30 speaker. The speaker cabinet weights about 44 lbs and has the following dimensions: 20.5″ x 17.7″ x 11.8″. The amplifier head weights 15.4 lbs, versus the 11 lbs of the Tiny Terror (is black paint 4 lbs. heavier than white pain?). The dimensions are compact enough (11.8″ x 6.7″ x 5.5″) to allow an easy transportation in the subway, on a hot-air balloon or on foot.

The front panel is not surprising and it features the exact same controls as the Tiny Terror: Guitar input, On/Off and 15 Watts/Standby/7 Watts switches, a nice red lamp indicating the unit is on, and the three controls for Volume, Shape and Gain. As you might have noticed, the EQ section still includes only one single control. And we will see below that this is not necessarily a disadvantage…

Orange Dark Terror

The rear panel allows you to connect three speakers: a pair of 8-ohm speakers and a single 16-ohm speaker. Orange had the brilliant idea of adding an FX loop (with a 12AT tube), which was dearly missed on the Tiny Terror.

Under the hood you’ll find not two, but three 12AX7 tubes in the preamp stage. This is the main difference with the Tiny Terror, which uses only two preamp tubes. On the other hand, the power amp stage with a couple of EL84 tubes is exactly the same in both amps. Orange doesn’t provide more information in this respect. So, let’s have confidence in our ears!

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

With the Dark Terror, Orange offers us a more nasty Tiny Terror for fans of dirty and dark music. The head has the same assets as its older brother: sturdiness, ease of use, gig bag, and a hard rock/metal ready sound. We really liked the Shape control and the fact that we had enough gain to get very a fat tone. Musicians who love clean sounds shouldn’t bother trying this amp out — we even ask ourselves why on earth have they read this review up to here! For all others, the price is somewhat high ($650 for the head plus $380 for the speaker cabinet) but true love doesn’t know any limits…

Advantages: 
  • More gain!
  • Easy to transport
  • Gig bag included
  • Ease of use
  • FX loop
  • Really convenient Shape control
Drawbacks:
  • Not really suited for clean sounds!
  • Rather expensive for 15 watts

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Orange Dark Terror

October 24, 2011

Roland CB120XL Cube Bass Review

Filed under: Amps, Bass — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 1:27 pm

If Ikutaro Kakehashi named his company with this typical European name, it wasn’t to honor the famous traditional song of heroic deeds. Since its inception the company has been committed to export, and the first goal of its founder was to find a name that was easy to spell and original enough to attract attention.

Ikutaro Kakehashi chose a brand name beginning with an “R,” which is quite rare in the music industry and thus allowed the products of the manufacturer to distinguish themselves from competitors during international trade shows.

We all know the company for its electronic products: synths, drum machines, effects (under the name Roland as well as under the brand name Boss for guitar effects), electronic drums, and other MIDI gear. But I know only a few bass players who play a Roland amp. This doesn’t mean that Roland amps don’t perform good, but we must admit that the manufacturer doesn’t belong to the most renowned brands among four-string players. With the present review, we want you to discover the Roland Cube 120 XL bass combo that saw the light of day after the introduction of the guitar version.

It Was the Year That…

13 demonstrators were shot during the Irish Bloody Sunday while 16 men survived the crash of their plane in the Andes where they had to eat human flesh until rescuers arrived. In 1972, bass players Christian Mac Bride, Mike Dirnt and Mark Hoppus were born. And in Japan, two major events marked the year: on a national level, Okinawa finally returned to Japanese hands; while, on the musical level, the company Roland was created. I would love to write about Roland’s history and share with you some delightful anecdotes about it. But with its 12 controls, 9 switches and 8 connections, this small Cube gives me enough material to write two reviews.

So, I won’t lose any more time and I’ll start by describing the amp.

A Cube? Not Exactly…

Roland CB120XL Cube Bass

In school they taught me that a cube is a volume made of square sides. It doesn’t really add up in this case…! The actual dimensions of the amp are: 20.5″ (length), 18″ (width) and 12.5″ (depth). I know, I quibble a little bit, but that’s what is expected from me.

If the Rubik Cube had had uneven dimensions, users would have called it misleading publicity a long time ago. I hope this brief remark made it more enjoyable to read about the Cube’s physical dimensions… And let me add another figure: the amp weights almost 44 lbs, which is not so heavy considering the output power of 80 watts, but also surprising considering the dimensions. In this respect, I guess the first request of the normal user would be for Roland to add casters to the amp. The younger and more athletic readers will surely laugh, but my back doesn’t. It’s old and has had plenty to withstand already. The single handle is also not the best solution, maybe Roland should rethink the design to improve the ergonomics.

If the amp won’t move a lot and will stay in the studio, this is certainly an insignificant detail. However, it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to my lumbar vertebra. Just try to play three gigs with a 5-string bass and an aching back and you’ll become as demanding as me! I know those of you familiar with osteopathy will agree with me. But let’s go on (don’t let my digressions distract you), and talk about the finish. Even if there’s not much to say.

Although it doesn’t look really nice, the CB120XL has the advantage of being simple and rugged. No carpet covering but a simple black Tolex one, reliable protection edges (where shocks can have bad consequences) and a strong protection grill. Finally, the combo is equipped with a 12″ woofer and huge coaxial tweeter horn. Two front bass reflex ports allow the air moved by the woofer to circulate. The product is made in China. By the way, did you know that China and Japan restored diplomatic relations exactly the year Roland was founded?

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

A tester must know how to put things in perspective instead of reviewing a product only from his point of view as an experienced musician. If I put myself in the shoes of a young bassist having only a fistful of dollars in the pocket looking for a first rehearsal amp that offers versatility and some effects, I think I would seriously consider the Roland Cube. For $736, this amp is very appealing.

Used without an additional speaker, the small combo provides enough output power to play in a band with a drummer. The tone is good, not kicking but good enough to make your first steps with a band. Personally, I find the effects are dispensable. But if I put things in perspective, once again, I guess they can be useful for some beginners interested in effects. And I cannot reproach the manufacturer for making use of its knowhow by adding many electronic features, even if it’s a bit useless from where I stand. Moreover, this trend is noticeable on many similar products… So Roland also has to appeal to these young musicians who like new technology!

Note that Roland’s catalog, which includes only combo amps, also features two smaller versions: a 20-watt amp and a battery-operated amp with four 4″ speakers. I would like to invite you to read my next bass amplification review with a colorful brand that’s following a completely opposite direction.

Advantages: 
  • Price, even though a bit high still affordable
  • Integrated tuner
  • Nice sampler
  • Compact size but enough output power to play in a band
  • Good sound
  • Good finish
Drawbacks:
  • Not really ergonomic (only one handle in spite of its heavy weight)
  • Maybe too many effects with not enough editable parameters
  • Looks like a copy of the available guitar combo version
To read the full detailed article see:  Roland CB120XL Cube Bass Review

November 10, 2010

Speakers, Amps & Impedance Feature Article

Filed under: Speakers — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:39 am

Considering that speaker/amp connections, impedance, the different combinations, and incorrect wiring are a recurring source of confusion for audio heads and musicians, we decided to try to clear things up a little.

We will try to explain the most common cases and you’ll have the possibility to post your specific questions in the forums.

The two most common notions that we will use here are impedance (stated in Ohms, Ω, and which has a value from 2 to 8 or even 16 in most cases) and output power (stated in Watts, W, with a value ranging from 1 to 1,000 or even more, since some bass amps produce over 1,200 watts of power!). Following, we will briefly refer to the efficiency of a speaker, which is stated in decibels (dB) in most manufacturer spec sheets, and shouldn’t be confused with the output power stated in the same unity; don’t worry, we will explain you why.

An Ohm Story

So, we will focus on impedance and power, both for speakers and amps, and explain how to combine them for the best results and to avoid any problems. The output power delivered by an amp, regardless of whether it’s a tube or solid-state amp, is given for a certain impedance. If you fail to follow the indications given you could damage your amplifier more or less seriously, which will surely be detrimental to your wallet. Besides this tutorial, you should read the product manual of your amp first to know how to connect the system the best way.

From now on, we will use the term “amp” for “power amplifier.” In most cases a so-called “amplifier head” combines a preamplification stage (gain, EQ, compression, FX loop, one or more channels, etc.) and a power amplification stage (including the volume control and a presence parameter on some tube amps). Thus, when we speak of tube or solid-state amps, the term applies to the power stage. The fact that a preamp stage features tubes has no consequence on the behavior of a solid-state power amplification stage.

On the other hand, a combo amplifier system includes an amplifier head (preamp + power amp) plus a speaker — all within the same cabinet. But from an electronics point of view, each element has to be considered separately. The internal speaker of a combo has its own impedance and has the same electronic behavior as an external speaker cabinet. Everything that we state here applies to an amplifier head with one or two external speaker cabinets, or to a combo — an amplifier head with a speaker plus an eventual additional speaker cabinet.

We address guitar and bass players from the point of view of a musician. P.A. amplifiers work under the same theoretical basis, but they show a specific behavior. To answer your specific questions about P.A. systems, please refer to the P.A. forum.

Faithful to our “from musicians to musicians” philosophy, we will simplify everything, which will result in electronics specialists thinking our descriptions are inexact. Our goal is to explain to you how to connect your gear, and although it is always nice to understand how it works it is not necessary to know every single detail!

Let’s start with some easy theory: what is impedance?

An Ohm Story

The impedance of a speaker is the “electrical resistance” to the flow of current for a given frequency. The symbol for impedance is “Z.” The higher the impedance, the more the speaker opposes the current being delivered, and the less it develops output power for a given initial power. The resistance of an 8-ohm speaker is two times higher than that of a 4-ohm speaker. In other words, a 4-ohm speaker will let more current pass through the circuitry than an 8-ohm speaker. The lower the impedance, the more the load increases for the amp feeding it, up to the point where it could short circuit.

The impedance of an amp refers to the resistance it can handle (or it expects to experience) when a speaker is connected. In fact, the electronic circuit is conceived to work with a given impedance, which is often very low according to its construction (about tenfold less than the speaker’s), making output stages very vulnerable to excessively high loads. That’s why manufacturers state the impedance the amp can support in the user’s manual. If the resistance is too low or too high the amp could suffer damages.

Serial, parallel…

In electronics there are two ways to wire a circuit: in series and in parallel. A serial connection means that the components are wired successively in the circuit like in a string of pearls (or like stomp boxes connected one after another). A parallel connection means that the circuits is divided in several branches that feed different elements and are later on brought together again.

An Ohm Story

In the case of an amp with speaker cabinets, most connections between the amplifier head and the speaker cabinets are made in parallel. For example, the great majority of bass amplifier head manufacturers offer amps with two parallel outputs. The signal is common in the beginning, but it is divided among the two connectors, it goes through one or several speakers, and comes back (via the same cable) into the amp where it meets again with the ground/earth. The same applies to the great majority of guitar amps with two parallel outputs.

It might happen that inside the speaker cabinet some speakers have a serial wiring (i.e. they are directly connected to each other) while the others have a parallel wiring… But then again, if you already open or wire the speakers of a cabinet, you don’t need this tutorial!

Except in some rare cases (for example if you have to connect together a lot of speakers or you have weird speaker cabinets), guitar players will usually find only parallel connections, and will have to connect the amp output directly to the speaker.

 

Some speaker cabinets provide pass-through outputs that allow you to chain several speaker cabinets without coming back to the amp. Although such wiring is electrically correct, it’s better to avoid them in practice. To avoid any potential problems, don’t leave room for doubt (“which connector should I use to link my two speaker cabinets?”). Regarding such pass-through outputs on speaker cabinets, some manufacturers choose parallel wiring while the others use serial wiring. In short, it’s a headache. Use such connectors only if you know exactly what you’re doing!

Instrument cable, speaker cable…

An instrument cable is a small-diameter wire that includes a single isolated conductor surrounded by a shield. A speaker cable includes two isolated conductors and no shield. It can be an actual risk for amps (especially tube amps) if you don’t use the proper cable: to connect a speaker, you must always use a speaker cable. If you’re not sure, don’t do anything: the conductor of an instrument cable has a very small diameter, which can lead to overheating and destruction of the conductor. As a consequence, the full power cannot be transmitted anymore, which can cause damages to the amp’s output transformer.

Now let’s dig in deeper…

Conclusion

After this brief subjective digression, let’s come back to more objective things. When you choose an amp head and matching speaker cabinets or a combo plus an additional speaker, pay attention to the output power of the amp and its output impedance, as well as to the power handling and the impedance of the speakers to be sure it’s a safe system. Afterwards, it is also crucial to pay attention to connections: a wrong wiring can damage your speakers, your amp or both. So, read the specs of the product carefully and connect the right speaker to the right amp with the right cable… and make your sound rock!

To read the full detailed article see:  An Ohm Story

September 28, 2010

Mesa Boogie Transatlantic TA-15 Amp Head Review

We have recently seen the birth of some tube amp heads for electric guitars sporting a reduced size and weight, such as the Vox Night Train. This amp head format allows guitarists to enjoy their sound without breaking their back lugging gear to and fro. So now it is Mesa Boogie’s turn to launch its own portable version of a tube amp head, the Transatlantic. It’s up to us to test all of this and see if Mesa Boogie has succeeded …

Let’s Unpack

Mesa Boogie Transatlantic TA-15

First thing we notice out of the box, the very small size of the machine: 12 3/8”W x 6 3/4”D x 5 7/8”H, weighing only 12 pounds.

A “carry on” is provided with the head, just to remind us that this is a transportable amp head format. There are pockets everywhere for storing goodies found at the bottom of the box:

  • A footswitch with a button (Channel ½)
  • An HP cable long enough (about 5 meters)
  • A conventional AC power outlet

The head has a retractable iron handle iron gives it a “Lunchbox” look.  This is not the best example for ergonomics in action, but it deserves to be there (after 45 minutes in the crowded subway, my hands longed for a plastic handle). The Design and the buttons “gas cooker” style provide an unusual looking product, a bit out of time, vintage, but at the same time utilizing modern materials such lots of metals.   Finishes are well cared for and we don’t notice any defects, the “Made in USA” has its effect.

Mesa Boogie Transatlantic TA-15

The highlight of the show is when the head is turned on: a blue light emanates from the bowels of the beast to dazzle the eyes.   Question of taste, I think it looks a little Jacky-tuning, but this sensation disappears when the sound comes out of the speaker.  We would have liked the option to disable the effect of “Neon 205 GTI”…oh well!   Let’s forget this episode in bad taste (which may be felt only by me) and move on to the bowels of the head.

The Mesa Boogie Transatlantic TA-15 is equipped with 4 preamp 12AX7 type tubes, and two EL84 type tubes for power amplification.  Patented technology provides three power modes for the amp section, selectable via switches on the front. In the 5 Watts mode, the head is working on a Class A tube power, 15 Watts mode, two tubes are used in Class A mode Push-Pull, while in 25 watts mode 2 tubes operate in Class A / B power .

Now let’s get to the settings …

Conclusion

It was a pleasure to test the Mesa Transatlantic amp head, once I passed the halo of blue neon light. We like the sound it delivers, rather vintage type, bluesy or rock, as one wishes.  However, we lament the lack of extreme sounds with gain galore for playing a proper palm mute. With all the little options that the amp front panel and independent channels offer, we come to find a pleasant sound very easily.  It can also be well used both during rehearsal, as well as in concert with 25 Watts and a footswitchable channel.  In short, if it did not cost the modest sum of about $900, the average guitarist would be in heaven and it would have been easier to swallow this pill.  Apart from that, the guitarists looking for a portable head with a distinctive sound, yet with many options, will be delighted!

Advantages:

  • Successful design
  • 2 Channels
  • Tweed Sound
  • Small size
  • Convenient carry bag
  • Quality Manufacturing
  • Palette of sounds through the front panel switches
  • Adequate power for rehearsals and acceptable to neighbors
  • Footswitch included

Drawbacks:

  • Neon Blue “Jacky tuning”
  • No FX loop
  • Push / pull for the master / cut
  • A bit expensive
  • No extreme sounds

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Mesa Boogie Transatlantic TA-15 Review

July 2, 2010

Marshall JMD501 Review

Every guitar player knows Marshall and its cult amp series that has been manufactured for over 40 years now. Sometimes praised, sometimes criticized – everyone has certainly heard about the Marshall Plexi, JMP and JCM800, some of which even became reference products. After the launch of a new all-tube series (JVM), a solid-state series (MGFX) and a tube/solid-state hybrid series (Valvestate), Marshall only lacked a tube/digital hybrid product range. Thanks to its cooperation with Softube (well-known for its software amp simulations), Marshall has now launched the new JMD:1 series entering the semi-digital area. Today, we’ll take a deeper look inside the JMD501…

Unpacking

The JMD501 is the 50-watt combo version of the JMD:1 product family. As soon as you take it out of the box, you’ll immediately recognize the typical Marshall look: golden front, classic knobs, logo, typography… Nothing new on this amp! The dimensions are standard for a 50-watt combo (25″ x 20.7″ x 10″) and it weights 50 lb. It features a 12″ speaker, two EL34 power tubes and one ECC83 preamp tube.

Front panel

Marshall JMD501

On the front panel, you’ll find an input for connecting your guitar and a knob for selecting one of the 16 amp models available. You’ll have to read the user’s manual in order to know which hardware is being emulated: there are no “I’m a JCM800” or “I’m a JMP-1 with a Guv’nor” labels. You’ll have to settle for ambiguous descriptions like “Clean natural” and “Lead Classic”! Perhaps Marshall didn’t want to push it too far. Just read the user’s manual to find out the topology of each model.

Marshall JMD501

The front panel also includes a standard gain control, a 3-band EQ (bass, middle, treble) and a channel volume knob. All five controls work in different ways depending on the selected preamp model.

You have four channels to which you can assign any setting. And it also features a manual mode, which is very convenient to get an overview of the amps’ sound possibilities. There is also a foot switch included that allows you to toggle between channels/presets.

Like on Line 6 amps, a single control allows you to select and adjust one of the modulation effects. You can choose between gate, chorus, phaser, flanger, and a tremolo controlled by the Mod Depth setting; the speed rate is defined by the position of the Mod Adjust knob. Unfortunately, it is impossible to mix two effects. The amp also provides a delay effect with tap tempo and different modelings that affect repetitions (Hi-fi, Analogue, Tape and Multi). Apart from that, the JMD501 includes a digital reverb. All in all, thanks to its effects and control possibilities, the amp proves to be a very comprehensive tool. The presence knob is placed at the end of the signal path, just before the master volume control. Finally, also notice that the amp is equipped with power and standby switches.

Rear panel

Marshall JMD501

The JMD501 is generous when it comes to connections! You have additional speaker outs at your disposal: one 16 ohm out, one 8 ohm out and two 16 ohm outs, plus an effect loop with send/return connectors, a +4dB/-10dB level selector and a mix control.

Marshall JMD501

The preamp output allows you to connect the JMD501 preamp to an external power amp. This connector also works when the amp is in standby mode (Silent Recording mode). The same applies to the phones output which allows you to play guitar with the sound of your amp without disturbing your whole neighborhood (in standby mode the speaker output is muted).

A line input adds the possibility to connect a line-level source (MP3 or CD player) to play along with your favorite songs. The amp also features an Emulated Line Out on XLR that emulates the miking of a 4×12″ speaker cabinet. Just like the headphones and preamp outputs, you can use it silently in standby mode.

Marshall JMD501

The Footcontroller input is dedicated to the supplied foot switch, but the amp can also be controlled via its MIDI in and out. By the way, using the foot controller is somewhat complex in the beginning. I had already tested the foot controller of the Marshall JVM210H, which is a bit unpractical (pressing a switch for the second time allows you to change mode — green, orange or red — without changing channel). The JMD501 foot controller includes six switches and allows you to store up to 28 presets directly in the Preset Store mode. You can also assign some switches of the front panel to the foot controller: manual, channel 1-4, modulation on/off, delay on/off, tap tempo, FX loop, and compare.

Now, the time has come to experience the sound of this unique amp!

Conclusion

Marshall promised to revolutionize amp technology by offering a sort of summary of their legendary amps in a single combo – and everything for just under $1,200. Reality looks very different: the price is a bit high compared to it competitors and the amp is not very versatile because the modelings are limited to Marshall amps. The cheap character of some presets disappointed me a bit (especially the clean sound), although the crunch presets sound very good and the modulation effects are quite convincing.

Advantages:

  • Crunch sound!
  • Good modulation effects
  • Comprehensive rear-panel connections
  • Supplied with a foot controller
  • 16 different simulations

Drawbacks:

  • Price
  • Clean sound a bit too cheap
  • The “war-machine” foot controller

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see: Marshall JMD501 Review

June 23, 2010

Vox AC15VR Valve Reactor Combo Amp Review

Filed under: Amps — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 2:31 pm

A few years ago, Vox launched their legendary AC30 as an amp head or as a combo, all made in China at an affordable price. This year, VOX is spoiling us with a hybrid series, using a special amplification technology mixing transistors and tube. This 15 Watts model is what’s on the menu for today.

Hybrid Technology

Vox AC15VREveryone has heard of Marshall’s hybrid series (Valvestate) or Fender’s. It was often a mix between a transistor amplifier and a 12AX7 tube as a preamplifier.  This technique allowed them to smooth out a little transistor stiffness and also to allow these amps to properly take on the pedals’ full power. (reminds me of my Marshall 8080 First series).

VOX uses here a different technology in the VR series: The preamp section is provided by transistors and the op-amp, while the amplifying part is based on a single 12AX7! What ?!  This can’t be right!   I admit, I myself second guessed this specification, but it is correct and verified.  It is the same technology that was used in the Valvetronix series. This “amplification” tube has even been renamed “Valve Reactor” for the occasion.

Explanation: A 12AX7 tube is a dual triode, which is present in the circuitry only to give color to the sound. It is then connected to a solid state power amplifier where the transistor amplifier is more powerful and neutral than the tube amplifier. The tube therefore serves to color the signal, the bulk of the amplification being provided by the transistors.

Autopsy

Vox AC15VR

The amp features separate channels: a clear controlled by the “normal volume” and a channel focused more crunch / distortion with two gain levels (OD1 and OD2). The “master” section includes the overall volume of the amp. It is best to adjust the volume of the channel used to get the desired sound (gain level) and then raise the master meter to increase the general level, being careful not to push too hard, otherwise saturation is inevitable (but if you want to, go ahead!). In this same section, there is also a digital reverb that quickly becomes rough when you push a little volume. But it is enough to give a little life to clean sound if you do not exceed 9 o’clock on the dial. You can manually engage it the by raising the potentiometer or by using the optional foot switch. The latter also allows you to switch between channels.

The VOX AC 15VR is equipped with a two band equalizer bass / treble, like almost all VOX amps if I remember correctly. Pushing the bass potentiometer, it overwrites the signal to unravel the inherent charm of VOX amps. Try the setting Palm Mute pushed, and you’ll understand. As for the treble, the sound tends to become a little aggressive after 12 o’clock both on its clean and distortion channels.

Vox AC15VRWe notice a control panel that runs essentially unadorned or without any funky colors.  But don’t laugh at VOX, in this model there is no amp simulation, no useless effects, no loops effects, no direct output. You just plug and play!

On the rear panel, it is possible to connect an external speaker to the amplifier and to bypass the internal speaker.  Be careful to respect the 8 Ohms impedance and perform the operation when the amplifier is off!

Conclusion

Vox AC15VRTo conclude, this little amp found for less than $400 in the USA, is sufficient for guitarists who want to play at home with the master volume that can push the gain without making enemies in the neighborhood.  It has no Speaker output, but output to an external cabinet is possible. We appreciate the ease of use, the little time it takes to find good quality sound.  In short, unless you hate the sound philosophy and VOX itself you can buy it with your eyes closed.

Advantages:

  • Good value for the money
  • Construction Quality
  • Nice crunch
  • Output to connect another Speaker

Drawbacks:

  • A little heavy for a 15 Watt
  • The overdrive type 2 too dirty
  • Channel switching not very smooth

To read the full detailed review see:  Vox AC15VR Combo Amp

May 3, 2010

Marshall JMD Amplifiers

To see more gear video demos see:  Audiofanzine Video Vault

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