AF’s Weblog

April 2, 2012

Fender Bronco Bass Combo Review

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Bronco Bass Combo Review

Do you feel like a cowboy? Do you like the smell of ponies and old leather? Do you like riding on a weird mount and sweltering under an old stinking hat?

Me neither! Personally, I’m more of a take-the-law-into-my-own-hands kind of bass player, a guy who isn’t put off by anything except effort, and who has enough respect for stallions and bulls to avoid them. Even on an early Sunday morning after having spent a full night playing a drunk upright piano in a saloon. My Bronco is a Fender. It eats no oat but it surely spits 40 watts of power when you give it a bass guitar to chew on. Let’s go — or as they used to say in the old west: Yeehaw!

Small Pony

Fender Bronco

It’s so gray and small… And after all, it isn’t so tiny: it’s the size of a 20-liter bourbon barrel (11.25″x18″x15.25″) and weights 30 lbs. It looks pretty sleek: dark gray vinyl covering, black metal grill, only eight controls and three flashing buttons. You could almost walk past the amp without noticing it, like if it were a marmot crossing a valley. In short, it’s one more combo in a product range that already includes a dozen. Fender’s range even includes a 75 watt amp at almost the same price: the Rumble 75.

So, why should I buy an amp with less output power and a 10″ instead of a 12″ speaker? Do they think we bass players from the west are all dumb deadbeats?

“Now, hold ya horses,” says the sheriff, “yuh’re wrong, kid! The Bronco ain’t one of ’em combos like all others. Ptooie!” (that was the sheriff spitting…)

– Really? What’s in for me then? If I wanted to give my money away, I’d rather play poker in the saloon…

– Why, son, with this Bronco, yuh can ride through th’ F-key Prairies while whistling “Down th’ Mountain” in 80 different variations. An’ that ain’t nothin’! If yuh plug it into yuhr computer via th’ USB port, yuh can use it as an audio interface, edit as many presets as yuh want an’ share ’em on the web using th’ Fuse software. Yuh get ’bout 10 effects, eight amp models, an integrated tuner, an’ a free Ableton Lite version.

– Why, Sheriff you sure know a lot of things!

– Wal, kid, I jest read AudioFanzine when I ain’t have nobody t’ track down…

So, this small combo makes all these things for only $250. I’ll have to track it down to see if it’s true. Just give me a mule and my rifle, no French Cancan for me tonight…

Let’s take a closer look …

And for a few bucks less…

Like the Mustang, its counterpart for guitar players, the Bronco 40 is an appealing alternative to many products currently available on the market for about $250. The amp doesn’t have enough output power for rehearsals with a drummer, but it can be the perfect practice amp. We can also imagine ourselves in a home studio recording some bass grooves with it and taking the best out of its wide sound range. Add to that the unique, easy-to-use and intuitive software tool Fuse, the possibility to use the amp as an audio interface, the good manufacturing quality, and the value for money, and you end up with a very attractive combo for people looking for a higher-class practice bass amp.

Advantages: 
  • Good manufacturing quality
  • Ease-of-use
  • Simple control panel
  • Fuse software
  • Can be used as a (backup) audio interface
  • Value for money
Drawbacks:
  • Output power: almost too much power to play at home, but not enough for rehearsals with a drummer
  • Modulation algorithms from the same modulation stage can’t be used simultaneously
  • Some effects seem useless to me
  • Fender offers four different Mustang combos but only one Bronco

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Bronco Bass Combo Review

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November 22, 2011

Eden Electronics WTX-500 Amplifier Head and EX110 Speaker Cabinet Review

When I was starting out as a bass player I didn’t dream about the ideal amp. Of course, I fantasized about bass guitars but I can’t remember being excited by a great combo or a bulky stack. For me, amplifiers were only useful tools: you had to plug into one to get a sound. And the most important thing was to have enough output volume, regardless of the sound quality. But the years and the road have taught me that in order to increase my skills as a musician I had to improve the most essential sense to make music: my hearing.

I realized very quickly that the price of the best sounding systems was not something I could afford. Among the most respected (and most expensive) were the David Eden amps. In those times, when the most powerful amp heads weighted about 40 lbs, they were too bulky to be rackable, and produced a very typical sound color, this American company introduced something similar to a UFO: the WT 300, better known as the “Traveler.”

15 years later, I’m pleased to review the WTX-5, the descendant of the original Traveler, and the RX110, a compact speaker cabinet.

Affordable High-End

Before founding his own company and specializing in PA systems, David Eden used to repair household electrical appliances. You might think he enjoys playing bass in his spare time but he is more interested in brass instruments! In fact, he plays tuba, trumpet and sax in several amateur bands. But he also spends a lot of time standing in front of a console, mixing bands whose bass players are his friends. Back in those days (mid 70’s), amp manufacturers were not very kind to bass players. There were only a few stacks available that, technically speaking, didn’t change a lot compared to previous decades. In short, musicians looking for a new sound color, i.e. different from the typical 60’s sound, were out of luck.

While listening to a friend play a Randall amp that produced the most awful sound he had ever heard before, David decided to help his friend out by building a new speaker cabinet. Then, with a good idea in mind about what should be a good bass amp, he started manufacturing his products in small quantity. He founded Eden Electronics in 1976 and manufactured his first line of stereo amp heads, as well as several speaker cabinets (2×12″), in 1978. But it was a risky bet: except for Alembic, very few manufacturers dealt with such concepts. As a consequence, there was a market segment to be conquered but nobody could guarantee the success of such a counter-trend.

But with the support of many professional musicians, the pioneer carried on in the same direction. The demands of bass players are simple, but also quite opposite to those of guitar players: a bass player wants an amp that faithfully amplifies his instrument and playing while adding warmth to the sound. Eden works to satisfy this demands by manufacturing custom stacks for professional musicians based on simple but innovative ideas and specifications taken from the military. High-quality components guarantee reliability, increased performance and modular design, making service and upgrades easier. The design of the speakers aim for a flat reproduction over a wide frequency range, a high power rating and a short response time for perfect transient reproduction. The goal of the designer is simple: reproducing the natural sound of a bass guitar depends on the attack much more than on resonance.

Eden amps distinguishes itself from other brands by producing a faithful and dynamic response. In this matter, Eden was among the first manufacturers to bet on 4×10″ speaker cabinets, which are now well established and offered by all brands. Within a few years, the company became one of the leaders in the high-end market segment. To reach the lower market segment, the manufacturer created Nemesis but its sales didn’t quite meet the expectations. In 2002, the company was taken over by US Music Corporation, which allowed David to continue leading the brand. But in 2011 the founder, always faithful to the philosophy that made him successful, decided to create a new company (DNA: David Nordschow Amplification) and go back to elite products.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Personally, I’m quite excited by what I heard during this review. I find the amp reacts very well, is easy to use and very versatile. With its great dynamic response, the WTX-500 head can seduce any player. The 10″ speaker does a good job considering its dimensions: it withstands the B-string of my bass, doesn’t produce uncontrolled sub-lows and reproduces very nicely the frequencies I want to hear. However, I guess this single speaker won’t be enough to play in a large venue. But for a club gig with a small band, the EX110 is both affordable and valuable. And I guess this stack will be of interest for double-bass players. In any case, I recommend them to give it a try considering the difficulties they already have transporting their instrument. To all bass player who want a bigger system for larger venues, I recommend the use of an additional speaker.

Or to choose another product within Eden’s wide speaker range. With a manufacturer committed to bass players for almost 35 years, you can be sure you’ll find the appropriate solution!

Advantages:

  • Component quality (potentiometers, connections, housing)
  • Eden sound guarantee
  • Transportability
  • Size/output power ratio
  • Marc Upson (many thanks)

Drawbacks:

  • Finish
  • No semi-parametric filters
  • Speaker and amp fan a bit too noisy (the amp is not that quiet and the speaker hisses a bit)

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  Eden Electronics WTX-500 & EX110

 

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

February 21, 2011

Fender Rumble 150 Review

Filed under: Amps, Bass — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 12:11 pm

I got a bit nostalgic when I wrote this review. I was 16 when my first amp was waiting for me under the Christmas tree. Not a 15-watt amp but a big one. To play in a band, do live gigs and be cheered by a wild crowd. In short, I could stop playing by myself in my room. The amp was almost more bulky than the Christmas tree: it was a second-hand Fender BXR 300, a huge combo with casters. I played my first live gig with it — this 15″ amp brings back lots of memories.

Sixteen years later, I’m reviewing the Rumble 150. This descendant of the BXR is conceived for bass players looking for a first amp to play in a band — like I did at that time. Let me wipe a tear… And now, let’s get on with the review!

Workhorse

Fender Rumble 150

64 lbs, impressing size (13.4″ x 22.8″ x 23.6″) and 150 effective watts. A big 15″ woofer, a tweeter for high frequencies (it was missing on my BXR) and enough volume to provide a big and deep sound. The manufacturer kept the front port for the bass-reflex (it’s the third generation), and removed the bright LEDs and the carpet covering. The latter is replaced with a black textured vinyl covering. Carpet or vinyl? It’s all a matter of taste. Personally, I don’t like to dust nor vacuum clean. On the other side, Tolex is easily marked. It’s an aesthetic or practical choice.

The front side is sleek and simple, which is a good thing: just a black protection grill and a black panel with white silkscreen. As for controls and connections, everything is on the front panel. Nothing on the rear panel except the power connector. The connections are quite comprehensive: instrument input (with active/passive switch), effect loop, RCA aux input (for connection to a PC, MP3 player…), phones output, footswitch connector (for overdrive control), and XLR line output.

Fender Rumble 150

The amp also provides numerous settings: gain control, overdrive section (with gain, balance and bypass), two shape switches (punch and scoop), four-band EQ, and an on/off switch for the tweeter.

As mentioned in the headline, the Rumble 150 is equipped with four rugged casters. It also has two recessed side handles with springs, which are a bit too thin for my taste. However, they do their job. I love casters! What would be of our backs it it weren’t for them? Considering the price, it’s not surprising that the amp and preamp stages use solid-state technology. A big fan on the rear panel ensures cooling, and it also makes a bit of noise. This noise is not deafening but it is clearly audible when you aren’t playing.

So, what’s new? To make it short, the Rumble 150 has more output power than its predecessor. Indeed, the whole product range got more watts, except for the Rumble 15. I guess nobody is going to complain for getting 50 watts more, plus overdrive. The manufacturer doesn’t offer the 2×10″ alternative, which is a good choice considering that users of this amp want to play loud and heavy rather than gently.

The product is made in China. The overall manufacturing and finish quality is good. Ok, now let’s plug a bass guitar! For this review, I used my American PB deluxe 5, a Boss RC-20 (my faithful sampler on stage) and a Zoom H2.

As well as a pair of cables — never forget the essentials!

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

My impression at the end of the review is that the combo provides a wide sound range, in spite of its rather sophisticated sound character. The sound samples show that the user can shape the sound easily to find the tone he wants. A very good point if this is your first amp. If you are a beginner, you probably don’t really know what kind of music you’ll end up playing.

It’s always important to stay open and have the possibility to become an all-round bass player and have fun with any music genre. Considering its price, the Rumble 150 is an interesting product for musicians who start playing in a band and want enough output power for that. The quality and value for money are good. Give it a try and compare it with competitor products.

Advantages:

  • Value for money
  • Actual output power
  • Easy setting
  • Versatility
  • Casters

Drawbacks:

  • Tweeter distorts at loud volumes
  • Neutral sound character, especially when the tweeter is off
  • I’m too old for such gifts under the Christmas tree… I want my youth back!

To read the full detailed article see:  Fender Rumble 150 Review

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

September 28, 2009

TC Electronic RebelHead450 Bass Amp & Cabinet Review

Well-known for its studio and guitar digital effects, TC Electronic enters the bass market with the RebelHead450, a 450-watt amplifier head with speaker cabinet.

When a manufacturer like TC Electronic presents a new bass amplifier head, we all have the feeling that we are about to discover something modern, and we are right! As soon as you start opening the amps’ packaging, you’ll notice that you’re not dealing with a “vintage” model. The RebelHead 450 has a very nice design–in the best TC tradition–, LEDs all over the place, a very compact size, and seems very sturdy at first glance. The amp is packed with good ideas: a handle that allows an easier transportation of its 8.8 lbs., the possibility to place it vertically or horizontally, endless rotary knobs with LED rings, a nice PVC front panel with black glossy finish…

The RebelHead makes a very good first impression but let’s see if the inside matches the outfit…

Front Controls

TC Electronic RebelHead 450
In spite of its futuristic look, the front panel isn’t frightening nor isn’t quite like the control panel of a space shuttle. In the end, what you’ll find are things you probably already know: 4-band EQ (bass, lo-mid, hi-mid and treble), input gain–that becomes the compression control if you push the Shift button–, a “Tubetone” control to add tube-like sound coloration–and it becomes the preset volume control when you push Shift–, and a general volume control. The 1/4″ jack input allows you to connect an active or passive bass guitar and adapts itself automatically to any pickup type. Opposite to this instrument input, you’ll find the 1/4″ headphone output.
TC Electronic RebelHead 450
Above the controls you’ll find three buttons for the three user memories. To store your settings just press one of the three buttons for two seconds. To recall your setting just push it again briefly. All settings are stored and recalled, except for the general volume setting and the position of the Shift and Mute buttons. The integrated tuner works perfectly well and shows the played note on a small display. An arrow indicates if the sound is too high or too low. However, if you activate the Mute mode, the LED ring around the Bass knob helps you tune the instrument with a better resolution and more precisely. Add the possibility to adjust the reference frequency (from 438 to 445 Hz) and you get the perfect tuner!

Let’s go back to the Mute and Shift buttons. The first one allows you to mute the amp signal, while the second one gives you access to advanced functions: for example, you can adjust the center frequency for each of the bands of the EQ for a more accurate setting, and you can set the compressor and the tube-preamp simulation. The Shift button deactivates automatically after some time, which is good idea!

Now, let’s take a look at the back of this little rebel…

Conclusion

Classic450

TC Electronic also offers a more affordable version without some of the features of the RebelHead450. With a nearly 20% lower price tag, it also provides 450 watts of output power and the SpectraComp and TubeTone functions, but it has no integrated tuner, no headphone output, no user memories, no AES/EBU digital output, no remote connector (does it really matter?), no aux input and a simple 4-band EQ with fixed frequencies instead of the parametric EQ. Even though it does have the main features, we do miss some of the special functions that make the RebelHead so appealing. It’s up to you (and your needs) to decide if you’re willing to pay the difference.

Being its first attempt on the bass amp market, TC delivers a masterstroke with an original, modern and comprehensive product. So far so good. The RebelHead is a very powerful tool with a very good multiband compressor and a nice tube simulation section.

The presets and the compact size are very convenient, the compact and rugged speaker cabinet provides high-quality sound… To be honest, it’s very difficult to find drawbacks. Bass players looking for a versatile amp ought to give it a try at their favorite dealer. In the end, choosing a high-class amp is a matter of taste, but we are positive that the RebelHead will easily find its fans.

Advantages:

  • Convincing TubeTone
  • Very effective SpectraComp
  • High-quality sound
  • Very good EQ
  • Digital output
  • Compact size
  • Design
  • Carrying handle
  • Three presets
  • Integrated tuner
  • Headphone output
  • High output power
  • FX loop
  • Easily linking to other amps
  • Aux input

Drawbacks:

  • On/Off switch on the rear panel
  • And that’s it!

To read the full detailed article see:  TC Electronics RebelHead 450 Review

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