AF’s Weblog

July 2, 2012

Fender Super Champ X2 Review

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  Fender Super Champ X2

In the world of guitar amps, war is raging. The transistor forces from the digital world are fighting the tubes army. Turning itself into a peace dove, Fender tries to put an end to this war by introducing a hybrid concept: the Super Champ X2. This new amp made in Mexico combines digital technology with tubes has finally seen the light of day. It’s on neutral ground so I can start examining the beast. Hopefully this leads to a peaceful co-existence.

What a Cute Combo

Fender Super Champ X2

I thought I would break my back carrying this new amp. But surprise, surprise, the newcomer is light (considering it’s an amp!), so I was able to climb up the stairs carrying it single-handedly. Aesthetically, it is very Fender looking: black vinyl covering and silver grill cloth with Fender logo. The front panel in Blackface style is not what I’d call original, but it still looks very nice. Manufactured from 1964 to 1967, the Blackface is part of Fender’s legend. Insiders will understand that I refer to the Princeton Reverb, Deluxe Reverb and Vibro champ. The dimensions are somewhat small (9.2″ x 17.5″ x 15″) and the weight reasonable (24 lbs). It will match a vintage environment perfectly. Under the hood, you’ll find all you need to have a blast! You get a pair of 6V6 power tubes for a total output power of 12 watts, one 12AX7 tube in the preamp stage and several transformers matching the tubes. The speaker is a 10” Fender Special Design allowing the combo to stay compact.

Too Much for Beginners?

Doctor J.’s minute!

Vibratone? This effect was conceived in 1941 by Donald Leslie. The Leslie cabinet (better known as Leslie Rotary Speaker) includes its own tube amplifier. A Leslie amplifies the signal and sends it to the speakers. The sound of the low-frequency speaker is sent to a closed baffle through a rotating drum while the sound of the high-frequency driver is sent to a rotary horn. This speaker cabinet creates interesting sound modulations. The source seems to move forwards and also from left to right alternatively while the loudness varies.

One of my worries with digital technology is that you have to turn and push a lot of different controls and you can’t understand anything without the user’s manual. But don’t fear this Super Champ X2: it provides only a few, easy-to-understand controls. The amp provides two separate channels based either on tube or digital technology. Both channels share the EQ section with Treble and Bass controls, the FX selector, the Tap Tempo switch, and the FX Adjust control. Each channel has its own volume control. Plus, there’s a channel selector and a 16-way Voice selector. The rear panel is even more simple: a mains power socket with On/Off switch and fuse. You also get a speaker out, a line out, a footswitch connector (unfortunately, a matching footswitch is not provided), and a USB port. When it comes to effects, we’ve been spoiled: Reverb (Large Room, Concert Hall, spring reverb, delayed reverb), Delay (130 or 300ms), Chorus (fast sweeping, deep sweeping, chorus+delay, chorus+reverb), Tremolo (slow, normal or fast speed), Vibratone (slow or fast speed).

Now let’s take a closer look…

….

Nobel Peace Prize?

The Super Champ X2 is a nice surprise. The amp models sound very good, the tube power amp adds natural warmth and compression to your tone, and you get a dedicated, easy-to-use software. Considering the wide range of amps provided, you’ll easily find your own tone, regardless of your playing style (blues, rock, ska, metal, etc.). Unfortunately, the output power (15 watts) won’t allow you to use the amp in all situations. It’s perfect for playing at home or in a recording studio, but it’s not powerful enough for rehearsals if you have to compete with a drummer. Fender won its bet with this small combo sold for $300 — and this small jewel is also available as an amp head for $250. Unfortunately, the matching footswitch is not included…

Advantages: 
  • Compact size
  • Weight
  • Voicings
  • Effects
  • Tube power stage
Drawbacks:
  • A mid setting on the front panel would be nice!
  • We wish there was a version with more output power
  • Footswitch not included…

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  Fender Super Champ X2

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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

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