Friday, August 19, 2011

TC Electronic Blacksmith

BlacksmithI was so impressed with the RH450 amp that when TC Electronic announced a limited production of handmade amps from Denmark I ordered one immediately. This is the flagship model of TC Electronic's "Bass 2.0" amp lineup.

Power aside, you can't underestimate the features of the TC bass amps and specifically the control interface that is common to the RH450, RH750 (more on this amp later) and Blacksmith. If you read my earlier review of the RH450, you'll note the mention of accessibility, the flexible semi-parametric EQ, the musical sounding multi-band bass compressor, the fantastic built-in tuner and so forth. I've found these features indispensable and, as a result, I now have a variety of TC amps to cover every gig or practice scenario.

The latest amps, the RH750 and Blacksmith, both incorporate many suggestions gathered from a "beta test group" whose main goal was to improve this amplifier and interface even further. They succeeded brilliantly!

The addition of a Tweetertone control, which simulates the tweeter or horn level control on a bass cabinet, is one of the most useful new improvements. Another is the addition of a new control which allows direct access to Spectracomp (compressor) without having to press shift. As a result, it is now quicker and easier to access the most frequently-used adjustments. So while these refinements are minor for the most part, they are also significant.

Blacksmith's main features include:
  • Power - 1600 watts (4500 watts peak) *,
  • Presets - 3 user-defined presets,
  • SpectraComp™ - Multi-band compression,
  • TubeTone™ - excellent tube preamp and tube power amp emulation,
  • On-board chromatic tuner,
  • 4-band EQ - Semi-parametric Bass, Lo-Mid, Hi-Mid and Treble,
  • TweeterTone™ - Front panel tweeter level control,
  • Transformer balanced Studio grade Line driver output,
  • AES/EBU, digital output.
So in summary, Blacksmith incorporates the best features of the other models while adding considerably more power and the ability to drive a 2ohm load. That's four 8ohm bass cabinets! To distinguish this model, the LEDs are soft white. The system also features upgraded cooling with the two large fans vented to the rear. Fan noise is not apparent. Lastly, the power switch has been moved to the front panel for convenience.

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, so check out this video from TC Electronics.

* Refer to the post on TC Electronics power ratings.

TC Electronic RH750

The RH750 Head

With the introduction of the RH750, the price of the RH450 has dropped making the original Rebel head a very compelling purchase option. However, given the increased power and identical-to-the-Blacksmith improvements to the controls and user-interface, the RH750 strikes the best balance of power-to-weight, features and convenience in the entire TC Bass 2.0 lineup. Can you say "product positioning? In my humble opinion, the RH750 wins the amp of the decade award and is tops in the list of amplifiers that I would recommend!

Well yes, they're both black, but what are the differences between the Blacksmith and the RH750? The main difference is obviously power. The RH750 delivers about half the power (750w into 4ohms), which should be sufficient for any scenario, excepting perhaps larger stadiums without PA support. Size and weight are also a factor with the RH750 being identical to the RH450 in terms of size, weight and therefore convenience. The Blacksmith is handmade in Denmark while the RH750 is made on a production line in Thailand. Apart from some other minor differences like the upgraded cooling, white LEDs instead of red and a power switch on the front panel, both the RH750 and Blacksmith offer identical features.

RH750's main features include:
  • Power - 750 watts (1200 watts peak) *,
  • Presets - 3 user-defined presets,
  • SpectraComp™ - Multi-band compression,
  • TubeTone™ - excellent tube preamp and tube power amp emulation,
  • On-board chromatic tuner,
  • 4-band EQ - Semi-parametric Bass, Lo-Mid, Hi-Mid and Treble,
  • TweeterTone™ - Front panel tweeter level control,
  • Transformer balanced Studio grade Line driver output,
  • AES/EBU, digital output.
I would love to have more opportunities to put the Blacksmith to use, but the reality is that the RH750 is my number one "working amp". In that regard it performs flawlessly!

* Refer to the post on TC Electronics power ratings.

TC Electronic RH450

The Rebel Head

Nothing reminds me of my advancing years more than loading my gear out and back for a gig. You'll find a lot of very heavy equipment listed on these pages and I have been guilty of always taking more power than I need, so I started my search for a proper compromise between size and weight. Very recently one of my bass-playing friends (hi KJung) suggested I take a look at the TC Electronic RH450, otherwise known as the Rebel head.

After reading a variety of reviews on TalkBass, I decided to take the plunge and a few days later my new RH450 arrived. Before I dig into what I found, here are the main features:

  • 450 watts RMS power output into 4ohms *,
  • tone controls for bass, low mid, high mid and treble with selectable center frequencies and shelving,
  • three band compressor (SpectraComp),
  • emulation of both preamp and poweramp tubes (TubeTone),
  • integrated accurate bass tuner,
  • three user programmable presets store all settings (except master gain, shift and mute),
  • transformer-balanced DI output,
  • AES/EBU, digital output, headphone jack, accessory input,
  • armoured case with integrated handle and cooling,
  • optional footswitch with tuner display, mute and switches for the three presets
  • weight 8 pounds!
I liked the idea of a lightweight amp that could not only perform most of the functions of my Millennia/Crest combination, albeit with less power, but also shave nearly 100 pounds off of the carrying weight off of my rig. It all seemed to good to be true.

While there is something to be said for having the massive headroom of a lead sled (hugely powerful, heavy poweramp), the Rebel head delivers on its promises and more. Where I expected to compromise, the RH450 not only exceeded my expectations, but proved far more capable than expected, at the expense of headroom that I wasn't using.

Initially I dialed in the RH450 EQ totally flat with the compressor and TubeTone off. Set up this way the RH450 was certainly flat but did not seem to have a large amount of power at first. Time to twiddle the knobs. That's when the unexpected magic happened.

Firstly, I discovered that I had inadvertently zeroed the volume level on the patch I was using. That's certainly a "gotcha" so a quick review of the manual is useful before you dive in.

Setting the compressor up a hair and adding a bit of tube yielded some very interesting effects. The amp became more agressive and reactive in true tube amp fashion, a bit like turning up the "drive" control on an EBS Fafner. The volume levels I had expected were right there! No problem whatsoever. That's with a single 4ohm Acme B2. Clearly I needed to experiment some more.

Now it's time to tweak the tone controls which will hopefully yield something a bit more to my liking... After a few adjustments I noticed that the amp was starting to sound quite a bit like my Trace V8. Whoa! After a bit of refinement there it was! Okay, what else can it do? How about an old SWR SM400 with a Goliath? Adjust a bit of mid-range scoop, some tweaking and voila! Well, then I wondered if it could sound like an old SVT? Yes (more than close enough for rock'n'roll). Amazing! Now I get it. The tube amp emulation works extremely well. But can it get a clean solid state/hi-fi sound like the Millennia/Crest? You bet. To get into the same ballpark as most of the amps I've mentioned is very easy and the more time you invest, the more refined these "emulations" are. For me this was totally unexpected.

Perhaps the real "magic" here is due to the versatile tone controls with center frequencies that are individually adjustable. These controls are a lot more "accessible" to the musician than many other amps I've tried. I guess the short story is that the amp makes it easy to tweak the tone you want precisely, without need of a studio engineering degree.

Review? As mentioned, the controls are so accessible and intuitive that the RH450 just invites you to play. Plenty of power is present which suggests this amp is actually rated conservatively. The tuner is very quick to use and accurate using my StroboStomp and Korg DTR2000 for validation. The compressor is very well-designed, sounds musical and is useful. The tube sim is the best I have used or heard. Solid well-designed armor casing provides excellent cooling although the amp does not seem to run too warm even at high levels. I didn't even realize that there was a fan in the amp, it is that silent. Featherweight. Footswitch recommended for maximum fun.

I'm starting to question why someone would carry hundreds of pounds of unnecessary amplifier gear to a stage where PA support is provided, as with most venues these days. The RH450 really shines in a live situation. Actually, it does the job extremely well even when PA support is not available.

* Refer to the post on TC Electronics power ratings.

TC Electronics power ratings

If you frequent any of the regular bass forums, you'll probably notice a bit of a flap about the TC Electronics amps and their published power ratings. A recently-published article in Bass Gear magazine Issue #6 thoroughly reviewed and measured the TC Electronics RH450 Rebel head. It's an excellent magazine and I would heartily recommend that you sign up for the free subscription. Say "hi" to my friend Tom Bowlus while you're there.

The article in question reviews the RH450 and determines that the amp actually puts out 236 watts. However, the magazine also goes into great detail on the Advanced Power Management (APM) scheme that TC Electronics uses in these amps. It's a fair and unbiased review.

How important is the specification? This is an interesting problem. On one hand, the measurement of wattage using a sine wave at (a) given frequency(ies) is standard practice. On the other hand, TC Electronics has truly innovated and their APM method does yield an amp that, in real world conditions when driven by a bass guitar, not a sine wave, competes with many if not most of the 450 watt amps out there. But, there is compression involved and that is certainly a factor. My initial knee-jerk reaction was to remember the "Accu-switch" on Accugroove cabinets.

What a dilemma. I would probably not have considered looking at an amp that was only rated at 236 watts, however the RH450 holds its own and I've never found it lacking in power. In combination with the features of this amp, which are so convenient, I would not rethink this purchase and continue to recommend the amp. But if the specs are important to you, you need to be aware of TC amp power ratings and Advanced Power Management. Remember too that your signal will be compressed. Check out the review at Bass Gear magazine, form your own opinion, but do yourself a favour and check out the amp before you dismiss it based on the wattage ratings.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Millennia STT-1, TD-1 & Crest CA-9

The Big Guns

My "big rig" live setup typically includes the Millennia TD-1 (top), the Millennia STT-1 (rack @ top) and a Crest CA-9 poweramp (rack @ bottom). This is a heavy setup to cart around, but is worth it's weight in headroom and TONE. Although I do have a number of all-tube setups, I do find that that this rig with the Millennia preamps in pure solid state mode really delivers an accurate reproduction and the slammin' punch of my Wal and Dingwall basses. Here are the details:

The Millennia STT-1 "Origin" preamp

What does the New York Philharmonic Orchestra have in common with Skywalker Ranch, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Pete Townsend, Joe Satriani just to name a few? When it came to no-compromise state-of-the-art preamplifiers they turned to Millennia Media. Millennia has a convincing client list that includes hundreds of orchestras, opera companies, recording studios, film scoring stages, studios and well-known performing musicians, and if you have used their products this would come as no surprise.

What initally piqued my interest was a review from Bass Player Magazine's Terry Buddingh who described the Origin STT-1 as “Unbelievably transparent in solid-state mode, most invisible-sounding preamp I've heard. Imagine a psychic connection between your bass and your power amp”. Of course i
t is certainly worth mentioning that the tube stages are similarly amazing.

The Origin is an extremely attractive proposition, and the sleek, sexy front panel with Selco VU meter and myriad glowing lights merely hint at the powerful capabilities beneath the exterior. In terms of structure, “Twin Topology” refers to the ability to choose between either pure class-A triode tubes or pure class-A discrete J-FETs. The Origin is organized into a “processing chain” that offers tube, solid-state and audio transformer (or transformerless) options to be selected for most of the various preamp stages. The entire path from input through to output is entirely class-A and only the highest-quality components have been used throughout to ensure the integrity of the audio path.

An input selector allows the choice of mic, line or instrument (1/4") inputs. Beyond the initial tube input buffer, SS or tube gain amplifier stages are selected. The selected gain amp drives direct utility outputs and the dynamics stage (EQ, compressor/ limiter/de-esser). Each gain amplifier has it's own level controls and switches are available to select polarity, phantom power (for the mic input) and the audio transformer which may be used either with tube, solid-state or standalone selections. The MIT-01 audio transformer is the first ever offered by Millennia Media and was designed entirely in-house. When used with high-level inputs like electric bass it was designed to impart a "larger than life" colourful personality and enhance the ability to cut through a mix.

The EQ stage of the Origin is a four band parametric EQ, offering individually selectable Low Frequency, Low Mids, High Mids and High Frequency bands. Each band has a frequency select switch, a boost/cut control and a parametric Q control. Shelving is also selectable for LF and HF bands at 6db per octave, while LM and HM have a 10x range button for maximum flexibility. The ability to switch each individual frequency band in or out and isolate it in order to compare to a flat setting is extremely valuable for finding or fine-tuning your sound, or simply for adjusting to the acoustics of a particular room.

The dynamics stage of the Origin includes the compressor, limiter and de-esser. Controls are available for threshold (sensitivity), attack time, release time and ratio. A switch is available to flip the dynamics section from post-EQ to pre-EQ, and the meter can be switched into gain reduction mode in order to see how the original signal is being compressed. The de-esser may not be practical for an electric bass but it's available should the need arise to tame microphone sibilance. The opto-resistive compressor in the Origin is, to sum up in a word, superlative. It’s important to note that the dynamics stage and EQ are combined such that both are run in the same mode: either tube or SS.

Outputs offered include an XLR main out with a "dynamics link" for combining two Origins for a stereo signal, unbalanced XLR and 1/4" TS phone outputs which are post preamp/EQ/dynamics section, and the previously mentioned direct out which is driven by the selected gain section. STT-1 DI outputs are driven at line level. Input and output ground lift/isolation is not offered, however an earth ground lift strap is included.

The Origin is an astounding professional-grade microphone preamplifier; well-designed, flexible and armed with a plethora of features. It is extremely well-suited for use with electric bass. Just one aspect alone, the flexibility to switch individual stages in or out of the signal path, allows the performer to hear the impact of each choice and how it combines with other selections. This makes it well worth the price of admission. Sonically it can offer as much or as little colouration as desired. Combining various tube options with the transformer creates huge and wonderful vintage tones, while going purely solid-state it can be clean, hi-fi or totally invisible and transparent.

The Origin was not designed specifically for use as a bass preamplifier, and some of the usual bassplayer-friendly features are not present. There are no footswitch capabilities offered nor is there an effects loop. This is presumably to maintain the purity of the signal chain, although as many of the functions are relay-switched it might have been possible to design footswitch capabilities in for certain operations. Also, the initial tube and solid-state channels are an "either-or" proposition and cannot be “mixed” as with some preamps. The lack of a Mic level DI might mean that Millenia's other preamp, the TD-1, could be a more practical choice for many bassplayers. Since it’s arrival the Origin STT-1 has become one of the essential ingredients in my personal sonic formula.

The Millennia TD-1 preamp / DI
Most bass players have, at one time or another, found the need for a DI unit to connect their bass either to the mixing board for studio recording or to the PA for live performance. The Millennia TD-1 fulfills this need and more. As a preamp it offers Twin Topology similar to the Origin, but at a more affordable price point. There's other magic at work here too. The input buffer on the TD-1 is switchable between tube and solid-state and there is a microphone-level DI output. Neither of these features are present on the Origin, which makes this a perfect compliment.

The TD-1 has been billed primarily for use with guitar, due to the re-amp features and Strat/Les Paul guitar emulations. Bass players may simply ignore these features as they do not detract from the sound in any way, but should note that there are rumours of upcoming Jazz and Precision bass emulations.

Since acquiring the TD-1 I've come to the realization that I would not consider plugging in one of my basses without it. It is truly a "swiss army knife" in live and studio settings, offering the same invisible-sounding psychic connection as the Origin. Unless a compressor and fully-parametric EQ are required the TD-1 is truly an ultimate DI and an excellent bass preamp in one small package.

Crest CA-9 poweramp
I used to ascribe to the theory that all solid-state poweramps were the same; the old theory of a poweramp being nothing more than "straight wire with gain" and that similarly-powered amps could not be distinguished by the human ear. When amps are compensated to identical levels, controlled double blind testing proves this theory in a reproducible way. I participated in several double blind listening experiments at the National Research Council under the watchful eye of Dr. Floyd Toole many years ago.

The CA-9 just dashes any and all such notions and theories. For bass instrument amplification nothing comes close to sounding as good as the Crest Audio Ca-9 to my ear, excepting perhaps the Crown Macrotech. There's much to be said for massive iron transformers and large capacitors, at least when it comes to delivering the huge transients of an electric bass at low frequencies.

The CA-9 puts out a hefty 2 kilowatts of power bridged into a 4 ohm cabinet. There are many other high-powered solid-state amps out there, but I have found that the Crest CA-9 is the true locomotive of pure bass tone and power. Personal thanks to Tom Bowlus for encouraging me to reevaluate these.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Acme Low B2-II cabinets

Acme Low B2-II

Andy Lewis came up with a seriously great line of cabinets which he released as the Acme Low B series. These are available as the B1 with 1x10", the B2 with 2x10" and the B4 with (you guessed it) 4x10" custom drivers. I chose the Low B2-II cabinets and a modular approach where I could use anywhere from one to four of these cabinets, depending on the stage, PA setup and venue.

In general you can pick any two of the following three attributes when designing a bass cabinet:

Light / small - a convenient size and/or weight
Low - great low frequency response down where it counts
Loud - more efficient designs that require less power

Andy chose the first two design elements for the Low B2, so the box is small, not overly heavy and delivers smooth even bass response down to low B (31hz) on a five-stringed bass instrument. These cabinets really deliver the goods and have such a nice even response throughout their range that they are suitable for PA use and even full-range audio playback.

The only minor downside to this approach is that these cabinets require a generous amount of amplifier power, although most modern bass amplifiers are capable of driving these cabinets to the required levels. To state this as clearly as I possibly can, the expectation has to be reasonable with regards to the amount of volume you're going to get out of these small cabinets with a given amount of amplifier power. For the mid-sized venues I'm currently playing in, 400watts does the job nicely with some amplifier headroom still available. For larger clubs I routinely use more power to get higher volume levels and still have plenty of amplifier headroom available.

While I have tried a number of other bass cabinets over the last few years, I keep returning to the Acmes for their unbeatable accuracy.

There is simply no question that I wish for more venues where I could actually put all four of my Acme cabinets to use. Depending on the size of the room, two or even a single Acme Low B2 cabinet will provide more-than-adequate coverage. These are truly amazing, accurate cabinets for the low price of admission and for that reason are nearly unbeatable.

*Highly recommended*

Thursday, June 29, 2006

AccuGroove El Whappo

The Mighty AccuGroove El Whappo

This is my current favourite "standalone" cabinet. The El Whappo specifications are as follows:

- 1 - 15" sub woofer with die-cast aluminum frame and Kapton coils
- 1 - 12" mid woofer with die-cast aluminum frame and Kapton coils
- 1 - 6" mid range with Kapton coils
- 2 - critically damped catenary soft dome textile tweeters with ferrofluid cooled voice coil and high energy dual neodymium magnet
- seperate 350 watt heavy duty attenuators for midrange and tweeters
- 2 speakon jacks & 2 sealed 1/4" jacks
- weight 88 lbs
- maintenance free self-resetting tweeter & midrange protection circuit
- recessed caster sockets for pop in casters
- power rating 800 watts @ 4 ohms
- frequency response & SPL: 35Hz-18KHz @ 102db SPL (29Hz @ -6db).
- dimensions 32-1/2"H x 24-3/4"W x 18-1/4"D

In very general terms the AccuGroove El Whappo sounds similar to the Acme cabinets that I love, although a little more pronounced in the mids and therefore not as accurate as the Acmes. While both provide a clean and even response from Low B through to the highest note on the fretboard and have excellent low-end response, there are some obvious sonic differences that make for an easy comparison. The El Whappo extends down to the nether regions where many other cabinets fear to go, and it does so in a seemingly effortless fashion. Top end response is true but a bit more subdued on the AccuGroove cabinets. It's interesting to note that this cabinet appears to retain it's excellent sonic balance even well off-axis. One can play at much lower levels than usual but blend better and still REALLY CUT through the mix.

While I expected to miss the punchiness of the tens, it is not noticeably lacking. Another very obvious difference is the wonderful slap tone the El Whappo produces, with just the right amount of bite to it. This cabinet DOES have the clarity of a giant studio monitor.

Additional points worthy of mention: 1/. Few cabinets project as well as the El Whappo and the sound remains true well out from the stage. 2/. Note fundamentals are well-balanced. 3/. this cabinet responds extremely well to equalization. These attributes combined provide just the right formula! I'm still amazed by how snappy, precise and well-balanced this cabinet is.

While I haven't yet had a chance to test this out, the self-resetting protection on the tweeters and midrange are a truly nice feature with no more automotive bulbs to replace as with many other cabinets. The cabinets-within-a-cabinet feature is a sensible design point. All in all, this is a very well thought out and brilliantly executed bass cabinet.

Note that the sound provided by the El Whappo is well-suited to my personal tastes. Those seeking a tighter and more controlled bottom end would probably prefer the Whappo Jr.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Trace Elliot V8

Trace Elliot V-Series V8

The legendary Trace V8 was one of the last original Trace Elliot tube amplifiers designed and produced in the UK. While this production happened under the watchful eye of Gibson's Gnashville headquarters, these amplifiers remained true to the original vision. Fewer than 80 of these amplifiers were produced and are considered by many to be "the grail" of all-tube bass amplification and in the same league as the infamous HiWatt DR-405 amps used by John Entwistle.

The two-channel preamp features a 7 tube compliment driving 8 x KT-88 power tubes to produce a massive 400 watts of power. This amplifier also features an EM84 "power indication" valve which displays the output relative to 400 watts RMS. The staggering power output of this all-tube amplifier is truly unbelievable. Thankfully there is a half-power switch.

I had been on the hunt for a HexaValve and ended up spending a great deal of time on the phone with Trace Elliot's UK service manager. After some discussion he advised me to snap up a V8 as soon as they became available, hinting at some trouble brewing between Gibson management and the remaining Trace Elliot employees. My amp was shipped to me direct from the UK instead of through the existing distribution channel, one of the first production units. It wasn't long after that Gibson dismantled the original Trace Elliot UK facility.

According to the V8 manual "The circuit topology of the V8 has been based on traditional valve amplifier designs,with new ideas incorporated where beneficial for either sound quality or production efficiency. The main signal path through the preamp and power stage sections is 100% valve, relays have been used for all the switching functions, and integrated circuits have been used in the DI circuit for quiet operation and impedance matching for 600 ohm mixer inputs. The chassis is made from gloss black, stove-epoxy coated, 16 gauge zintec. Cabinet is made from 3/4” plywood. Highest quality porcelain valve sockets have been used throughout for the KT88’s,ECC83’s and EM84. The power and output transformers have been custom made by Demeter specifically for the V8 for maximum performance using high grade laminations. Windings are resin soaked and manufactured to pass international approvals. A highly regulated DC supply is used for heater filaments in all preamp valves for minimal hum levels. An external biasing facility is featured - this enables techs to check/reset output bias at any time without removing the chassis. Internal wiring and glass epoxy circuit board layouts use multiple return star earthing for low noise and hum. All audio sections have been laid out for sonic performance using ‘point to point’ wiring principles. Gold plated jack sockets are used exclusively throughout. Two quiet chassis mounted fans keep the power output valves at safe operating temperatures even when playing at high volumes."
The selectable compressor circuit within the V8 is based on simple vintage studio valve compressors. It’s valve gain stage is controlled by a silicon diode side chain that has been designed to respond like a vacuum double-diode. It has pre-set slow attack and release times (best for bass frequencies) and is intended to be used to smooth out and fatten up the sound of a bass guitar (rather than as an extreme limiter effect). Other features include a serial effects loop, transformer-coupled DI switchable to pre or post modes with a ground lift switch. There's also a full/half power switch.

The V-Type V8 is powered by eight KT88’s. These are configured for grid biased class A/B operation. This is the traditional arrangement for a high powered amplifier of this type, to efficiently produce at least 400 watts with the valves supplied (at the rated nominal mains input voltage).

Four panel mounted fuses protect each pair of output valves. There is also a rear panel bias adjustment for each pair of tubes. If an output valve starts to draw too much current, the corresponding fuse will blow, turning off both valves in the pair and lighting the LED underneath. This will result in a reduction of output power but the amplifier continues to function.
Pictures of "the innards" by Rich Heslip.

My thought when buying the V8 was that it would serve as a "poor man's DB680+DB728", but it turned out to be nothing of the sort. This amplifier is a totally different beast. What it does share in common with the aforementioned Aguilar DB setup, the HiWatt DR-405 and the original vintage Ampeg SVT is that it is also one of the finest all-tube bass amplifiers ever built.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

All-tube Aguilar Rig

Aguilar DB680 preamp / DB728 poweramp

The DB680 is a great preamp and has certainly become a fixture / standard in many recording studios. In combination with the DB728 however, the sum is much greater than all of the parts. Clearly Mr. Boonshoft was able to work some magic by designing both pieces to compliment one another perfectly.

Specifications, from the Aguilar website:

Dual Parametric Equalization: Two serially arranged active networks. plus/minus 12 db. One EQ is set up from 180 Hz fully variable to 1.2K with fully adjustable bandwidth (Q), and level controls. The other EQ is set up to be fully variable from 1.3K to 7.5 K, again with fully variable bandwidth and level (boost and cut). By arranging the EQs in this fashion we can offer complete flexibility.

Tube EQ
Treble: Tube driven shelving, plus/minus 12db @ 4 K HZ Bass: Tube driven shelving, plus/minus 12 db @ 40 Hz Bass: Tube driven shelving, plus/minus 12 db @ 40 Hz Deep Switch: 2 position tube driven RLC resonant EQ, fixed at 30HZ Bright Switch: Passive RC premphasis @ 5-7 K Hz
Tube effects loop: Tube parallel effects loop with adjustable send and mix control. Left and right returns for stereo effect units.
Output Interfaces: Two 1/4" jack line level output controlled by the master volume control provides unbalanced tube-buffered output for connection to a power amp.
XLR balanced output: Unlike conventional DI outputs, this balanced configuration allows the player to record directly to tape. No mic-pre is required! The output level has five positions to cover all possible recording and concert situations. They are: -40db pre-EQ, -40 db post EQ, 0db, 2db, and 4 db.
HI and Low 1/4" phone jacks: These provide individual crossover outputs for full bi-amping capability. Each has its' own front panel level control and the crossover frequency is adjustable from 100 Hz to 1000 Hz.
Input Interfaces: Two selectable inputs: Located on the front panel, selectable by front panel switch or by footswitch.
Auxiliary input: Located on the rear panel. The extra input on the rear panel is useful in a permanent studio or live rack set-up where one needs to access the unit from behind.
Input thru: This is used to send the signal from a bass straight through to the input of another bass head (not a power amp). For example, connecting with a vintage bass amp that you want to record with a microphone, while taking a direct signal from the DB 680.
Footswitch: Allows the player to select input one or two. Also on the footswitch is a master mute control which mutes all signal except signal going to the tuner input (an extremely useful feature in live or studio situations).
Tube complement: Two 12AX7A/7025 high-mu twin triodes Three 12AU7 medium-mu twin triodes
Input Impedance: 1 M ohm (passive mode) 47 K ohm (active mode)
Output Impedance: Nominal output = 600 ohm. Balanced output = 75 ohm Crossover outputs = 75 ohm.
Power requirement: 100-120-220-240 VAC 50-60 Hz (internally selectable)
Power consumption: @ 120 VAC: 0.75A, 87.75 W
Rack Size 2 spaces
Weight:17 lbs

Power Output: 400 watts RMS. Into 2, 4, or 8 ohms.
Tube Compliment: Eight 6550 power tubes, one 12AX7, one 12U7
Power Consumption: 1.8A @ 120 VAC zero signal condition.
Power requirement: 100, 120, 220, 230 VAC
Transformers: Custom designed toroidal output transformer for ultra-wide bandwidth. Power transformer is also toroidal.
Cooling: Two ultra-low noise fans regulate the operating temperature of the amp.
Inputs: One 1/4" unbalanced input and one input thru for patching a preamp signal thru to an additional power amp.
Input Impedance: 470k Ohms.
Output Impedance Selector: A three position switch provides switching for two, four, and eight ohms.
Outputs: Two speak on connectors and two 1/4" outputs
Chassis: High quality aluminum construction provides sturdiness without excessive weight. Access to tubes is provided through top of unit for convenience and is isolated from any dangerous voltages.
Warranty: Ten year limited warranty.
Weight: 4 rack spaces, 57 lbs.

Preamp & Poweramp Combined
To say that I wasn't prepared for this combination would be understatement. It's easy to be excited about new gear, but the proof is always what happens in a live scenario with other players. My cautious optimism was replaced by unbridled enthusiam. Having had the opportunity to look inside I can say with certainty that this is the most overbuilt and well-designed tube amp that I've ever seen. To quote someone we all know and love (Psycho Bass Guy) "... built better than most old Navy tube radios. I see why they don't want to make that many to sell. They are electronic works of art and HAVE to be beyond labor intensive to produce". Exactly right. These have both been recently discontinued.

This combination is capable of sounds very similar to that of a vintage ('68-'71 era) SVT with lots of grunt; buttery, warm, smooth, fat and gritty if pushed hard. I tried the DB680/DB728 with 2 power-hungry Acme Low B2-II cabinets and the pair performed unbelievably!

It's extremely obvious that the DB680 and DB728 were made for each other. For a tube amplifier, this combination is voiced perfectly. There is a massive amount of power and headroom available. Sound? I've never heard an all-tube amp sound more authoritative. All of the warm, fat lows are there and the overall sound is s-m-o-o-t-h and punchy, with as much or as little grit as you want.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Big Aggie Power

Aguilar DB750

Aguilar Amplification set the bassplaying world on it's ear when it introduced the DB750 hybrid amplifier. If you want massive and reliable solid state power combined with the same wonderful tube front-end provided by their groundbreaking DB659 preamp, then this is the beast for you.

Like the DB680 and DB728, this amp is incredibly overbuilt and precisely engineered as reflected by the hefty pricetag. Nonetheless, if you want a bass "head" (preamp and poweramp combined) you ought to be doing yourself a favour by considering this amp. It's one of the finest bassamps ever made.

While I often opt for the added flexibility afforded me by the Millennia / Crest combination, if I want a "set it and forget it" amplifier I take the DB750. It's safe to say that you can't get a bad sound out of this amplifier and if you need more volume than the DB750 can provide then you are simply far TOO LOUD. This is an amplifier with simply massive output power and tons of earthy Aguilar tone.

The DB750 offers a wonderful compliment of features including selectable serial/parallel effects loops. transformer-coupled DI output, shelving-type tone controls and a very high-tech protection circuit that runs fault diagnostics every time you turn on the amp. I give this amplifier top marks.

Friday, June 23, 2006

EBS Fafner

The Fafner

Here is one of the most versatile light-weight bass amplifiers I have seen. EBS' Fafner isn't that well known on this continent but it certainly deserves to be. The beautiful case and controls that all "go to 11" merely hint at the real capabilities of this powerful 24 lb. amp.

The approach that EBS took for this creation is unique in that there is a tube between the solid state preamp and solid state power amp. This amplifier's "drive" control sets the level that the preamp drives the tube prior to output which allows anything from smooth and clean right through to full on tube grit. There is also a Character switch that allows the player to retain a smooth and clean bottom end while maintaining the grit and drive of the tube. There are also a full compliment of tone controls, including switches for Bypass (tone controls), Low and High boosts, a bright dial, a flexible compressor and selectable mid frequency sweep.

I have read that some people have had problems with the Fafner amp, although save for a few notable exceptions, these problems were mostly associated with the earlier grey-stripe models. My amp has been working hard over the past few years and has been (touch wood) absolutely trouble-free driving a 2 ohm load at high levels for long evenings. I understand that this issue has to do with the power switch not being correctly buffered. In fairness to EBS I have found their service to be excellent, but one needs to bear in mind that EBS is a Swedish company without an extensive support network in North America.

Based on my personal experiences I would highly recommend this amplifier. The caveat remains that not everyone has had the excellent experience or service that this amplifier has provided for me.

1965 Fender Showman

Showman Amp

This is a 1965 Fender Showman paired up with two JBL D140F speakers. Lord knows this amp is due for a cap job by now, but it is in it's original state and sounds absolutely fantastic. There's something about the combination of a Showman, the JBLs and a good old Precision bass (my '62 shown) that sounds so good. Nothing blends with a Hammond B3 with Leslie and a good old Strat or Les Paul so beatifully as this combination.

If you know your vintage gear and have a good eye you've probably noticed something about the cabinet. It's about halfway between the small and large Showman cabinets in size. The dimensions seem to indicate that it is the Bassman 2x15". I was unaware that these were offered prior to the CBS drop-metal-edge era, but here it is, perhaps a transition model. I purchased the cabinet empty and loaded the two JBL D140F speakers which came out of David Gates' old tuck'n'roll Kustom amp. Remember him? Bread? If you're like me perhaps you'd rather forget. ;-0 Just kidding, David.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

MIDI Setup

Samplers, Synths & more

In between bands with some time to spare I found myself writing scoring and creating in the MIDI domain. While I had come to master Cakewalk (and later Sonar) I found myself in need of a more expressive controller. Enter the Peavey MIDIBase. This is a novel setup that included a bridge-mounted pickup system. Also, every fret was split into four switches, one for each string for precise positional information across the entire fretboard. The bridge system provided additional information such as string deflection, pitch bend and other expression types. While this was perhaps the best MIDI system available for bass at the time, it suffered from many of the problems that still plague bass MIDI controllers to this day. It was slow, but in this case workable.

It's interesting to note that this same system was first offered as an option on Wal basses. The inventor, an Australian gentleman later sold the design to Peavey and it could no longer be offered on Wal basses.

I used the MIDIBase to control my racks which included:

Mark of the Unicorn MIDI Timepiece
EMU Vintage Keys
Roland D-110 synth
Roland U-110 synth
Roland U-220 synth
Roland R-8M synth
Roland GR-50 synth
Roland S-770 sampler (the dragon!) with optical disks, colour monitor
Roland A-880 MIDI patchbay
MIDIBase controller

Roland M-12E mixer
Roland M-12E mixer
Roland M-16E mixer
Roland RSP-550 effects
Digitech GSP-21L effects
All routed to a Tascam DA-88 8-track digital recorder

This was quite the system. Although it never paid for itself, it was serious fun.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Traynor Power

Traynor YBA-3

I dropped out of school in late '68 to play full time with an established local band. It was a seriously good band featuring two notables - Brian Sim on guitar and Ken Hodgkinson on Hammond organ. We covered a lot of great material, but no other band in the northeast did a better job of hard rock. I was both privileged and fortunate to have been involved. Between Brian's Marshall stack and Ken's twin L-122 Leslies (powered by Dynaco amps) I did the only thing any self-respecting bass player would do: I used a Traynor YBA-3 with two Big-B (8x10) cabinets or a single Big-B with the folded horn 18". This later version of the amp (with the chrome bumpers) pushed out ~ 160 watts RMS.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Compulsive Gear-a-holic

Bass Gear

So far I've only managed to cover a few of my basses and amps. I'll be posting more information here when time permits.

Please stay tuned

In closing...
I thought it appropriate to add a few words in closing about gear and personal taste. I think that it's important for us all to recognise that we're searching for our personal sound. When you're reading my posts and opinions, and before you get carried away enough by my enthusiastic descriptions to spend a LOT of money on gear, you need to remind yourself that these are all my opinions and that as such they may not work perfectly for you.

For example: some folks love the agression and bark of SWR's beryllium-domed tweeters. If you do, you will probably find the cabinets that I prefer just a little bit too polite over the high frequencies. This is where all the descriptive adjectives inevitably break down, because the common frame of reference we share here isn't precise.

The solution is simple... use the opinions of others as a general guideline only. Always try every piece of gear out before you spend your money and let your own ears be your guide.

Lastly, I'll share something that has taken me many years to come to terms with personally. It is true of every great bassplayer that I have had the opportunity to hear in person , or to talk to first hand or even to just jam with. This is the great secret that other musicians willingly share quite freely; that is nearly always ignored or shrugged off and it's the one truth that you will always come back to.

Their tone comes from their fingers.

If you practice often, work hard and always have fun then the equipment will, as it should, be secondary to the music you're making. No amount of money can buy what you REALLY need to be a great bassplayer. So pick up that dusty instrument and "kick out the jams".