TC Electronic BH800

Ian Glasper goes toe-to-toe with TC's feisty new amp. Who wins?

Designed in Denmark, manufactured in Thailand, and weighing in at just three kilogrammes, this tiny bass head seems like any bassist's chiropractic fantasy.

Despite its small mass, it's a sturdy lil' mofo, with a metal chassis and a brushed red, anodised aluminium front plate, that is not only almost indestructible but understated and classy at the same time. There are rack mount-style handles on the front – not that you'll ever need to grab hold of it with two hands, of course – and it is equipped with big, fat, über-chunky rubber feet more befitting Godzilla than Godzuki. Beware, though! Despite those impressive plates of meat, this head is so incredibly light, it's in danger of being vibrated off some unsuspecting cabs; for the trial sessions, I had to put a coat on top of the speaker to stop the head committing hara-kiri. Actually it's so solidly constructed, I wager it would bounce back up and just keep on rocking, but I didn't want to put that theory to the test…

Build Quality And Features

It's rather handy to have a tuner built in, and it's extremely accurate too, once you develop the right sensitivity and get used to lighting the two green LEDs. The BH800's tuner has a frequency range for up to six strings, and it's always on, which makes for a pretty light display during your set, so you can keep an eye on those open string tunings as you play too. There's a mute switch for when you want to actually tune yourself up between songs without annoying everybody, too. Bizarrely, they only put five string indicators on the panel (there's plenty of room for six), so if you're tuning C, you'll need to light up D and G together.

The sounds direct from the amp are more than worth your dollar, but there are some downloadable effect options too, which open up hundreds of new avenues regarding tone. These are really useful if you're a jobbing musician swapping between bands of contrasting styles, and should save some room in your kit bag when it comes to pedals. While some might find the pre-loaded effects slightly naff, you can download all sorts of rather rad TonePrint effects endorsed by the likes of Duff McKagan, Nathan East and Victor Wooten. With the free-of-charge TonePrint app you can download them to your smartphone and straight into the amp, or via the USB port in the rear, which can also be used for upgrading the head's internal software, should the need arise.

There's a switch to toggle between the two effect channels, and there are two TonePrint dials, so you can choose how much or little of your chosen effect you dial in: these act as a wet/dry mix control for most modulation effects, but also control depth of chorus or speed of vibrato on others. The technology is pretty intuitive, and it all seems simple enough to use, and it's a rather saucy concept to be able to constantly customise your amp whenever the mood takes you. These effects can also be controlled by pedal, if you care to hook one up with the jack socket in the rear. There's also a headphones/speaker mute output, which – when used in conjunction with the auxiliary input next to it, allows you to play along to songs you need to rehearse when the kids are in bed.

The Speakon cable connections caught me by surprise, and I had to rush out and buy one for this review, but it ensures a nice tight connection once screwed into place. You can drive more than one cabinet off the head too, as long as you get the loads right (four ohms minimum), and there's a balanced EQ output for DI-ing to PA or desk, complete with a handy pre/post EQ switch. As well as pre/post EQ, this switch determines whether your signal is lifted pre/post TonePrint effect as well.

One last feature that was obviously not put to the test during the review trial, but could save you a lot of money one day, is the automatic protection mode. If the amp overheats, or short circuits, the speaker output mutes automatically to minimise cabinet damage, but the balanced output still passes audio, so the show can go on. If only every amp I'd had over the years had been thus equipped…

The BH800 was run – rather ruthlessly, I should add – through both Hartke and Ampeg cabs. For such a dinky unit it's awesomely powerful, and really moves some serious air for such a small head; you stand in front of your cab when it's being assaulted by this little beast, and the sound is a physical presence slamming against the back of your knees. There's also an 'intelligent' EQ system, which the technical bods assure me doesn't just boost one frequency when you turn a knob, but several, actively contouring your sound.

Now, to this old philistine, that could be a great line in snake oil, but whatever the science behind it, the head sounds sweet and rounded, and the EQ is both smooth and subtle. I was able to tease both a deliciously deep and dirty dub tone and a sharp attacking percussive vibe with just a few minor adjustments, and the 'hi' and 'lo' mid options add extra versatility. With some time invested in its myriad intricacies, this little box will reward you for your trouble. There's a peak warning indicator by the gain control which lets you know when your signal starts clipping, so you can easily tweak the master volume and gain to get maximum db with minimum distortion… or vice versa, if you're a grind head.

Despite being small and light enough to hoist with just your little finger, the BH800 still manages to feel robust enough to throw at your drummer when he drops his umpteenth stick during the first song of your set – and it sounds great. You see, size really isn't everything, and big things often come in small packages. Feel free to add whatever other clichéd platitudes you like here – they're all true!