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Despite making more musical instruments than any other brand on earth, Yamaha isn't exactly the first name you'd associate with electric guitar amplification.
Although the solid-state GA-15 practice amp is still a fixture of the catalogue, the DG series modelling amplifiers have long since been discontinued, and you'd have to go back to the valve-powered T50 and T100 designed by Mike Soldano in the late 1980s to find a Yamaha amp capable of getting pulses racing. However, that could all be set to change thanks to Yamaha's newest foray into the world of guitar amps - the THR.
The THR theory is sound: most serious guitarists have a big amp that does the business at band levels, but is way too loud for home use. Many will also have a smaller combo for rehearsals and intimate gigs.
But even a low-wattage valve amp with built-in attenuation can be too loud in a domestic context, and will the other half let you keep an ugly practice amp in the lounge? Forget about it.
A THR? Well, it might just fill the gap. And then some.
Unboxing the units, we're struck by the smart retro cosmetics that bring to mind in equal parts a lunchbox amp head and a high-end DAB radio. Both models have a pair of full-range eight centimetre stereo speakers onboard so, unlike a mini valve head, you don't need an additional cabinet.
Neither THR model would look out of place on a shelf or desktop and they are certainly more discreet than a 1 x 12 combo, or a home audio system for that matter. Only the textured plastic section of the casing cheapens the appearance a little - some sort of wood veneer would be
a classier alternative.
That said, these aren't strictly living room amps; eight AA batteries enable you to hone your skills or jam along with your iPod in remote locations thanks to the 1/8-inch aux input. It's perfect for an impromptu Gobi Desert blues jam session, or more realistically, for blasting out the soundtrack to a summer camping trip.
The THR10 benefits from the versatility of three additional core sounds (bass, acoustic and flat), five memory locations for storing sounds, a three-band EQ as opposed to a tone pot and separate output controls for guitar and USB/aux.
Under the hood, THR units use Yamaha's new Virtual Circuit Modelling (VCM) technology for core sound generation, with the control response designed to mimic the 'real thing' - valve amps. In this instance, the five amp models offer a range of Fender, Vox, Marshall and Boogie-style benchmark sounds that should be familiar to anyone who has used any amp modelling hardware of the last decade.
With its master and volume controls pushed hard, there's remarkable bottom end on tap that retains definition even with a high output neck humbucker, while the higher frequencies really sing. As you switch settings further up the gain scale, proceedings inevitably get a little rougher around the edges with more pronounced mids, but in a good way. With a generous helping of dirt, single-coil hum can be hard to control without judicious gating via the THR Editor software, but that's certainly preferable to having to fork out for a stompbox noise suppressor.
Crucially, these amps have been designed to sound good and retain dynamics without sounding overly processed, whatever the volume level, and Yamaha has certainly achieved that. It's refreshing to play through an amp that doesn't sound worse when you turn it down.
The company's Extended Stereo Technology makes for a spacious, three-dimensional experience that really doesn't feel like any other practice amplifier we've encountered, particularly when the stereo reverb is engaged.
To our ears, the clean, crunch and modern voices are where the best sounds sit, as the Marshall-style Lead and Brit Hi modes are a little grainy. But it's subjective, and can be fine-tuned with the Editor software.
The THR10 is very much the bigger brother of the series. Yamaha says that the large enclosure and the addition of a high-quality three-band EQ are the main factors that make the THR10 punch harder than its sibling, and the piano-like bass from the clean channel is something to behold.
Although it is designed for domestic use, so output power is something of a moot point, the larger THR would cope admirably with live performance in intimate coffee house-style surroundings alongside a polite drummer.
The Bass and Flat modes offer yet more flexibility. Whether it's four-string fun or even plugging in a keyboard, the results are very impressive.
The THR10's electro-acoustic mode feels a little underpowered to our ears, but Yamaha assures us that this is merely an issue with our prototype review model, and that the production version will have updated firmware in order to even things out.
As far as we are concerned, the important question isn't whether or not you need a THR in your life, it's which model suits you best. The features and big sound of the THR10 come in handy time and time again, making it perhaps the smarter investment in the longer term.
For more information visit the official Yamaha website.
Full Review: Yamaha THR10