As far as small but powerful bass amp heads are concerned, Ampeg seems to be covering all aspects of the genre with a fervour. Hot on the heels of its currently successful ProBass range comes the B500DR. And this is not just more of the same because it actually offers yet another step forward by having the advantage of fully programmable settings.
This facility allows you to develop and store four distinctly different sounds of your own choosing and access any one of them at the push of a button. What´s more, as there is a second input provided, you can have another bass also set up with another four sounds.
This is ideal for the player who switches between four- and five-string basses, or fretted and fretless models. Swapping instruments usually requires some degree of tweaking, but now that can all be done in advance so changing basses becomes stress free at last!
Typically robust Ampeg construction reveals a standard 2U rackmount design with a simple control layout. The operation centre of the B500DR is based purely on necessity with nothing superfluous added, and although there are two inputs provided only one is active at any one time. Switching between them is easy, but a pad switch is also provided in case the output levels of the basses used vary greatly.
To take full advantage of what is provided here the rear panel needs to be well equipped, so it includes a variable line out, effects loop and a footswitch socket. It also provides a power amp input and a preamp output, which offers an extra degree of versatility, particularly in the studio. The circuit breaker may seem a luxury but, as mains spikes do sometimes occur when turning on high-powered bass units, this is a sensible addition. Ampeg´s units are not particularly troublesome in this area, but should it occur this will eliminate having to keep spare fuses.
Switching on presents the user with a virtual lightshow as each control has a bright green indicator to clearly show its setting and, when fired up, the circuit runs through the whole sequence to provide a visual check that all is working correctly. Once it settles down just a quick glance will instantly reveal your settings and, as the unit automatically defaults to preset one, it makes sense to make this your most frequently used sound.
Whenever you change a setting the relevant indicator light will flash until you store that particular setting into the program. This applies to the switches as well and, until you actually store any changes made, the program will revert to the previous setting. But whatever input and settings are used can be instantly digitally stored at your command.
With such a logical control layout, sound shaping is easy. Three variable tonal parameters are provided - bass, ultra mid and treble - and these are enhanced with the appropriately titled ultra high and ultra low switches. This increases the tonal range at both ends should it become necessary, so any playing style is amply catered for.
The Limit circuit is automatically active when you turn the unit on, and so acts more as a form of circuit protection from an overloaded signal than as compression. Use the switch provided to remove the effect if you prefer. The FX Blend control is essential if you´re using an external effect pedal, as this allows you to mix in affected signal to exactly the required amount.
Programming is what this head is all about and to set a new sound is easy as anything else here. Just adjust all the controls to the desired level and activate or defeat switches as required, then hold in the preferred preset button until it flashes to indicate the setting has been stored. The flashing stops after a couple of seconds and the selected preset position indicator light is illuminated.
If you´re stuck for ideas the manual helpfully offers some practical suggestions for the most popular playing styles. Once stored, selecting your preset can be done manually or by the footswitch provided. Although this is not the most robust of designs, it works well enough and is supplied with a decent length of cable.
When the B500DR head was linked to an Ampeg BSE410HLF cabinet the combination proved awesome. It allowed the head to fully reveal its tonal qualities, particularly on the low end, which this model cabinet is designed to enhance. Top end sounds are clean and crisp, and with a forceful mid-range to hand as well there´s plenty of punch to be squeezed from this head.
The idea of having four distinct sounds instantly to hand is a good one, but providing the same facility for a second bass as well is generous. Two basses instantly ready to rock is a bass player´s dream! And it´s highly effective and practical too.
The no frills design still allows for an adjustable DI and a blend control for the effects loop to produce exactly the right degree of effect quickly and easily, thus preventing unwanted volume leaps and the need to readjust your settings when you punch an effect in. These thoughtful elements are something we´ve come to associate with this maker and, as ever, that distinctive and essential Ampeg slant to the sound is very much in evidence.
Once there was concern that Ampeg´s solid-state bass circuitry caused it to lose this definitive sound quality, especially with some of their cheaper models. But it´s never been the case with their higher-powered amp heads. The B500DR is such a unit and it simply oozes that definitive Ampeg sound from the sensible tonal range provided. Nothing excessive here, just what it takes to shape a great sound with plenty of volume.