With such a long-established and well-respected track record in the speaker and bass amplification market, Hartke products are always met with high expectations. Operating a policy of high-quality equipment at a reasonable price is admirable, and this HyDrive combo fits into this category.
The Kickback design employed here has always been a winner. It's ideal for live use as it projects the sound up at your ears, rather than at the back of your legs – that's as useful at small venues as it is on bigger, DI'd gigs where monitoring can be just as difficult.
Like the rest of the HyDrive range it employs a high quality plywood cabinet with internal bracing, a steel grille and corner protectors. The bulk weight, however, is manageable, making for a good sound-to-weight ratio. With a front-loaded speaker and tweeter the cabinet also has a small porting slot at the bottom of the speaker baffle.
One of the most obvious elements in Hartke's cabinets is the use of aluminium-coned speakers, giving a look and a sound that is unique. But new speaker technology has led Hartke to develop the hybrid cone that combines an outside paper cone with an inside aluminium cone for a best-of-both-worlds scenario.
"It feels as if there's a beast inside, and the controls keep it in order."
So now we have the advantage of warmer lower frequencies and smoother mids, but with that Hartke clarity, punch and delivery fully retained. A switch enables you to switch the HF tweeter either off, fully on, or on with a 6dB cut.
The amp has a moulded black front panel that's easy on the eye, though your brain tells you metal might be more robust. Then again, just how robust does it need to be?!
Inside, there's the benefit, says Hartke, of over-spec'd components so the transformers and the handling capacity of the speaker are all working well. With DI facilities and effects loops this is a practical combo that is engineered to fully realise its power claims cleanly and positively.
Bass combos with 15-inch speakers remain popular with serious amateur and semi-pro giggers thanks to their all round tonal versatility: good low-end capabilities and plenty of punch and top end too, especially with this speaker design.
Hartke has always been primarily about tone and power, and that is retained here. That distinct harder edge to the sound remains, but now with a warmer yet focused delivery and improved mid-range.
Hartke is keen to get you up and running and provides a settings suggestion card with examples for modern rock, slap and Motown/R&B. This also helps you get to grips with the controls.
Likewise the shape section provides several dynamic sounds very easily, so experimenting with this is also a great place to start. Clean and overdrive sounds abound and the compression range is expansive, and so allows precise adjustment to give just the right amount of clip.
Bass attack overdrive gives focus, punch and a real sense of purpose to the sound. The bottom-end is expansive, but gradually blending in the treble stops it from getting out of hand.
This way you can obtain a really thick sound but with a clean edge and good note separation. With intelligent use of these tone controls, the graphic EQ and the compression system, you can be confident of a sturdy delivery. Great power but background noise is all but non-existent.
Many bass combos leave you with a feeling of 'if only it could deliver a bit more…' but this HyDrive is the opposite. There's so much available it feels as if there's a beast inside, and the controls keep it in order. Not so much a case of what can be added, more a question of how can it be held back. A refreshing change...