Low output valve amps are easier to turn up to that point where you can hear the creamy, thick drive effects of power-stage distortion without risking an ASBO, which makes them ideal for recording. However, very few include built-in features to make recording easier. Happily, Laney has spotted this and provided a proper solution for the 21st century home recordist, in the shape of the L5-Studio.
From the front, the L5-Studio looks like the rest of the Lionheart range: smart, retro-styled and easy to use. Meanwhile, there's a host of very desirable features borrowed from Laney's very powerful IRT- Studio preamp on its back panel. We like the 60s-influenced blue vinyl, basket-weave grille and chrome control panel with white chickenhead knobs.
"The USB recording interface lets you record the guitar 'dry' and then play the track back through the amp"
The front-panel layout is easy to understand and use, with footswitchable clean and overdrive channels sharing a common passive three-band EQ, together with a level control for the L5's custom-built digital reverb, and a global tone control.
The rear panel, on the other hand, has more functions than many amps put on the front, with an XLR balanced output that includes ground lift and cabinet simulation. Next to this is the USB recording interface, with a separate record level control, and a clever re-amping feature that lets you record the guitar 'dry' and then play the track back through the amp, re-recording it with effects, EQ and drive to taste.
A proper headphone output with its own level control can be switched to monitor either the amp or USB outputs. There's a series effects loop with switchable level and bypass functions, an aux-in 3.5mm jack, and two speaker outputs, which provide either the full output of five watts or attenuated down to 0.5 watts. A socket for a standard two-button footswitch controls channel switching and reverb.
So, we have a ton of features, which sound great on paper, but does the L5 cut it in the real world? We reckon it does. The Laney's sweet single-ended pure class A power stage adds a distinctive warmth and high-end sparkle that some boutique amps costing four times the price would have trouble matching.
The clean channel has a nice Vox-inspired chime to it that turns into a superb bluesy drive at higher levels, and the overdrive channel packs enough gain to turn even the weediest Strat into a fire-breathing monster.
However, it's very controllable and sounds great for rock, with an aggressive Laney bite that's great with humbuckers. The USB recording works really well - the L5's re-amping function will satisfy those who like to tweak things forever, but at the same time, it's very immediate. It takes seconds to get a great tone onto a track, and the excellent digital reverb saves tying up another outboard.