Whether it's the classic British tonality of the popular AD series, or custom shop über-heads such as the Retro 50, Orange's amplifiers have confirmed devotees amongst the highest echelons of rock's elite.
The 'verb-less Rocker 30 is a stripped down 30-watt amplifier, powered by a pair of EL34 power valves running in Class A, and available in head and 1 x 12 combo configurations.
OMEC tells us that the Electro-Harmonix 6CA7 will soon replace the stock EL34 as their power valve of choice because their designers believe them to be the finest EL34 variants on the market.
While you might reasonably expect a pair of these valves to generate 50-60 watts in class AB, as they are operating in Class A, this is limited to around 30.
The Rocker 30s feature the same transformers as those used in the AD30TC twin channel head and combo, although most similarities between the models end here.
One fairly fundamental difference is the presence of solid-state, rather than valve, rectification, which should contribute to a noticeably less compressed and 'spongy' attack.
The Rocker 30's Natural channel is controlled by just one volume pot and features a single-stage preamp incapable of preamp distortion, so any break up on this channel is pure power amp drive.
The Dirty channel, meanwhile, is a scaled-down version of the lead channel on the bigger Rockerverb amplifiers. Featuring three gain stages rather than four, it should allow for an expanded low-gain vocabulary from a channel that gets very dirty indeed.
While the Natural channel is about as straightforward as valve amplification gets, the Dirty channel benefits from the relative luxury of individual channel volume and gain controls, along with three-band EQ.
Cosmetically the head is standard Orange fare – although in common with the bigger Rockerverb models, a new three-way toggle power switch includes a middle standby setting to save space on the front panel.
This leaves room for more ornamental features such as quirky graphical representations of each control on the panel. These contribute to that unmistakeable funky vibe and hark back to the days of fists and mountains denoting function.
Externally, the head is identically proportioned to the AD-series models and 40mm shallower than the Rockerverb heads.
Along with the Rocker 30 head, you may have noticed amongst the visual feast on these pages the new Orange 1 x 12 extension cabinet, the PPC112.
Like all new Orange cabinets, it features rugged 18mm birch ply closed-back construction – thankfully with no MDF in the equation.
As always, we are reminded that this is a company that really knows how to build speaker cabinets properly.
The single 12-inch speaker inside is, as expected, a Celestion Vintage 30, and something about the mid-range character of these high quality drivers seems to fit the current wave of Orange amplifiers perfectly.
Anyone who has experience of gigging and recording with an Orange AD-series 30-watter will know that not only can this company produce amps that sound magical live and on tape – they also have just the right amount of power for most applications. So we fired up the Rocker 30s with high expectations…
The beauty of a 30-watt power stage is that you can really rev the amp up and get those power valves cooking without being completely deafened, but there should be enough in reserve to preserve a useable clean tone at stage volumes.
Beginning with the exceptionally well-balanced Natural channel, one of the most striking characteristics of the Rocker 30 is the way in which the simplicity of the circuit preserves the identity of your instrument.
Rather than imprinting its characteristics on your sound in a stifiing manner, the Natural channel works as an instrument in its own right – responding to and enhancing the voice of both the guitar and player.
The single stage preamp translates into an abundance of clean headroom, and we found that once the natural volume was wound up anywhere near 11 o' clock and beyond, we were rewarded with a lush, three-dimensional sparkling clean tone at stage volume with a hint of an edge – oozing with the fruity mid-range warmth that characterises the classic Orange sound.
The onset of actual drive will be pickup-dependent, but if you can't dial in the required amount of break-up at the volume level that you want, it's simple enough to solve this with judicious use of the guitar's volume control or an additional stompbox boost such as an MXR Microamp.
Compared to the EL84-driven AD series amplifiers, the clean channel doesn't possess quite as much glassy chime and detail, but even through the combo's single Vintage 30 speaker, the Rocker 30's EL34s ensure a firmer, more focused bass response.
And if this isn't quite enough for you, the closed-back PPC112 extension cabinet increases the scale and projection considerably.
Flip to the Dirty channel and there's clearly a lot more flexibility available. Cranking up the gain, we move from chiming sixties pop, through Stonesy R&B raunch, heading into bluesy classic rock grind and aggressive alternative territory, until the final quarter of the gain control's range, when the Rocker 30 grows devil horns.
At all levels of gain there is a consistent musicality. Rather than losing definition or becoming a fizzy mush, the Rocker 30 roars with an organic and dynamic high gain voice that is world class, particularly in combination with a PAF-style bridge humbucker.
The tonal range on this amplifier is phenomenal, particularly in a studio environment. For recording, the Rocker 30 can cope as convincingly with country as it does with bone-crushing riffs, and the combo in particular records superbly, with the open back cabinet contributing to much better bass response than one might expect – even when close-mic'd with just a single Shure SM57.
Plugging the Rocker 30 head into the PPC112, we encounter very similar high-quality sonic performance, although the PPC112's closed back cab translates into an even tighter bottom end at higher gain settings, and a laser-like directionality in contrast to the combo's more even sound dispersal.