What is it?
Ashdown could finally be the company to mass-produce the hoverboards and jet packs the 21st century promised us and yet the Essex-based amp, instrument and pedal titan would still be associated with bass amplifiers. For most of us, that's its bread and butter.
The AGM-5C might just change that. For a start, this guitar amplifier is more practical than a hoverboard, safer than a jet pack, and it offers five-watts, switchable to one, from a Class A single-ended design. The Creamback G12M-65 is the cherry on the all-valve cake, promising a guitar tone that still retains some of the magic of the '60s in this cold, bloodless age of digital efficiency.
Secondly, it is incredibly good value. At £749, this is a very attractive proposition for players looking to move out of the practice amp market and for something a little more specialised.
On the classy gold control panel, there are knobs for gain, bass, mid, treble, master volume, aux input mix level and reverb, plus a speaker mute switch and Stealth button. Wait, Stealth? Yup, that's the ASC (Active Speaker Compensation) circuit power scaling which allows you to crank the AGM-5C without sending the neighbours into apoplexy.
The idea behind the AGM-5C was for an amplifier that married affordability with a quality build and tone – but just because we hear this sort of thing often from amplifiers doesn't mean it is easily achieved, if at all. Has Ashdown squared the circle?
Performance and verdict
The Ashdown Guitar Magnifier series was unveiled at the start of 2020 and is handmade in the UK. The first thing that strings you about this five-watt combo is how deep the cabinet is, then just how well finished it is. It has a plywood build, semi-closed at the back and finished in hardy black vinyl.
There are metal corner protectors to keep it safe, white piping around the front to make it sexy, and the aforementioned gold control panel really does add a touch of class.
Under the hood there is a large printed circuit board housing most of the AGM-5C's brain and guts: the Accutronics digital reverb, the 12AX7 preamp valve and the single EL84 in its output stage. Metal film resistors are used to keep the noise down and where there is hand-wiring it is all neat and tidy.
• Laney Cub-Super12
If you are looking for an affordable 1x12 tube combo, the Cub-Super12 is hard to beat. Its one-watt input makes it bedroom-friendly, while at 15 watts it is punchy and musical, with superb clean and drive tones.
• Fender Blues Junior IV
No matter what guitar you use, the Blues Junior flatters single coils and humbuckers alike, not to mention drive pedals with plenty of volume. The sounds are top-drawer, comparing well against many so-called boutique amps.
The Celestion G12M-65 Creamback is an excellent if weighty, choice. It is voiced for 60s blues-rock, just the sort of thing that you would want to play on a five-watt valve combo. While the AGM-5C is a single-channel affair, there are plenty of tools to help you tweak around.
An aux-in jack socket makes itself doubly useful with a Mix control that takes the pain out of adding your MP3 player, or even a second instrument. There is a headphones output for silent practice and a speaker-compensated output that offers a little modernity and recording functionality to what is at heart an old-school technology.
Ashdown has also catered for the pedal freaks of the world. In this day and age, everyone wants a pedal platform, so a series effects loop is a welcome addition. The Speaker Mute function does exactly that, preparing the ground for silent recording, while the VU meter on the far right of the control panel lights up to tell you just how much noise you are making. More amps should have this.
Five-watts does not sound like a lot but there is no shortage of volume. It's got plenty of oomph for recording and could work out okay at small gigs. The power scaling housetrains it nicely, while the Speaker Mute function leaves a quite superb sound for recording, needing very little external EQing to knock it into shape.
The AGM-5C takes pedals well. Though we should not let this review pass without showering praise upon the Accutronics Digi-Log BTDR-2 reverb module. It is not to be trifled with, adding depth and space at lower levels and removing your dry signal when set at 10. How many Class A tube combos have the option of a pure 'verb wash? Not many.
If the reverb is surprising in its range, the quality of the AGM-5C's tones is not. That Creamback delivers some stunning cleans for jazz, blues or for the base ingredient for some processed indie-rock shimmer. With a Les Paul and the gain throttled, it takes on some of Vox-esque upper-mid chime and grind, and depending on where you set the EQ, there's maybe a little Tweed in its character, too.
There is no shortage of low-wattage valve combos out there but the more the merrier – especially when they are built as well as the AGM-5C. This is a dynamic, touch-sensitive and fun amplifier, with heaps of classic British valve tone on tap.
MusicRadar verdict: Great build, great value, the AGM-5C is a five-watt superstar that packs some serious all-valve British heat, with a warm and musical voice that will inspire guitarists of all styles.
The web says
”As good as digital and solid-state have become, pure valve tone still takes some beating and this combo’s single-ended Class A valve output stage makes for a very rewarding playing experience, with classic British sounds and touch-sensitive dynamics that sound great with or without pedals, flattering any playing style. For a product that’s made in Ashdown’s UK custom shop, the AGM-5C is great value for money, too. Look beyond the bass and you’ll be more than pleasantly surprised!”
- PRICE: £749
- ORIGIN: UK
- TYPE: Valve preamp and valve power amp with digital reverb
- OUTPUT: 5W switchable to 1W
- VALVES: 1x 12AX7, 1x EL84
- DIMENSIONS: 435 (h) x 460 (w) x 265mm (d)
- WEIGHT (kg/lb): 13/28
- CABINET: Plywood
- LOUDSPEAKERS: 1x12” Celestion Creamback G12M-65
- CHANNELS: 1
- CONTROLS: Gain, bass, mid, treble, master volume, aux input mix level, reverb level. Stealth button and Speaker Mute switch
- FOOTSWITCH: None
- ADDITIONAL FEATURES: External speaker jack, series effects loop, aux in with mix control, speakercompensated recording out with speaker mute switch, headphones socket, Stealth feature reduces output to approx. 1W
- CONTACT: Ashdown