Tech 21's consistently popular Sansamp pedals have proven to be essential pieces of kit for many a gigging and recording bassist.
With a heritage as an Ampeg SVT emulator before amp emulations really existed, this new amp provides a solution to players who like to get down and dirty with heavy rock tones, gritty distortion and harmonic colouring of their sound without the aid of valve technology.
The cabinets are covered in a tough black vinyl and come equipped with black metal protective corners, a mesh grille, recessed side handles, Speakon and 1/4" jack sockets and are easily stackable.
Tech 21 has chosen to go with ceramic speakers rather than Neodymium units in order to maintain a certain level of punch, and with a weight difference of merely two pounds, these cabinets are still lightweight. The tweeter has no level control, simply an on/off switch, while rear porting has been included to improve the bass response.
The American-designed, Korean-assembled analogue preamp is backed up by a Class D power amp and although small in size, it's not lacking in features - the front panel has hardly any space left!
The 1/4" jack socket is followed by two selector switches, the Pad switch activates a -10dB cut for active basses and the Bite switch gives a presence boost for added definition.
Drive adjusts the amount of gain and overdrive affecting the signal, and Character adds attack and drive to your signal, emulating Ampeg SVT and fliptop amps. There are Low, Mid and High EQ options, while Blend mixes the clean direct signal with the driven emulated signal and there are switches for the FX Loop, a +/- 20dB Pad switch for the XLR DI output and a headphone output.
We were struck by how restrained the tone controls were: you have to make major setting changes to hear radical alterations. With so many controls to play with, we were expecting a broader palette of tones - maybe this has been designed to provide the distorted bass tone really well rather than a rig for all occasions.
The performance of the tweeters was quite muted: yes, there was a mild change to the top end but not with the glassy quality you might expect, so if thunder and bluster are your requirements rather than finesse and tonal clarity, this might be the rig for you.
Using a passive Jazz bass, the Character and Drive controls gave our signal all the grit, harmonic distortion and colour we required, yet we found the Blend control gave our signal a spongy quality that we found took away from the impact of our playing.
If raucous crunch is what you are looking for, head this way, but even with two cabinets, we felt the whole set-up lacked headroom. At 500 watts, it should have an impressive output, but it doesn't sound or feel like it.
This rig looks good and it's a very portable system, but it really is all about the distorted tones on offer, which are of a high quality. If you're the sort of player who requires a very powerful clean signal as well, you may find this set-up a little lacking. Still, it's definitely worth investigating.