One of the big stories at this year's winter NAMM show was the return of the venerable American amplification brand Magnatone. The revived brand is positioned at the top end of the market, with made-in-USA products and no-compromise boutique-grade build quality. Here we're taking a look at the Twilighter Stereo combo, part of the Traditional range.
The Twilighter Stereo is based on the classic Magnatone 50s design, with a square-edged solid pine cabinet covered in brown vinyl and a full-width badge overhanging the angled front baffle, bearing the 'High Fidelity' logo.
The rear-facing control panel sits at a 45-degree angle, while the chassis is mounted at roughly 20 degrees to allow valves and transformers to clear the loudspeakers. This is a true stereo design, with two pairs of 6V6 output valves feeding separate output transformers, hooked up to a pair of vintage- looking Magnatone custom 12-inch loudspeakers.
Add a valve-powered spring reverb, along with Magnatone's legendary frequency- modulating vibrato effect, and you've got no less than 12 valves.
Its electronics are a blend of PCB and point-to-point with all the small preamp components mounted on a very high-quality circuit board, while the valve bases, control panel switches and pots are hand-wired.
Fitting 12 valves means a lot of wire, and on this sample it's all been installed very neatly by someone who knows how to wire valve amps properly. Every solder joint is bright and clean, too. There are many custom components inside and outside, including the special varistors that form part of Magnatone's unique frequency-modulating vibrato effect.
Overall, the Twilighter Stereo is a serious piece of work, built with exceptional attention to detail and easily on a par with the very best boutique products.
The Twilighter's preamp is a straightforward single-channel design, with a pair of input jacks feeding bass, mid, treble and volume controls, plus a level control for the long-pan spring reverb. The authentic stereo vibrato/tremolo effect can be switched to modulate frequency or volume.
In addition to level and speed controls, there's a mode switch that lets you run the effect in stereo, mono, dry/wet or wet/ dry modes, and a remote speed control jack that lets you vary effect speed from a suitable pedal. Finally, a stereo pair of extension speaker jacks and line-outs completes the two- tone control panel.
The Twilighter Stereo is warm and dynamic with a sweet treble and rounded bass - more 'blackface' than tweed, but with a distinct tweedy edge as you turn up the volume.
The spring reverb is smooth with a nice long decay that adds a subtle halo around sustained notes, but it's the vibrato/tremolo effect that impresses most. It is superb. We were expecting the frequency modulation to be extreme, but it's quite subtle, and used in stereo there's a real 3D effect as the modulation shifts from one side to the other.
In tremolo mode, the Twilighter conjures up vintage Americana with ease - shifting from long pulsation to medium fast wobble. The LFO is best described as square with rounded corners: it won't do the staccato kill-switch effects some modern players like, but for evoking the 1950s it's perfect.
Turn it up and it starts to growl - fabulous for blues. While the uber-cool looks, authentic vintage tone and quirky effects will also no doubt endear it to many indie/roots players.
It's great to see this iconic brand revived with such impressive products, even though Magnatone may not quite have the same resonance here in the UK as it does in the States. Nevertheless, you're looking at a stunning amp from a manufacturer that we'd rate in the top 10 of the world's best amp producers.